As the true object of education is not to render the pupil the mere copy of his preceptor, it is rather to be rejoiced in, than lamented, that various reading should lead him into new trains of thinking.
Over the past week my reading has been somewhat eclectic within the mind/body/spirit genre. I’ve been working my way through the second volume of Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God quadrilogy and having previously looked at primitive myth, the focus has now shifted to Oriental mythology. Part two of the present volume covers the mythologies of India from about 2500 B.C. to more recent times before switching its attention to the Far East. Fascinating stuff for those interested in tracing commonalities that humans share around the world and throughout time in relation to religion and spirituality.
As part of my ongoing studies in Advaita, I read Eliot Deutsch’s Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction (1968) which looks at the systematic thought behind Advaitan teachings. Historical and cultural contexts are stripped away to leave the methodology and processes used in Advaita Vedanta under the microscope of Western philosophy. I found such an approach of great value in deepening my understanding of Indian thought in relation to Advaita and the means through which seekers are guided towards realizing non-dual Reality. A full review of Deutsch’s reconstruction will appear on this site in due course.
Through sporadic work as a book-trader, another work that found itself in my hands this week was Paul McGee’s Self-Confidence: The Remarkable Truth of Why a Small Change Can Make a Big Difference (2009). Whilst not confessing to any particular shortage in confidence, I do admit to being a bit of a sucker when it comes to seeing how different authors deal with psychological issues that affect such a large readership base. The retail price of this particular title is £9.99 and it’s the kind of book one regularly sees in the non-fiction section of motorway service stations in the UK.
I don’t have any problem with the glut of self-help material available to readers. As far as I’m concerned, if an author manages to convey some nuggets of wisdom that have a beneficial impact upon someone’s life, then it’s a case of job well done. Take writers like Paolo Coehlo, James Redfield and M. Scott Peck, for example. These three authors have genuinely affected future prospects for millions around the globe, each by utilising a different method for delivering their respect ‘teachings’. Coehlo uses the extended metaphor set in popular fiction like The Alchemist, Redfield adopts a slightly didactic approach in his fictional spiritual guide books such as The Celestine Prophecy whilst M. Scott Peck takes a more clinical psychological tangent to discuss issues faced by many of us in modern society.
Having an ‘issue’ to resolve seems one of the main reason why people get started on a spiritual journey in an era when more orthodox religions like Christianity are seen by a lot of people as behind the times and in some ways irrelevant to modern living. It seems to me that we live in a privileged age, with a great variety of literature and internet resources now available to help us on our way. Many of us are free to choose the practice we adopt and can cherry-pick from a wide range of sources that are readily available in the many service stations en route from A to B. Yet, having stumbled across the potent material offered by Advaita, I feel a need to reappraise old opinions about the long-term value of New Age writings that flood the market.
It seems that whilst New Age writings offer an instant hit of feel good factor, they lack in terms of providing a reliable framework within which to situate oneself and from which to confront the depths of our limited understanding. From what I’ve read to date, if my understanding is correct, this is what Advaita does provide; a toolbox and set of tools capable of providing long-term answers to today’s problems rather than a quick fix solution that, like a heavy night out on the town, temporarily alleviates the symptoms but does little to resolve underlying causes.
With this in mind, I couldn’t help but feel slightly cheated having read Paul McGee’s Self Confidence book. It was lightweight, easy to read, and contained the odd snippet of information that might be useful to certain people in certain situations, but overall, if I had paid the full retail price, I would have been disappointed. Money and time could have been much better spent. Then again, it did provide a useful point of contrast for me to reflect upon the benefits that Advaita has to offer, so something positive came from the experience.
My next reading selection for Advaita Academy will be Leo Hartong’s Awakening the Dream, (has someone been reading my previous blog entries???) which, I’m led to believe, has neo-advaitan tendencies. As I’ve yet to encounter such territory, I’ll be interested to see how this compares to other New Age writings. Also, Swami Dayananda’s Introduction to Vedanta is in the pipeline and I’m particularly looking forward to its arrival as Swami Dayananda is preceded by a great reputation. So whilst the snow and ice persist in causing havoc to the transport network here in the UK and the possibility of a fairytale white Christmas strikes terror in the heart of those lacking a few reindeer and a sledge, I figure it safe to say there will be ample opportunity to turn a few pages in the week ahead.