December 8th, 2006


hmmm ...

This was an odd one ... and I'm still not sure of the "why" of it. I mean, sure, collecting bits and pieces of wildly divergent "sacred prose" is all well and good, but ... it just seems random. Stephen Mitchell's editorial project, The Enlightened Mind: An Anthology of Sacred Prose lacks any obvious (at least to my reading) unifying theme, or even a particular "axe to grind". Its Foreword indicates that it's the companion volume to "The Enlightened Heart", which perhaps has more editorializing involved, but this book, standing alone, has a bit of that "Readers Digest" feel of stuff stuck in because it filled the space. My more cynical (and former publisher) self was positing that Mr. Mitchell desperately wanted to "write" a "Deep Book" and found that the most expeditious way of doing this was to cobble together a bunch of pre-certified "Deep Stuff"!

Now, this is not to say that it's a bad book, or that it's not a useful little collection, or that it totally lacks structure. It is interesting in that it forms a time-line of ... what? ... enlightened thought? ... going from a two-page (!) excerpt from The Upanishads, followed by two pages or so of brief quotes from The Bible, through several dozen 1-10 page bits of various teachers, sages, prophets, books, and Smart Folks from all over the world. Ironically (for those paying close attention to my recent reviews here), both Padmasambhava and Franz Kafka make it into the book ... as do Jesus, Mohammad, Plato, and William Blake, with various Buddhist, Jewish, Moslem, Christian, and other teachers and theorists ... heck, even Albert Einstein gets a page of quotes.

Mitchell tosses off a brief introduction to each (ranging from 3 words to a half a page, with no particular attention given to the likelihood of any general reader recognizing the sage in question), but doesn't seem to make any effort to tie things together. Again, being exposed to a wide spectrum of "enlightened" writing is not a bad thing, certainly, but the take-away is a bit like having been handed a manila folder full of blurry xeroxes by some unstable person on the bus ... you're sure they're meaningful to them, but what's it supposed to mean to me?

I suppose that if one were, say, an accountant whose reading background was 99% economic and business books, this could be a goldmine if one was seeking out something more genteel to discuss over hors d'oeuvres with folks one wished to give the impression of being a more rounded person. For those of us with Liberal Arts degrees, however, it seems a bit pointless (O.K., except to perhaps introduce us to certain obscure-to-the-mainstream thinkers that we managed to not read on our own).

Remarkably, The Enlightened Mind is still in print (so much for my publishing instincts!), so you could probably find it via your local bookstore, but you can also snag a used copy from the Amazon new/used vendors for around a buck.

By the way, it looks like I'm going to make my "72 Books Read in 2006" target ... this was #69, and I'm a few dozen pages away from finishing up #70, and am starting in on #71 later today! Go me!

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