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Princeton, the Temple

Princeton, the Temple
Published on May 3, 2023.

I centered my life around chasing prestige. I believed that prestige was an accurate measurement of something’s value. Even now, when I remember walking under the boughs of Princeton University, there’s a happiness there. A feeling of calm, of surety, and a world moving in the right direction.

Princeton has all the charm of a colonial-era small American town. Block lettering reminiscent of the 18th century on white clapboard signs. Small brick buildings. History in almost every corner. “Albert Einstein sat here” reads a sign next to a booth at the Ivy Inn bar. It feels like a town that’s been caught in time, a time from the past when things actually worked, when America and American ideas were the cutting edge of human civilization.

And across the street from all the shops on Nassau Street is the centerpiece of it all. Princeton University.

Stepping inside its gates, the world melts away. All the noise and pressures of the outside world just disappear. It’s like a voice soothingly whispers “you are safe here now. This is a place dedicated to the good and the light. Darkness has no place here.”

It was the same sense I would get years later when I stepped inside the Vatican or Buddhist temples. Silence, a calming silence, and worries just wash away. Everything you thought was important – all the things you chase, like money and success – don’t matter here. This place stands apart, somehow insulated from the noise of the rest of the world.

It’s an ancient feeling, of the protection of the sacred from the vicissitudes of the profane. It’s the silence of respect and awe, a consolidation of the noisy priorities of everyday life into the simple truths that matter.

That’s what it felt like every time I walked onto Princeton’s campus. I felt enveloped by the sacred, carried away in its protective embrace. This is what matters in the world, the soft wind in the boughs seemed to say. Not the brands on your jeans that everyone obsessed over back at school, or your popularity among your peers. Those were profane things that don’t hold a candle to the light of the sacred. The sacred quest for knowledge, the sacred achievements of thought and science, the sacred magnanimity of working for the human species and human civilization, for progress!

The campus quieted my heart and eased my fears. I was reminded yet again that I was right. Even if I was alone and aloof from a world that was more obsessed with worldly things, it reminded me that I was closer to the sacred truth than they were. Because here, I was at home.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I spent much of my youth angling to get into one of these sacred temples of knowledge, to be picked by them as a worthy apprentice and student.