Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Beyond Words by Sri Swami Satchidananda

Beyond Words by Sri Swami Satchidananda is a collection of parables, teachings, and sayings from the swami who opened the Woodstock music festival.  Adding to the overall flavor of the text are line drawings by Peter Max. 

When I was a child, my mother and I went to the ashram where Sri Swami Satchidananda taught and during our brief visit he showed up on the final day.  I remember the incredibly energy of his presence, the peace that simply exuded from him.  He invited me to give him a hug and the softness of his beard surprised me.  These are the things I remember.  Later I would learn about the sex scandals but long after he had died and it didn’t influence my memory at all.

Neither of these things influenced my appreciation, or lack thereof, of this book. Not to say that this isn’t a charming book.  I liken it to the type of teachings one often finds in early spiritual training—simplified and often pithy.  The book simply lacks any real depth and doesn’t really challenge the reader. 

For instance, he writes “The more you think that you are a bit, the more you will become bitter.  The more you think you are a piece, the more peace you will lose.”  (170)

In the meantime, the image on the same page is of a wave, not dissimilar from those found in Hokusai prints, over which a winged figure is hovering.  Unfortunately, there are many examples of the drawings by Peter Max having more spiritual depth and even meaning than the words themselves. 

However, I can see where there is a need for a book like this, for those who are not ready to plunge too deeply into spirituality, for those unwilling to have their lives infused and/or informed by spiritual truths, this book will feel safe and perhaps even be a little challenging without ever being threatening.

I wanted meat not milk.  So my disappointment is my own.  And yet, the image on page 29, the chapter title page for “We Are One” is so perfect that I could meditate on it for days if not years or even a lifetime.  I don’t regret reading this book but I cannot recommend it.

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