Book Openers: Huston Smith at 90 – Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim . . . Christian

Huston Smith c 2009 Huston Smith

Huston Smith c 2009

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Huston Smith doesn’t know it, but he’s been my mentor for the past decade and a half – ever since I took a job as  religion reporter at a local newspaper.

The religion beat has a steep learning curve, I quickly discovered, and Smith’s authoritative book The World’s Religions became my bible. It has remained so all these years.

Studying it, I often find myself trying to read between the lines – who is this man who speaks so fluently of Islam and Judaism, Hinduism and Taoism? What did he personally think of the many disparate religions he studied? Is he still a Christian? Did he ever practice any of the religions he studied?

Now I’m reading Smith’s most recent book, an autobiography, Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, written with Jeffery Paine. And I’m getting some answers.

In a chapter entitled “My Three Other Religions” Smith reveals that he “never met a religion I did not like.” Indeed, he practiced Hinduism unconditionally for ten years, followed by ten years of Buddhism, and ten years of Islam — all this without ever forsaking the Christianity of his missionary parents.

He was not following a checklist, Smith writes. He simply found these wisdom traditions, each in its turn, fitting.

"Tales of Wonder," written with Jeffery Paine

"Tales of Wonder," begins with Smith's boyhood in China as the son of Methodist missionary parents.

And, “the proper response to a major spiritual tradition, if you can truly see it, may be to practice it. With each new religion I entered into, I descended (or ascended?) into hidden layers within myself that, until then, I had not known were even there.”

Now, at 90, and living in an assisted living facility in Berkeley, not far from the house in the hills he shared until recently with Kendra, his wife of 65 years, Smith’s reports that he’s finally found a mantra that suits him. He repeats it under his breath in the bathroom and in the assisted living elevator.

It’s “God, you are so good to me.”

After a lifetime of studying and teaching, investigating and deliberating, how simple it has finally become, he writes. “I have forgotten more about the various religions than I knew in the first place. All that is left of my study of them is . . . me.”

But for me, as Huston Smith’s anonymous mentee, the most wrenching words in this book are in the epilogue. They brought me to tears:

“Soon it will be time to say good-bye,” Smith writes. “Good-bye to you, dear reader . . . Although we never met in person, you were like a friend, the thought of whom spurred me to my best efforts.”

Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, an autobiography, by Huston Smith with Jeffery Paine, HarperOne, 2009, $25.99.

© 2009  Barbara Falconer Newhall

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  1. By VandeNikhilam Information » Blog Archive » Book Openers: Huston Smith at 90 - Christian, Hindu, Buddhist … on September 7, 2009 at 1:57 am

    [...] Openers: Huston Smith at 90 – Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim . . View original here: Book Openers: Huston Smith at 90 – Christian, Hindu, Buddhist … Tags: and-living, barbara, berkeley, from-the-house, hills, huston, huston-smith-, Mantra, Muslim [...]

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