Saturday, June 27, 2020

A Useful Book on Meditation

     Continuing on a run of book recommendations for summer reading, today's feature is Anthony de Mello's Sadhana, a Way to God: Christian Exercises in Eastern Form.  If you would like to expand your repertoire of meditation practices, this is a great book to have.

     I've written about Anthony de Mello before.  He was a Jesuit priest, born in India, received his higher education in Great Britain, and prolific writer and teacher.  Given his background, he was uniquely able to meld Christian beliefs with Indian meditative practices.  This book is the result.

     Like many meditation books, he starts with concentration exercises, such as focusing on the breath or body sensations, and advances to practices which he called meditations based on fantasy.  By this he meant meditative practices which use the imagination to access spiritual insights, promote relaxation, heal past trauma, and bring peace.  For me, these were the most interesting and useful practices.

     The last section deals with meditative practices that are strictly Christian in nature.  If you are Christian, you will have no issue with this section, but if you are not, you may have difficulty transferring the practices to your own spiritual viewpoint.  But no matter, the rest of the book is well worth the money.  A highly recommended book for those wanting to deepen their meditations.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

An Informative Historical Book, Part 2

     Last week I was praising my latest read, Joel F. Harrington's Dangerous Mystic: Meister Eckhart's Path to the God Within.  While it is not an easy-breezy read, it is definitely worth the effort. 

     While it is valuable for its historical insights, I think I appreciated most how Dr. Harrington explained Meister Eckhart's spiritual teachings.  Meister Eckhart believed that the masses to whom he preached could be taught how to unite with the God within and would sometimes use phrasing that bordered on pantheism and other non-orthodox beliefs.  One such statement was, "Therefore I pray to God to make me free of God."  He also stressed that the inward state is much more valuable to God than good works.  Of course, this eventually brought him unwelcome notice for the religious authorities and he was called in to explain his allegedly heretical statements.  I won't ruin the ending for you, but it cost him both his reputation as well as his being officially "forgotten" for many centuries.

     I think that what is important about this book is that Dr. Harrington worked to present Eckhart's teachings within the framework of his time and place.  As we have seen in the last several decades, several authors have taken some of Eckhart's words and used them to promote their own viewpoint, but Dr. Harrington clearly counteracts that.  Meister Eckhart taught important spiritual insights that must be taken within their context and, once understood, can provide useful nuggets for spiritual wisdom in our times. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

An Informative Historical Book

     I just finished reading Joel F. Harrington's book, Dangerous Mystic: Meister Eckhart's Path to the God Within.  What a terrific read.  It was also a slightly more taxing read than I am used to, but perhaps I grew a few more brain cells in the process.  I was glad I made the effort.

     The author is a professor of history at Vanderbilt University and an expert on social and religious history in premodern Germany.  He provides the reader with a thorough sense of German life in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, the Catholic viewpoint and the political struggles of that time.  Within this framework, he zeroes in on the life of a Dominican monk from a small town who had both keen intellectual gifts as well as unique spiritual insights.

     Meister Eckhart was clearly a man of enormous potential, as his superiors supported his intellectual pursuits at the Univeristy of Paris, where he eventually earned a Master of religious studies and also taught there.  He was also a gifted administrator and his superiors also relied on him to lead at various monasteries where the political winds were particularly treacherous.

     However, it is Meister Eckhart's spiritual insights which have made him known, in a negative way toward the end of the life, and somewhat more positively in recent years.  A highly recommended book.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

An Informative Book

     Some time ago I visited our city's art museum and looked at an exhibit of art based on the life of Guru Nanak.  I had read that he was the founder of Sikhism, but knew nothing else about him.  I had a very superficial knowledge of Sikhism because I had taken a class from someone of that faith some years ago.  That's all I knew.

     When I looked at the art, I was struck by the simple honesty of the depictions.  The renderings were accompanied by brief descriptions of the scene they were portraying.  But since I didn't know anything about Guru Nanak's life, they meant little to me.  It was more of the energy of the work -- the directness, the simplicity, the quiet wisdom -- that touched me most.

     Of course, on our way out, we had to stop by the gift shop and I picked up a biography of Guru Nanak so I could learn more.  I finally sat down and read it bit by bit and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was a delightful read and illuminated the life of Guru Nanak as well as his teachings.  I learned a lot about Sikhism as well as its founder.

     And what is this book, you ask?  Let me tell you.  It's The First Sikh Spiritual Master: Timeless Wisdom from the Life and Techniques of Guru Nanak by Harish Dhillon.  I found myself looking forward to seeing what would happen to Guru Nanak, as his biography read like an adventure story.  Of course, I also relished the parts which explained his teachings and beliefs.

     If you'd like to learn more about Sikhism and its founder, this is a great book to get.  Highly recommended.