The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

May 31, 2017

May 31, 1919

Huston Smith, [May 31, 1919 to December 30, 2016] Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Syracuse University, is considered the country's preeminent public scholar of world religions. The author of The Religions of Man (1958, republished as The World's Religions in 1991) and Why Religion Matters (2001), Smith has influenced multiple generations of readers, artists, scholars, and students. He has been profiled in a PBS series by Bill Moyers and appears frequently on national TV and radio. "

We continue quoting book jacket filler

[T]he man who brought the world's religions to the West, was born almost a century ago to missionary parents in China during the perilous rise of the Communist Party. Smith's lifelong spiritual journey brought him face-to-face with many of the people who shaped the twentieth century. His extraordinary travels around the globe have taken him to the world's holiest places, where he has practiced religion with many of the great spiritual leaders of our time.

Smith's life is a story of uncanny synchronicity. He was there for pivotal moments in human history such as the founding of the United Nations and the student uprising at Tiananmen Square. As he traveled the world he encountered thinkers who shaped the twentieth century. He interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt on the radio; invited Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at an all-white university before the March on Washington; shared ideas with Thomas Merton on his last plane ride before Merton's death in Bangkok; and was rescued while lost in the Serengeti by Masai warriors who took him to the compound of world-renowned anthropologists Louis and Mary Leaky.

In search of intellectual and spiritual treasures, Smith traveled to India to meet with Mother Teresa and befriended the Dalai Lama; he studied Zen at the most challenging monastery in Japan; and he hitchhiked through the desert to meet Aldous Huxley, dropped acid with Timothy Leary, and took peyote with a Native American shaman. He climbed Mount Athos, traipsed through the Holy Land, and was the first to study multiphonic chanting by monks in Tibet, which he recorded with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. Most important, he shared the world's religions with the West—writing two bestselling books....

And he wrote:
The Way Things Are: Conversations with Huston Smith on the Spiritual Life (2003)

Here is a relevant excerpt in which a cat is mentioned in reference to one of the signal dividing issues in theology.

There have been ongoing debates in many religions over whether salvation or enlightenment can be achieved by grace or through one's own effort. In Japan or China there is the division between
jiriki [self-effort] and tariki [other effort]. In India the gurus speak of the way of the cat and the way of the monkey.In the way of the cat it is as if the mother cat picks up the kitten by the nape of the neck and the kitten doesn't have to do anything. In the way of the monkey, the infant monkey must cling to the mother's neck. Sometimes the debates between these schools of thought get positively vituperative.

Here is Smith, elsewhere, addressing the nature of mystical experience:

When I asked Smith about his mystical experiences, he replied, “I'm pretty flat-footed as a mystic.” He had been meditating for almost half a century, but his meditative experiences were “pretty ordinary, garden variety.” His most important mystical experiences were “entheogenic.” Smith prefers the term entheogenic, which literally means “God-containing,” to hallucinogenic, which he considers derogatory and inaccurate, and psychedelic, which is too closely associated with the 1960’s and recreational drug use.

Smith’s first entheogenic experience took place on New Year’s Day, 1961, in Newton, Massachusetts, at the home of Harvard psychology professor Timothy Leary. Leary gave Smith two capsules of mescaline, and few hours later Smith felt he was witnessing first-hand the reality described in the ancient Hindu Vedas and other mystical texts. He was seeing through the mundane reality around him to the ground of being, the clear light of the void underlying all things. “From the soles of my feet on,” he recalled, “I found myself saying, ‘Yes! Yes!’” The experience was not entirely pleasant; Smith once described it as “strange, weird, uncanny, significant, and terrifying.”

On Good Friday, 1962, Smith participated in what came to be called the Good Friday experiment, in which students and professors took psilocybin in the basement of Boston’s Marsh Chapel. At one point, Smith felt he was directly experiencing God’s overwhelming love. The afterglow persisted for months. He had an unusually vivid sense “that life really is a miracle, every moment of it, and that the only appropriate way to respond to the gift we have been given is to be mindful of that gift at every moment, and to be caring toward everyone we meet.”

Smith granted that mystical experiences can lead us astray, triggering paranoia, narcissistic delusions, and other forms of madness. A Talmudic legend about four learned rabbis who visit paradise makes this point: One rabbi dies outright, one goes mad, and one becomes a heretic. A single rabbi leaves heaven with a blissful, peaceful heart, his faith confirmed.

We quote from a Scientific American article, which I recommend, besides his books, for anyone wanting more information.

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