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Lions Roar : September 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2011 77 our secular age. The world used to be, in its various forms, a world of sacred, shining things. The shin- ing things now seem far away.” Their name for this modern ailment is nihilism, the sense that nothing grounds the choices we make. In the modern world, we have a wider range of choices than ever before—choices about who to become, how to act, and with whom to align ourselves— and we feel a lack of genuine motivation to choose one option over the others. “Far from being certain and unhesitating,” say Dreyfus and Kelly, “our lives can at the extreme seem shot through with hesitation and indecision, culminating in choices finally made on the basis of nothing at all.” Dreyfus and Kelly distinguish trivial, everyday questions such as “Shall I hit the snooze bar again?” or “Is this shirt too wrin- kled?” from deeper choices such as “Is it time to move on from this relationship or job?”; “Shall I pursue this opportunity or that one, or none at all?”; “Shall I align myself with this candidate, this coworker, this social group?”; or “Shall I choose this part of the family over the rest?” Deeper choices can feel as though they cut to the core of who we really are and can seem so familiar to us that we assume that human beings everywhere, at all times in all places, were subject to the same dilemmas. Not so, according to these passionate pro- fessors of culture and history. “Although the burden of choice can seem inevitable,” they say, “in fact it is unique to contempo- rary life. It is not just that in earlier epochs one knew on what basis one’s most fundamental existential choices were made: it is that the existential questions didn’t even make sense.” AFTER A RECENT VISIT to my doctor for an annual physical exam, I thought about the anxiety-reducing effect of receiving an insightful medical diagnosis. Even before beginning a course of treatment, there is often some relief in just being told what the problem is, its underlying causes, and the best course of treatment. Ancient spiritual teachings were often grounded in penetrat- ingly accurate diagnoses. Consider, for a famous example, the Buddha’s four noble truths, which could be summarized this way: Being immersed in a painful process of getting and losing is the illness; its root causes are diagnosed as craving and fixation; and the recommended cure is a mindful approach to living (the eightfold path). There is inspiration in so clearly seeing the chal- lenges of living a good human life. All Things Shining and To Uphold the World provide contrast- ing approaches to some very large questions: How are we doing collectively? What are the possibilities for increasing, not only our personal sanity and happiness, but global harmony and jus- tice? Can we find valuable resources for restoring contemporary communal health in classical Indian and Greek societies? In All Things Shining, philosophers Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly sing the praises of the sacred world vividly evoked in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey: “The intense and meaningful lives of Homer’s Greeks, and the grand hierarchy of meaning that struc- tured Dante’s medieval Christian world, both stand in contrast to Gods & Kings for Modern Times Reviews ALL THINGS SHINING Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age By Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly Free Press 2011; 272 pp., $26 (cloth) TO UPHOLD THE WORLD A Call for a New Global Ethic from Ancient India By Bruce Rich Beacon Press 2010; 256 pp., $23 (paper) REVIEWED BY GAYLON FERGUSON GAYLON FERGUSON is the author of Natural Wakefulness: Discovering the Wisdom We Were Born With and a faculty member in religious studies and interdisciplinary studies at Naropa University. He is an acharya in the Shambhala Buddhist community. Marble Neo-Attic relief sculptures circa second century BCE from the Temple of Athena Nike at the Acropolis, Athens. GALLERIADEGLIUFFIZI,FLORENCE,ITALY/THEBRIDGEMANARTLIBRARYINTERNATIONAL