In a quiet moment after my morning meditation I began thinking about those people who have most influenced my spirituality. A prominent person on that list whose writing I began to read about a decade ago is religious studies scholar, Huston Smith. He was raised by Methodist missionary parents and became a minister. Later for more than ten years each he practiced Vedanta, Zen Buddhism and Sufi Islam.
Huston Smith studied long, walked many spiritual paths and is considered one of the foremost authorizes in the world on the common threads running through all religions. He has said of these commonalities, “If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race. ”
Huston Smith lost his oldest daughter Karen about ten years ago and I remember clearly reading about it. Later in 2009 John Blake of CNN wrote:
Smith… was struggling. He said his daughter’s illness forced him to call upon the spiritual traditions he had studied for much of his life.
He thought about the “Five Remembrances” that some Buddhist monks chant each day: I will lose my youth, my health, my loved ones, everything I hold dear and, finally, life itself by the very nature of being human.
Smith said those remembrances told him that the transient nature of life does not mean people should love others less but more. Smith then recalled a quote from Buddha: “Suffering, if it does not diminish love, will transport you to the furthest shore.”
Karen died one night as Smith sat beside her bed. Smith sobbed uncontrollably. He said that at the moment of his daughter’s death, he had trouble believing in what he had long written about: God’s “justice and perfection.”
Yet even when he was doubled over in anguish beside his daughter’s bed, she seemed to be reaching out to him. As he sat alone with Karen’s body, in the moments after her death, he suddenly stopped crying.
He could somehow sense her presence in the room.
“The sensation was so palpable I almost turned around, expecting to see her,” he said.
“Nobody wants to learn from a child how to die well, but I learned it from Karen,” he said.
Smith traveled around the world to study under some of the most famous spiritual masters. But it was his daughter who became one of his greatest teachers.
“She taught me nobility of spirit,” he said.
My daily meditation practice has returned to be what I do most mornings while the coffee is brewing. There’s something special about my not fully awake mind that’s yet to be crowded with thoughts of the day that makes this time the best for contemplation. I am grateful for the inspiration to return to meditating. It does me a lot of good!
Quiet the mind,
and the soul will speak.
Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati