[Note: This is one of several articles that I am archiving here as I phase out an old website, The Four Precepts Web Portal & Spiritual Search Page. While these articles reflect a formative period in my life and thought, they do not necessarily reflect my current opinions. This particular article was written with reference to a directory of web links that was featured on the original site.]
Collecting and Dividing
by Wayne Ferguson 16.05.2004, changed 15.07.2004
Any attempt to categorize cross-cultural, spiritually oriented web-sites is problematic, to say the least. All too often, we take things merely at face value.
On the one hand, we are apt to ignore as merely strange that which has always seemed strange; while on the other hand, we tend only to see the familiar in that which has always seemed familiar.1 But it is one of the basic assumptions of this project that there is a fundamental and ultimately vital thread2 which ties each of us together–and each of these sites together. For that reason, “The Four Precepts Web Portal” began by listing sites in alphabetical order–to encourage random browsing in pursuit of that thread. But because the table of sites grew so quickly– and in order to accomodate more specific kinds of research –we installed a web directory script and created categories. Nevertheless, sincere Searchers and Researchers of the Spirit are still strongly encouraged to browse through the links at random, exploring the “New Links” and periodically revisiting the old ones as your perspective matures. Indeed, my hope is that you will approach all the sites with a species of innocence–looking for the strange in that which at first seems familiar and for the familiar in that which at first seems strange.
1. This discussion of the strange and the familiar was inspired by an article I read many years ago on The Task of Religious Studies, by Jacob Neusner. Here is an excerpt from it which I found in an essay on religious studies on the Internet:
“Stranger at Home: The Task of Religious Studies,” inaugural lecture of the Department of Religious Studies at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, October 25, 1979, p. 13]:
“The critical task facing this country in the world and in our life as a nation is to learn to confront difference. Our society now recognizes that there is no single normative culture for all of us to accept. Twenty per cent of the population speaks Spanish. Nearly twelve percent is black. Three per cent is Jewish. There is a growing minority of Moslems and Buddhists, both native and immigrant. . . . The world in which we live no longer concedes that one way of life or one system is valid for all. The world for which our students now prepare demands, therefore, the capacity to take two steps, first, to discover oneself in the other, so that the alien seems less strange, and second, to discover the other in oneself, so that the self seems more strange. When our students study a religion other than the one in which they were brought up, they discover themselves in what is different. . . . When they study the religion in which they were brought up and for the first time undertake the task of sympathetic, academic analysis and interpretation, they discover the alien in what they thought belonged to them. . . . The alien is within. Where we are most at home, there we are mostly strangers.”
2. The Thread is the subtitle to one of my favorite books, From Pebbles to Computers, by Suzuki, D.T., Beer, S. Blohm, H. Toronto, Canada: Oxford University Press, 1986. This book provides a kind of aesthetic-poetic overview of the history of human inventiveness in printing and calculating technologies. At the same time, it enables the reader to catch hold of the thread of meaning that is easily lost in the midst of these technological revolutions. In the end, the authors conclude that “the Knower and Known are one” and quote this Zen poem:
“Things are objects because of the mind;
The mind is such because of things.
Understand the relativity of these two
and the basic reality: the unity of emptiness.
In this emptiness the two are indistingusihable
and each contains in itself the whole world.”