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Lions Roar : November 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2009 37 one night after a particularly exciting discussion, smith writes in his autobiography, he lay awake while “waves of ideas...washed over me and revealed their meaning. That night changed me for- ever.” smith had already abandoned his plan to become a mission- ary; now he gave up on the ministry. he would become a college professor. having converted to naturalistic christianity, which many regarded as apostasy, smith decided to attend the univer- sity of chicago and study with henry wieman, professor walker’s mentor and the father of naturalistic theism. Like others of his day, wieman sought to bring christianity into line with science and modernity. his worldly theology also led to an ethic of social action, and he was a major inspiration for martin Luther King Jr., whose doctoral thesis was devoted to wieman’s work. smith became wieman’s protégé, married his daughter, Kendra, and pre- pared for a career as an acolyte of naturalistic theology. he would become a standard bearer for knowledge based on, as he says in his autobiography, “what our senses report and science describes.” But then he started reading about pain. For his doctoral dissertation, smith needed to discuss the phil- osophical understanding of pain, and one of the books he checked out was Pain, Sex and Time, by gerald heard. a well-known figure in his day, heard was a contemporary of aldous huxley, and a fel- low traveler on the path of “the perennial philosophy” that huxley wrote about in his book by that name. it posits that a shared, deep understanding of reality exists that transcends all eras and cul- tures. This understanding is what mystics seek. reading heard’s thoughts on the mystical nature of pain and sexual energy affected smith so much that he vowed that he wouldn’t read another word of heard until his thesis was finished for fear he would become utterly sidetracked. But he determined that when his ph.d. was in hand, he would devour heard. geraLd heard Lived at a monastery in a remote canyon southeast of Los angeles. once smith was ensconced in his first teaching job, at denver university, he wrote to heard and asked to meet with him. heard happily obliged. smith hitchhiked from denver to Los angeles, and then down to the monastery. he and heard sat together on a rock looking out on the canyon and talk- ed of many things, until finally they just sat in silence. smith felt drawn to a mystical understanding of the world. “reading and meeting heard really changed huston,” said dana sawyer, who wrote a spiritual biography of huxley and now is smith did what no one had done before: he devoted ten years each to practicing Buddhism, hinduism, and islam, yet remained a lifelong christian. Clockwise from lower left: Huston Smith with Bill Moyers; with the Dalai Lama; on the set of “The Religions of Man.”