Cover image for Enlightenment town : finding spiritual awakening in a most improbable place / Jeffery Paine.
Enlightenment town : finding spiritual awakening in a most improbable place / Jeffery Paine.
Publication Information:
Novato, CA : New World Library, 2018.
Physical Description:
235 pages ; 21 cm.
Town -- A dream awakens -- Where the hell am I? A tour -- Religion -- "Gimme that ol'-time religion!" or is the new-time better? -- More religions than one -- Less than one -- Post-religious varieties of experience in Crestone -- An ordinary Thursday in Crestone -- A sacred relationship to the natural world? -- Equanimity: spirituality without the religion -- The mind electric -- When there is here and bitter is sweet -- Finale -- Near-enlightentment experiences in everyday life -- The look of it, the feel of it -- Nine rungs up the ladder to enlightenment -- A note on dates and the passing of time.
"A travelogue about Crestone, Colorado, a remote former mining town that has become home to a Carmelite monastery, a Hindu temple, several Buddhist centers, and other religious organizations. The author uses Crestone as a starting point for a discussion of the underlying similarities between world religions"-- Provided by publisher.
Subject Term:


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
200.978849 PAI Book Adult General Collection

On Order



Why has a tiny old mining town straight out ofGunsmokeorDeadwood-- Crestone, Colorado -- become home to twenty-five spiritual centers representing nearly all the brand-name faiths of the world? With the keen eye of a storyteller, the insights of a scholar, and the heart of a seeker, Jeffery Paine narrates a truly unique adventure. He explores Crestone's wintry, oxygen-thin mountain geography and introduces a cast of spiritual mavericks and unlikely visionaries. Paine finds in Crestone a remarkable dedication to coexistence. Paradoxically, the town's amazing spiritual diversity highlights fundamental commonalities in a way that will strike and even inspire believers, agnostics, and searchers of every stripe.

Author Notes

Jeffery Paine's writing has appeared in such publications as theNew York Times, theWashington Post, theLos Angeles Times, theNation, and theNew Republic. The author ofRe-enchantment andFather India, he lives in Washington, DC.



Far away, remote from anywhere, but possibly near the heart of what it means to be human, lies a place where sadly I never could live (not full-time year-round) but which kept drawing me back again and again, the place where I have often felt most at home. Not all that long before I first strayed there, that high-mountain hamlet had housed but a few-score miners' descendants, who to eat went out and shot a bear. When I got there in 1990, I did note the curiosity that two or three unusual religious groups--Carmelite, Hindu--had set up shop in this tiny Colorado town. From those small beginnings would soon flower a unprecedented phenomenon. Today the former mining town boasts twenty-five major spiritual centers, representing nearly all the brand names of world religion. Almost all the globe's religions cohabiting practically under the same roof--nothing quite like this had happened before. And this is happening now against a budget western set, straight out of Gunsmoke or Bonanza. With its thin mountain air, with few diversions available, with winter three seasons out of four, so challenging is living in a place so high up and so arid that having a good ol' time becomes almost a Darwinian survival mechanism. There a religious and a secular zest for experience coexist, like neighbors helping each other out. What may be fairly unique about the book now in your hands is how it takes elusive religious ideas and ideals usually discussed in abstract generalizations and shows what happens when they get embodied in quirky individuals and lived out in the raucousness and surprise of the common day. "The world in a grain of sand": What kind of view, or new understanding, does beholding the world's various religions all within such a small circumscribed geography allow us? Here's a metaphor: if you know five or six--or twenty-five!--languages, you'll see beyond the peculiarities of your native English or Mandarin to how language itself actually works. Likewise for religion. Through encountering the town's twenty-five religious groups side by side, we may begin to fathom what underlies all faiths and can gauge how each is adapting to today's changed realities, at times trespassing beyond older notions of religion. This book is thus a voyage of exploration--investigation as a mind/heart adventure--which uses these unusual and remarkable characters and their sometimes wild stories to fathom what it means to live in a period when religion has slipped its millennia-old moorings. Compared to the earlier seemingly solid ground of God, faith, salvation, sacredness (etc.), we have rounded a corner into less certain territory that Rabbi David Cooper, who used to live in this town, called "postreligion." Commonly accepted matters of faith are now constantly scrutinized or challenged, which leads to the book's basic question: What in fact makes anything "sacred?" I want here to anticipate a possible objection some readers may have: "Does this book provide, as its subtitle implies, a full and representative picture of religion in the twenty-first century? For if this book is about religion today, where in it do we find terrorism, rabid fundamentalism, jihads, and ISIS--those lovely things?" It's a reasonable question. For if a self-sacrificing belief in God and faith unquestioned constitute religion, doesn't ISIS put many a Christian to shame? Response to the objection. The Inuit supposedly have a hundred words for snow and the Bedouin even more for camel. As a wider and wilder phenomenon, religion also needs a copious vocabulary of varied and alternate names to distinguish its scarcely compatible forms. In this book, any group caught full of hate and intolerance, bent on violence, racist or misogynistic, and/or killing innocent people is refused admission to the club--i.e., does not fall here within its definition of spirituality. Which is not a problem, for in this town you won't find many--any--fanatics parading around in religious mufti. The practitioners I knew here--eschewing hatred and harm, accepting others of other faiths as siblings--and whenever possible helping them--reveal the better side of religion today. About religion's dark side, I have inquired. When writing the memoirs of Huston Smith (the "father of comparative religion"), I challenged him precisely on this point: "Huston, your books describe the lovely side of religion, which you know is not the whole story. Why?" "True, guilty as charged," he answered. "I do it for the same reason a class on music concentrates on Bach and Beethoven and not cacophonous mishmash. That way you can take home something personally valuable from it." Incidentally, Huston dreamed of coming to this town (but was by then too old), to witness all the religions he had so fondly written about come together in one place. There was no danger of religion here blowing up in your face. To the contrary. Let's return to our basic investigation: From what raw materials, out of what substratum of experience, is a personal transformation mined and refined? To find the answer, must we--with or without the example of Plato and Moses and Siddhartha--descend into the cave and climb the mountain and meditate under the tree once more, this time on our own? Or could we, instead, undertake a little jaunt to an unusual place in the mountains of south-central Colorado? Enlightenment Town does not catalogue contemporary religious denominations so much as explore new and new/old possibilities and fundamental experiences across denominations (and beyond), as brewed in that town's most incongruous melting pot. Let's now go and pay a visit there. As Walt Whitman would say, "Allons, Comrade!" Excerpted from Enlightenment Town: Finding Spiritual Awakening in a Most Improbable Place by Jeffrey Paine All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Overturep. 1
Part I Town
1 A Dream Awakensp. 9
2 Where the Hell Am I? A Tourp. 21
Part II Religion
3 "Gimme That Old-Time Religion!" Or Is the New-Time Better?p. 33
4 More Religions Than Onep. 67
5 Fewer Than Onep. 89
Part III Postreligious Varieties of Experience in Crestone
6 An Ordinary Thursday in Crestonep. 113
7 A Sacred Relationship to the Natural World?p. 121
8 Equanimity: Spirituality without the Religionp. 145
9 The Mind Electricp. 157
10 When There Is Here and Bitter Is Sweetp. 173
Finale: Near-Enlightenment Experiences in Everyday Life
11 The Look of It, the Feel of Itp. 191
12 Nine Rungs Up the Ladder to Enlightenmentp. 203
A Note on Datesp. 231
Second Dedicationp. 233
About the Authorp. 235