Being So Inclined

[Samuel Johnson] said, that for general improvement, a man should read whatever his immediate inclination prompts him to; though, to be sure, if a man has a science to learn, he must regularly and resolutely advance.  He added, “what we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression.  If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.” 
—James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

What I have been inclined to read is the Wisdom Project, a phrase I associate with Susan Sontag. It allows a focus with variety: East and West, ancient and contemporary.  (I am tempted —how many hundreds of times have I been through this!—to focus on just one area—Meister Eckhart anyone?—so once again I acknowledge my dilettantism.) I’m so inclined because invariably these works are engagingly practical—from Epictetus  to  Easwaran. Recently, when perusing my Black Moleskine Commonplace Book from 2017-2018, I noticed that I had written out a whole page of  warnings from Sri Ramakrishna.  These dealt with those Calcutta scholars who seemed to want to read and talk about self-realization rather than attaining it. For example—-

M. had yet to learn the distinction between knowledge and ignorance. Up to this time his conception had been that one got knowledge from books and schools. Later on he gave up that false conception. He was taught that to know God is knowledge, and not to know Him, ignorance. When Sri Ramakrishna exclaimed, “And you are a man of knowledge!” M’s ego was again badly shocked. 80

Sri Ramakrishna [sharply]: That’s the one hobby of you Calcutta people—giving lectures and bringing others to the light! Nobody ever stops to consider how to get the light himself. Who are you to teach others?  80

Mere pundits are like diseased fruit that becomes hard and will not ripen at all. Such fruit has neither the freshness of green fruit nor the flavor of ripe. Vultures soar very high in the sky, but their eyes are fixed on rotten carrion on the ground. The book-learned are reputed to be wise, but they are attached to ‘woman and gold.’ Like the vultures, they are in search of carrion. They are attached to the world of ignorance. Compassion, love of God, and renunciation are the glories of true knowledge. 101 

There is nothing in mere scholarship. The object of study is to find means of knowing God and realizing Him. A holy man had a book. When asked what it contained, he opened it and showed that on all the pages were written the words ‘Om Rama,’ and nothing else. 104

What can you achieve by mere lecturing and scholarship without discrimination and dispassion? God alone is real, and all else is unreal. God alone is substance, and all else is nonentity. That is discrimination. 125 

You may be spending hours poring over books or discussing philosophy, but if you have no inner restlessness for God, you have no knowledge of Him. 611

Mere reading of the scriptures is not enough. A person cannot understand the true significance of the scriptures if he is attached to the world. 200

Since coming to Sri Ramakrishna, M. had lost all relish for lectures and for books written by English scholars. The only thing that appealed to him now was to see the Master day and night, and hear the words that fell form his blessed lips. 331 


Nhat Hanh averred that a good fruit salad doesn’t just have one kind of fruit; meaning—you can learn from various traditions, not just your own.  You can be enriched by diversity.  But he also told the Jews and Christians at his dharma talks: Recover the jewels of your own tradition (like Reb Zalman and Matthew Fox had done).

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