“The Beyond Within” by Huston Smith
Background: Huston Smith was one of the first American scholars to urge and develop an empathetic attempt to understand non-Western religious traditions. His aim was not merely that Western students know certain “facts” (such as doctrines and ritual practices) of other traditions, but that they come to “see” what it was like to live within such traditions. Smith taught at Washington University, MIT, Syracuse, and now lives in a very active retirement in California. In this reading, Smith attempts to provide some preliminary reflections for an appreciation of the advaita (or non-dual) approach to absolute reality as propounded by one major tradition in India. The primary textual source of this understanding of absolute reality is the Chandogya Upanishad, a text originating during the middle of the first millenium BCE (around the time of Plato and the Buddha and many of the major Hebrew prophets and Confucius and the legendary Lao-tze).
Do you agree with the claim that what we really want (315) is unlimited joy, awareness, and being? Do you agree that it is relatively easy to overcome physical restrictions to joy? What does it mean to claim that extinguishing our ego expectations (316) would remove all psychological and spiritual restrictions to joy? Do you find this a valuable or helpful insight? Why or why not? Do you believe it is possible to expand our self to the vantage point of eternity? Why is this not an instance of insufferable egoism?
Does the claim that we can know everything (316) appear plausible to you? How would you make sense of such a claim? Granted your rendering of it, why do you think it is (or is not) a plausible goal?
Does Smith’s suggestions to approach the question of being both spatially and temporally (317) appear plausible to you? Explain what you think he is getting at and why you hold it may (or may not) be possible.
What is your estimation of the final point of this selection, that Hinduism sees the human self already infinite, but needing to be awaken? (317) Does Smith’s claim that attaining such an infinite awareness by a human being cannot be explained appear meaningful to you?