Book Reviews

It's a Meaningful Life: It Just Takes Practice by Bo Lozoff, Compass Books, 2001; 304 pages, ISBN 0140196242, paper, $13.00.

At every level of society from the family up to international relations, the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities. -- Dalai Lama, in his Foreword

Bo Lozoff wrote this book for men and women who would like to live a more spiritual life. It is a practical manual that addresses both "The Inner Journey of Communion" and "The Outer Path Toward Community." Subjects covered include personal growth, meditation, education of youth, individual and family responsibility, simplicity, the importance of community, and ethics. Each subtopic is discussed without metaphysical jargon and concludes with "exercises," suggestions for applying the ideas in daily life. Based on his own experiences and study, it is filled with humor and humanity.

After a serious car accident when he was 18, Lozoff began reading the writings of the sages of the world religions and visiting various retreats and ashrams. He and his wife Sita found that all the wisdom traditions follow two principles, which they decided to make their own. He sees his own writings as a contemporary, down-to-earth expression of these principles:

1. The internal principle says that each one of us, in silence and solitude, can touch and eventually merge into the Divine Essence deep within us. . . . Religions may differ on their names or ideas for what it is that we commune with, but they all agree that through diligence and earnestness, we can commune with the Highest Force imaginable, whatever we may wish to call it.
2. The external principle all the religions share is a simple ethic about how we are to regard others. We are instructed to love and respect all of creation, to be forgiving and compassionate and generous, and to dedicate our lives to the common good rather than merely to personal success. -- p. 5

In order to help others, they established the Prison Ashram Project. Thousands of young men and women -- even children -- are locked behind bars, and once there few receive any positive support. While all religions praise redemption, our penal system has van- quished such beliefs which, he says, bodes ill both for inmates and society at large. He and Sita have worked with convicts in many prisons, approaching them as spiritual beings, and their success has been gratifying. To enlarge the scope of their efforts, they established the Human Kindness Foundation and from its headquarters, Kindness House, a small staff corresponds with inquirers and welcomes visitors.

Kindness is the basis of his program, and he agrees with Lao-tzu that "The first practice is the practice of undiscriminating virtue: Take care of those who are deserving. Also, and equally, take care of those who are not" (p. 124-5). He feels a good beginning for a meaningful life is to treat everyone with equal kindness: family, friends, the store clerk, the mechanic in the garage, the ex-convict. It may take concentrated effort at first, but not for long. When making a point, Lozoff often tells stories or uses a quotation. He introduces the subject of marriage, for instance, with these words of Leo Tolstoy: "The goal of our life should not be to find joy in marriage, but to bring more love and truth into the world. We marry to assist each other in this task" (p. 193).

There are various discussions about the eternal divine essence and its human instrument, the transient personal ego which contains both the highest and the lowest. One meditation is built around an unusual analogy between man and mountain. A mountain is filled with life: vegetation, birds, insects, mammals, reptiles, bacteria, and sometimes hiking humans. It knows sunshine and spring showers, downpours, blizzards, fire, and wind storms. Despite the variety of life on its surface and unpredictable weather, the mountain itself is never perturbed and remains what it is: a mountain. Like the mountain, we are filled with millions of lives, cells that form organs, genes that direct their activities, nerve centers to supply sensation, eyes to see, ears to hear, tongues to taste. And the brain, the tool of mind, can interpret, steady, and appreciably control these lesser parts that let us live. Yet only the spiritual mind remains unperturbed, come what may, so that through sunshine and storm we remain what we are: one of billions of ever-changing, developing humans.

The author regards each person as a colored sheath of threads that make up the tapestry of humanity. He imagines that spiritual persons enhance it, the good blend in, while the selfish and violent twist the fabric, marring the harmonious pattern. There is need for more spiritually aware individuals, and he wants everyone to know that a meaningful life is not dull but filled with joy and humor, that lessening self-interest begets welcome unselfishness and concern for others. Such a life, he assures us, is within the reach of every person willing to cultivate a positive and spiritual approach to his or her everyday life and relationships. -- Jean B. Crabbendam

(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)

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