As many of you know, the Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck is one of my favourite books. I have read it several times over the past few decades. Published in 1978, it was a popular and controversial book. From a young age, Peck was an existential thinker. Raised essentially secular with Protestant roots he began studying Buddhism and Hinduism to try and understand if the answers to the big question might lay there. He became a medical doctor and specialized in psychiatry. Having been diagnosed with depression as an adolescent, he was exposed to psychiatric treatment at an unusually young age.
Over the years, his patients helped shape his thinking about life, living, and the afterlife. His own beliefs clearly showed influences from Buddhism and Hinduism with Christian leanings. He begins the book, as I have quoted many times, with the opening statement, “Life is difficult.” When I first read the book many decades ago, I had not enough scars to fully appreciate this statement. I wanted to believe otherwise. As Siddhartha Gautama discovered, life is full of suffering but it can be overcome. Dr. Peck continues with his opening statement, “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
Peck also realized that while suffering was a part of life it could be “transcended.” In the book, Peck discusses how a major part of the transcendence is through facing challenges head-on and growing from the experience. He believes that working though challenges leads to development and growth of the spirit. It is the growth of the spirit that allows the person to reach a state of “godhood.” The Buddha also realized that the process to overcome suffering was to acknowledge its existence and then take the steps (Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Pathway) to work towards nirvana. Scott Peck and the writings of Hinduism and Buddhism note that this is not an easy process. In the Yogic School of Hinduism, there are eight limbs of yoga as written about by the sage Patanjali which, if practiced can eventually lead to spiritual enlightenment. The Buddha laid out the Eightfold Pathway which, similar to Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, involves dedication and practice. Peck emphasizes that the only way to reach godhood is by leading a disciplined life.
In my opinion, the most compelling part of Peck’s book is on the section about love. Like all of life, Dr. Peck describes love as a deliberate act which requires effort. He is clear that love is not a feeling or an emotion but rather something you do to yourself or another person – specifically another spirit. Peck further describes love as the intentional act of reaching your spirit out towards another spirit for the purpose of assisting another spirit in growth and transcendence. In this description of love, Dr. Peck allows the ancient wisdom of Hinduism and Buddhism to become more practical and perhaps more accessible to those who have alternative beliefs.
I look forward to reading the book again in a few years to see what else I can glean from this gem.
Happy summer reading,