Eastern Light: Awakening to Presence in Zen, Quakerism, and Christianity by Steve Smith Review

In case you were not aware of this, MRPing (Multiple religious participation) is defined as conscious use of ideas, sensibilities and practices from another tradition by one person that is rooted in his own faith perspective. Steve Smith is one of these people. In this book he manages to share insights and bounties from Christianity, Zen and Quakerism, all in a wise, subtle and serious way, leading to a book that you might actually want to read, no matter what religion you are a part of.

Smith was born in a Quaker family, then graduated Earlham College. Harvard University is where he got his Philosophy doctorate and he went on to teach at Claremont McKenna College’s Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies for forty years. As he is a teacher, he first highlights Quaker pedagogy’s 5 principles:

  • Property Of Experience – Fully awakening to world encounters.
  • Integrity – Education is linked with the rest of life.
  • Friendly Facts – Creation is life-affirming and welcoming.
  • Inviting Voices – Everything needs to be included in the learning community.
  • Zero Violence – Always respect souls of learners and teachers alike.

These are the principles that are widely discussed in Eastern Light, a book that started from a time period in the life of the author where he had to deal with divorce and alcoholism. This is what led to participation in a Zen meditation program that transformed Smith’s life. He refers to Zazen as being marvelous, returning the individual to himself and showing unspeakable beauty.

The author writes about how the Zen journey led to an appreciation of Quaker spiritual practice, something that is often overlooked. Steve Smith moves towards acknowledging Georg Fox’s mantra, talking about really important topics like human vulnerability, compassion and passion.

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Smith praises activism advocacy in Quakerism, a spiritual path that helps people bear life burdens, leading to keeping souls alive. Quakers are being saluted for the courage they have in front of all that happened to them as they espouse peace. A completely nonviolent response to injustice, hatred and war was always a part of Quakerism and this is beautifully portrayed in the book.

Besides religion, Steve Smith also covers major times and current challenges like environmental decay, climate change and more, all while trying to highlight how spirituality relates to them. The conclusion of it all is that spiritual practice is a discipline, one of reawakening, not a practice that searches for things absent from life.

On the whole, Eastern Light: Awakening To Presence In Zen, Quakerism And Christianity is a great read that will make you question at least some things in your life. You may not agree with some of the teachings present in the book but it is a certainty that there will be some questions that will appear. You will question some aspects of your life, which is what any such book needs to do if it is good. Reading it is not difficult and you do not need religious knowledge in order to understand the numerous lessons provided by Steve Smith.