Third Place on the Blog of the Year Countdown was a fluke event for this posting. I started off the post with a story I’d heard on a radio interview. Some Talmudic scholar suggested that Einstein had answered a deathbed question in a controversial way. Somehow this got mentioned on the extremely popular site Reddit, and suddenly this posting was seeing a crazy number of visitors for about a three day period.
Because of the reasons behind its popularity I did consider passing it over and just shunting the whole list up one position to make room for the 11th most popular post. But in a way maybe the universe took over, because I do like how this post makes use of a variety of religious texts. Here’s hoping we see more and more people enacting the love that each text urges. I don’t care what route people take up the mountain as long as the hug people along the way.
Because this caused such an uproar, I will also follow it by posting my response to this piece’s strange popularity. The gap between the two posts contains a lesson all of its own. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you a posting that easily won Third Place in Most Popular Blog of the Year Countdown:
Last night heard an interview with some scholar on the radio and 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? And supposedly the greatest scientist known to modern man replied, “I would study more Talmud.”
For those unfamiliar with it, think of the Talmud as essentially a Jewish holy book. Interesting eh? A noted scientist wishing he would have read more of a religious text would have a lot of people recoiling. And it is true that religious belief was at the heart of many an ugly deed done by mankind. But 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 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.
But why did 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 absolutely not lessons on being judgmental, dismissive, disrespectful, offended, angry, or violent. Yes I know it’s possible to interpret them that way, but in fact they are all lessons on love, compassion and connection. And those who have seen existence clearly all agree on this.
The prophets weren’t sharing religious information. 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. The same moment in which it is possible to love every aspect of your existence—including the fact that you 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.”
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:
“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”
“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”
And it goes on and on and on. 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. And they do that by using the few people who take ugly interpretations 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 you to see the different religions as different routes up one mountain. And regardless of which road-map you use, so long as your basic direction is loving, then you are surely ascending, and you are sure to attain the beautiful perspective that goes along with your rise in wisdom.
Keep love in your heart. Yes it’s good for others. But you are us and we are you, so it is good for you 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
And after a flurry of emails, this was my response to the response to Einstein’s Last Answer:
A while back I wrote a blog posting called Einstein’s Last Answer which recently exploded in activity due to a heated debate on Reddit. The post was in response to a lot of religion bashing I was hearing—some of it even by non-denominational spiritual seekers. There were also some very thoughtful and open-minded people wading in, but I’ll discuss them later.
As I pointed out in that piece, I’m aware that there are people who use these organizations, texts and interpretations like cudgels with which to strike a perceived enemy. And I realize that, as Alan Watts said, there are large number of religious followers who are looking at the texts like road-maps or guidebooks when they would make a stronger connection to their spiritual life if they abandoned the books and looked up at the view—at creation—instead. But my blog posting was about how all religions fundamentally share the same message of forgiveness, tolerance and love, and that most followers were lead to a religious path by the same motivation as temple-less secular seekers.
In tracing the explosion of blog activity back to Reddit I discovered that the entire debate hinged on a tiny detail in the post. With no offence intended to those who participated, the debate was entirely meaningless and this posting is here to explain why.
The post began one day when I was doing what I very often do, which is listen to radio documentaries and interview programs. My favourite subjects are design, culture, anthropology, sociology, psychology, neuroscience, arts, culture, literature, biology, chemistry and physics, some history, mathematics, geography, technology, architecture, animal behaviour, religion, etc. etc. etc. etc…. You get the idea. I love learning. And yet because of what I know, I care less about that learning than I do about the knowing. I learned in that interview that someone had done some work based on the claim that Einstein was apparently asked on his deathbed, “if you could do it all over, what would you do differently?” and supposedly he answered “read more Talmud.”
The Talmud is a Jewish religious text. And Einstein’s a complex guy who meditated a lot on the nature of the universe—and by extension existence itself. Sometimes his writing made him sound like a strong atheist, and yet I’ve heard other people reasonably interpret other words of his in a way where they can make him genuinely sound more broadly spiritual if not specifically religious. But even then, different things were said and written in different states of mind, at different stages in his life. Who among us has not changed all kinds of fundamental views as we grow and acquire a greater sense of perspective? If we haven’t we’ve stultified and wasted our existence.
On top of the profound changes in awareness that only age can bring, anyone who’s truly faced death knows that there is no way to approximate or otherwise motivate the state of mind that emerges from that deep and profound awareness. When you realize there is no more of this—no more of you—you begin to wonder why it seemed so important to actually waste that existence arguing instead of loving. If you love an argument, fine. Just make sure you’re having them with other people who love them. But otherwise what is it exactly that you’re going to do? What difference does it make to the universe if that other person’s consciousness is in alignment with your own? What is the value in that? What do the cosmos care about our opinions?
The simple fact is no one knows what Einstein said except him and whoever he said it to. So the debate simply cannot be settled it can only be guessed at, and even then only using evidence compiled before he was facing imminent death. Personally if I were a betting man I’d bet he didn’t say it, but both things are possible and in the end I really don’t care either way. I would throw whatever fiction I needed in a post to get a lesson across anyway. So for me the supposed Einstein statement was nothing more than a jumping off point for a posting about love.
While they weren’t aware of the postings on Reddit, I also heard from some really wonderful people who loved the controversial posting. They felt it honoured their religion even though I heard from someone from almost every religion I listed. Because what they caught was what I threw—which was that all of those religions share love at their core. And in joining me in that, they too experienced a wonderful sense of connection with those of no faith, as well as those of other faiths—including atheism. That connection is what motivates our life. If you asked anyone on their death bed if they would like one more hour to live no one is going to say, “great, now I have time for one more meaningless debate!” They’re going to want to hug, or talk or otherwise love the people close to them.
So one group of people pitted the thoughts in their consciousness against the thoughts in other people’s consciousness and they had a heated debate. Some people’s blood pressure literally rose as they flushed themselves with anger by telling themselves internal narratives about how the other side was wrong. Meanwhile another group read a story about love and felt good. One of those two scenarios has a winner and it isn’t the first one.
No one can really know what was said on Einstein’s deathbed and I know it doesn’t matter, so that’s as much as I’ll say about that. I will continue within reason to try to find the link to the documentary, but I’m confident the critics are correct—what possible corroboration could the interviewee have? Was he there? And even then, he could be lying. So I would suggest people invest themselves far less in trying to be right, and far more in simply and lovingly being. Most of you won’t, but trust me, on your deathbed you’ll know very clearly that life would have been better if you would have spent less time arguing and more time loving. That is why I love you.
PS And you know what? Some people will get angry at this too! 🙂
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.