Steve Smith’s Eastern Light: Awakening to Presence in Zen, Quakerism and Christianity is a remarkable book in the form of a quasi-autobiographical reflection on the author’s reembracing of Quaker tradition, broadened through the assistance of Buddhist insight, language, and practice.
The book is an advertisement, not for Buddhism or Quakerism, but for attentive listening in stillness, aided by the experience and encouragement of others.
This is a confidence-building book. If Steve Smith can reflect on his life experience and the experience in his tradition and the human tradition of others with clarity and discernment, I can also.
This is a story and reflection on a life on a path to richness. The way he deals with language and the ideas of the traditions he consults is warming to the seeker’s soul. He reminds me of the enriching of tradition, of his Quaker tradition, long thought dead and its language dissipated in overuse.
With this book, Smith helps me transform Quaker silence into stillness aided by silence. In the stillness, there is presence, available to all and denied to none. Practice is the key in focusing attention, whatever the technicalities of that practice may be. The embrace of Quaker silence in community, or Buddhist stillness individually, is a matter of choice and preference in a common human path.
This is a hopeful story. The eastern light in the title is the light of the rising sun, not the setting sun. It is also a reference to the author’s engagement with Buddhism, which cultural companions refer to as eastern as well.
He concludes that the simple sense of delight in the present moment is possible in the worst human conditions through spiritual practice from resources within. That spiritual practice is described in metaphors of light and stillness within practical acts of human kindness. It includes loving kindness in human actions, and it applies across the globe in this discernment.
Our practice in discernment is instrumental in order to do rightly, and we do rightly guided by our practice of discernment. The author’s testimony and story are that this human mechanism works in the most extreme circumstances. It deepens and is reliable as we mature as persons over time, learning from reflection on experience and tradition.
I conclude from this first reading that silence is a crude characteristic of stillness. Silence is unconnected with sound or noise. As Quakers, we forget that silence is only a tool in a pathway to stillness within community. Smith helps us to remember this part of our Quaker tradition by reference to the discernment in the Buddhist tradition.
The book shows great care in its preparation, with an eye-pleasing textual font, substantial and informative endnotes, bibliography, and index. The book is available in both hardcopy and e-format.
Predicting classic status is above my pay grade. But, this book provides opening in insight in a contemporary life that is worth returning to again and again in testing my experience and reflection on my tradition, while open to the experience and tradition of others across the globe who are increasingly part of my community of care.
Note: The process of preparation of this book for publication is a model for how Quaker Universalist Fellowship can be of assistance to Quaker authors in bringing their human discernment into the light for our benefit as humans in our common walk in this life together.
QUF appreciates the opportunity to be of service to this Quaker author, an early example of our larger purpose of aiding communication regarding Quaker faith and practice for all.
“Siqijor dawn, the Philippines,” by Yosomono (2002).