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Lions Roar : November 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2009 89 journey for him. His friends there, including the maintenance man, Mr. Lin—with whom he discusses matters great and small in Chinese—are spiritual friends. TOWArD THE END of my interview, I asked Smith about his time with Oren Lyons, a chief and wisdom-keeper of the Onon- daga. The quality of our interchange shifted. At that point, he went beyond answering questions, and began to transmit. While at Syracuse, Smith had sought to rectify what he felt was a glaring omission in his original survey of religions: it contained nothing on indigenous religions. The Onondaga reservation was near, so Smith soon “took to spending Saturdays on the reservation, schmoozing and drinking coffee with the chiefs.” As he recount- ed to me a story Oren had told him, it appeared to me that in the bare-bones ordinariness of his advanced age he was developing an even deeper appreciation of the essence of life. “Oren enrolled at Syracuse University once,” Smith began, “but he dropped out before Thanksgiving, concluding that it wasn’t teaching him anything he needed to know. His uncle in- vited him on a fishing trip around then. In the middle of the lake in the canoe, his uncle said, ‘Oren, you’ve been to college some, so you must be pretty smart. So tell me Oren, who are you?’ ‘I’m Oren Lyons, your nephew,’ Oren replied. ‘No!’ was the uncle’s answer. ‘An Onondaga?’ ‘No!’ ‘A human being?’ ‘No!’ Oren finally gave up and asked his uncle to tell him who he was. The uncle replied, ‘You see that bluff on the other side of the lake? Oren, you are that bluff. You see that giant pine on the shore? Oren, you are that pine. You see this water under the ca- noe? You... are...this...water.’ ” Huston Smith gesticulated with vigor and peered into the dis- tance, and there was no doubt he believed, with every fiber of his being, what the uncle was teaching Oren. He wasn’t just telling the story. He was passing on the wisdom as it had been passed on to him. He told the story as an on-the-spot revelation, as he had over the years with so many students, or television viewers, or colleagues in professional journals and meetings—making the case for transcendent experience, to the dismay and aggravation of those who feel that a seeker is too subjective to be a scientist. Smith will have none of that. We are religious animals, he rails. We seek to take what is fragmented and unite it, connect it to something larger—the process at the root of the word “religion.” Yes, religious institutions make difficulties. “There are no pretty institutions,” he says, “but we have to shoulder the burden of the foibles and fallacies of institutions because we need them to get done what needs to be done.” And what is there to be done? “The ideal is before us,” Smith told me. “All we have to do is live up to it.” ♦ Huston Smith continued from page 41 We can’t be sure what’s down the road. But at Prentiss Smith & Company we believe that a disciplined investment approach, and attention to each client’s individual situation, can take an investor a long way. For a brochure that includes our performance record please call. TOLL FREE 800 -223-7851 The Long Run. PRENTISS SMITH & COMPANY, INC. Portfolio management for the socially conscious investor since 1982 Offices in Brattleboro & Burlington, Vermont • www.socialinvesting.com