October 23, 2004 5:00 PM
Sensible Mysticism: Studying the Great Religions
The author of such sweeping religious studies as A History of God is convinced that in our age of globalization people will inevitably turn to more than one religious tradition for inspiration.
That is why this former nun, while appearing on panels and in media interviews on the subject of Islam post 9/11, was also reading from the Buddhist canon for her latest book, Buddha. As have many before her, Armstrong says, I get my spirituality in study. The Jews say it happens, sometimes, studying the Torah.
To write a sort of anti-biography of the Buddha, a sixth-century B.C. figure who himself fought against the cult of personality, Armstrong deftly blends history, philosophy and mythology.
The Buddhas view, according to Armstrong, is this: Religion is like a raft. Once you get across the river, moor the raft and go on. Dont lug it with you if you dont need it anymore.
Amid her densely packed, rich observations, youll also hear her growing awareness of the up-to-the-minute relevance of this sages union of mystery and pragmatism.
In response to the natural aversion to abandoning ones personality, Armstrong says, the Buddha offered a simple argument: When people live as though the ego does not exist, they are happier.
After Karen Armstrong wrote her tell-all book about life in a convent in the 1960s, she received a barrage of hate mail. Now she is a beloved scholar and the author of numerous bestsellers on what unites the three great monotheistic faiths.