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The simple man walked in to a bookstore with an old friend he saw on the street. This old friend was friend of many problems (usually resulting from money or women). Today, his problem was women (the plural is intentional). As they walked into the shop, their conversation ceased as they both focused on finding their respective sections.

The simple man, after making sure no one was really paying attention, browsed his way to Spirituality. The old friend of many problems went straight to the best sellers.

While the simple man was looking for a good book on eastern philosophy, he didn’t notice the colourfully clad older women burst into the self help section with loose clothing and shawl material fluttering everywhere until it was too late.

She had no respect for the silence of a bookstore. The colourfully clad older woman immediately started talking to the simple man about auras and spirits and cosmic energies. She showed him the crystal she wore around her neck and warned him about theoretical religions and motioned to the Bibles and Korans and Upanishads that rested on the shelf in front of him.

Before the simple man could ask her what the hell she was talking about, the friend with many problems came over with a few books in his hand to ask the simple man if he’d read any of them. The simple man had not.

The colourfully clad older women, who already considered the simple man to be one of her dearest friends, warmly introduced herself to the friend with many problems.

As the three of them fell into conversation – the colourfully clad older woman spoke and the two men responded appropriately when necessary, — a man, not too old, but with an air of distinction about him, was standing on the other side of the book shelf looking at the history books.

When the colourfully clad older woman started talking about active knowledge and passive knowledge, the simple man and the not too old of man on the other side of the shelf started listening more closely. The friend with many problems was beginning to see this woman as a problem to be overcome. She was talking in a fast, loud, cheerful manner like a schoolgirl who had fallen in love and wanted to declare it to the world.

She said that all the books in the room represented passive knowledge. Most of what we learn in school is also passive knowledge; facts and theories and even ideas that read about or are told. Active knowledge is, of course, the knowledge we gain from actively doing something. We learn how to play hockey by playing it, fix a car by fixing one, we learn how to walk by doing so. We can, she said, be actively spiritual or passively spiritual, adding, as though obvious to all, that the masses who are following the dominant religions are passive spiritualists.

The not too old of man, who had been listening with interest, and had already been implicitly included in the conversation was becoming offended. He was a Christian who sometimes went to church on special occasions, but had a good friend in the theology department at the university. He routinely ready the bible with his family, and followed the catechisms – except, of course, where they were obviously outdated. And, he believed himself to be actively spiritual: he helped strangers in need and gave to several charities.

The friend with many problems, who didn’t want to be having the conversation, had grown up in the Catholic school system even though his parents never had anything to do with religion. One school he went to for a few years was particularly disciplinarian with emphasis on “fire and brimstone.” The friend with many problems didn’t care for any of it. He preferred Darwin.

The simple man admitted that he was, perhaps, “if I understand correctly,” passively spiritual with a preference for nature and his own thoughts about things that come to him from experience and the ideas of great minds. He didn’t necessarily believe in god, just in existence and the universe.

The colourfully clad older woman, was thinking about her time in India when she followed a ritual of setting out flowers and incense upon an alter before sitting to chanting in the temple with large groups. Her days were filled with meditation and messages of love from the guru.

The simple man listened quietly as the colourfully clad woman told her story, but the not too old of man had begun to smile like he’d just thought of a great joke. He asked the colourfully clad older woman about the incense and flowers and temple and alter –things he called “window dressing.” The colourfully clad older woman said that these things were to purify the area and call upon the power of specific gods or energies.

The not too old of man thought it was ridiculous that smoke or flowers or music or idols could make a person more spiritual. This stuff is all nice, creating a nice atmosphere will help you relax and think more clearly, but he, himself had the comforts of home and the warmth of his children to create a relaxing atmosphere. The simple man had his mountains and lakes; which, the not too old of man thought, was the ideal place for spirituality. Nothing surpasses nature for making a person feel awe and beauty and wonder, except, perhaps, his children’s smiles, but these too were so beautiful because they were so natural, so sincere. He thought these things while the colourfully clad woman plead her case.

The simple man hadn’t been listening, his friend with many problems had snuck off at some point, and the simple man was scanning the room for him without luck. The colourfully clad older woman was still talking but could see that no one was listening. Pausing in her speech she turned to the shelf, forgot what she’d been saying, snatched a book of the shelf, and, as if suddenly out of breath, bid the men farewell and hurried off to the counter to pay.

The simple man and the not too old of man watched her walk away in silence. She was gone from them so suddenly that they had no time to accustom themselves to each others company, and without saying anything just looked at each other and continued browsing the books.

Just then the friend with many problems walked up with a book he was going to buy: “Know your Horoscope.”

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