CURIOSITY: The desire to enlarge oneself is the desire to embrace
"THE NEXT ENLIGHTENMENT: Integrating East and West in A New Vision of Human Evolution" by Walter Truett Anderson, published by St. Martin's Press. PD book review, Jon Fobes.
In his famous essay called "What is Enlightenment" philosopher Immanuel Kant says that enlightenment is simply our ability to determine our own lives without leaning excessively upon authority, tradition or established values: in short, taking responsibility for our views as our views.
Walter Truett Anderson takes up where Kant left off with an incredible book that urges a form of personal and cultural evolution he calls, "The Next Enlightenment." Anderson is not advocating anything weird or mystical but is simply pointing out that there are many schools of thought "built around the proposition that ordinary maturity is not the ultimate stage of human development."
"We usually are satisfied to think of maturity as growing up within a culture to fit a particular society's roles, rules and expectations," Anderson writes. But the kind of maturity encouraged in "The Next Enlightenment" is more a matter of growing up beyond culture.
Of course, whenever we head for uncharted territory, it helps to have a knowledgeable guide. With a Ph.D. in political science and social psychology, Anderson certainly qualifies.
He also is president of the American Division of the World Academy of Art and Science, an associate editor and columnist for the Pacific News Service, and a founder and fellow of the future-focused Meridian Institute. And he has been writing for decades about the collision of philosophy, psychology, sociology, science and religion in delightful books like "Reality Isn't What it Used to Be" and "The Truth about Truth."
Anderson hopes "The Next Enlightenment" will show us that culture and all the values, beliefs and ideas it promotes is a "product of fallible beings ... only one of many ways to manage human interaction, and that its canon of universal truths is only one of many ways to describe the world."
His book is a recipe for diversity and a primer on how to think outside the box; it provides a helpful and engaging introduction for those new to the minefield of cross-disciplinary thought and a wonderful review for those of us who read in this area daily.
Anderson points out that in some schools of thought enlightenment is for only the few, those blessedly advanced in matters spiritual, who may leave the everyday world behind to pursue deep thought in monasteries or ivory towers.
But he refreshingly takes issue with that notion, saying that the self-evolution which leads to enlightenment is a "natural process of human growth ... potentially within reach of all human beings." It is, in short, "everybody's business" and can take place in the home, on the job, in the library or at the beach.
He says that while today's postmodern world can seem confusing, there is a benefit to the vast array of choices we face: "It presents us with an opportunity to engage in a new way with new information" and to accept "the ancient challenge to understand what we are and grow up."
Anderson cites "the Big Three" stumbling blocks to maturity as, "Cosmology, identity, and epistemology; how you think about the universe, who you think you are, and what you believe about belief." And he shows us new ways to approach them and get over the rough spots in our understanding.
Because straightforward descriptions often fail to elucidate the inexplicable, writers of such texts are always on the lookout for good metaphors, and "The Next Enlightenment" is full of them.
For example, Anderson writes that, "People become so involved in their identity-narratives that they become lost in them like some brilliant builder who constructs a wonderful maze of gardens and buildings and then cannot find his way out of them into the world beyond — who indeed forgets that there is a world beyond."
He also quotes a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, who became fascinated with the chambered nautilus and saw in its restless house-building a metaphorical message about how to live a human life:
"Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
Finally, Anderson manages to convey complex ideas with wit and humor in abundance. For example, he cites the story of the Buddha's tooth to show how we simultaneously idolize and misunderstand our great teachers.
After the Buddha's cremation in 480 B.C. some of his followers sifted through the ashes and found two teeth — "apparently the only ones Buddha had left in an age innocent of floss and fluoride" — both of which currently serve as sacred relics, one at the Temple of the Tooth in Sri Lanka and the other at the Tooth Relic Pagoda on the outskirts of Beijing.
But ironically the teeth are only sacred to those Buddhists who misunderstand or forget the Buddha's main teaching, "That everything is illusory and transient, and attachment to anything is the ultimate foolishness." And he might add, "Especially teeth!"
That every time, place and people has its own version of the Buddha's tooth — and that culture wars and "the battle for god" rage across our newspaper pages daily — only shows how timely and important "The Next Enlightenment" is.
UNCERTAINTY: Living with no supernatural justifications,