Written by Zaya and Maurizio Benazzo
Reviewed by Yifan Zhang
“Both science and spirituality reflect our human urge to know—that perennial itch to make sense of the world and who we are.”
What makes us, us? Is our essence of being reflected through the words we put on the blank spaces after the “I AM” statements? Or, are the “I AM” statements already ample enough to give us an answer to the above?
On the Mystery of Being offers a collection of insights towards the above question about the essence of beings. In the form of anthology, the authors put forth their main arguments. By bringing spirit with matter, spirituality with science, non-dualistic with dualistic together, we reflect on a more holistic insight into being—to live in the moment. Moreover, in our journey to find the meaning of our beings, the authors advise us to emphasize “I” instead of paying too much attention to the experiences we have been through. Unlike conventional images in which life is a blank canvas awaiting our experiences to paint them colorful, the book informs us that we are not born empty but filled with potentials and completeness.
Deepak Chopra contributed his thoughts in the book’s Foreward. He noted that “Homo Sapiens, as a conscious species, constantly take advantage of fundamental traits that are sourced from existence itself” (X). Chopra asserts that being able to perceive, to feel, to experience, is already an essence of being itself.
Along with Chopra, Zaya and Maurizio Benazzo invited many great thinkers of our time, regardless of whether they were objective scientists or spiritual teachers who focus on subjectivity, to discuss their insights within one of eight parts, each contemplating a similar issue. The topics discussed include: Part One, Voices of Contemporary Spirituality; Part Two, The Rebirth of Metaphysics; Part Three, Science Embraces Consciousness; Part Four, The Wonder of Nature; Part Five, The Body as Teacher; Part 6, The Heart of Intimacy; Part 7, Exploring the Shadows; and Part 8, Doorways to Heaven.
My favorite aspect of this book is twofold—the innovative contents and the lively metaphors the authors used to explain their logic. Regarding innovative contents, the main idea of this book is enlightening to someone like me who has always taken the blank canvas theory about life for granted. Instead, from this perspective, being itself is never empty but already filled with potentials and complete on its own. According to the authors, being is complete at the very beginning when we were born; it never fades away, no matter if we are flourishing or withering, as we age and experience more.
Moreover, the most powerful aspect of this book is that it doesn’t offer an answer. Rather, it introduces you to more unknown and more questions. In fact, in the introductory passage for Part Two, The Rebirth of Metaphysics, the authors proposed that “while we probe deeper into reality and who we are, we realize the knowledge we gathered is just a stepping stone, and never an arrival at a final destination” (pg. 30). I used to think reading a book was to solve a problem that I don’t know the answer to, but this book suggests the exact opposite—it offers an answer just to raise more questions. That’s innovative. The goal of this whole book is to break the norm we are told to live and continue with.
In one of the passages, author John Tollifson turned cancer, a supposedly unfortunate and terrifying fatal disease, into an awakening experience of the immediate presence. He said it was marvelous to experience cancer himself. This might be an inspiring idea for many patients, as well as normal people who find their lives painful. Moreover, in his discussions, he raised the point to also embrace our dark sides, including the shameful body parts that are seen as dirty and opposite to dignity. “We eat and we poop, no matter how enlightened we are. And that is actually a gift, not a giant mistake!” (136).
Finally, one main goal of this book is that it invites both sides of an intellectual divide to join and reach for peaceful respect for each other. In other words, it not only asks advice from the masters of spirits, most of whom might disdain the fact that science is a good enterprise; it also invites scientists to share their insights on objective matters for which they have proofs and theories while most times many scientists treat spiritual myths as absurdity. Instead of arguing back and forth, this book merges both and discovers the philosophical questions of being through both lenses. It’s as if we are wearing 3-dimensional glasses with our left eye seeing differently from our right eye, yet we see a lively scene when viewed altogether.
My second favorite part about this book is its mode of argument—using descriptive images and metaphors. Ideas about being and metaphysics can be implicit and obscure. However, many authors in the book used interesting metaphors so that readers of all ages can understand what they are presenting. For example, one passage talks about how the notion of “I” and compares it to the golden thread of a necklace, with our experiences as the beads surrounding the thread. We can’t really see the thread when examining the whole necklace, but without it, the necklace doesn’t exist.
That’s the exact same idea about essence of being—I can’t exist if I’m only made up of experiences, just as only some scattered beads alone can’t make a good necklace. But I do exist if I acknowledge the notion of “I” at every moment of my life.
Just as stated in the introduction, “I am” is ample enough to answer the question of what makes me, me. Also, the volume/density of this book is almost perfect. The passages are not so long that you get bored. It is appropriate in its length for readers to grasp the ideas conveyed. On average, each passage is two to three pages for readers to digest. I personally think that’s the correct amount for the most efficient absorption of ideas for most normal readers.
However, there are some weaknesses of the book. The connections between different parts are not logical enough for me. Readers might feel a bit confused and overwhelmed by eight different parts of ideas after reading the whole book. Nevertheless, each part starts with a clear introduction, thus making it easier to probe what is being discussed in each part, but I think the connection between parts is still weak.
In conclusion, On the Mystery of Being: Contemporary Insights on The Convergence of Science and Spirituality offers interested readers a great way to start exploring the essence of being at the moment. Despite a weak connection among the eight parts, it’s still a worthwhile and promising book for amateurs who are interested in both scientific and spiritual explanations of existential meanings at the same time. Its innovative contents, clear arguments and just perfect size will catch many readers’ eyes. I recommend people read this book because it’s enlightening—the way the contributors connected science with myth without critiquing both. After reading this book, I believe we might be able to embark on an adventure to settle in the unknowns in our everyday lives and find out that these uncertainties are exactly what makes us, us.
Zaya and Maurizio Benazzo are both conference founders and organizers of SAND (Science and Nonduality)—a global community inspired by the timeless wisdom traditions, informed by modern science and grounded in direct experience. Maurizio was raised in Italy and went through many incarnations, always searching for answers. He started as an actor, model and then filmmaker, and later turned to this field around 2001; Zaya is from Bulgaria and has degrees in Engineering, Environmental Studies and Film. Her lifelong passion for science and mysticism finally came together with the emergence of conference.
Yifan Zhang currently studies psychology at New York University as a sophomore. She interned as a clinical assistant in Zhang Shu Sheng Clinic of Neurology last summer. As a mentor for high school girls of color in NYC as well as a mentor for first-generation international students at NYU, she strives for equality and justice for all. She is passionate about music technology and social psychology, hoping to use music as a way to improve social relationships between people.
Benazzo, M & Z. (2019). On the Mystery of Being: Contemporary Insights on The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. Oakland, CA: Reveal Press of the New Harbinger Publications. ISBN 978-1-68403-395-9
Available in Paperback, eBook and Audiobook.
Paperback. 224 pages. Includes references and index.