Once upon a time, when I was a brand new graduate student in the Graduate Theological Union’s doctoral program in History and Phenomenology of Religion, I met Frits at a book reception. Feeling a great deal like the “country mouse,” all I could say was “I have your book. I haven’t read it, but I have it.” It was one of those truly humiliating moments that remain seared in one’s memory.
Despite this faux pas, Frits was kind enough to later give me an offprint of his “meaninglessness” essay. That started a sequence of events that first shocked me into thinking about ritual in an entirely new way, to Frits being a member of my dissertation committee, to his commending my dissertation to Lokesh Chandra for publication in the ˙Śata-Piṭaka Series, #365, and now to the publication of On Meaning and Mantras: Essays in Honor of Frits Staal, jointly edited by George Thompson and myself. (More information will be forthcoming when the book is actually available for purchase.)
My thanks to George for his invaluable assistance in contacting the contributors to this collection, and for working with them to solicit a set of essays that spans much—though not all—of the academic areas to which Frits contributed. As a Buddhist, of course, I know that he isn’t anywhere. But as his student, I know that the spirit of critical inquiry that he manifested continues to inspire.