February 24th, 2019

From Highgate Hill



This is central London from a standpoint halfway up Highgate Hill. We were visiting Becky and Karen- who live in a house belonging to the Methodist church on a side road off this magnificent central boulevard. They're probably the only people within a radius of a mile or two who aren't millionaires. If you walk to the left you come to Highgate Cemetery and if you walk to the right you come to Hampstead Heath. Coleridge used to live in Highgate Village- and I like to think of him wandering about this hillside before there were any houses, rhapsodising over the view. In his day the highest building would have been the dome of St Paul's- which you can just see in the photograph poking out from behind a rectangular block to the left of the lamp post. The highest building now is the Shard- that unmistakeable pointy thing- which is like something Coleridge might have seen (and only could have seen) in an opium vision.

Scripture

Scripture: We'd be better off without scripture. Not the writings themselves, but the category we put them in. It's a mistake to regard any human writing as holy and unassailable.

Language is the product of a particular culture in a particular time. I just picked up my copy of The Gita. It's studded with untranslated Hindu words. I object to that. I shouldn't have to learn a foreign language to get at the truth. I shouldn't have to try and re-enter the mindset of a bronze age culture.

The same thing applies to the Christian scriptures. I shouldn't need to know about the Roman Empire and Greek philosophy and all those ancient, no longer current things in order to access the truth. I shouldn't have to become learned in order to become wise.

When Sri Krishna spoke to Arjuna or Jesus spoke to the crowds they were using the best, most accessible language of their time. They weren't aiming for obscurity, quite the reverse, they were aiming to make obscure things plain. But as soon as the words left their mouths they began to degrade. Jesus hearers didn't have to have it explained to them what a Samaritan was. But within a few years a Greek person listening to Paul preaching in Ephesus would have been asking, "A Samaritan, what's that when it's at home?"

Note that neither Sri Krishna nor Jesus actually wrote anything down. Neither did the Buddha. Wasn't Mohammed illiterate?

I like Zen because it's anti-scripture.

I'm not saying burn the scriptures. I'm saying put them on an honoured shelf- and use them for reference. The Gita, The Bible, the Koran- these are earlier generations' attempts to tell the truth. They partly succeeded and partly failed. We need to open our hearts and have a go ourselves. Only we mustn't call the result scripture, or pretend that it's anything special.

Truth is a wildflower. See it in the fields and hedges. Pick it and press it between the pages of a book and it becomes something rather different.

There's no such thing as ancient wisdom. Wisdom is timeless- which means it's now, now, now.