Sunny Side Up

I will never know for sure why I found Siddhartha appealing some thirty plus years ago, but I suspect it was because of its optimism. After years of reading existential literature, fighting in Vietnam, serving as a caseworker, and teaching high school English, I was more than ready for a novel that suggested a spiritual journey was still a possibility.

In On Rereading Siddhartha author Nancy Lord says:

It was clear to me, rereading Siddhartha, why the story appealed to me so much in my youth. Didn’t I also resist the values of my family and what I saw as the smallness of the lives surrounding me, and didn’t I also yearn to head out on my own, to live a life of spiritual awareness and intellectual mindfulness?

Although I was much older than Lord when I read the novel I had long since lost faith in traditional Christianity with its endless sermons on sin and damnation to provide a guide to a more meaningful existence and had not yet discovered works like the Gospel of Thomas.

In other words, I was probably Searching for Enlightenment in All the Wrong Places. It was the same motive that had me reading Carlos Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan, Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Krishnamurti's The First and Last Freedom, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's Meditation: The Art of Ecstasy, and a host of similar books.

Convinced that all roads could lead to God, I somehow found myself walking a maze of roads instead of traveling the Highway to Heaven. The Doubting Thomas in me kept me from going too far down any of those roads before I'd spot something I didn't believe or didn't seem quite right; my LSD friends really didn't seem that enlightened, some seemed downright depressed; the author later joined a commune in Sweden that believes in space ships.

And, yes, like Siddhartha, I tended to trust my deeper self more than others. I've always been far too independent to join any kind of cult. When I came to ideas that didn't fit with my early Christian Scientist beliefs, I examined them more closely than I might otherwise have done. In the end, I found myself turning back to poetry and literature rather than to New Age How-To books for inspiration.

Through Chinese and Japanese poetry I found my way to Taoism and Zen Buddhism, beliefs that seemed remarkably similar to ideas I'd found in Emerson and Thoreau years before and had instantly identified with.

Recently I found The Dhammapada. I wish I had found it years ago.

As noted earlier on this blog, I also find myself returning again and again to the Gospel of Thomas which I found several years ago after the Nag Hammadi Library was published.

4 thoughts on “Sunny Side Up

  1. Not many buddhists out there, evidently. I bought Harold Bloom’s book, “Where Shall Wisdom Be Found.” He has a chapter on the Gospel of St. Thomas, which I’m unfamiliar with, but which he apparently found very significant. I’ll have to look over your postings on that writing.

  2. Judging from bookstores there are probably more New Agers out there than Buddhists, but at least here on the West Coast there are quite a few Buddhists, Tom.

    You can actually find some very good translations of The Gospel of Thomas online. Also, check out what Elaine Pagels had to say about it in her latest book. I also reviewed that at the same time.

  3. In the last issue of Harpers magazine there was an essay that provided a comparison between The Gospel of Thomas and the vision of Christianity Thomas Jefferson had– a focus not upon the concepts of salvation and miracles, but upon the basic teachings on how people should live, also agrarian based. I’ve always leaned toward Eastern teaching and this was my first exposure to the Gospel of Thomas; very interesting and will have to look for the online works.

  4. I mean no disrespect, Brian, but St. Thomas’s Gospel sounds a little like Flannery O’Connor’s “Church of Christ Without Christ,? in “Wise Blood”: “where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.?
    Edith Stein said trust anything that has love; I’d read St. Thomas’s Gospel with that standard in mind. If you’re unfamiliar with her writings, her Novena of the Holy Spirit is electrifying; a beautiful prayer. http://www.ewtn.com/faith/edith_stein.htm

What do you think?