I just finished mailing off 87 pounds of books I once was deeply attached to.
As related in my previous blog post, "Break free of the religious merry-go-round," I got an email from a woman in India who was looking for early editions of books published by Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB). I told her that I had plenty of them.
After a few additional rounds of messaging, it was decided that I should send the books to her two daughters, who live in the United States. They'll find ways to get the books over to her in New Delhi, such as by carrying a few at a time in their luggage when they make a family visit.
Getting the three 12 inch square boxes ready for mailing brought to mind several thoughts, all pleasant, though accompanied by some deep poignant feelings.
Books mean a lot to me. As they did to my mother, an avid reader.
These RSSB books were especially meaningful for many years. After all, they reflected my philosophy of life, how I viewed ultimate reality, what I assumed the purpose of human existence to be. Yet that was then; now I feel differently.
Still, I wanted someone else to get his/her own meaning from the RSSB books. As soon as I got the first email from the woman in New Delhi, I realized that no longer did I want the books to sit in storage containers in our garage attic.
I wanted to give my books away.
I had no idea what they were worth to a used book dealer. I didn't care. I much preferred giving them to someone who would appreciate them, than get some money for them from someone who saw the books as a commodity.
Here are the three book boxes, ready to be taken to the post office. Against the middle box I propped a beautiful book that was freely-given to me in 1969 by Curt Siodmak, a man I barely knew, but who I've fondly remembered every time I've looked at the book over the past 43 years.
The book is a 1934 edition (first edition, I assume) of "The Song Celestial," Sir Edwin Arnold's translation of the Bhagavad Gita. It's got some marvelous illustrations by Willy Pogany.
Curt Siodmak lived in Three Rivers, California, where I grew up. His house was on the south fork of the Kaweah River. My mother and I resided on the middle fork. One of my best friends, Todd Wells, was a fellow south forker. In 1969 he took me to meet Mr. Siodmak when I'd come home from college on a visit.
I was studying yoga with a crazed/crazy Greek yogi who had started a Christananda Ashram in San Jose, where I was going to college at San Jose State. That's a whole other story...
Curt Siodmak was a creative guy, a writer who wrote the screenplay for "The Wolfman" that starred Lon Chaney. He also wrote "Donovan's Brain," which was made into a '50s movie by the same name that I dimly remember watching in my childhood.
I can't remember exactly what we talked about at Siodmak's house. Indian philosophy certainly came up, because I do recall the moment when, without a word, he walked over to a bookcase, pulled something down, and handed it to me.
"Here. I want you to have this," Siodmak said.
I was shocked. College student that I was, my books were bought on the cheap, usually used and worn. Curt Siodmak had given me a beautiful hard cover book in a rather fancy slip-in box (which I've lost). The publication date was 1934. It looked like a collector's item. And Siodmak barely knew me.
I've never forgotten that moment. That wonderful spontaneous, natural moment.
No artifice. No speech about the book. I have no idea whether it meant a lot, a little, or nothing to him. I simply remember the casual ease with which Curt Siodmak gave me a book in the space of fifteen seconds that I've treasured for 43 years.
When my mother's long time live-in companion, Bill, died (it felt sort of strange to be a liberal all legally married while my conservative mother was "shacking up" with a man), I gave her "The Song Celestial," pointing her to Krishna's words:
Nay, but as when one layeth
His worn-out robes away,
And, taking new ones, sayeth,
"These will I wear today!"
So putteth by the spirit
Lightly its garb of flesh,
And passeth to inherit
A residence afresh.
After my mother died from a stroke a few years later, I found the book Curt Siodmak had given me on her bedside table. A piece of note paper marked the page with the words I quoted. My mother had penciled in some brackets to mark that passage and another that begins with:
Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never;
Never was time it was not; End and Beginning are dreams!
Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit for ever
Death hath not touched it at all, dead though the house of it seems!
I don't believe in those words any more. I don't know if my mother ever really did. Maybe. Maybe not. Doesn't matter.
What matters is how Curt Siodmak's freely-given book became such a big part of my life. And still is.
I have no interest in the content of "The Song Celestial" now, the Bhagavad Gita having come to seem to me nearly as truth-lacking as the Bible or Koran. But the way the book was given to me, so naturally and, yes, so irreligiously -- that has stuck in my mind all these years. And it reminds me of my mother.
After 1971, when I was initiated by the Radha Soami Satsang Beas guru into this Indian spiritual/mystical organization, I saw a lot of giving going on. The guru would give out parshad, blessed food akin to a sacrament. Disciples would give time and energy to their volunteering. Giving was all over the place.
But none of it ever struck me as being so real as Curt Siodmak's walking over to his bookcase, pulling out "The Song Celestial," and handing it to me. It was an unforced, intuitive, natural moment which reflected Siodmak's artistic nature. I didn't sense anything behind his action, just the action itself.
So when I left the post office after mailing the three boxes of books, I felt good. I thought of Curt Siodmak. I have no idea whether the Indian woman who is getting my 87 pounds of books will find them meaningful, or even if she'll read most of them.
They're a gift. I felt like giving them away. The woman felt like taking them. Simple. Which is how life is, when religious morality, dogmatism, and holier-than-thou'ness is abjured.
Books come. Books go. Life comes. Life goes. No big deal. Just the only deal -- doing what comes naturally.