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Lions Roar : November 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2009 36 “at the time The Religions of Man came out, americans just didn’t en- counter other religions,” Jeffery paine, author of Re-enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West, told me. “To the extent that one knew some- one of another religion, they were to be ignored, converted, or persecuted.” paine, who helped with the writing of smith’s autobiography (since smith is no longer able to sit down and compose), went on to say, “huston showed a new way to be religious. while remaining a devout christian his whole life, he practiced three other religions: hinduism for ten years, Buddhism for ten years, and islam for ten years. nobody else has ever done that.” pico iyer, who wrote the foreword to Tales of Wonder, admires smith because “he is a lifelong explorer and adventurer. unlike so many scholars, he doesn’t come up with an idea, stick with it, and make refinements. hus- ton is always on the move, in his thinking and his life. he brings together ardor and rigor, which is why he speaks to the common reader in a way that very few scholars do.” i visited with huston smith in the modest home in Berkeley he has shared with his wife, Kendra, for the past several decades. smith now requires more care than Kendra—who has been married to him for sixty-six years—can take on, so he spends most of his time in a nearby assisted-living facility. he’s frail and stooped, and in the last few years his powers have declined more rapidly. Yet, when we started to talk, i found him warm, lucid, and very present—the sort of professor of whom one would say, “he changed my life.” “i know,” smith began, “it might appear as though i started with the christianity i was brought up in and then went down a checklist: hindu- ism, Buddhism, Taoism, shinto, islam, and so forth. it wasn’t like that at all. christianity fulfilled me, and i thought it would for the rest of my life. But then vedanta came in from left field. and it just kept going like that. i thought i had a great package, but something would come in and explode that pack- age.” he calls himself an explorer, and he feels none of his journeys has been wasted. even at ninety, he says, “an explorer’s legs keep moving forward.” husTon smiTh grew up in china in a small town near shanghai, the son of methodist missionaries. he describes an idyllic time of simple pleasures and rustic village life, and it formed in him an aspiration to train as a missionary and to return to china. in 1935 he enrolled in central methodist college in Fayette, missouri. he talks about it now as “norman rockwell quaint,” but from his perspective then it bristled with moder- nity. within weeks, the intoxication of america convinced him that he would not return to china. smith was no rebel, though; there was little indication of the man who would drop acid with Timothy Leary. he was president of the student body, head of the pep rally, and editor of the college paper. he was a circuit-riding preacher during his summer vacations. But toward the end of his college career, he experienced the first of his many “internal revolutions.” The pro- fessor whose classes and informal evening discussions moved him the most, edwin walker, espoused a “naturalistic theism” that didn’t rely on the bib- lical authority and revelation of the faith smith had grown up with. The naturalistic doctrine teaches that all we can know is the world presented to us, but we can find god within it. god is not a creator but a creative process, not supernatural but superhuman. The World’s religions: our great Wisdom Traditions (1958) The definitive text that in- spired the study of comparative religion as we know it today. many consider it even more im- portant now than when it was first published. The 2009 edition is updated and revised. Why religion MaTTers: The Fate of the human spirit in an age of disbelief (2002) a manifesto on the hurdles facing the human spirit in this dark age of materialism, consumerism, scien- tific fallout, and lack of institutional morality. Beyond The PosTModern Mind: The Place of Meaning in a global Civilization (1982) critically acclaimed essays on the loss of faith in tran- scendence, and a vision of a new metaphysics that affirms the ultimate truths of love, the hu- man soul, and the divine. The 2003 edition has a new preface and final chapter. BuddhisM: a Concise introduction (2003) Based on a section of The World’s Religions, this expanded examination of Buddhism’s roots includes additional material on the Theravada tradition’s role in south asia and Buddhism’s spread in the west (with philip novak). one naTion under god: The Triumph of the native american Church (1996) an inspiring ex- ploration of the struggle for native american spiritual freedom against government hostility (with reuben snake). islaM: a Concise introduction (2001) drawn from a section of The World’s Religions, this volume dispels distorted notions about the nature of islam by illuminating its profound foundations and growing popularity in the west. smith wrote a new introduction in 2002 to reflect post-9/11 concerns. The soul oF ChrisTianiTy: restoring the great Tradition (2005) a personal explication of the essential teachings, infused with smith’s deep christian faith and convictions. ♦ By the Book A selection of Huston Smith’s works