Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 The Prophet is a book that’s changed people’s lives. It is a deceptively simple book, but it contains a radical insight. “Of what can I speak save of that which is even now moving in your souls?” What can a book teach us that we cannot know ourselves?
To detect this thing inside of us we must break through convention: our escape into social habits, religious and political doctrine, the comforting approval of others, and the truisms and clichés we take for wisdom. And even once we realize that something is “moving in our souls,” Gibran warns us, we tend to repress this insight by submitting to outside authorities to give it a name, a label, or a theory. By turning to religion or other people’s teachings, we dodging the challenge of taking charge of our own conditions, and thus of our freedom.
I spoke with Glenn Wallis, a renowned scholar of Buddhism, translator and teacher who has published The Dhammapada, Basic Teachings of the Buddha, and a Critique of Western Buddhism, and who runs Incite Seminars in Philadelphia. Glenn had first read The Prophet when he was 16 and it changed his life profoundly. He then forgot about the book and even dismissed it for decades, until I persuaded him, pleading three times, to reconsider it. This conversation is as much about The Prophet as about the things that move us deeply when we’re younger but which we then, in growing up, learn to dismiss as adolescent. I’d like to think that re-reading a book sometimes lets us rekindle our youthful passion to ignite our lives yet once more. The conversation also led Glenn and myself to co-author an introduction to a new and beautiful edition of The Prophet, published together with The Forerunner and The Madman, by Warbler Classics.