A novel of ideas dramatizes the experiences of a professor of Eastern philosophy.
In this fiction debut from Steinberg (The Insider’s Guide to HMOs, 1996), Abe Levy, a veteran Southern California philosophy professor, is about to begin his fall semester course on Vedic literature and meditative practices (“Self with a capital ‘S,’ ” as he puts it). His course, presented to a mixture of students he’s taught before and sharp newcomers, covers the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, but the bulk of the class centers on the transcendental meditation (TM) teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the celebrated figure who was the guru to the Beatles in the 1960s. Levy’s students come from all walks of life, and he wants to open their minds to the possibilities of TM. “Meditation utilizes that natural tendency of your mind to get closer to your Self when you relax and settle down,” he tells them. “And it also works the other way around: the closer you get to experiencing your Self, the more relaxed and settled your mind and body become.” This book is mainly structured as an old-fashioned novel of ideas, using the framework of Levy’s class to expound on the history of Eastern philosophy and the anatomy of Vedic meditation. But the book derives its dramatic energy from the fact that although Levy praises how relaxed and settled meditation can make a person, he has little of that tranquility in his personal life. He feels locked into his path, “rushing forward head down, trying to get to the goal before the end of the game.” His desire to concentrate on his own self with a capital S, perhaps to take a sabbatical toward that end, starts to cause tension in his marriage to his wife, Sarah. She’s happy with her life, her friends, and her operation of a gift shop called Goodness. Steinberg expertly keeps this tension percolating in the background while the chapters expand in wonderfully lucid fashion on all kinds of philosophical and religious topics.
A readable and enticing fictional exploration of transcendental meditation and Vedic literature.