People sometimes ask, since I am a philosophy professor, what do I teach?
Well there are several answers. One is that I teach logic, argumentation, and the history of ideas. Another is that I teach the skills that help people to question everything, stand up to authority, be creative and resourceful, to think clearly and carefully, to think for themselves, and to know who they are.
But as a philosopher and as something resembling a spiritual man, what do I teach?
Well in that sense of the question, I have no special teaching at all. I offer no new tables of the law; I make no demands; and I tell no one what to do.
Well then, if I do not teach such things, then what do I do?
I examine my situation, as a living human being, here at this place on earth, and at this time in history.
Things are so rarely what they appear to be on the surface. Everyone knows that; but few will tap upon the surfaces of things, to hear what realities from within echo back.
I find that I have these immensities before me: the earth beneath me, other people around me, my loneliness within me, and my death upon me.
And so I have these questions: how shall I dwell upon the earth? How shall I converse with my people? How shall I emerge from my loneliness? How shall I face my mortality?
And to find answers, I have all my relations: my body, my landscape, my animals, my food, my family, my guests, my friends, my lovers, my elders, my hometown, my arts, my possessions, my heroes, my mind, my teachers, my storytellers, my leaders, my healers, and my gods.
I find that every one of us has these same realities, these same questions, and these same relations. In some sense, then, I find that we are one.
As I tap upon the surfaces of the immensities, I ask: which of my tuning-hammers makes music, and which ones only make noise? The best music, I have found, is made with humanity, integrity, and wonder.
And I have found that everyone has these instruments ready to hand. Everyone, I affirm, although I also find that only a few of us take them up and play.
And to understand me fully, think of the many meanings of the word ‘play’.
When I hear music, I share it; I hope that my people will listen with me. When I make music, I share it too; I hope that my people will celebrate with me and play along. When I make dissonant or offending sounds, I trust my people will warn me, so I can make amends as best as I can.
This I do, not simply as a philosopher or a spiritual man; this I do as a human being, alive on earth, at this place and time.
Nothing more, perhaps, could be asked of anyone. And, perhaps, nothing less.