Art, Science, Religion, Spirituality: Seeking Wisdom and Harmony for a Fulfilling Life

Art, Science, Religion, Spirituality: Seeking Wisdom and Harmony for a Fulfilling Life

Knoxville, Tenn.: Meaningful Life Books, 2015. 347 pp., paper, $16.95.

Skeptico: What about people like me, who feel they have no artistic talent, for singing or anything else?

Wisdom Seeker: Everyone can sing!

Coming back from a divine music concert where I felt almost one with the music, I was thinking about David White’s book and the Venn diagram of art, science, religion, and spirituality. Where do these four aspects of life intersect? We tend to live separately in each of them, White says, and the people who live harmonious, fulfilling lives live in a place where they all meet. That is the central idea of this book. White wants us not only to see the possibility of a fulfilling life but to experience the reality ourselves.

White retired at the age of thirty-five (may all beings receive that blessing!) to reflect on what is important. He worked for many years in business, politics, and education but then spent several years studying spiritual practices. The insights in the book arose out of White’s extensive dedication to exploring the inner self. He saw how we compartmentalize our lives, and he also discovered the living edge where life happens and the separate currents mingle and merge.

The core motivation for a human being hasn’t changed throughout the centuries. It has always been to find happiness, joy, and harmony. The wise have pointed the way, whether through art, science, religion, or spiritual living. Listening to music, one forgets oneself. The way of science teaches one to dedicate one’s whole being to discovery. Religions point the way to practices that enrich our inner being and our relationships with others. The spiritual way embraces exploration of the deeper recesses of our minds through meditation. The challenge is how to practice these things in such a way that they all come together with a moment-to-moment clarity in our lives.

White presents his ideas in a unique way. He introduces us to a friend named Skeptico, who has dialogues with a “Wisdom Seeker.” These dialogues are inspired by what White calls “thought experiments.” The Wisdom Seeker is meticulous and thorough in his answers to the Skeptico. When the Skeptico asks, how do I decide what is meaningful?, the Wisdom Seeker mentions three ways: follow the meanings given to you when you were growing up; join a group and follow its guidance; or set off in a search of a personal experience of what is meaningful. The Wisdom Seeker follows this answer with a profound discussion of the advantages to each approach and how one should choose.

The discussion on science versus religion leads to a thought experiment: think of a time you felt like you just knew the answer to a problem or something you should do — or should not do. Kind of like a time you “just knew” something. Here is that intersection among the times when the scientist “just knows” the solution, a physician has quick insight into what is wrong with a patient, an artist creates a work of art from a vision, and a mystic has a profound spiritual awakening.

The Wisdom Seeker is patient with Skeptico in answering his unending questions, but he is also firm and direct. When Skeptico asks about a claim that consciousness could be completely explained by brain activity, the Wisdom Seeker is quick to say that the claim is not only mistaken but is devoid of evidence and based on only assumptions and assertions. The frankness is refreshing.

The chapter titled “Summing Up” begins with this quote from Vaclav Havel: “I have always thought that feeling empty and losing touch with the meaning of life are in essence only a challenge to seek new things to fill one’s life, a new meaning for one’s existence. Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope; perhaps one could never find sense in one’s life without first experiencing its absurdity.” It is a thought for awakening. Finding fulfillment is not easy. It requires many acts of faith and many mistakes as well. It requires difficult honesty with oneself and sincere dedication. Giving up is never an option.

White’s book makes us think. These discussions between Skeptico and the Wisdom Seeker make compelling reading. I had an insight while reading them: Skeptico and Wisdom Seeker are not two but one. We ask questions, and our wisdom answers them. We move from one to another within ourselves. White’s book highlights that inner travel towards a fulfilling destiny.

Dhananjay Joshi

The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for the past forty-five years. He is a regular contributor to the Indian periodical Lokmat.