Winner: 2013’s Blog of the Year: #3
Last night I heard the replay of an interview with some scholar on Michael Enright’s program, The Sunday Edition. He claimed that the very last answer Albert Einstein gave in life was to the question: If you were to start your life over again, is there anything you would do differently?
Supposedly, one of the greatest scientist known to modern man replied, “I would study more Talmud.” There are debates about whether this actually happened, but just supposing it did: what would it teach us?
For those unfamiliar with it, think of the Talmud as essentially a Jewish holy book. Interesting. If it was true, why might a noted scientist wish he would have read more of a religious text? This idea is sure to have a lot of people recoiling, and yet many scientists are religious.
It is true that religious belief was at the heart of many an ugly deed done by mankind. But they have also offered a great solace to many. Either way, what people believe and what was intended can easily be lost in translation.
This is why spiritual love needs to be shared directly with others and the world around us. Writing it down is helpful —as hopefully this itself is— but it cannot hope to substitute for the effects generated by people actually turning these words into verbs in the everyday world. Loving, compassionate verbs.
Every holy book and every prophet has talked about love. Love has been paramount. Yes, it is a shame that people of all walks of life can be convinced to use religion as a cudgel to strike others with, but most of us can easily see that it would be quite easy for loving people of different religions to share the Earth in peace and productive harmony. Many already do.
But why might Einstein want more Talmud? The word itself basically means instruction, or learning. Rather than books about physical miracles etc, religious texts are best seen as basic lessons on the discovery of love. The Talmud or Torah, the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, Tao te Ching etc. etc. are not generally lessons on being judgmental, dismissive, disrespectful, offended, angry, or violent.
Yes, it’s possible to interpret them that way, but if they’re not really about love, isn’t a bit odd that 100% of these books could be interpreted that way? Read with a clear head and a happy, healthy heart, they are in fact all lessons on love, compassion and connection. And those who have seen behind the veil of existence all agree on this.
Forget that the two worlds ever got separated; the prophets weren’t sharing religious information. Think of it more like self-help. They were telling people about how to live a rewarding life.
They had come to understand enlightenment and they were trying to share the secret to living in the moment. Because that is the same moment in which it is possible to love every aspect of your existence —including the fact that we and all others are truly One.
“The highest form of wisdom is kindness.”
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
“All God’s creatures are His family; and he or she is the most beloved of God who tries to do the most good to God’s creatures.”
The Bhagavad Gita:
“Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind.”
The Tao te Ching:
“See others as yourself. See families as your family. See towns as your town. See countries as your country. See worlds as your world.”
The Buddha: “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”
And it goes on and on and on. Again, can people scurry around looking for/creating uglier ideas from these texts? Yes. We see them on the news every night. But we must remember the news is selling us soap. But since we wouldn’t stay sitting there for soap ads, they have to scare us into not leaving our seats.
The media does that by using the few people who take ugly interpretations of those texts and then they magnify their actions. But there really aren’t many of those sorts of people. The vast majority of people are readily able to access their fundamentally loving nature. They are fundamentally kind, and most people who enter into religious practice sincerely do so as a way of increasing their sense of belonging and love for both themselves and others.
It is easy to present differences as obstacles, but I would urge us all to see the different religions as different routes up one mountain. And regardless of which road-map we use, so long as our basic direction is loving, then we are surely ascending, and we are sure to attain the beautiful perspective that goes along with our rise in wisdom.
It is important that we keep love in our heart. Yes it’s good for others. But we are us, so it is good for us as well. And so it is with love. All who engage with it are victorious. This is why I love you.
peace and a loving embrace. s
PS Attached is a follow up article that stemmed from the controversy this one generated:
Science and Spirituality
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.
13 thoughts on “Einstein’s Last Answer”
Are there any documented references for the “I would study more Talmud.” quote by Einstein? What was the documentary that mentioned this, and what references did they use? Or is this another alleged quote from Einstein that doesn’t have anything to back it up? (like the bees quote)
I want the answer to this too.
Hello Howard. Thanks for asking. I should have thought to add the link when I wrote it, but I think it was about a week after I’d heard the documentary on Radio. I listen to radio documentaries incessantly, so it might take me a bit to track it back down. I’ve already sent emails to the two most likely sources (CBC’s Ideas and The Sunday Edition/The Enright Files). You can search for it if you like, but I’ve found that’s difficult due to the myriad of information on Einstein that’s on the web. As coincidence has it, someone else asked me recently too, so I’ll work to track it down and I’ll post it on the blog here.
I’m not sure which “bees quote” you mean, but it may have come from another documentary so I’ll include *that* link because I believe I did manage to find the right one, although understandably everyone’s been doing a lot of bee documentaries lately. I hope you find this one as fascinating as I did. (http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2013/10/03/dancing-in-the-dark-the-intelligence-of-bees-2/#igImgId_42036)
It seems to be apocryphal. I did a bit of searching on the ‘net and would be surprised if the author can come up with something substantial.
I suspect you’re right Zach. I mean, who would really know what he said other than him and who he said it to? I’m just glad that none of the debate has anything to do with my point in writing my own piece. For me it was just a starting off point to discuss the idea of love. That said, I’ll still keep looking for the link to the documentary and will post it when I track it down. My challenge is that I listen to such a huge number of documentaries.
This quote was apparently also given in the “Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud” (which I heard from reading this BBC article: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24367959). I don’t know if it is sourced there, in the Idiot’s Guide.
It is worth noting that the Talmud is not a traditional “religious text” in an ordinary sense. It is an exceptionally dense and difficult series of spiritual-legal-logical puzzles “which stretches to well over 10 million words across 38 volumes.” (quoting that article again, which is accurate in this regard at least). It has been translated it into Korean and is studies it in some South Korean schools because of its intellectual rigor. As such, my point is that if this quote is true, you are not forced to read it as you would if he had mentioned a more overtly spiritually or mystical text. Many people study of the Talmud for the pure pleasure and intellectual benefit of it. While it is laced with a religious worldview, it is rarely a theosophical text, more often diverging into complex legal disputes, hairsplitting analysis of letter-by-letter scriptural debates (generally on legal issues, again), complex allegories – and all of this in a cryptic Aramaic with 1400 years of commentary on the page alongside it. So all I’m saying, is you can’t read this like Einstein saying “Wish I’d read more Bible!”. He may have just been re-exposed to Talmudic study (he had some in his youth already), and rekindled an interest in it late in life (not uncommon).
That may be the case. Personal experiences make me aware that there are certain very powerful sensations that come with death and dying and while I wouldn’t call those religious at all, I think spiritual would be as good a term as any. And at that level, the spiritual and the practical can be unified. And when those feelings hit you know they are absolutely universal to all people because then we can see how everyone else is still blinded by the same thing that blinded us. That said, you’re welcome to choose your own metaphor. The symbol is never the point. It’s just that if the quote is true, and if he did say it very close to death, then I at least feel entirely confident in stating that he would have been in a very particular state of mind and that the reference he would be making would not be regarding hair-splitting legal details but rather the big philosophical questions in life. All that said, I would like to sincerely thank you for your comment. It was very informative and well presented and I think it adds a lot to the conversation. I appreciate that. Have a great day.
…pardon my typos above. i figure we are speaking informally here, and my half-editing will be forgiven. peace.
It absolutely will. Your ideas were so well presented that I didn’t even notice those kinds of less-significant details.
It’s a nice thought, but it’s false. The Talmud is over 6,200 pages long. It doesn’t take 6,200 pages to say “Be kind to one another.”
What do you even mean by love? It’s an abstraction with a ton of interpretations. Certainly, in order to study Torah well, one must pay exquisite attention. Attention is a form of love. And Torah study involves both faith and questioning. I think the three pillars of enlightens, in Zen thought, apply: one must have faith; one must doubt; and one must have determination to resolve the conflict between the first two.
But the Talmud is an instrument of cultural transmission, as is the Christian bible and all other significant holy books. Cultures have more to transmit than love. When elders and prophets are reflecting on what lessons to transmit to the next generation, they don’t all just do a poor job of starting and stopping with “Love one another.” They have other things to say.
Buddhist tradition is really not about love. It is about the diligent elimination of obstacles to peace. One systematically identifies and releases the five hindrances, so that they can experience samadhi and realize their buddha nature.
It’s not just about love. But all learning is a cycle of analysis and synthesis. It’s convenient and necessary, after deep struggle and analysis, to synthesize our learning in one word. Love is often the word of choice.
Nicely said. I don’t disagree with any of that. The Talmud and other books and beliefs are certainly about much more than just “being kind to one another.” My point in this piece was simply to note that each book shares that *essential* message. As regards the Talmud, I believe this is self-demonstrated by Hillel the Elder’s statement, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation.”
But I don’t think any of that really disagrees with anything you wrote about so well. In the end, it sounds like the definitions both you and I were using for ‘love’ are pretty close.