What's your ideal spot for meditation and pondering the big questions? An ashram on the Ganges? A monastery in the desert? The sofa in the den? Wherever it is, make sure you have the following Huston Smith titles with you — for support and illumination:
A Seat at the Table
Huston Smith in Conversation With Native Americans on Religious Freedom
University of California Press: $21.95
In acting as an ambassador between East and West, Smith has from time to time also introduced the West to itself. Take the splendid indigenous religions of the New World, which Smith presents in interviews with a variety of Native American leaders. He argues that the path to true spiritual understanding among the world's religions mustn't exclude these — even though, he admits, he was also guilty of this oversight for many years. "'My God, Huston,' I heard myself saying in the car. 'For three decades you have been circling the globe trying to understand the metaphysics and religions of worlds different from your own, and here's one that has been right under your feet the entire time — and you haven't even noticed it!'" This book is his belated effort (a very successful one) to rectify that situation.
Tales of Wonder
Adventures Chasing the Divine
Written with Jeffery Paine, Smith recounts his lifetime's work of introducing the West to the spiritualities of the East. Along the way, he describes his encounters with many visionary figures, including Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Timothy Leary. One of the best moments involves Leary, who invited Smith to participate in his Harvard University experiments with psychedelic drugs in an attempt to raise spiritual awareness. At first, it sounds like Smith only had a really bad, terrifying trip — then he explains what he believes happened to him: "Overnight I had become a visionary.... The Sufis say there are three ways to know fire — by hearing it described, by seeing it, or by being burned. I was, in that analogy, now burned by the fire. But one must not be consumed but bring the fire — or whatever name we give our experience of ultimate reality — back home, to warm our hands and live by." As far as trips go, that sounds like a pretty good one.
The World's Religions
HarperOne: $16.99 paper
Is God a single reality? Are all religions one? As Smith pursues these questions in what is probably his single most significant book, he moves with the elegance of a dancer and applies the language of the poet as he considers Judeo-Christianity and many other faiths as well. "What a strange fellowship this is, the God-seekers in every land," he muses. As he considers the different tongues and voices raised in prayer, he wonders, "how does it sound from above? Like bedlam, or do the strains blend in strange, ethereal harmony? Does one faith carry the lead, or do the parts share in counterpoint and antiphony where not in full-throated chorus? We cannot know. All we can do is try to listen carefully and with full attention to each voice in turn as it addresses the divine." In this book, Smith teaches us all how to join him in listening.