Book Reviews

It's a Meaningful Life: It Just Takes Practice by Bo Lozoff, Compass Books, 2001; 304 pages, ISBN 0140196242, paper, $13.00.

At every level of society from the family up to international relations, the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities. — Dalai Lama, in his Foreword

Bo Lozoff wrote this book for men and women who would like to live a more spiritual life. It is a practical manual that addresses both "The Inner Journey of Communion" and "The Outer Path Toward Community." Subjects covered include personal growth, meditation, education of youth, individual and family responsibility, simplicity, the importance of community, and ethics. Each subtopic is discussed without metaphysical jargon and concludes with "exercises," suggestions for applying the ideas in daily life. Based on his own experiences and study, it is filled with humor and humanity.

After a serious car accident when he was 18, Lozoff began reading the writings of the sages of the world religions and visiting various retreats and ashrams. He and his wife Sita found that all the wisdom traditions follow two principles, which they decided to make their own. He sees his own writings as a contemporary, down-to-earth expression of these principles:

1. The internal principle says that each one of us, in silence and solitude, can touch and eventually merge into the Divine Essence deep within us. . . . Religions may differ on their names or ideas for what it is that we commune with, but they all agree that through diligence and earnestness, we can commune with the Highest Force imaginable, whatever we may wish to call it.
2. The external principle all the religions share is a simple ethic about how we are to regard others. We are instructed to love and respect all of creation, to be forgiving and compassionate and generous, and to dedicate our lives to the common good rather than merely to personal success. — p. 5

In order to help others, they established the Prison Ashram Project. Thousands of young men and women — even children — are locked behind bars, and once there few receive any positive support. While all religions praise redemption, our penal system has van- quished such beliefs which, he says, bodes ill both for inmates and society at large. He and Sita have worked with convicts in many prisons, approaching them as spiritual beings, and their success has been gratifying. To enlarge the scope of their efforts, they established the Human Kindness Foundation and from its headquarters, Kindness House, a small staff corresponds with inquirers and welcomes visitors.

Kindness is the basis of his program, and he agrees with Lao-tzu that "The first practice is the practice of undiscriminating virtue: Take care of those who are deserving. Also, and equally, take care of those who are not" (p. 124-5). He feels a good beginning for a meaningful life is to treat everyone with equal kindness: family, friends, the store clerk, the mechanic in the garage, the ex-convict. It may take concentrated effort at first, but not for long. When making a point, Lozoff often tells stories or uses a quotation. He introduces the subject of marriage, for instance, with these words of Leo Tolstoy: "The goal of our life should not be to find joy in marriage, but to bring more love and truth into the world. We marry to assist each other in this task" (p. 193).

There are various discussions about the eternal divine essence and its human instrument, the transient personal ego which contains both the highest and the lowest. One meditation is built around an unusual analogy between man and mountain. A mountain is filled with life: vegetation, birds, insects, mammals, reptiles, bacteria, and sometimes hiking humans. It knows sunshine and spring showers, downpours, blizzards, fire, and wind storms. Despite the variety of life on its surface and unpredictable weather, the mountain itself is never perturbed and remains what it is: a mountain. Like the mountain, we are filled with millions of lives, cells that form organs, genes that direct their activities, nerve centers to supply sensation, eyes to see, ears to hear, tongues to taste. And the brain, the tool of mind, can interpret, steady, and appreciably control these lesser parts that let us live. Yet only the spiritual mind remains unperturbed, come what may, so that through sunshine and storm we remain what we are: one of billions of ever-changing, developing humans.

The author regards each person as a colored sheath of threads that make up the tapestry of humanity. He imagines that spiritual persons enhance it, the good blend in, while the selfish and violent twist the fabric, marring the harmonious pattern. There is need for more spiritually aware individuals, and he wants everyone to know that a meaningful life is not dull but filled with joy and humor, that lessening self-interest begets welcome unselfishness and concern for others. Such a life, he assures us, is within the reach of every person willing to cultivate a positive and spiritual approach to his or her everyday life and relationships. — Jean B. Crabbendam

E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis, Walker & Company, New York, 2000; 337 pages, ISBN 0802713521, hardcover, $25.00.

The year 1905 has often been termed Einstein's "miraculous year" when he published his paper on the Brownian movement within liquids, his relativity theory, and his equation E=mc2. Briefly, the equation means that energy and mass are two aspects of the same underlying thing (or rather, event). This history of the concepts and implications of Einstein's equation, focusing on the people involved, is written without mathematics for the general reader. To provide an understandable entry into Einstein's discovery, the author introduces his theme by taking up each term of the equation and weaving into it the scientific concepts and their developers. He then explains several ensuing consequences that had an enormous impact upon 20th- century life, such as the development of the atom bomb, our current understanding of reactions in stars, and how stars create the various chemical elements found on earth and throughout the cosmos.

Along the way Bodanis introduces us to many remarkable figures, some household names, others relatively obscure. For example, there is the insight of Hindu astrophysicist and Nobel-prize winner Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who at 19 was on board ship heading for Cambridge University in England. Gazing at the night sky, he suddenly realized that if energy and mass are two aspects of one thing, then when a star bursts its outer layers, the remaining core would be bound together by an increasing intensity of gravitational pull which would also draw toward it nearby substance — in short, that it might become what we today call a black hole. It was many years, however, before his idea was endorsed by other physicists.

This look into the history of science stimulates the reader's own thoughts. It brought to my mind the idea that Einstein's equation entails the birth, life, and death of the universe, however many trillions of years it may take to fulfill. Also, that in all infinity there is no one absolute "birth" or "death," but instead an endless flow or succession of universes formed of endlessly evolving component parts, each of which manifests more and more of its own innate qualities. — I. M. Oderberg

In the Dark Places of Wisdom by Peter Kingsley, The Golden Sufi Center, Inverness, CA, 1999; 270 pages, ISBN 189035010x, softcover, $12.95.

Traditionally the West has traced its intellectual life back to ancient Greece, particularly to Athenian philosophy of the 4th century BC which emphasized intellectual discourse and logical analysis. Development of this rational mindset is often pictured as the culmination of Greek thought and its greatest contribution to mankind. As in his earlier Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1995), Dr. Kingsley disputes this view, maintaining that Greek philosophy is deeply rooted in the mystical and experiential philosophies of the pre-Socratics, particularly the Pythagoreans.

Writing in an easy style, the author gradually unriddles evidence about the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides, centering on the opening lines of his philosophical poem and archeological discoveries made in Velia, Italy, some forty years ago. Dr. Kingsley maintains that Parmenides was not only a profound philosopher and logician, but also a mystic, the twice-born follower of Apollo, god of initiation, prophecy, lawgiving, and the midnight sun. The author traces this Mediterranean mystical philosophy to Greek cities in Anatolia (today part of Turkey). Even in the 7th and 6th centuries BC this region was far from isolated: there was extensive contact not only with Spain, Italy, and the rest of Greece, but with Persia, Babylonia, Egypt, India, China, and shamanistic peoples in central Asia as far away as Mongolia.

Dr. Kingsley's presentation throws light on the underlying unity behind prophecy, healing, lawgiving, and philosophy, and their relation to Apollo. The path to discovering these capacities, he feels, involves encountering truth at first hand by entering other states of consciousness. An important factor on this quest was the existence in the ancient world of a succession of spiritual teachers.

The purpose behind In the Dark Places of Wisdom is not primarily academic, however, though many of his comments are documented in endnotes. Rather, the author has in mind a larger goal:

The life of the senses can never fulfill us, . . . if we want to grow up, become true men and women, we have to face death before we die. We have to discover what it is to be able to slide behind the scenes and disappear.
. . . Even in these modern times, what half-heartedly is described as mystical perception is always pushed to the periphery. . . . But what we haven't been told is that a spiritual tradition lies at the very roots of western civilization.
. . . Nothing about who those people were, or what they taught, is appreciated any more. Even the traces of their existence have almost been wiped out. . . .
Now it's important to make contact with that tradition again — not just for our sakes but for the sake of something larger. . . . And we don't have to look outside ourselves. We don't have to turn to a culture any different from the world we live in. Everything we need is inside us, deep in our own roots, just waiting to be touched. . . .
And yet for contact with that tradition a price has to be paid. . . .
The price is what it always has been: ourselves, our willingness to be transformed. Nothing less will do.
We can't just stand back and watch. We can't stand back because we ourselves are the missing ingredient. Without our involvement words are only words. And that tradition didn't exist to edify, or entertain, or even to inspire. It existed to draw people home. — pp. 6-8

In seeking this spiritual home, philosophy resumes its rightful place as a way of life based on the love of wisdom. Despite a strong anti-Platonic bias, In the Dark Places of Wisdom represents a much-needed reinterpretation, showing that the elements missing from western thought today were present originally and can be recovered by us as an integral part of our own culture. For the tradition leading back through ancient Greece offers us not only food for the mind, but provides generously for the spirit. — Sarah Belle Dougherty

(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)

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Boundless Space is our home. Thither we shall go, and there indeed we even now are. We are not only connected by unbreakable links with the very heart of Infinitude, but we ourselves are that heart. This is the still small path of which the ancient philosophers taught; the path of the spiritual Self within. — G. de Purucker