Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Huston Smith, fully Huston Cummings Smith

Chinese-born American Religious Studies Scholar and Author

"Life is like a tapestry that we view from the wrong side. We see all the strands and knots, and it makes no sense from the back. But there is a different view of the whole things to which we are assured some day we will be privy. In the meanwhile, there are all these knots we have to deal with existentially; the path has been charted – compassion and justice – imbued by vision. And it’s up to the individual."

"In order to live man must believe in that for which he lives."

"Human intelligence is a reflection of the intelligence that produces everything. In knowing, we are simply extending the intelligence that comes to and constitutes us. We mimic the mind of God, so to speak. Or better, we continue and extend it. "

"The most powerful moral influence is example. "

"The crisis that the world finds itself in as it swings on the hinge of a new millennium is located in something deeper than particular ways of organizing political systems and economies. "

"Love is the movement within life that carries us, that enables us, that causes us to break out of what Alan Watts calls the “skin-encapsulated ego.” Without love, we are self-centered, but love enables us to move the center of our lives outside our ego. Therefore it expands our lives and, needless to say, enriches it. Any human being would give anything to love or be loved. When it really happens, it is like heaven on earth."

"The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder"

"You can never get enough of what you don't really want"

"All -isms end up in schisms"

"If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race."

"When there are miles to go before we sleep, altered traits are more important than altered states"

"...the most primitive...were also the least alienated from their surroundings."

"We are born in mystery, we live in mystery, and we die in mystery. "

"Religion teaches us that our lives here on earth are to be used for transformation."

"Yesterday and today and tomorrow are not an arrow that shoots from past to present to future; rather all tenses, and sleeping and waking, mix and cohabit in an atemporal duration beyond clocks and calendars. The Aboriginal world began long ago when the Ancestors sang in Dreamtime the cosmic rhythms that give shape to the things we see, and it is the beginning right now, when a living Tiwi sings the Dream songs that continue, or are, the world."

"Ancient wisdom and quantum physicists make unlikely bedfellows: In quantum mechanics the observer determines (or even brings into being) what is observed, and so, too, for the Tiwis, who dissolve the distinction between themselves and the cosmos. In quantum physics, subatomic particles influence each other from a distance, and this tallies with the aboriginal view, in which people, animals, rocks, and trees all weave together in the same interwoven fabric."

"If human life is to survive on this planet, the old dualistic worldview, with people on one side and the environment on the other, must yield to a new vision that connects us with everything else and leads us to care for and take responsibility for it."

"We are free when we are not the slave of our impulses, but rather their master. Taking inward distance, we thus become the authors of our own dramas rather than characters in them."

"Primal people see the objects of this world not (or not only) as solid but as open windows to their divine source."

"The single destination of sanctity could admit of so many different avenues leading to it."

"The only thing that continues is the consequences of our action."

"As the twentieth century began, science equaled a materialistic worldview. As the twenty-first century began, the worldview of science, at least of physics and astronomy, may have traded place with that of religion. Consider Einstein's famous equation E = mc2. Nothing of matter dies but continues on in another form, elsewhere. The church divines and theologians for two thousand years have devised arguments and "proofs" of immortality but nothing equal to this."

"Seen through the eyes of faith, religion's future is secure. As long as there are human beings, there will be religion for the sufficient reason that the self is a theomorphic creature -- one whose morphe (form) is theos -- God encased within it. Having been created in the imago Dei, the image God, all human beings have a God-shaped vacuum built into their hearts. Since nature abhors a vacuum, people keep trying to fill the one inside them."

"Understanding, then, can lead to love. But the revese is also true. Love brings understanding; the two are reciprocal. So we must listen to understand, but we must also listen to put into play the compassion that the wisdom traditions all enjoin, for it is impossible to love another without hearing that other. If we are to be true to these religions, we must attend to others as deeply and as alertly as we hope that they will attend to us; Thomas Merton made this point by saying that God speaks to us in three places: tin scripture, in our deepest selves, and in the voices of the stranger. We must have the graciousness to receive as well as to give, for there is no greater way to depersonalize another than to speak without also listening."

"Every human being, simply by virtue of his or her humanity, is a child of God and therefore in possession of rights that even kings must respect. "

"The question of our time is no longer how to take things apart, but how to work responsibly at reassembling them. "

"Religion shows an ugly face to many contemporary eyes. In-group prejudice, violence perpetrated in its name, sexism, commercialism, and quackery - these crude surfaces often blind us to the liberating wisdom that courses far below. Let us readily admit that not all aspects of these wisdom traditions are enduringly wise."

"Beware of the differences that blind us to the unity that binds us. "

"The great religions of the world unanimously affirm Transcendence as the goal of the human quest. It is a journey that begins with ordinary knowledge, but when it is seriously pursued it crests in “an intuitive awareness of things, a discernment of the way things are."

"The rule in religious matters is that understanding proceeds through living what one is trying to understand. "

"To have times explicitly prescribed for calling one’s mind back to transcendence is so valuable."

"In our times, religion is a bad word, while spirituality frees us from the horrors of institutionalized religion. "

"There is a striking parallelism between science and religion on this point. It is my conviction that that other world is anchored in eternity and the eternal is different from everlasting. Everlasting goes on forever with changes, but eternity is beyond time. It includes time, but is beyond time. The second thing this other world is anchored in is spirit rather than matter, the matrixes of space-time and matter it is not subject to. The third thing is that it is perfect. Those points all converge on a mathematical point, which exceeds our capacity of our left brain to put into words, so it cannot be adequately articulated. Our articulations can be, as a Zen monk would say, fingers pointing toward it at the moon."

"There is a great deal more to religion than mystical experiences. Religions try to provide answers to the mysteries of life, but they are also concerned with enhancing the quality of life. The great religions encourage and promote compassion and loving-kindness."