Friday, February 5, 2016

The Path To the Good Life

Who among us has not wondered whether or not there might be something more to life than our current circumstances have to offer? I would venture to guess that it is part of life to look at the world around us every now and then and ask the age-old questons: Why am I here? How did the world and my life get to be this way? How can I be happy?

Michael Pruett and Christine Gross-Loh softer some answers to these questions from Chinese philosophers in their new book, The Path.

It's been a while since I was in school. The basis for this book is Puett's popular class at Harvard on Chinese philosophy. It turns out students were flocking to Puett'so class in droves, making it one of the most popular courses at the university. Something in these ancient texts and teaching was resonating with the questions so many young people harbored about the direction of their lives and our world today. They were hungry to find a way to have a good life.

The Path introduces readers to the overarching concepts developed through the ages by Chinese philosophers and works such as Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, Inward Training, and others. Puett lays out the general concepts of each school of thought and weaves that thinking together with examples of modern-day scenarios which provide examples of how such philosophy would play out in our lives today. It is, in a word, brilliant!

I would encourage everyone to get a copy of this book! Great discussion will come from reading it, and you may find yourself looking to delve deeper into some of the writings of these wise teachers from the past. The Path will be joining a select group of books on my shelf which I reread every year. My thanks to the publisher for the free ARE I received in exchange for this honest review.

From the Publisher . . .

For the first time an award-winning Harvard professor shares his wildly popular course on classical Chinese philosophy, showing you how these ancient ideas can guide you on the path to a good life today.

Why is a course on ancient Chinese philosophers one of the most popular at Harvard?

It’s because the course challenges all our modern assumptions about what it takes to flourish. This is why Professor Michael Puett says to his students, “The encounter with these ideas will change your life.” As one of them told his collaborator, author Christine Gross-Loh, “You can open yourself up to possibilities you never imagined were even possible.”

These astonishing teachings emerged two thousand years ago through the work of a succession of Chinese scholars exploring how humans can improve themselves and their society. And what are these counterintuitive ideas? Good relationships come not from being sincere and authentic, but from the rituals we perform within them. Influence comes not from wielding power but from holding back. Excellence comes from what we choose to do, not our natural abilities. A good life emerges not from planning it out, but through training ourselves to respond well to small moments. Transformation comes not from looking within for a true self, but from creating conditions that produce new possibilities.

In other words, The Path upends everything we are told about how to lead a good life. Above all, unlike most books on the subject, its most radical idea is that there is no path to follow in the first place—just a journey we create anew at every moment by seeing and doing things differently.

Sometimes voices from the past can offer possibilities for thinking afresh about the future.

About the Author . . .

Michael Puett is the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University. He is the recipient of a Harvard College Professorship for excellence in undergraduate teaching.

Christine Gross-Loh is a freelance journalist and author. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and the Huffington Post. She has a PhD from Harvard University in East Asian history.

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