How to Read a Spiritual Classic – Stanford Continuing Education


How to Read a Spiritual Classic

(WSP 226)

“And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you, but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest.”
—The Cloud of Unknowing (14th Century, Anonymous)

This workshop will offer a measure of practical guidance to the vast quantity of spiritual writings now flooding our culture. Working with two seminal spiritual classics of the world (East and West), we will try to understand how such writings can begin to orient us in our search for inner truth. The first book is the 6th-century Chinese classic, Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao Tzu. The other is the less well-known but equally profound Christian mystic text from the 14th century, The Cloud of Unknowing. Throughout the Western world today, the realization is dawning that science can do many things, but it cannot give us self-knowledge or a sense of purpose in life. At the same time, many of our religions have cut themselves off from the energy of their original teachings. Thus, many of us are now seeking out ancient and modern texts that offer a truly transcendent vision of human nature and life-meaning. However, it is often difficult, on one’s own, to extract the real wisdom these texts have to offer. This workshop will provide coaching on how to read two of these influential texts, and through them to look with fresh hope and understanding at what sometimes appears to be the chaos within ourselves and in the world around us.

Due to its short format, this workshop may not be taken for Credit.

Jacob Needleman, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, SFSU

Jacob Needleman’s books include The New Religions; The Wisdom of Love; Money and the Meaning of Life; A Sense of the Cosmos; Lost Christianity; The Heart of Philosophy; Time and the Soul; The American Soul; Why Can’t We Be Good?; and What Is God?. A frequent commentator on current cultural issues, he has also been featured on Bill Moyers’ PBS series, “A World of Ideas.” Needleman received a PhD in philosophy from Yale.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Gia-fu Feng (translator), Tao Te Ching (ISBN 0679724346)

(Required) William Johnston (editor), The Cloud of Unknowing (ISBN 0-385-03097-5)

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