Standing in front of the Book Bin’s Eastern religion section today, I experienced a literary mini-satori: The only book I really want to buy is me.
My exceedingly mild enlightenment descended upon me after a minute or so of browsing. I’d been thumbing through the only sections, Buddhism and Taoism, that are of any interest to me recently.
The voluminous shelves of Christian books, ugh. Judaism, no interest. Islam and Sufism, too preachy. So I was reduced to pawing through a few square feet of Buddhist and Taoist writings, and even here I found myself replacing possible purchases almost as soon as I glanced at the front and back covers.
Dogmatic. Too personal. A rehash. Superficial. Overly intellectual.
Then the flash of insight hit me. What I was looking for was a spiritual book that exactly expressed everything that I already hold to be true. In short, I wanted to read about me. My beliefs, my approach to fathoming the meaning of life, my meditation practice, my God-philosophy.
I wasn’t searching for fresh truth. I wanted a validation of what is already true for me. I wasn’t trying to find answers to the big questions of life. I hoped to find that someone else had dealt with the questions in the same way as I am.
The obvious ridiculousness of my self-reflective quest almost made me walk out of the book store. Almost.
For I ended up buying “Dropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn.” Again, not so much because I’ll learn anything new from the book. I just liked the idea of dropping ashes on the Buddha. Or Jesus, God, Allah, Lao Tzu, Moses, Zoroaster, the Pope, a guru—anyone who is unduly reverenced for reasons that aren’t genuinely reverential.
Someday, perhaps, I’ll stop buying spiritual books that simply reflect my own vision of reality. I’ll have enough confidence in myself to trust me directly, instead of feeling drawn to highlight passages that I could have written and muttering, “Ah, well said.”
Whenever I go to Powell’s Books in Portland, one of the country’s largest bookstores, where the religious and metaphysical area seems to go on forever, I’m struck by how the browsers in each aisle so closely reflect the subject matter being browsed.
There in the Wiccan section will be a long-haired woman in a flowing purple dress wearing lots of jewelry. There in the Judaic section will be a serious-looking man with a skullcap. There in the Christian section will be a soberly-dressed teenager with a cross around her neck.
And there in the Eastern philosophy section will be a gray-haired man with a beard wearing a batik shirt. Me. Looking for a book that will affirm what I already know. Or rather, am pretty sure that I know. As are my fellow spiritual book-browsing comrades.
The wisdom we’re all looking for is us. We just aren't convinced of that yet.
Except, when I read what I just wrote, I have to ask, “Don’t I know that, since I said it?” Yes, I do.
But the question is, am I ready to hear my own answer?