To paraphrase Whitman, “We are large, we contain multitudes”
Note: This is one of the volumes in the 5o Classics series, each available in a softbound edition and priced at less than $15.00.
Of course, throughout human history, the subject of this book – spirituality — has been nurtured as well as defined and measured in many different ways. Hence the importance of the fact that Butler-Bowdon offers a wide range of perspectives from the works of an especially diversified group that includes St. Augustine (Confessions, 400), Carlos Castaneda (Journey to Ixtlan, 1972), Mohandas Gandhi (An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, 1927), William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902), C.S. Lewis (The Screwtape Letters, 1942), Teresa of Avila (Inferior Castle, 1570), Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, 1998), Rick Warren (The Purpose-Driven Life, 2002), and Paramahansa Yogananda (Autobiography of a Yogi, 1946)
As in the other volumes in his series, Butler-Bowdon follows a format for each of the 50 chapters: brief representative quotations, an “In a nutshell” section, a rigorous and remarkably thorough summary of the given source’s key points, a Final comments” section, and then (in most instances) a brief bio of its author. I also appreciate the fact that the book can be read straight through from the first chapter to the last (i.e.Mahammad Asad to Gary Zukav), or in chronological order, or according to six thematic categories (Great spiritual lives, Practical spirituality, The great variety of experience, Opening the doors of perception, Divine relationship and life purpose, and Humanity’s spiritual evolution), or by cherry-picking whichever contributors and/or subjects are of greatest interest. As a convenience to his reader, Butler-Bowdon suggests in his Introduction which authors belong in which category. Here are a few of his comments about some of those whom he discusses, followed by a brief statement by Eckhart Tolle:
“If your misery is great enough, there is a chance that you will arrive at an equally great sense of peace and purpose that less intense people will never experience. The Confessions is one of the best pieces of writing on how a divided, tormented person can be healed through religion…From his inauspicious Roman backwater childhood and fast-living student days, it is remarkable that Augustine became (along with Aquinas) the major intellectual figure in the Christian West for the next 1,000 years. His huge work, The City of God (426), which took 13 years to write, became a theological foundation stone for the emergent Christian religion. All this from a black man born into the fringes of the white empire.” (Page 25)
“Gandhi did not like the title Mahatma, as he did not think of himself as a great man. Far from being a trumpet blowing exercise, his autobiography was designed to detail, objectively his discoveries and failures in relation to right principles and spiritual truth, and he never claimed to have been perfect…Our choice today is to look on him as a singular individual whose like we may never see again, or to take the trail he blazed as our own. Either way, what Gandhi achieved in his experiments is now the spiritual heritage of us all.” (Page 89)
William James “recognized a pattern in conversion experiences. They tended to happen when people were so low that they just `gave up,’ the vacuum of hope providing space for revelation. The religious literature is full of stories along these lines, in which the constrictions and negative aspects of the ego are finally discarded; we begin to live only for others or for some higher goal. The compensation for becoming dependent on God is a letting go of fear, and it is this that makes conversion such a liberating experience.” (Page 133)
“Is painting the world in terms of good and evil too simplistic? Perhaps, but [C.S.] Lewis’s quirky presentation of the polarities as real is quite convincing and makes us think about all of the rationalizations we use to justify our thoughts and actions. What we can take from this book [i.e. The Screwtape Letters] is a reassurance that there is something in us that is naturally resistant to corruption – and that by being true to ourselves we can succeed in increasing that resistance.” (Page 158)
Eckhart Tolle: “Don’t look for any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance. Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender.” (Chapter 43, 50 Spiritual Classics, Page 264)
With all due respect to Butler-Bowdon’s other books, (especially those that focus on self-help and success), I think this one is his most valuable because his discussion of the 50 works in which their authors discuss spiritual issues helps his reader to understand that “the quest for material security alone does not ultimately satisfy, and that not even emotional security or great knowledge is enough to sustain us – we were built to see answers to larger questions.” He notes that the word “spiritual” comes from the Latin word for breathing. “If nothing else, this book aims to dispel the idea that there is anything outlandish about spiritual experience; on the contrary, it is what makes us human.”
This book is only indirectly about religion and theology. Its primary focus is on what others have learned during their journeys of exploration and discovery within a realm that has what William James characterizes as an “unseen order,” and our “supreme good” lies in a harmonious adjustment to it. In this context, Tom Butler-Bowdon cites a Persian proverb that serves both as an appropriate conclusion to his Introduction and to this commentary: “Seek the truth in meditation, not in moldy books. Look in the sky to find the moon, not in the pond.”
Here are ten quotations that caught my eye. Why? Because I will have dozens of opportunities to use each of them in a variety of different situations. If you have others to share, I hope you will do so.
And again, I highly recommend The Yale Book of Quotations, brilliantly edited by Fred R. Shapiro and published by Yale University Press. FYI, none of those that follow are included in it.
1. “There are no accidents in the universe.” (Source?)
2. “I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can’t find anybody who can tell me what they want.” Mark Twain
3. “Thinking has become a disease. It is not so much that you use your mind wrongly – you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you. That is the disease. You believe that you are your mind.” Eckhart Tolle
4. “Sow a thought, and you reap an act. Sow an act, and you reap a habit, and you reap a character. Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.” Charles Reade
5. “To understand everything, let go of what you know.” Old Indian saying
6. “Happiness is when what we think, what we say, and what we do are in harmony.” Mohandas Gandhi
7. “All we achieve and all that we fail to achieve is the direct result of our own thoughts. We are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” James Allen
8. “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” Henry David Thoreau
9. “It’s not the answers that show us the way, but the questions.” Tennessee H. Harris
10. “Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” Goethe
Cheryl offers: Late last year, I had the opportunity to travel extensively outside the United States on business to some pretty amazing places. As luck would have it, I also found myself in some amazing places, but not for reasons of beauty, comfort, or safety. It struck me as I struggled with losing my luggage for the whole week I was there, showering in slightly brown water, drinking only bottled water because that was all that was safe, and hotels without any phone or internet access, that I had really started to take a lot of things for granted living in Texas. As I recently read, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, (yes, I know it’s not exactly a business book, but I’m one of those who needs variety) it struck me how lucky we are to live in this country and to have access to an enormous set of daily choices. Tolle discusses the “ego” extensively and the more I read, the more my ego got dinged, dented, and revealed. It’s not always a pleasant experience to meet yourself and yet, I am delighted to have had the opportunity. Each day I have awakened in 2010 in my home in Texas, I find myself reveling in the gratitude for all this state and country have to offer. Remind me of this blog this summer when it’s 102 outside, would you?
In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.
I wish I had a $10 bill (or even a dollar) for every time one of my four children and ten grandchildren asked that question during an automobile trip. It is a reasonable question. It is human nature to have feelings of impatience, boredom, anticipation, frustration, etc.
We also ask this question (albeit silently) when embarked upon a project that has not as yet been completed, or during the composition of a book review or a Q&A such as this. As I think about this question, I am reminded of a sign I once saw in a neighborhood tavern in my hometown, Chicago. It said FREE BEER TOMORROW. When I first saw it, I instinctively decided to return the next day. Then I quickly realized that it made no sense. Then I appreciated the wit of the person who devised it and had a good laugh…and another glass of draught beer for which I later paid, of course. Most people are always “here” (wherever that may be) and will never get “there.” Others always seem to be anywhere but “here,” either dwelling in the past or in a future less unpleasant.
Imagine that we are in an automobile traveling at 60 mph when a child asks the question, “Are we there yet?” The vehicle proceeds 80 feet a second so “here” and “there” constantly and rapidly change. If Albert Einstein were with us, he would perhaps suggest that time is relative. So what?
In his various books (notably The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment), Eckhart Tolle urges us to appreciate where we are now, at each moment, and to take full advantage of the blessings that we have rather than defer until later. Henry David Thoreau frequently makes that same point in Walden and various essays.
True, we were once “there” at any point in the past but it was a “here” then to which we cannot return except as a memory. Similarly, we can never be “there” at any point in the future until it is another “here” in the chronology of our experience.
Individuals as well as organizations need to understand “the power of now” and to realize how important it is to take full advantage of opportunities, many (most?) of which will never occur again.
Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob