ARCHWAYS is a unique interspiritual reader meant to spark dialogue within and among our guests. The texts are drawn from the sacred literature of the world’s religions, and commentary is provided by Rabbi Rami Shapiro. The commentary is not meant to explain the text, but to get you thinking about it. You are encouraged to find your own way into the texts, and to challenge and be challenged by the commentary. Archways is not teaching you something, but simply inviting a reflective conversation.
There is only one real knowledge: that which helps us to be free. Every other type of knowledge is mere amusement.
— Vishnu Purana, Hindu Wisdom
Over twenty years ago the great social commentator and media critic Neil Postman wrote a book that is no less relevant today than it was then. The book is called Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman’s basic argument is that we were wrong to think that George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four was our destiny. Rather the true danger was in Aldous Huxley’s vision of A Brave New World where people chose slavery over freedom because slavery came with the benefits of amusement.
We are a culture addicted to entertainment. We will watch anything on television, as the plethora of reality-TV shows in response to the writers’ strike proves. News shows are now info-tainment. History is now docu-drama. Bread and circus, the Romans called it. As long as people are entertained and distracted they can be made to support anything, even their own enslavement.
Entertainment does not set us free. It is not the real knowledge spoken of in the Vishnu Purana. Entertainment entraps the mind in pseudo-drama that we might forget the dramas and traumas all around us. Entertainment feeds us empty calories, and we grow fat on faux horror and laugh prompts, while the vital organs of human life—our brains, hearts, and souls—atrophy and die. Entertainment doesn’t require us to think, feeds us the feelings it wants us to feel, and fills our day with so much noise that the silence needed for the soul to be heard is banished not only from our lives but even from our imaginations. We cannot imagine things being other then they are. And so they aren’t.
What kind of knowledge would set us free? If we think of knowledge as a set of facts to be learned, I doubt there is any such knowledge that can set us free. But if we think of knowledge as that insight that comes to us when we are willing to sit with the angst of not-knowing, then we may be onto something.
Prepackaged knowledge cannot bring wisdom. Such knowledge only reinforces the world-view of the knowledge provider. But silence, not-knowing, a willingness to not fill every minute of every hour with noise, data, information, and facts, but to sit still without external input of any kind, may allow us to learn something else.
What is this something else? If I told you it wouldn’t be wisdom any longer, but just another set of facts. You have to experiment with this for yourself. Turn off the noise. Turn off the chatter. See for yourself what is so. This alone may set you free. And, if it proves too hard to do, you can always go back to channel surfing.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro
Interfaith Spiritual Advisor,
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