Mort Mather

excerpts

bio

blog

books

base

contact

Books that may have influenced my philosophy.

One of the things I think about is where my ideas, my thoughts, come from. Listed in the approximate order in which I read them are books that I think influenced my philosophy or, for the more recent ones, fortified it.

      My age
    The Bible 14
    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 17
    Musical Theatre 17-29
    Bertrand Russell's Best edited by Robert E. Egner 20
    Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand 22
    Walden by Henry David Thoreau 24
    Doctor Hudsonís Secret Journal by Lloyd C. Douglas 30s
    Catís Cradle and others by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 30s
    Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and others by Tom Robbins 40s
    A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold 40s
    Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison 52
    The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell 50s
    The Tropic of Cancer and others by Henry Miller 50s
    Sophieís World by Jostein Gaarder 61
    Original Blessing and The Coming of the Cosmic Christ by Matthew Fox 62
    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig 63
    One by Richard Bach 67
    Unpopular Essays by Bertrand Russell 68
    The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner 70

 

Some quotes

 

The Bible

"Love thy neighbor as thyself." "Love your enemies." "Turn the other cheek." Judge not lest ye be judged." "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." The parable of the Good Samaritan. "It is easier for a camel to go through a needleís eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

These are the one-liners and stories I know by heart. I guess they resonate most with me, seem most true and valid as guides to the way I should live my life.

Here are a few more quotes that donít trip off my tongue as easily but that I like a lot.

James 4:

11 Speak not evil on of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.
There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Luke 17:20,21

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

18:17 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.

If this is interpreted literally, it wipes out the possibility of salvation for adults. It speaks to my belief that we should be in touch with the child within just as the previous quote speaks of the kingdom of God within me.

Musical Theatre

I put this in not to guide anyone else to great wisdom but just because I think working summers in musical theatre from high school through college had a significant influence on me. Songs like "Youíve got to be Taught" from South Pacific, for example which is about tolerance and about how difficult it is to overcome prejudices that are laid on us when we are young resonate with me today. I learned much of love and relationships and feelings. And that serious things can be dealt with in song and with humor. Important lessons.

If I have a collection of anything, it is of original cast albums. I also have a collection of comedy albums. Good comedians are really good thinkers who are able to turn serious topics into comedy.

A great example of this is Dick Gregoryís routine developed before the Civil Rights Act in which he tells of going into a restaurant in a southern state and ordering a chicken. Several bubbas came up to him and threatened him saying, "Whatever you do to that chicken, weíre going to do to you." When the chicken arrived they came back and repeated their threat "so I kissed it." (Track two of In Living Black and White)

Bertrand Russell's Best edited by Robert E. Egner
 

Bertrand Russellís Best seems an unlikely choice for a sailor with a mediocre (at best) high school record to purchase. I can actually picture the store on Washington St. in Boston and myself looking for something to read. I was in no hurry, perhaps just killing time. Following is the back cover of the paperback which sold me:

Outspoken Opinions

Psychology:

Men who allow their love of power to give them a distorted view of the world are to be found in every asylumÖHighly similar delusions, if expressed by educated men in obscure language, lead to professorships of philosophy; and if expressed by emotional men in eloquent language, lead to dictatorships.

Marriage:

Very few men or women who have had a conventional upbringing have learned to feel decently about sex and marriage. Their education has taught them thatÖin propagating the species, men are yielding to their animal nature while women are submitting to painful duty. This attitude has made marriage unsatisfyingÖand the lack of instinctive satisfaction has turned to cruelty masquerading as morality.

Education:

If you think that your belief is based upon reason, you will support it by argument, rather than by persecution, and will abandon it if the argument goes against you. But if your belief is based on faith, you will realize that argument is useless, and will therefore resort to force either in the form of persecution or by stunting and distorting the minds of the young in what is called "education."

Sex, religion, marriage, education, politics, psychology, ethicsÖthese are some of the subjects Nobel Prize winner Bertrand Russell treats in this witty and pungent collection of this best writings, selected from his large number of books and articles.

Well, thatís what sold me. That the book is still on my shelf will let you know how much I enjoyed it. Here is one of my favorite short pieces. It is from an article he wrote in 1950 titled The Science to Save us from Science.

All who are not lunatics are agreed about certain things: That it is better to be alive than dead, better to be adequately fed than starved, better to be free than a slave. Many people desire those things only for themselves and their friends; they are quite content that their enemies should suffer. These people can be refuted by science: Mankind has become so much one family that we cannot insure our own prosperity except by insuring that of everyone else. if you wish to be happy yourself, you must resign yourself to seeing others also happy.

 

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

I started reading Atlas Shrugged during final exams at the end of my first semester at the University of Wisconsin. Couldnít put it down. I have enjoyed looking skyward at times to say, "John Galt where are you." Youíll have to read the book to understand. I do not have my copy and donít think I marked any passages anyway. I thought I had arrived at my understanding of the importance of being selfish on my own but recently coming across her book The Virtue of Selfishness I guess not. The following are all from A Signet Book paperback of The Virtue of Selfishness.

"Ömost philosophers have now decided to declare that reason has failed, that ethics is outside the power of reason, that no rational ethics can ever be defined, and that the field of ethics--in the choice of his values, of his actions, of his pursuits, of his lifeís goals--man must be guided by something other than reason. By what? Faith--instinct--intuition--revelation--feeling--taste--urge--wish--whim. today, as in the past, most philosophers agree that the ultimate standard of ethics is whim (they call it "arbitrary postulate" or "subjective choice" or " emotional commitment")--and the battle is only over the question or whose whim: oneís own or societyís or the dictatorís or Godís. Whatever else they may disagree about, todayís moralists agree that ethics is a subjective issue and that the three things barred from its field are: reason--mind--reality.

"If you wonder why the world is now collapsing to a lower and ever lower rung of hell, this is the reason."

She goes on to say that life is the ultimate value of any living organism. All others are secondary to that and they are determined through pain and pleasure.

"The pleasure-pain mechanism in the body of man--and in the bodies of all living organisms that possess the faculty of consciousness--serves as an automatic guardian of the organismís life. The physical sensation of pleasure is a signal indicating that the organism is pursuing the right course of action. The physical sensation of pain is a warning signal of danger, indicating that the organism is pursuing the wrong course of action, that something is impairing the proper function of its body, which requires action to correct it."

"Value" is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The concept "value" is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? [The Virtue of Selfishness p16]

Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. [p16]

An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means--and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organismís life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil. [p17]

The virtue of Pride is the recognition of the fact "that as man must produce the physical values he needs to sustain his life, so he must acquire the values of character that make his life worth sustaining--that as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul." [Atlas Shrugged, p29]

The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. [p32]

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

When I began reading Walden for a college course I was predisposed to find fault. My father had quoted it to me with his usual superior demeanor and I knew him to be wrong about much so why not this also? In my notes I was only able to find one point of disagreement and as I looked back on it later I realized that I was not disagreeing with Thoreau but rather with an editorís footnote. I have reread Walden at least twice and frequently pick it up and turn through to places I have marked. I then read beyond the marked passage and frequently find more to highlight.

The beauty of a book with good thoughts is that we can usually go back and find new wisdom. Of course it was there before. We just werenít ready for it the first time around.

"Öthe cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run."

"In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high."

"So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one center."

"I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I may have found out another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his fatherís or his motherís or his neighborís instead."

"Öthe man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off."

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to Ďglorify God and enjoy him forever.í"

"Our life is frittered away by detail."

"Any truth is better than make-believe."

"However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poor-house."

Doctor Hudsonís Secret Journal by Lloyd C. Douglas

My recollection of this book is that it is about a medical doctor who finds that giving money to people whom he learns have a need and telling them they must not tell anyone gives him added strength, power, something. He gains personally through giving. When I decided to reread it in 2001 I instead read Mr. Douglasís other book.

Magnificent Obsession (1929)

This is a good story, enjoyable by anyone who finds a dated story of this period enjoyable. There are no other quotes in the book similar to those I found interesting. These are all by the central figure, a wealthy ner-do-well who underwent a life transforming experience.

"Iíve thought a good deal about the soul lately, Grandpere. It strikes me that the things one reads about souls are frightfully misleading. They inquire, ĎWhat are you doing to, for, and with your soul?í as they might ask ĎWhen are you going to turn in your old car?; ÖI canít say Ďmy soul,í as I would say Ďmy hat,í or Ďmy canoe,í or Ďmy liver.í ÖI am a soul! I have a body! My body is wearing out, and when I canít tinker it back into service any more, Iíll drive it out to the junk-pile; but I donít have to be junked with it! Iím tied up to the Major Personality! Ölike a beam of sunshine to the sun! ÖIíll not lose my power unless He loses His! Ö If thatís religion, Grandpere, Iím religious! But Iíd rather think of it as science!"

"Bobby--are you a Christian?"

"Thatís what Iíd like to know, myself, GrandpereÖ For some time I have been very much absorbed by the personality of Christ. Here was the case of a man who made an absolutely ideal adjustment to his Major Personality. He professed to have no experience of fear. He believed he could have anything he wanted by asking for itÖThe story interests me at the point of his bland assurance that anybody else could do the same thing if he cared to. Iím amazed that more people arenít interested in that part of itÖ"

"Maybe you and I had better start a church; eh, Grandpere?"

"Very good," approved Nicholas, grinning. "Iíll build it and you be the parson."

"It would be just like all the rest of Ďem ÖNobody would want to go to the bother and expense of making his own connections with his Major PersonalityÖ.Heíd decide to sing about powerÖ.Fancy!--singing about power! Watt didnít sing for his! And Faraday didnít produce the dynamo by reciting ĎI believe in Volta, Maker of the dry battery and Father of the Leyden jar, and his successor Ampere, who codified the formulae for electrodynamics, and in Ben Franklin who went at it with a kite.í"

Catís Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Dell Publishing 1963)

"What is sacred to Bokononists?" I asked after a while.

"Not even God, as near as I can tell."

"Nothing?"

"Just one thing."

I made some guesses. "The ocean? The sun?"

"Man," said Frank. "Thatís all. Just man." [p143]

I agree with one Bokononist idea. I agree that all religions, including Bokononism, are nothing but lies. [p 148]

"ÖAnd then ĎPapaí said, ĎNow I will destroy the whole world.í"

"What did he mean by that?"

"Itís what Bokononists always say when they are about to commit suicide."

Kurt Vonnegut died in April, 2007. I have read most of his books. They all have the combination of humor and wisdom that amuses and informs at the same time. I canít think of a better way to learn than through humor. His last book, A Man Without A Country "may be as close as Vonnegut ever comes to a memoir" (Los Angeles Times).

Tom Robbins

When I was making a list of books that I thought might have influenced my thinking I put Tom Robbins on the list mostly for Skinny Legs and All (1990) I read this shortly after it came out because I am a fan of Robbins. I had a little trouble getting into it because I found having a stick and a can as articulate characters who can travel a bit off-putting. Well, I got into it and enjoyed it. When I got to the dance of the Seven Veils I was totally blown away. The wisdom and beautyÖ. If you are finding anything of interest in the things I write, I canít imagine you not liking the end of Skinny Legs and All.

A few gems.

"...of course, as long as there were willing followers, there would be exploitive leaders. And there would be willing followers until humanity reached that philosophical plateau where it recognized that its great mission in life had nothing to do with any struggle between classes, races, nations, or ideologies, but was, rather, a personal quest to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain. On that quest, politics was simply a roadblock or stentorian baboons."

4th Veil: Ellen Cherry understood then that religion was an improper response to the Divine.

"Religion was an attempt to pin down the Divine. The Divine was eternally in flux, forever moving, shifting shape. That was its nature. It was absolute, true enough: absolutely mobile. Absolutely transcendent. Absolutely flexible. Absolutely impersonal. It had its god and goddess aspects, but it was ultimately no more male or female than it was star or screwdriver. It was the sum of all those things, but that sum could never be chalked on a slate. The Divine was beyond description, beyond knowing, beyond comprehension. To say that the Divine was Creation divided by Destruction was as close as one could come to definition. But the puny of soul, the dull of wit, werenít content with that. They wanted to hang a face on the Divine. They went so far as to attribute petty human emotions (anger, jealousy, etc.) to it, not stopping to realize that if God were a being, even a supreme being, our prayer would have bored him to death long ago.

"The Divine was expansive, but religion was reductiveÖ"

"The illusion of the seventh veil was the illusion that you could get somebody else to do it for you. To think for you. To hang on your cross. The priest, the rabbi, the imam, the swami, the philosophical novelist were traffic cops, at best. They might direct you through a busy intersection, but they wouldnít follow you home and park your car."

I read Even Cowgirls get the Blues because it was funny and that is what I remembered it for. Of course, the novelist was also a philosopher and one with a philosophy that suited me.

"To live fully, one must be free but to be free one must give up security. Therefore, to live one must be ready to die. Howís that for a paradox? But, since the genetic bent for freedom is comparatively recent, it may represent an evolutionary trend. We may yet outgrow our overriding obsession to survive. Thatís why I encourage everyone to take chances, to court danger, to welcome anxiety, to flaunt insecurity, to rock every boat and always cut against the grain. By pushing it, goosing it along whenever possible, we may speed up the process, the process by which the need for playfulness and liberty becomes stronger than the need for comfort and security."

In Cowgirls Sissy asks the Chink why he didnít do more to avert a death. "I did all I couldÖ. I set an example. Thatís all anyone can do. Iím sorry the cowgirls didnít pay better attention, but I couldnít force them to notice me. Iíve lived most of my entire adult life outside the law, and never have I compromised with authority. But neither have I gone out and picked fights with authority. Thatís stupid."

Another quote from same. "It (a Fourth Vision) will come to each of you, to every cowgirl in the land, when you have overcome that in your own self which is dull."

Just one more great quote from Cowgirls:

"Well, then, what are the philosophical solutions?"

"Ha ha ho ho and hee hee. That is for you to find outÖIíll say this much and no more: thereís got to be poetry. And magic. Your thumbs taught you that much, didnít they? Poetry and magic. At every level. If civilization is ever going to be anything but a grandiose pratfall, anything more than a can of deodorizer in the shithouse of existence, then statesmen are going to have to concern themselves with magic and poetry. Bankers are going to have to concern themselves with magic and poetry. Time magazine is going to have to write about magic and poetryÖ."

This from Another Roadside Attraction:

"Economy uber alles. Let nothing interfere with economic growth, even though that growth is castrating truth, poisoning beauty, turning a continent into a shit-heap and driving an entire civilization insane. Donít spill the Coca-Cola, boys, and keep those monthly payments coming."

And from Still Life with Woodpecker:

"What limits people is that they donít have the fucking nerve or imagination to star in their own movie, let alone direct it."

I have reread two of Tom Robbinsí books and will likely reread the other two Iíve read and I just realized I have the treat of one I havenít read yet.

At age 65 I read Jitterbug Perfume.

"If desire causes suffering, it may be because we do not desire wisely, or that we are inexpert at obtaining what we desire. Instead of hiding our heads in a prayer cloth and building walls against temptation, why not get better at fulfilling desire? Salvation is for the feeble, thatís what I think. I donít want salvation. I want life, all of life, the miserable as well as the superb. If the gods would tax ecstasy, then I shall pay; however, I shall protest their taxes at each opportunity, and if Woden or Shiva or Buddha or that Christian fellow--whatís his name?--cannot respect that, then Iíll accept their wrath. At least I will have tasted the banquet that they have spread before me on this rich, round planet, rather than recoiling from it like a toothless bunny. I cannot believe that the most delicious things were placed here merely to test us, to tempt us, to make it the more difficult for us to capture the grand prize: the safety of the void. To fashion of life such a petty game is unworthy of both men and gods." [p106]

"To eliminate the agitation and disappointment of desire, we need but awaken to the fact that we have everything we want and need right now." [p115]

"The spirit of one individual can supersede and dismiss the entire clockworks of history." [p222]

"Sure and Iím not afraid oí dying. Never have been. Death canít do anything to us because death is dead. Whatís dead canít hurt ye. Fear is not the issue." [p321]

"The most glariní failure oí the intelligentsia in modern times has been its inability to take comedy seriously." [p335]

"Wiggs contended that longing for the future was as antilife as dwelling in the past ('nostalgia and hope stand equally in the way of authentic experience')" [p339]

"I stopped taking politics seriously a long, long time ago, therefore itís had practically no effect on the way Iíve lived my life. In the end, politics is always a depressant, and Iíve preferred to be stimulated." [p361]

"Teachers who offer you the ultimate answers do not possess the ultimate answers, for if they did, they would know that the ultimate answers cannot be given, they can only be received." [p383]

 

The books on my list from here on are probably not so much influential to my philosophy as supporting it.

 

A Sand County Almanac

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold was given to me by someone I consider to be among the best photographers ever, B.A. (Tony) King. He has taken incredible wildlife pictures that involved great patience. It is no wonder that this is his "favorite book. It has been for a long time" as he inscribed it to me. It is a beautifully written book. While I have marked many passages in the book I am not quoting them here as, unlike Walden which has many quotable quotes, Mr. Leopoldís work is woven together. The following is from his Forward.

There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.

Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher 'standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.

These wild things, I admit, had little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast, and until science disclosed the drama of where they come from and how they live. The whole conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We of the minority see a law of dimin≠ishing returns in progress; our opponents do not.

Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incom≠patible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.

That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten.

These essays attempt to weld these three concepts.

Such a view of land and people is, of course, subject to the blurs and distortions of personal experience and personal bias. But wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypo≠chondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap. Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.

Perhaps such a shift of values can be achieved by reap≠praising things unnatural, tame, and confined in terms of things natural, wild, and free.

Madison, Wisconsin 1948

 

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

I donít have a clue how I came to read this fabulous novel. My copy is a second-hand paperback. I feel the book gave me insight into my self but most profoundly it took me closer to empathizing with Blacks.

Whence all this passion toward conformity anyway?ó ; diversity is the word. Let man keep his many parts and you'll have no tyrant states. Why, if they follow this con≠formity business they'll end up by forcing me, an in≠visible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one. Must I strive toward colorlessness? But seriously, and without snobbery, think of what the world would lose if that should happen. America is woven of many strands; I would recognize them and let it so re≠main. It's "winner take nothing" that is the great truth of our country or of any country. Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat. Our fate is to become one, and yet manyó This is not prophecy, but description. Thus one of the greatest jokes in the world is the spectacle of the whites busy escaping blackness and becoming blacker every day, and the blacks striving toward whiteness, be≠coming quite dull and gray. None of us seems to know who he is or where he's going.

 

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

My wife gave me this for Xmas in 1994. I wonít print all of my marked passages here as there are too many. The book spoke to me so frequently. Sometimes I come across a book that agrees with me (the authors might say I agree with them) and fortifies, solidifies my thoughts. Of course, it becomes difficult to distinguish oneís own thoughts from those of others and one worries when writing and reading which is whose.

Some people who consider themselves devoutly religious find this book offensive. Campbell spent his life studying myths as they appear in all beliefs including Christianity. He had no intention to destroy Christianity or any other religion and I believe he remained a Christian though he left Catholicism.

Chapter I

People say that what weíre all seeking is a meaning for life. I donít think thatís what weíre really seeking. I think that what weíre seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

Read other peopleís myths, not those of your own religion, because you tend to interpret your own religion in terms of facts.

Marriage is the reunion of the separated duad. Originally you were one. You are now two in the world, but the recognition of the spiritual identity is what marriage is. Itís different from a love affair. It has nothing to do with that. Itís another mythological plane of experience.

MOYERS: Of course, we moderns are stripping the world of its natural revelations, of nature itself. I think of that pygmy legend of the little boy who finds the bird with the beautiful song in the forest and brings it home.

CAMPBELL: He asks his father to bring food for the bird, and the father doesnít want to feed a mere bird, so he kills it. And the legend says the man killed the bird, and with the bird he killed the song, and with the song, himself. He dropped dead, completely dead, and was dead forever.

MOYERS: Isnít that the story about what happens when human beings destroy their environment? Destroy their world? Destroy nature and the revelations of nature?

CAMPBELL: They destroy their own nature, too. They kill the song.

MOYERS: As we sit here and talk, there is one story after another of car bombings in Beirut--by the Muslims of the Christians, by the Christians of the Muslims, and by the Christians of the Christians... What does that say to you?

CAMPBELL: It says to me that they donít know how to apply their religious ideas to contemporary life, and to human beings rather than just to their own community. Itís a terrible example of the failure of religion to meet the modern world. These three mythologies are fighting it out. They have disqualified themselves for the future.

Chapter II

Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are within usÖThe ground of being is the ground of our being, and when we simply turn outward, we see all of these little problems here and there. But, if we look inward, we see that we are the source of them all.

"God" is an ambiguous word in our language because it appears to refer to something that is known. But the transcendent is unknowable and unknown. God is transcendent, finally, of anything like the name "God." God is beyond names and forms. Meister Eckhart said that the ultimate and highest leave-taking is leaving God for God, leaving your notion of God for an experience of that which transcends all notions.

The mystery of life is beyond all human conception. Everything we know is within the terminology of the concepts of being and not being, many and single, true and untrue. We always think in terms of opposites. But God, the ultimate, is beyond the pairs of opposites, that is all there is to it.

MOYERS: Zorba says, "Trouble? Life is trouble."

CAMPBELL: Only death is no trouble. People ask me, "Do you have optimism about the world?" And I say, "Yes, itís great just the way it is. And you are not going to fix it up. Nobody has ever made it any better. It is never going to be any better. This is it, so take it or leave it. You are not going to correct or improve it."

Chapter III

There is a definition of God which has been repeated by many philosophers. God is an intelligible sphere--a sphere known to the mind, not to the senses--whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. And the center, Bill, is right where youíre sitting. And the other one is right where Iím sitting. And each of us is a manifestation of that mystery. Thatís a nice mythological realization that sort of gives you a sense of who and what you are.

Chapter IV

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are--if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.

The idea of the supernatural as being something over and above the natural is a killing idea.

Our story of the Fall in the Garden sees nature as corrupt; and that myth corrupts the whole world for us. Because nature is thought of as corrupt, every spontaneous act is sinful and must not be yielded to.

In thinking, of course, the majority is always wrong.

I always tell my students, go where your body and soul want to go. When you have the feeling, then stay with it, and donít let anyone throw you off.

MOYERS: What happens when you follow your bliss?

CAMPBELL: You come to bliss.

The religious people tell us we really wonít experience bliss until we die and go to heaven. But I believe in having as much as you can of this experience while you are still alive.

Chapter V

When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.

The drudgery of the lives of most of the people who have to support families--well, itís a life-extinguishing affair.

This is exactly T. S. Eliotís The Waste Land that you are describing, a sociological stagnation of inauthentic lives and living that has settled upon us, and that evokes nothing of our spiritual life, our potentialities, or even our physical courage--until, of course, it gets us into one of its inhuman wars.

The conquest of the fear of death is the recovery of lifeís joy.

The way to find out about your happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when you really are happy--not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. this is what I call "following your bliss."

Chapter VII

A marriage is a life commitment, and a life commitment means the prime concern of your life. If marriage is not the prime concern, youíre not married.

You see, there are two ways of thinking "I am God." If you think, "I here, in my physical presence and in my temporal character, am God," then you are mad and have short-circuited the experience. You are God, not in your ego, but in your deepest being, where you are at one with the nondual transcendent.

I think of compassion as the fundamental religious experience and, unless that is there, you have nothing.

 

Henry Miller

I am a great believer in things happening at serendipitous times. My mother was fond of opening the Bible randomly to find answers for questions. Similar thing but with me there is no intention. I was wandering around the library looking for some books to read. No particular books. Fiction. Enjoyment the goal. I came across a copy of Tropic of Cancer. I didnít know anything about it other than I had heard of the author. It was about the size I was looking for and if it was a classic and enjoyable that would be two for one.

I loved it. I loved his use of language, his freedom, his joy of life. He made me laugh and I liked his philosophy, quite Zen though I didnít realize it at the time. I frequently read passages to Barbara who didnít seem as impressed as I was.

I went on to read most of his books and enjoyed each in turn. I bought my own copy of Cancer to reread it and to be able to mark the passages I liked so much. Interestingly I didnít find as much that leaped out at me the second time around.

I must say, right at the start, that I havenít a thing to complain about. Itís like being in a lunatic asylum, with permission to masturbate for the rest of your life. The world is brought right under my nose and all that is requested of me is to punctuate the calamities. There is nothing in which these slick guys upstairs do not put their fingers: no joy, no misery passes unnoticed. They live among the hard facts of life, reality, as it is called. It is the reality of a swamp and they are the frogs who have nothing better to do than to croak. The more they croak the more real life becomes. Lawyer, priest, doctor, politician, newspaperman--these are the quacks who have their fingers on the pulse of the world. A constant atmosphere of calamity. Itís marvelous. Itís as if the barometer never changed, as if the flag were always at half-mast. One can see now how the idea of heaven takes hold of menís consciousness, how it gains ground even when all the props have been knocked from under it. There must be another world beside this swamp in which everything is dumped pell-mell. Itís hard to imagine what it can be like, this heaven that men dream about. A frogís heaven, no doubt. Miasma, scum, pond lilies, stagnant water. Sit on a lily pad unmolested and croak all day. something like that, I imagine. [Talking about his job as a proof reader for a newspaper]

As to salvation and all that. . . . The greatest teachers, the true healers, I would say, have always insisted that they can only point the way. The Buddha went so far as to say: "Be≠lieve nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own rea≠son and your own common sense." [Sexus, p337]

"Rebecca," I said, proceeding slowly and deliberately, "if I really knew what I was capable of I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you. I feel sometimes as though I'm going to burst. I really don't give a damn about the misery of the world. I take it for granted. What I want is to open up. I want to know Chat's inside me. I want everybody to open up. I'm like an imbecile with a can opener in his hand, wondering where to begin ó to open up the earth. I know that underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I'm sure of it. I know it because * feel so marvelous myself most of the time. And when I feel that way everybody seems marvelous . . . everybody and everything. [Sexus, p 397]

"Do you know what's more important than doing some≠thing?"

"No," said Reb.

"Being yourself."

"But if you're nothing?"

"Then be nothing. But be it absolutely."

"That sounds crazy."

"It is. That's why it's so sound."

"Go on," he said, "you make me feel good."

"In wisdom is death, you've heard that, haven't you? Isn't it better to be a little meshuggaht Who worries about you? Only you. When you can't sit in the store anymore, why don't you get up and take a walk? Or go to the movies? Close the shop, lock the door. A customer more or less won't make any difference in your life, will it? Enjoy yourself! Go fishing once in a while, even if you don't know how to fish. Or take your car and drive out into the country. Anywhere. Listen to the birds, bring home some flowers, or some fresh oysters."

He was leaning forward, all ears, a broad smile stretched across his face. [Nexus, P261]

"The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware." This from a quotable cards Barbara gave me for my 62nd birthday. It is from The Wisdom of the Heart which I have not read.

 

Sophieís World by Jostein Gaarder

This is the history of philosophy presented through a novel. It would be a great text book for schools throughout the world. Just imagine what the world would become if everyone was taught about thought and taught to think as a matter of course in school. I use this book as my first reference book on historic philosophic thought.

An Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki

I may have spoken too soon when I said most of my reading from my 40s on was more affirmation than influence. I want to say now that I love it when I come across thoughts that are new to me and that I find enlightening. When I first encountered Zen and tried to understand it I was skeptical as I am today of the value of meditation for myself. I say for myself because clearly it has value to some. I just enjoy my mind so much when it is engaged that it seems counterintuitive for me to try to make it blank for any length of time. I may find value there at some future time just as this book brought an understanding of Zen that I now cherish. Iím certainly no Zen master but my current understanding is enriching my thinking. I thank Darin Setlow (another excellent photographer) for introducing me to this book.

If you read this book, donít skip the forward by Dr. Jung as it is well written and helpful.

When one examines the Zen text attentively, one cannot escape the impression that, with all that is bizarre in it, satori is in fact, a matter of natural occurrence, of something so very simple that one fails to see the wood for the trees, and in attempting to explain it, invariably says the very thing that drives others into the greatest confusion. [Forward]

Without the attainment of satori no one can enter into the truth of Zen. Satori is the sudden flashing into consciousness of a new truth hitherto undreamed of. It is a sort of mental catastrophe taking place all at once, after much piling up of a limit of stability and the whole edifice has come tumbling to the ground, when, behold, a new heaven is open to full survey. When the freezing point is reached, water suddenly turns into ice; the liquid has suddenly turned into a solid body and no more flows freely. Satori comes upon a man unawares, when he feels that he has exhausted his whole being. Religiously, it is a new birth; intellectually, it is the acquiring of a new viewpoint. The world now appears as if dressed in a new garment, which seems to cover up all the unsightliness of dualism, which is called delusion in Buddhist phraseology. [p 95]

Therefore, anything that has the semblance of an external authority is rejected by Zen. Absolute faith is placed in a manís own inner being. For whatever authority thee is in Zen, all come from within.

The Zen method of discipline generally consists in putting one in a dilemma, out of which one must contrive to escape, not through logic indeed, but through a mind of higher order. [p 69]

 

The Coming of the Cosmic Christ by Matthew Fox

The title is a bit off-putting for someone who feels that Christianity is so abused as to be a negative force in society today and, one would assume, to non-Christians. The author comes to another term, Cosmic Wisdom, which I find more acceptable. His thesis is that we must bring mysticism back to religion and that in doing so we will wipe out the boundaries between faiths and bring us together "so that we might be blessers instead of crucifiers of Mother Earth and the generations to come."

The Cosmic Christ speaks on Deep Ecumenism

Listen to the Cosmic Christ, to Cosmic Wisdom calling all the children of God together: "Come, children, drink of my waters which are all common waters. They are free and available to all my children. Drink of my wisdom from your own unique well. Let the Taoists drink and the Muslims drink; let the Jews drink and the Buddhists drink; let the Christians drink and let the native peoples drink. And then tell me: What have you drunk? How deeply have you imbibed my refreshment? What wet and running wisdom drips from inside you to the outside? What have you to share with others of my wisdom and harmonious living, of the dripping of the oils of compassion and the lubricants of your common anointings as my images, my other "Christs," my co-creators of wisdom on earth? I am tired of your religious wars, your sectarian divisions, your crusading spirits that arise from disharmony. I long for harmony. If there must be competition let it take place at the level of shared gifts and bountiful outpouring of wisdom. Pray together. Create harmony and healing together. Celebrate, praise, and thank together. Cease using religion to divide. Use it for its purpose, to reconnect to Mother Earth, to blessings, to the underground river that I am and that you all share. And cease scandalizing the young by your indifference to these awesome blessings, by your competition, and your boredom. Praise one another, Praise the earth. In doing so, you praise me." [p 244]

Fox recognizes the evils that exist in religion today and proposes a plan for reversing centuries of abuse by religions while keeping them all intact. He honors art and sexuality. Recognizes that we are abusing the earth and believes that that can be, must be reversed through a paradigm shift in religions--taking them back to their mystical roots.

I agree with him that such a shift would solve the problems we have today and I agree that there are some signs of a shift in that direction. My own feeling is that if such a shift took place, it would not be too long before leaders in the religions would, for individual reasons, selfish motives, start to pull their followers back into "Iím better than you" mode.

My hope for the world is that we shift away from shepherds and sheep to an honoring of our own worth, to taking responsibility for our own actions, to respecting ourselves and the God within and in turn respecting others as we do ourselves. That in respecting ourselves and others we realize the importance of protecting Mother Earth for our own good, the good of others and the good of future generations. I donít think this is different from Foxís vision for the individual and his vision of the role of religion in bring it about is a good plan.

Fox also wrote Original Blessing. I came across both of these books in a box of books my sister-in-law had left with us several years before. I was just routing around for something to read. Weird how books come into my hands sometimes.

This sin consists of the refusal to love oneself well, the refusal to clebgrate both oneís dignity and oneís responsibility. When people sin in this way they become suckers for hero-worship, for projecting onto others their own dignity as images of God. Whether these others are matinee idols or religious ones, whether alive or dead, makes no difference. The sin of refusal to acknowledge oneís own dignity remains the same. Without healthy self-love there will be no other love. Original Blessing p 120

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. [p88]

Our current modes of rationality are not moving society forward into a better world. They are taking it further and further from that better world. Since the Renaissance these modes have worked. As long as the need for food, clothing and shelter is dominant they will continue to work. but now that for huge masses of people these needs no longer overwhelm everything else, the whole structure of reason, handed down to us from ancient times, is no longer adequate. It begins to be seen for what it really is--emotionally hollow, esthetically meaningless and spiritually empty. That, today, is where it is at, and will continue to be at for a long time to come. [Ch 10 p 102]

Sometimes itís a little better to travel than to arrive. [p103]

Institutions such as schools, churches, governments and political organizations of every sort all tended to direct thought for ends other than truth, for the perpetuation of their own functions, and for the control of individuals in the service of these functions. [p 106]

In all of the Oriental religions great value is placed on the Sanskrit doctrine of Tat tvam asi, "Thou art that," which asserts that everything you think you are and everything you think you perceive are undivided. To realize fully this lack of division is to become enlightened.

Logic presumes a separation of subject from object; therefore logic is not final wisdom. [Ch 12 p126]

You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know itís going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, itís always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt. [Ch 13 p134]

When youíve got a Chautauqua in your head, itís extremely hard not to inflict it on innocent people. [Ch 14 p 148]

Quality

Robert M. Pirsig may have solved the esthetics question, "What is meant by beautiful?" in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In it Phaedrus, teaching rhetoric in college, asked his students to define quality. When they couldnít he said he couldnít either. "I think there is such a thing as Quality, but that as soon as you try to define it, something goes haywire. You canít do it." A few days later he presented a definition, of sorts: "Quality is a characteristic of thought and statement that is recognized by a nonthinking process. Because definitions are a product of rigid, formal thinking, quality cannot be defined."

He then proved to the students that, even though Quality couldnít be defined, they knew what it was. He read student essays to them and had them judge the quality. An overwhelming majority agreed on the quality. When students later said they didnít know what quality was he simply reminded them that they had proven that they did.

"Now, as the first step of the crystallization process, he saw that when Quality is kept undefined by definition, the entire field called esthetics is wiped outÖcompletely disenfranchisedÖkaput. By refusing to define Quality he had placed it entirely outside the analytic process. If you canít define Quality, thereís no way you can subordinate it to any intellectual rule. The estheticians can have nothing more to say. Their whole field, definition of Quality, is gone."

"The thought of this completely thrilled him. It was like discovering a cancer cure. No more explanations of what art is. No more wonderful critical schools of experts to determine rationally where each composer had succeeded or failedÖ."

Chapter 18 of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

"ÖHe had to answer the question, If you canít define it, what makes you think it exists?

"His answer was an old one belonging to a philosophic school that called itself realism. "A thing exists," he said, Ďif a world without it canít function normally. If we can show that a world without Quality functions abnormally, then we have shown that Quality exists, whether itís defined or not.í He thereupon proceeded to subtract Quality from a description of the world as we know it.

"The first casualty from such a subtraction, he said, would be the fine arts. if you canít distinguish between good and bad in the arts, they disappear. Thereís no point in hanging a painting on the wall when the bare wall looks just as good. Thereís no point to symphonies, when scratches from the record or hum from the record player sounded just as good.

"Poetry would disappear, since it seldom makes sense and has no practical value. And interestingly, comedy would vanish too. No one would understand the jokes, since the difference between humor and no humor is pure Quality." (ibid)

I highly recommend Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster. [Ch 17 p 189]

Metaphysics is good if it improves everyday life; otherwise forget it. [Ch 20 p 221]

What guarantees the objectivity of the world in which we live is that this world is common to us with other thinking beings. Through the communications that we have with other men we receive from them ready-made harmonious reasonings. We know that these reasonings do not come from us and at the same time we recognize in them, because of their harmony, the work of reasonable beings like ourselves. And as these reasonings appear to fit the world of our sensations, we think we may infer that these reasonable beings have seen the same thing as we; thus it is that we know we havenít been dreaming. it is this harmony, this quality if you will that is the sole basis for the only reality we can ever know. [Ch 22 p 241]

The way to solve the conflict between human values and technological needs is not to run away from technology. Thatís impossible. The way to resolve the conflict is to break down the barriers of dualistic thought that prevent a real understanding of what technology is--not an exploitation of nature, but a fusion of nature and the human spirit into a new kind of creation that transcends both. When this transcendence occurs in such events as the first airplane flight across the ocean or the first footstep on the moon, a kind of public recognition of the transcendent nature of technology occurs. But this transcendence should also occur at the individual level, on a personal basis, in oneís own life, in a less dramatic way. [Ch25 p261]

The time for real reunification of art and technology is really long overdue. [Ch25 p 264]

When one isnít dominated by feelings of separateness from what heís working on, then one can be said to "care" about what heís doing. That is what caring really is, a feeling of identification with what oneís doing. When one has this feeling then he aslo sees the inverse side of caring, Quality itselfÖ

I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. I think that kind of approach starts at the end and presumes the end is the beginning. Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in oneís own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value. [Ch25 p 267]

One by Richard Bach

We generate our own environment. We get exactly what we deserve. How can we resent the life weíve created for ourselves? Whoís to blame, whoís to credit, but us? Who can change it, any time we wish, but us? [p 119]

"Then thereís the shower fairy," said Leslie, "and the walk fairy and the long-drive fairy, the swim fairy and the gardening fairy. The best ideas come at the most unlikely times, when weíre soaking wet or covered with mud or we donít even have a note pad, whenever itís hardest for us to write them down." [p122]

Bertrand Russell Unpopular Essays (1950 Simon & Schuster, NY)

Essay Philosophy for Laymen

It will be found that increase of skill has not, of itself, insured any increase of human happiness or well-being. [p22]

Philosophy has had from its earliest days two different objects which were believed to be closely interrelated. On the one hand, it aimed at a theoretical understanding of the structure of the world; on the other hand, it tried to discover and inculcate the best possible way of life. [p23]

Those who have a passion for quick returns and for an exact balance sheet of effort and reward may feel impatient of a study which cannot, in the present state of our knowledge, arrive at certainties, and which encourages what may be thought the time-wasting occupation of inconclusive meditation on insoluble problems. To this view I cannot in any degree subscribe. Some kind of philosophy is a necessity to all but the most thoughtless, and in the absence of knowledge it is almost sure to be a silly philosophy. The result of this is that the human race becomes divided into rival groups of fanatics, each group firmly persuaded that its own brand of nonsense is sacred truth, while the other sideís is damnable heresy. Arians and Catholics, Crusaders, and Moslems, Protestants and adherents of the Pope, Communists and Fascists, have filled large parts of the last 1,600 years with futile strife, when a little philosophy would have shown both sides in all these disputes that neither had any good reason to believe itself in the right. Dogmatism is an enemy to peace, and an insuperable barrier to democracy. In the present age, at least as much as in former times, it is the greatest of the mental obstacles to human happiness. [p26]

To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues.

What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or of ignorance.

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

This book is a perfect companion for my book How to Improve Your Life and Save the World. Eric Weiner touches all the studies that have been done on the pursuit of happiness giving a very good background for my book. This is a very fun read, so humorous and so much fun that you donít even realize you are learning some good stuff.

Maybe happiness is this: not feeling like you should be elsewhere, doing something else, being someone else. Maybe the current conditions in SwitzerlandÖmake it simply easier to Ďbeí and therefore Ďbe happy.í [p43]

So the greatest source of happiness is other peopleóand what does money do? It isolates us from other people. It enables us to build walls, literal and figurative, around ourselves. [p114]

Itís not what we believe that makes us happy but the act of believing. In anything. [p174]

Trustóor, to be more precise, a lack of trustóis why Moldova is such an unhappy land, Vitalie tells me, echoing the finding of researchers about the relationship between happiness and trust. [p197]

I can hardly believe it. Yet it makes sense. Being useful, helpful, is on of the unsung contributors to happiness. [p211]

"Is happiness the highest ideal, or is there something greater we should be striving for?" This is a question that has been nagging me for a while now. Here I am traveling thousands of miles looking for the worldís happiest places, assuming that happiness is, as Aristotle believed, the summum bonum: the greatest good. But is it? Or is there a more important destination?

Guru-ji doesnít hesitate. "Yes, there is something higher than happiness. Love is higher than happiness." [p289]

There it is again: that Hindu belief that all of life is maya, illusion. Once we see life as a game, no more consequential than a game of chess, then the world seems a lot lighter, a lot happier. [p306]

Mort Mather is the author of Gardening for Independence and A Stone's Throw, Orvie's Stories

Mort Mather

excerpts

bio

blog

books

base

contact