Notable Books

Notable Books 39

Something New

Mystical Journey: An Autobiography, William Johnston, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2006, Pages 230, $24.00

“Zen and Christianity are the future.”

Thomas Merton, speaking to his editor the day before his accidental death
Currently, I'm reading The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counseling which was written by an unknown mystic of the 14th century. This is not my first attempt, and I still find it a challenge. The best translation and edited version that I have worked with is by William Johnston. You will note that is the same author as the book under review: Mystical Journey. Because of my high regard for Johnston and his Theosophical overtones I decided to review this last book he wrote before he died. But first, let me provide the details how he and the Society became intertwined.

When I first became active in the Society (American section), I worked closely with Dora Kunz who was president from 1975 to 1987. She and I were co-editors of the Theosophical Research Journal, I chaired the Theosophical Research Institute (TRI), and served on the Educational Committee where Dr. Renee Weber was chairperson. The 'new age' era of the 60s had passed and the invasions of the gurus was in full swing. Many of us on the committees worked very hard to stay current with the trends that came and went. One of the authors that we found reliable was our author William Johnston. He was a Jesuit Priest, wrote his PhD on The Cloud of Unknowning, and spent off and on 5 decades in Japan. One book that was of particular interest to me was his The Still Point: Reflections on Zen and Christian Mysticism. At that time, anything with the word Mysticism in it was guaranteed to draw a crowd.

When the book under review came out in 2006 (he died in 2010), I was quick to buy it and find out just how interesting of a life that William Johnston had. I can't say that it is heavy in Theosophical doctrine, but it has many conceptual overtones. Johnston's ideal Jesuit was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Like theosophist, de Chardin believed in an evolution of the material plane, and an evolution of the Universal spirit. See my review of Pablo Sender's Evolution of the Higher Consciousness here.

Also, Johnston's book provides depth; especially in Zen and Christian Mysticism which is timeless.

This is a brutally honest book of a strict Catholic upbringing in Belfast to the last 50 years in Tokyo. Although a Jesuit priest, he frequently referred to himself as a misfit in the Catholic organization. It turns out that he was just years ahead of the Second Vatican Council. In roughly four equal parts, we begin with a standard Catholic up bring. Then in the second part we move through the Jesuit education and are introduced to the spiritual problems that Johnston experiences. From aTheosophical point of view, we would consider this as a typical searching that many of us went through. In the third and fourth part, Johnston finds many of his answers in the religions of the world; especially Zen and Christian Mysticism.

What makes Johnston's life interesting is the number of important persons in the spiritual world that we still study today in the Society. Thomas Merton was a friend (wrote an intro to his Cloud book). He was instrumental in arranging Merton's Asia trip to Japan (Merton died before he could complete this). He visited the Dalai Lama when it was not so easy to make the trip. As I will explain shortly, he held in high esteem Fr. Bede Griffiths, who would play an important part of my Theosophical education when I read Bede's River of compassion: A Christian Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Johnston stayed at the Fr. Bede's ashram while traveling in India.

I will close with a passage of a review that I did for Renee Weber's book. This is when Renee and Dora (above mentioned) were in India.
“One person who left a powerful impression, both on Renee and Dora, was Father Bede Griffiths. In 1982-3 Dora and Renee were in India attending the TS International Convention. After the convention, they travelled to Shantivanam to interview Fr. Bede at his Saccidananda Ashram. ... The culmination of that interview resulted in Fr. Bede coming to Olcott in August of 1983. I was in the audience that night. I was only vaguely familiar with Fr. Bede, via Dora and Renee, and had no idea what to expect. In walked this small, thin, robed monk and gave one of the most enlightening and humbling talks I have ever heard. Within a month, I had bought and read most of his books he had written....”
I will always associate Fr. Bede and William Johnston as proponent of interfaith dialogue and interreligious spirituality.

Something Old

Seek Out The Way (Studies in Light On The Path), Rohit Mehta, TPH Publishing House, Mayar, Madras, India, 1957, Pages 98, $1.50 (there is a newer edition and more expensive).

Probably 90% of you reading this review have read Light On The Path by Mabel Collins. It truly is a classic. She worked with HPB and among other things produced this wonderful and very short book. Actually, it's not a book so much, but rather 30 aphorisms. I often refer to her book as 'Theosophical Mysticism'.
Rohit Mehta gave a series of talks on The Path to a group of Theosophical students in India and this book grew out of these talks. I have a twofold reason for reviewing this book. One is to bring back a true theosophical classic that perhaps many of us have not read in a long time. The second reason is to introduce Rohit Mehta to many of the younger member who perhaps have never heard of him!
I met Rohit in the 1980s when he came to Olcott (National Headquarter in America) for a long weekend seminar. We were both scientist so we had a lot in common. I found his public talks very clear and full of new ideas. However, it was his private conversations we had in the library that left a lasting impression. It is at this time I invite you to click this link which will give you Rohit's biography.

This book under review is close to how I remember him. He was very verbal and had the ability to answer your question several ways. You'll sense this as you read.

Notable books is a series compiled by Dr. Ralph Hannon.






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