By James Bean
Copyright April 2005
For many years I have been an observer of religions, spiritual paths, and endless debates of one sort or another, sometimes participating in those debates, sometimes not. I am most intrigued about the choices people make in life when it comes to spirituality and religion. I am especially curious about how people perceive various spiritual concepts – how they arrive at the perceptions they do. I am also an observer of media: the way religion is or IS NOT discussed on radio, television, the web, and in print.
Eventually I became so concerned over the sparse number of options in the spiritual marketplace of ideas that I began my own study groups and book discussions, to create some new options in the neighborhood, some “social engineering” to contribute to the coming spiritual revolution. I also started to write, went online, and eventually even created a syndicated radio program called ‘Spiritual Awakening”, featuring the spoken word, interviews with interesting guests, and book reviews, broadcasting some wisdom that otherwise would never get shared. From my Mission Statement – Program Manifesto: “There’s not just one religion – there are thousands! After years of being concerned that too few voices, too few points of view were getting heard when it comes to spiritual paths and world religions – that the radio airwaves were not reflecting the diversity that really exists, I started producing my own programs, exploring the world of spirituality, comparative religion, books, web sites, and music, bringing to the airwaves: the gentle voices of Saints, the Wisdom of Masters or Mystics, world scriptures, sacred texts – the great spiritual classics of the east and the west.”
Even as there is a titanic effort on the part of some to promote peace in the world, there is also a struggle for wisdom in this “vast wasteland” of media communications, where the human brain is almost as neglected as the soul. There is a kind of battle for the “hearts and minds” going on between the usual fundamentalist broadcasters on the one hand “from coast to coast”, and the anti-spirituality crowd, polarized in the opposite direction, on the other. There are a few alternative voices in the “none of the above” category as well, and these do not “fit,” can not be easily squeezed into either of those two aforementioned extreme categories.
There have been some moments that have really embodied the spirit of revolutionary change, a downloading of wisdom into the consciousness of humanity, a new beginning. For me, to simply read from ancient texts censored so long ago – a cry of the soul silenced by brute force, to speak words that have not been spoken for one thousand seven hundred years — to transmit into the atmosphere of the earth teachings once burned by fanatics during the Fourth Century, feels like participating in an act of transformation.
On a recent promotional announcement for my radio program I used the analogy of a bookstore to convey the lack of spiritual diversity on the radio dial, saying that if your local bookstore followed the same programming policies of program directors at most radio and TV stations, the shelves in the religion-spirituality section would be virtually bare, with perhaps one or two titles sitting there amidst what would otherwise be dusty shelves, empty space.
One Way To Declare Independence from Media-ocrity is to Practice Better Book-Networking
Most spiritual seekers highly value books. Books can serve as portals to other worlds, let you look into the heart and soul of a poet-mystic, gaze into the new frontiers of quantum physics and string theory, are even a way to travel through time. Sutras, Upanishads, scrolls and parchments will transport you to distant lands to sit at the feet of great souls. I find it best to have many avenues to good books, not just one.
- Bookstores: A local bookstore may have some valuable titles of course, and will always be one of the main pathways to brose for new books, yet we need not solely rely upon the tastes of the guy ordering and stocking shelves a few miles up the road. His choices, or what some publisher happens to be pushing during any given month, does not necessarily provide a complete or satisfying access to the world of books. Some of the best books I’ve ever read are ones NOT found conveniently at arm’s length.
- Searching Online: Searching for books online has become an amazing new way to find what you’re looking for. Most book companies these days have their own websites. Once you discover what you want, these can be special-ordered via a local bookstore or purchased directly online.
- Mail Order Catalogs: Mail order book catalogs specializing in rare spiritual books provide another opportunity to access writings you otherwise might not encounter. Always be willing to write for that free book catalog.
- Books Published By Spiritual Paths: Religious organizations or spiritual paths, east and west, often have their own self-published titles, and those may not necessarily have an ISBN or show up in any computer search. Book lists can be requested directly from various groups.
- Books In Print: A series of volumes published each year called, “Books in Print”, an “A” through “Z” listing of titles, authors, and publishers, is a wonderful tool. Many libraries have those.
- Books in English from India or Other Countries: Off-the-radar-screen for most is the world of international books in print. Online one can find English language titles published in other countries. India has tons of amazing spiritual books in English. Some of the best. These days, there are even companies that specialize in selling Indian books to people in North America.
- Used Books: Used bookstores provide another avenue to that special book you’ve been searching for. There are used bookstores online as well.
- Reprints: There are are companies that even republish out of print books. Very nice of them to do that.
- Welcome to the Worldwide Web: Did you know that you can read many great spiritual classics for free on the web? I have a website that provides links to many such sites, and many others do as well. From “Apocrypha” to “Zoroaster”: Buddhist texts, Hindu, Christian classics, Gnostic Gospels, Sufi Poets, Kabbalah/Zohar, the Epic of Gilgamesh, Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead – the world’s holy books are available at your fingertips at various online libraries and internet archives. Even if your eyes are not comfortable reading via a screen for long periods of time, you can always print out pages.
- Spiritual Quotes Via Yahoo Groups: Online there are also Yahoo groups, newsgroups, egroups at Belief Net or elsewhere in cyber-space that offer daily spiritual quotes, the daily OM, a Rumi poem each day, or other inspiration often coming to you in the form of email. In the near future, I plan on posting lists of recommended books and publishers in various categories or genres: gnostic writings, Sant Mat mysticism, Sufi books, Christian mystics, sacred texts of antiquity, and newly published books.
- Support Your Local Library: And, your library, university or theological seminary library will give you yet more options.
- Inter-Library Loan: Libraries also participate in the inter-library loan program. Usually via a computer at the library, you can surf though their latest disc and see what other libraries across the state or country may have to offer. You will discover and borrow some divine books through the avenue of inter-library loan.