hsmith

Christian author and scholar Huston Smith lived many faiths in his spiritual journey.

The world’s most renowned scholar and sage on religions, Huston Smith, passed away at his home in Berkeley on Friday at the age of 97. Smith earned a reputation as being the one who truly understood eastern religions and helped the west better comprehend them. His demise was announced by his wife, Kendra Smith.

The World's Religions  -50th Anniversary 2009

The World’s Religions -50th Anniversary 2009

What set Smith apart from other researchers is rather than simply studying a religion theoretically, he actually practiced whatever religions he was studying. As a result, when he studied the Zen philosophy, he was a Buddhist. When he studied Mexican Indian beliefs, he dropped peyote with their shamans. Naturally, the information he presented to the world was not a third-party interpretation by a western, Christian man, but a first-hand account of someone who had actually lived those faiths.

Born to Methodist missionaries, Dr. Smith had a desire to become a missionary himself. However, through the course of his research, he discovered every religion gave only one perspective to the divine. This is why he said when a person is rooted in only one tradition, it’s as though he’s only half alive spiritually. It’s when we approach spirituality by incorporating all ways of thought that we achieve our full potential. In fact, in the very opening of his famous book, The World’s Religions, he says: “The other half that beats with the pulse of all humanity has yet to be awakened."

Smith’s faith was tested as he sat by his daughter’s deathbed. His eldest daughter, Karen Smith, had a rare form of cancer and died not long after turning 50 years old. During this time, Smith consulted the religious knowledge he had studied throughout the years, such as chants of Buddhist monks: “I will lose my youth, my health, my loved ones, everything I hold dear and, finally, life itself by the very nature of being human.” At one point Smith said he “had trouble believing in what he had long written about: God’s ‘justice and perfection.’ ”

He was still a Christian when he passed away. Regarding his Christian faith, he said “God is defined by Jesus but not confined to Jesus.” His research showed him his faith was not the ultimate truth, and spirituality takes on various forms.

His book, originally titled The Religions of Man, published in 1958 has sold over two million copies. This work of his remains one of the world’s most sought after book on religious studies.

Strongly a Methodist, Dr. Smith’s favorite prayer was “Dear God, I’m doing the best I can.”

Resources

Follow the Conversation on Twitter