Amazon Review: The Creation of Faith, by Juan Mascaró

“‘The Creation of Faith’ could be the title of a book based on the solid foundations of the best in religious, common philosophies and common spiritual sense,” (179-180).

Juan Mascaró was born Majorca, Spain and lived in India and England. He returned to Majorca after his death for burial. He is noted to have accomplished the unique feat of translating the Sanskrit and Pali languages that were not his own into the English language, which was also not his own. His translations and introductions to the Penguin Classics editions of The Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gita and The Dhammapada continue to stand as excellent introductions to Eastern wisdom for the English-speaking world. While he was an accomplished scholar, linguist, translator and academic, what I find most wonderful about Mascaró is that he was a poet, a mystic and a unifier of the spiritual wisdom of the world. It was after reading his introduction to The Upanishads (as exciting as the text itself) that I became interested in Mascaró, himself, and sought out this out of print book, The Creation of Faith.

In his introduction to The Upanishads, Mascaró wrote that “an Upanishad could even be composed in the present day: a spiritual Upanishad that would draw its life from the One source of religions and humanism and apply it to the needs of the modern world,” (Upanishads, 8). That is the best way to consider The Creation of Faith, as a modern Upanishad, the lifetime culmination of the wisdom and poetry of a man who immersed himself in the poetical and spiritual literature of the world (“Spiritual visions are poetry,” (111), he writes).

The Creation of Faith is a posthumous collection that was edited by William Radice, as Mascaró died before his final work could be published. The book consists of aphorisms and sayings, usually only a couple of lines in length. The aphorisms are not arranged in any particular order which gives the book the feel of collected notes. There are some repetitions of almost identical sayings. Personally, I think the book would have been stronger if it had been edited a little more and if the aphorisms were clustered around various themes, such as creation, duality, unity, love, poetry, etc., or if they were organized so that they were allowed to comment upon the related facets of various themes. I think the book may have been stronger if it followed Mascaró’s own advice to be a: “book of 100 pages, 300 words a page–30,000 words,” (178).

“I have two lives: my inner life with God, and my outer life with nature and men. How mysterious these two worlds are,” (169). The beauty of Mascaró’s writing is that he works with dualities and polarities without negating, but allows each duality to complement to form a greater unity. “There is inner observation and experiment and outer observation and experiment. From the first comes poetry and spiritual vision and all human values; from the second science and technology,” (31). Still, as a mystic, he sees the ultimate aim of study and scholarly work to be supporting self-knowledge and through self-knowledge, one reaches God. “The end must be clear: how can we find ourselves, the best in ourselves,” (25). “If we could know what we are, we would know what God is,” (111).

One of the most interesting aspects of Mascaró’s unification of spiritual and poetical world literature is his view of faith and spirituality as creations of the imagination. He does not mean that they are false or “made up,” but that they are products of the creative function of human imagination, a field of play that is beyond the limitations of words and materialism. A few quotes illustrate this. “Faith is creation,” (148). “Your soul is your own creation,” (152). “What is faith? It is an act of creation and vision. We create what we hope,” (171). He also provides an understanding of how to differentiate between higher creations that contain truth and lower constructions that do not. “Imagination is strong and creative. Fancy is weak and passive. A hallucination is a powerful fancy that overcomes reason. Imagination is creative and above reason. Fancy is passive and below reason. This is also the difference between faith and fanaticism. Faith is above reason. Fanaticism is below reason,” (129).

Mascaró also wrote a more scholarly work of unifying comparative religion called Lamps of Fire. This has proven to be difficult to find and is also out of print. The Creation of Faith is a great source of spiritual and poetical inspiration and I found that it nicely complements the 80-90 pages, in aggregate, of the introductions to The Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gita and The Dhammapada. Mascaró also appears to have solved the dilemma of knower and the known. “In love we know. In knowledge there is the knower and the known. In love both are one,” (58). His is a voice that is beyond cynicism and divisiveness. He gently brings together a pure heart and a keen mind in a playful and creative search for the unification of all things.

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