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Huston Smith

Huston Smith“Love is the movement within life that carries us, that enables us, that causes us to break out of what Alan Watts calls the “skin-encapsulated ego.” Without love, we are self-centered, but love enables us to move the center of our lives outside our ego. Therefore it expands our lives and, needless to say, enriches it. Any human being would give anything to love or be loved. When it really happens, it is like heaven on earth.”


The object of Philosophical Taoism is to align one’s daily life to the Tao, to ride its boundless tide and delight in its flow. The basic way to do this is to perfect a life of wu wei. Wu wei should not be translated as do-nothingness or inaction, for those words suggest a vacant attitude of idleness or abstention. Better renderings are pure effectiveness and creative quietude.

Creative quietude combines within a single individual two seemingly incompatible conditions—supreme activity and supreme relaxation. These seeming incompatibles can coexist because human beings are not self-enclosed entities. They ride an unbounded sea of Tao that sustains them, as we would say, through their subliminal minds. One way to create is through following the calculated directives of the conscious mind. The results of this mode of action, however, are seldom impressive; they tend to smack more of sorting and arranging than of inspiration. Genuine creation, as every artist knows, comes when the more abundant resources of the subliminal self are somehow tapped. But for this to happen a certain dissociation from the surface self is needed. The conscious mind must relax, stop standing in its own light, let go. Only so is it possible to break through the law of reversed effort in which the more we try the more our efforts boomerang.

Wu wei is the supreme action, the precious suppleness, simplicity, and freedom that flows from us, or rather through us, when our private egos and conscious efforts yield to a power not their own. In a way it is virtue approached from a direction diametrically opposite to that of Confucius. Confucius turned every effort to building a pattern of ideal responses that might be consciously imitated. Taoism’s approach is the opposite—to get the foundations of the self in tune with Tao and let behavior flow spontaneously. Action follows being; new action will follow new being, wiser being, stronger being. The Tao Te Ching puts this point without wasting a word. “The way to do,” it says, “is to be.”

How are we to describe the action that flows from a life that is grounded directly in Tao? Nurtured by a force that is infinitely subtle, infinitely intricate, it is a consummate gracefulness born from an abundant vitality that has no need for abruptness or violence. One simply lets the Tao flow in and flow out again until all life becomes a dance in which there is neither feverishness nor imbalance. Wu wei is life lived above tension.

Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.
The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.
from Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell


He had trained with Zen masters in Japan, camped with aborigines in Australia and dropped peyote with Native American shamans. He didn't just study religions; he lived them.

In time, Smith became known as the sage of world religion. He introduced the Dalai Lama to the West; befriended mythologist Joseph Campbell and was the subject of a five-part PBS series hosted by Bill Moyers called "Wisdom of the Ages."

Smith's daily prayer that he whispers to himself several times a day: "God, you are so good to me."

That spirit of gratitude pervades Smith's recently released autobiography, "Tales of Wonder." In it, Smith talks about growing up as the child of missionaries in China, becoming enthralled by the faith of other cultures, and his global travels and friendships with everyone from folk singer Pete Seeger to author Aldous Huxley.

He reveals the story behind his signature achievement: the publication of "World's Religions" in 1958.

The book, which has sold 3 million copies, helped change the American religious landscape. In vivid and poetic writing, Smith took readers on a tour of the world's major religions. The book helped make it OK for Americans to not only learn about but be dazzled by other religions.

Smith said he never stopped being a Christian ("God is defined by Jesus but not confined to Jesus"). But his faith has been deepened by his immersion in other religious traditions.


FREE VIDEO Interview with Huston Smith
FREE VIDEO Why Religion Matters: The Future of Faith In An Age of Disbelief

DVD Bill Moyers: Wisdom of Faith With Huston Smith

BOOK Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, an Autobiography
BOOK A Seat at the Table: Huston Smith in Conversation with Native Americans on Religious Freedom
BOOK The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition
BOOK The World's Religions (Plus)
BOOK Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants and Chemical

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