December 19, 2006

Book Review: The Tao Te Byron Katie

A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with The Way Things Are
by Byron Katie with Stephen Mitchell
February 2007; Harmony Books

Eureka! Once and for all, Byron Katie has proven that enlightenment is not waiting on an oxygen-deprived mountaintop in Tibet, nor hiding in some mysterious, inaccessible cave of the heart known only to Yogis and Kabbalists. It's available right here while we're doing the dishes.

The sales copy for A Thousand Names for Joy calls it "a portrait of the awakened mind in action." I'd describe it as "The Tao for Dummies," a truely useful manual for "the rest of us" who want to live a peaceful, happy life. You may have heard that the conversations in this book are Katie's responses to verses from the Tao te Ching, an ancient text on the art of living by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. (Katie's co-author and husband, Stephen Mitchell, wrote one of the most highly esteemed translations of this text in 1986, coincidentally the same year of Katie's now famous "moment of clarity.") This volume is much more than that. Like so many spiritual classics, the Tao wisely tells us what we should be striving for, but not how to get it. Katie, through the alchemy of self-inquiry, always tells us how.

At the same time, this truly is a portrait of an awakened mind. We get to see life through Katie's eyes as a seemingly ordinary person who, like us, endures many of the kinds of experiences we may wish we didn't have to. We witness her as a woman whose purse is stolen, whose husband ate the snack she'd bought for herself and was so looking forward to having when she got home, who watches as the birth of a granddaughter becomes a medical emergency, who gets a diagnosis of cancer, who takes care of her dying mother, who is threatened at gunpoint, who looks into the eyes of a dead friend, having arrived "too late"...who endures a painful, degenerative disease of the cornea which leaves her largely blind and vulnerable to falling (though she's since had fairly successful eye surgery). Katie describes these realities with no more drama and no less joy and gratitude than in other scenarios where she plays with her grandchild, prepares a salad, speaks onstage before an appreciative audience of 350, or receives her husband's caresses.

But this is not "the lives of the saints." Katie also provides examples of "people like us" who have come to know, through a simple process of self-inquiry called The Work, what Katie knows...for instance, a man who, although he loved his wife, was able to celebrate her decision to leave him for another man because he had questioned his anger and fear about his marriage. He stayed in his wife's life as a best friend to whom she could tell everything. (She eventually returned to him; who wouldn't want to live with someone that clear?) In this way, Katie makes the ancient teachings of the Tao come alive for us in the contemporary world.

A Thousand Names for Joy
is also teeming with what could be seen, on the surface, as esoteric teachings. For instance, Katie makes statements like "the darkness is always benevolent"...which appears to go against everything we've been taught. But Katie never leaves us in the dark. She has tested out everything she teaches in her own life and shows us, through The Work, how we can know the benevolence of darkness for ourselves.

Katie asks, "Could it be that whatever seems bad to you is just something you haven't seen clearly enough yet?" Could it be that what we call "taking action" is really inaction, the same, not ours to control, just a natural flow, "the way of it" as Katie says...and therefore we can never do it wrong because "we" never did it in the first place? Self-inquiry is the way to answer these questions, and while A Thousand Names for Joy is rich with the knowledge of the nature of thought—a knowledge that leads to the infinite, self-realized mind—Katie never claims to give her readers "the Tao." The Tao of self-realization, Katie-style, demands the practice of inquiry. "Realization," she tells us, "has no value until it's lived."

In this book we have both the what and the way; A Thousand Names for Joy is not merely inspirational, it is practical, and always brings us back to the questions which provide our own answers. As Eckhart Tolle said of Katie's first book, Loving What Is, "You have the key. Now use it."

Order your copy of A Thousand Names for Joy.


©2006 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

1 comment:

kavendano said...

Carol,
Your writing is always right on for me. I was so happy to see you had reviewed Katie's new book. The combination of Katie and you is very special and very welcomed by me. Thanks for your work, Carol and Katie! Katharine Barrett-Avendano