Posts Tagged ‘Lao Tzu’

Alan J. Steinberg’s debut novel reminds me of the age-old quest ‘To Be Enlightened’ I first read about in Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Razor’s Edge’

July 30, 2021

“The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.” — Katha-Upanishad.

If you are a seeker, To Be Enlightened by Alan J. Steinberg, MD may inform and inspire you. The theme is reminiscent of Somerset Maugham’s novel, The Razor’s Edge*, which was made into a movie, twice.

In that story, Larry Darrel, traumatized from the war, postpones his marriage to travel, study, and find himself. He goes to Europe, and eventually India, where he meets a guru who prepares him for a profound experience of transcendence. Transformed, he returns to the world he left behind. The post-war economic recession had impacted his friend who is psychologically distraught. His former fiancee is now married to him. Larry later gets involved with an old friend who has suffered much and tries to save her. His ex is not content to have let him go and stirs up trouble. Complications lead to tragedy. In the end, Larry is free to live his life on his own terms; in the world, but not of it.

In this story, the main character, Abe Levy, a philosophy professor, already meditates. Unlike a greater part of the previous century, meditation and yoga have become ubiquitous in the west. But Professor Levy is not content with his twice-daily meditations. He is in a rush ‘To Be Enlightened’ and may risk his marriage and job to try and achieve it. The story has some surprising twists and turns along the way, enough to have kept this reader turning pages.

From the book description:

To Be Enlightened is a cosmic love story that follows Professor of Philosophy Abe Levy as he grapples with what it means to love both his wife, Sarah, and the ocean of silence within. It is also an intellectual exploration of the most intimate of subjects: our consciousness.

Abe Levy’s long tenure as a philosophy professor has motivated thousands of students to ponder age-old questions in light of New Age ideas. Though Abe is passionate about his teaching, he is obsessed with a powerful childhood dream of heaven. To return to that heaven, he must reach enlightenment in his lifetime. Day after day, Abe settles into deep meditation, reaching the very cusp of his goal but unable to cross the threshold. Desperately, he commits to doing whatever it takes, even if it means abandoning his wife for a more ascetic life—a decision that sets off a cascade of consequences for Abe, Sarah, and those he loves the most.

I found it interesting that the theme of each chapter was prefaced with a relevant profound quote from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, reputed author of the Tao Te Ching and founder of Taoism.

This is Dr. Alan Steinberg’s debut novel, and it is a worthy one. I recommend it for anyone who doesn’t know much about meditation, as well as those with a meditative practice.

The classroom discussions reveal interesting perspectives between western philosophy and the Vedic knowledge brought out by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique. And Abe’s and his wife Sarah’s experiences in and out of their TM practice are very relevant to the story’s unfolding.

The book is an enlightening read. I enjoyed how other readers responded to it and appreciated Susan Miller‘s insights in her San Francisco Book Review. Here is a link to an excellent interview with the author.

You can download the first chapter at his website Alan J. Steinberg, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram. Dr. Steinberg publishes articles on meditation in Psychology Today. Visit his linktr.ee for links to articles, book reviews, and more.

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*Scroll down in this blog post about my favorite romantic movies to the subheading LEAVING ROMANCE BEHIND TO FIND ONESELF to read more about Maugham’s novel and the two films based upon it.

Another novel about a meditating philosophy professor worth reading is, “The Best Of All Possible Worlds” by B. Steven Verney.

God? ~ Dr. Evan Finkelstein

December 7, 2011

God? ~ Dr. Evan Finkelstein

Some say there is one God; some say there are many Gods, some that there is no God at all.

What does this have to do with the price of beans in China? Not much. Unless you were God, then, according to some, You would be the beans, You would be the price, and You would be China. And, even when people referred to You as “You” they would have to capitalize the Y. That’s pretty special treatment.

Some people destroy in the name of “their” God and are convinced that they are doing the right thing. Others think those people are crazy and that God (“their” God, not the God of the crazy people) will certainly punish the destroyers for their wicked deeds.

Obviously, the God of those people can’t be as great as “our” God; if He/She were, then those people wouldn’t be doing those insane things. Why can’t they just come over to our God? And see the “true” Light? Then, everything would be so much better (at least, from that point of view).

For thousands of years, there have been arguments, wars, inquisitions, trials, immolations, excommunications and on and on, related to the existence and nature of God: what is the right way to envision God?

Does He, or maybe She, sit on a large fancy throne high up in the clouds somewhere in heaven surrounded by angels and other assorted celestial beings? And, how did they get that heavy throne to stay up in the sky? Well, it’s God, man, He/She can do anything!

Well, if He/She can do anything why can’t my team get into the Superbowl? Is He/She deaf? Can’t God hear my prayers? Is Green Bay, Wisconsin closer to heaven than Chicago, Illinois? Or, do they just yell louder? Does this mean that God has preferences? Does He/She just like some of us better than others of us? Is it the way we dress? Our cologne? Our mouthwash? Was it something we said?

And if God is omnipresent why can’t we see Him/Her?

I mean God should be a lot easier to find than our glasses or car keys. Some saints claimed to experience God; others said those saints were nuts and that God is a just a hallucination of their imagination. Some contend God doesn’t exist at all. Life just came into being of its own; we don’t know exactly how it first started; it just did that’s all, just be quiet and pass the chips.

And some say that God is supposed to be omniscient about the past, present, and future. He/She knows everything you’re going to do before you do it. So, do we have free will or not? If God already knows, then isn’t everything already predestined? So is free will fake? An illusion? Are we just a bunch of wind-up toys that can’t find the key nor meet our winder? Some of us fall off the table and some of us don’t, but there’s no rhyme or reason why? Or is there rhyme and reason, but few, if any, can figure it out? Not poets, nor logicians. Maybe, those that think they figured it out start religions or, at least, health spas.

And, what is this whole thing about suffering? Some say that God is all merciful and all loving and omnipotent. If He/She is that way, why is so much of the world in turmoil? Why are there so many tears and fears? Can’t God control His/Her own show?

If not, then where’s the omnipotence? If God can, then where’re all the love and the mercy? Or, do we bring the suffering on ourselves by doing things we shouldn’t and perhaps God’s just shaking His/Her cosmic head thinking: “I really wish they’d stop doing that! Well, in time they’ll learn; if I do it all for them, they’ll never develop.”

And what about Justice? Some say God is like a completely fair and impartial judge. He/She rewards the just and punishes the wicked. Well bad things certainly do happen to good people. At least, many would say they are good people and the things that happened to them were bad. Would God not agree? Does He/She perhaps see things we don’t? Or, is reincarnation true and these good folks are just currently reaping what they have sown in some past not so good life? This could explain a lot of seeming inequities, if it were true.

Maybe there is order and justice in the world; maybe it is being run by an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving and intelligent existence, but who really knows?

Maybe it’s all just an empty nothing that came from nowhere and is going to nowhere, but it sure, sometimes, dresses fancy and makes a lot of noise trying to figure things out and find its way! Maybe that’s what God is, the actual process of living.

During my life-search, in 1969 I learned the practice of Transcendental Meditation and something opened up to me inside; it was an experience of simplicity, peace and a sweet feeling of “knowingness,” it felt very good and it occurred many times during my years of practice. These days, when my mind rumbles on, as it sometimes will, about all these theological and philosophical questions, I just have to laugh because it’s just so funny that one can know without knowing. Yes, as strange as it may seem, one can know without knowing.

Lao Tzu put it this way in part of Verse 1 of the Tao Te Ching:

A mind free of thought,
merged within itself,
beholds the essence of Tao
A mind filled with thought,
identified with its own perceptions,
beholds the mere forms of this world.

Buddha put it this way:

Then Subhuti asked: “What does enlightenment mean?”

The Buddha replied: “Enlightenment is a way of saying that all things are seen in their intrinsic empty nature, their Suchness, their ungraspable wonder. Names or words are merely incidental, but that state which sees no division, no duality, is enlightenment.” Prajnaparamita

Subhuti asked: “Is it possible to find perfect wisdom through reflection or listening to statements or through signs or attributes, so that one can say ‘This is it’ or Here it is?’”

The Buddha answered: “No, Subhuti. Perfect wisdom can’t be learned or distinguished or thought about or found through the senses. This is because nothing in this world can be finally explained, it can only be experienced, and thus all things are just as they are. Perfect wisdom can never be experienced apart from all things. To see the Suchness of things, which is their empty calm being, is to see them just as they are.” Ashtasahasrika

Maharishi Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras put it this way:

“Yoga is the complete settling of the activity of the mind.”

David put it this way in the biblical Psalms:

“Be still and know that I am God.”

The Sufi Farid Al-Din ‘Attar expressed it like this:

The heart is the dwelling place of that which is the Essence of the universe within the very heart and soul is the very Essence of God. Like the saints, make a journey into your self; like the lovers of God cast one glance within. As a lover now, in contemplation {sustained experience} of the Beloved be unveiled within and behold the Essence. Form is a veil to you and your heart is a veil. When the veil vanishes, you will become all light.

The Sufi Mahmud Shabistari put it this way:

“In that presence “I” and “we” and “you” do not exist. “I” and “you” and “we” and “He” become one: since in the unity there is no distinction, the Quest and the Way and the Seeker become one.”

The Christian mystic John Ruusbroec said it like this:

“There the soul is simple, spotless, and pure, empty of everything. In this pure emptiness the Father reveals his divine resplendence, which neither reason nor senses, neither rational observation nor distinctions can attain.”

The Cabbalist Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla expressed it this way:

The depth of primordial Being is called Boundless. Because of its concealment from all creatures above and below, it is also called Nothingness…. Its existence cannot be grasped by anyone other than it. Therefore, its name is “I am becoming.”

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi put it this way:

“Once the mind gets to the transcendence, it knows Itself. It’s not the mind that knows Being; Being knows Itself. As long as there is some activity, we say “mind”; when activity subsides, it’s pure awareness. It is not knowing; it is Knowingness.”

“Being is known on the level of Knowingness, not the level of thinking.”

Anyway, some thoughts about God and going beyond them—happy journey!

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Dr. Finkelstein is professor of Comparative Religion and Maharishi Vedic Science at Maharishi University of Management. He has written articles that identify the common ground inherent in many of the ancient wisdom traditions. He has taught numerous courses on the universal principles that can be located in Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

God? was first published in on Nov 30, 2011.

Also see: Buddha and Meditation by Dr. Evan Finkelstein. And this related article: You Are God: Who? … Me? By William T. Hathaway.


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