1997-04-11: The Enlightened Mind

The Enlightened Mind

An Anthology of Sacred Prose (1991)

ed, Stephen Mitchell (1943-)

This anthology gathers in one place words of over sixty wise men and women, from as early as the eighth century BCE to the twentieth century CE, and from the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Zen, and other categories of philosophy and plain thoughtfulness. I was a little surprised not to find Tolstoy represented.

I found some of it tedious, but much interesting. Among the tedious was some from the Islamic world. Perhaps I simply don’t recognize the dialect, but it seemed often to have a defensive tone, as of someone looking over his shoulder for an orthodoxy carrying a sword. Some of the Christian seemed similar.

Look for yourself. Here is Mitchell’s forward:

The modern Indian sage Ramana Maharshi once defined a genuine seeker as someone who has “a constant and passionate longing to break free from life’s sorrow–not by running away from it, but by growing beyond his mind and experiencing in himself the reality of the Self, which knows neither birth nor death.” Longing is, for most of us, an essential stage in spiritual life.

But it is only a stage, an arrow that points inward, to the experience of God. It is not the experience itself, just as seeking is not finding, although we must seek in order to find. And if we seek the kingdom of heaven anywhere else (“It is here!”; “It is there!”), how can we realize that it is truly here? “Reality and perfection,” Spinoza said, “are synonymous.”

This anthology and its companion volume, The Enlightened Heart, collect the poetry and prose not of longing but of fulfillment. The men and women who speak to us from these pages have each, to a greater or lesser extent, entered into the kingdom of heaven. In order to tell us about what is unknown and unknowable, they have to speak in terms of the known. That is why metaphorical language is so indispensable, and why the distinction between poetry and prose finally breaks down.

The distinction between heart and mind is just as artificial; Chinese, for example, has only one word for our two. So I hereby retract Mind in The Enlightened Mind, and Prose in An Anthology of Sacred Prose. And come to think of it, I would also like to retract Enlightened. (The Buddha said, “Please don’t think that when I attained enlightenment, there was anything I attained.”) As for Sacred: “Throw away sacredness and wisdom,” Lao-tzu said, “and people will be a hundred times happier.”

What are we left with? Let’s just say that this book is a testimony of those who have seen God’s face in the mirror, a collection of good words from the kingdom of here and now: much ado about Nothing.

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