Life enriching summer reads
There is still a bit of summer left, so adding a few books to that summer reading list is not too late.
These hours in the sun with a pleasant breeze could serve as a time to reflect, think deeply, and enrich our souls with wisdom.
So today, I offer you two books that I believe can create significant changes in how you view the world, one from Eastern and one from Western tradition. Don't worry; both books are still entertaining, easy to read, and will provide plenty of light summer moments.
Too often nowadays, we believe these Eastern and Western traditions are different, but through deep study, we discover that they have much in common. Of course, all religious traditions can become fundamental, harmful, and dogmatic, nothing but empty rituals and superstitions. All spiritual wisdom traditions warn against "idolatry" and "ritualistic emptiness" to use the appropriate Western vs Eastern terminology.
Unfortunately, most of us no longer study philosophy and religion (making both subjects mandatory in high school and part of prerequisite coursework in universities would make us better citizens, doctors, and so forth... but I digress, that is a different blog.)
We can only discover and celebrate our common humanity and respect and understand our differences through a deeper look at world spirituality.
In yoga circles, there is often a false belief that only the Eastern tradition offers meditation or self-reflection. Yogis are often suspicious, if not outright hostile, against Christianity. Yes, there is plenty to criticize the West, but in our secular haste to correct past harm, we confused politics and world history with spirituality. In so, we tossed the baby with the bathwater and literally forgot our own tradition; we forgot what is beautiful and good, and what is left in many minds is a false dogmatic approach.
At the same time, in some Christian circles, there is equal misapprehension and suspicion of Eastern tradition. Often there is a fear that if one reads from the Buddhist tradition, one somehow trespassed and commits betrayal.
I believe both above-stated judgments are based on fear, the fear of the unknown, and the fear of change. But reading from different traditions can deepen our own spiritual path. So change is not in "changing religions." The change is mostly in seeing the "other" differently. That is, once we know a bit more, we may have to change our minds and admit we were wrong about our judgment of the other. Most of us don't like that feeling, so much so that we often avoid learning about the opposite point of view (both in personal and political life); we break up friendships and isolate ourselves with opinions and people that agree with us.
The two books I recommend are not hard to read; they are not technical or dry. They are entertaining and eye-opening; they are the perfect summer read.
I recommend first you read the one that you are pushing away.
If you had a negative experience with Christianity, if you know nothing about Christianity, or if you think Westen though has nothing contemplative, good, kind, or meditative to offer, please read The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything first and see how many of our yogic concepts are present in Western Spirituality.
If you never studied Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh, or feel that learning Eastern thought somehow will push you away from appreciating Western ideals and spirituality, Read The Art of Living first and see how Buddhist spirituality carries the moral lessons of Jesus.
This is one of my top five favorite books across all genres. For those of you who know how much I read, you know that is saying something.
This book is fun to read and immensely practical for all human beings, from atheists to all faiths. Laugh out loud funny, full of anecdotes. A great book if you are facing a hard decision. Those of you who are used to the 8 limbs of practice through yoga and meditation will find it very familiar; examination of thoughts, emotions, peaceful action, contemplation, and detachment. Yeah, familiar, right?
As you read it, you will discover all the pillars of current mindfulness practices that Harvard Medical School advocates. I think the Jesuits do it better; they have a 500 years head start. Plus, "medical" mindfulness, as well as some 'self-help, new-age' mindfulness practices, extract the teaching out of its moral humanistic background which places emphasis on how to live with love in a community and make it all about how to "make myself happy." After all, that is what doctors measure; did the patient benefit... Unfortunately, self-centered practice nullifies the benefits to nothing but a temporary fix and further instigates selfish behaviors that could be harmful. But I digress again, :-) The selfish trap of modern secular mindfulness is a pet peeve of mine, but I shall wait for another blog to explain it in detail.
Thich Nhat Hanh is immensely relatable. His style is not as funny as James Martin, they are very different writing styles, but what he lacks in anecdotes and jokes, he makes up with the glorious simplicity of examination of existence. You will find the same topics and moral value discussion as in the Jesuit Guide, expressed through Buddhist eyes. If you don't believe me, believe Thomas Merton, a recently canonized saint of the Catholic Church; "Thich Nhat Hanh is more my brother than many who are nearer to me in race and nationality, because he and I see things the exact same way."
If you enjoy these readings and wish to continue reading and discovering our common humanity, consider joining our upcoming 200 Hours Journey into Mindfulness and Yoga, which is, in a way, an extended book club meeting once a month.