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A BRIDGE ACROSS THE
RELIGIONS AND BEYOND
If your heart is truly open then all of nature, life and
experience is the mystery of interconnection and
opportunity for communion.
My own interspiritual journey began in earnest in 1973, when Bede Griffiths and I began to correspond. He was an English Benedictine monk, spiritual teacher, and writer who traveled to India in 1955, as he put it to a friend at the time, "to seek the other half of my soul"—meaning his mystical, intuitive side. His rational, analytical mind was already highly developed; he wanted to make room for the mystic to be born in him. Bede awakened in me a sense of the eternal value of India's spiritual traditions in the inner search and a powerful desire to discover the "other half" of my own soul. In the same year I met the Hindu master Swami Satchidananda in Hartford, Connecticut, where he'd come to give talks and lead retreats at his Integral Yoga Institute. My encounters with Swami Satchidananda reinforced my intuitions about the Hindu mystical culture as a living spiritual reality.
I was not alone in my discovery. Millions of other Westerners during the last century have shared this new appreciation of the East, an awakening that underscores the breakdown of isolation among all the spiritual traditions. Through these countless souls the intermystical life hasbecome a reality, and through the agencies of easy travel, instant communication, and a spirit of openness, the Interspiritual Age has begun. A small but significant number of people in all the religions are transcending boundaries in search of enlightenment, salvation, or mystical realization.
Some cultures — India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and certain indigenous societies, such as the native Australians, for example — are organized to support and facilitate the inner search. Others, although not consciously structured to assist the spiritual life, are nonetheless conducive to contemplative experience. The Latin and Mediterranean countries, especially Italy and Spain, are nations in love with slowness, cultivation of the intellect, reflection, and quiet.
The United States, in this respect, is an anomaly. Every religion known to humanity exists in America — more than two hundred of them. Every form of spirituality is available, from Zen Buddhism to Centering Prayer, yoga to t'ai chi, Sufism to Tibetan Dzogchen practice. Countless forms of meditation and self-realization programs are readily accessible to anyone willing to commit. Roshis, rinpoches, and gurus are providing American students with a virtual smorgasbord of disciplines for the inner life. Yet, with all this at our disposal, our culture often ignores our deepest longings. Although we enjoy unlimited freedom and endless opportunities to seek deeper experience, American culture — like the West in general — lacks a sense of the sacred and is indifferent to the mystical process of its citizens.
Many consider themselves to be religious. The vast majority of Americans believe in God and prayer;, belong to a church, synagogue, or a temple; and have had a peak or mystical experience at some point in their life. Yet we are saturated with materialistic values that distract us, obscuring the things of the spirit. Wealth, consumerism, and entertainment have become the psychological fixations of the masses. Greed is widespread; consumerism and entertainment have assumed nearly religious significance. We proclaim ourselves "born to shop" or willing to "shop until we drop."
A friend of mine, a Catholic journalist, has made a religion of sports. "You know, Jim," I once said to him, "if you spent as much time in prayer as you do following baseball, you'd be a saint!" He didn't care for my observation, and I know I am in the minority. Others are completely absorbed by television and arrange their lives around its constant glow. Some years ago a Protestant theologian suggested, with tongue in cheek, that we replace the tabernacles in our churches with televisions! John Main, a Benedictine monk and founder of the Christian meditation movement, once remarked to me, "Television was the absolute death of prayer!"
We have become spiritually illiterate: ignorant of the realization that life is a spiritual journey, that everything is sacred or a manifestation of the ultimate mystery. We are morally confused, precisely because of this illiteracy. And this illiteracy and confusion have led directly to psychological dysfunction: the breakdown of meaningful communication in the family, and the indifference and insensitivity with which we treat one another. We fear the intimacy inherent in the interactions of society itself. People regard one another as objects, rather than as the precious beings they are. Our addiction to violence — vicarious and otherwise — is nourished by a steady diet of irresponsible Hollywood images and stories that subtly, and not so subtly, insinuate that violence is fundamental to life. Psychological dysfunction also appears in our frenzied pace of life, with its inevitable fragmentation and tolerance of noise, and in the endless stimulation we require through news, sports, and other forms of excitement. We have become a nation of compulsive neurotics. No wonder the quiet spiritual life has difficulty being heard.
What Is Spirituality?
Before we can really understand what interspirituality means in its depth, height, and breadth, we must consider briefly the meaning of the words religious, spiritual, and spirituality. With so many connotations, various contexts in which they are used, and meanings ascribed to them, they require clarification. What do they signify in their fullest sense?
Being religious connotes belonging to and practicing a religious tradition. Being spiritual suggests a personal commitment to a process of inner development that engages us in our totality. Religion, of course, is one way many people are spiritual. Often, when authentic faith embodies an individual's spirituality, the religious and the spiritual will coincide. Still, not every religious person is spiritual (although they ought to be!), and not every spiritual person is religious.
Spirituality is a way of life that affects and includes every moment of existence. It is at once a contemplative attitude, a disposition to a life of depth, and the search for ultimate meaning, direction, and belonging. The spiritual person is committed to growth as an essential, ongoing life goal. To be spiritual requires us to stand on our own two feet while being nurtured and supported by our tradition, if we are fortunate enough to have one.
Thomas Merton stressed this importance of individual strength on the last day of his life, in a talk to Christian and Buddhist monks and nuns in Bangkok. In regard to the Tibetans' desperate flight from Chinese persecution into exile, Merton told the story of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche's frightening experience of being cut off from his monastery. Staying in a village with a peasant family, and uncertain what to do, Merton said, "[Trungpa] sent a message to a nearby abbot friend of his saying: `What do we do?' The abbot sent back a strange message, which [Merton thought] very significant: `From now on, Brother, everybody stands on his own feet.'"
Many religious people depend on institutions — their church, synagogue, temple, or mosque — to make their decisions. Rather than looking for inner direction, they shape their spiritual lives through conformity to external piety. They seem to lack the ability and desire to stand on their own two feet. Spirituality draws us into the depths of our being, where we come face to face with ourselves, our weaknesses, and with ultimate mystery. Many understandably prefer to avoid this frightening prospect by sinking into external religiosity and the safe routines of liturgy or ritual. A genuinely spiritual person passionately commits to this inner development. He or she knows that life is a spiritual journey, and that each one of us must take this journey alone, even while surrounded by loved ones.
How we make this journey is what spirituality is really about. No manual for the inner life fits the needs of all people. Finding our own path is part of what it means to have a measure of independence and inner directedness. There is a wonderfully practical saying in the English mystical tradition: "Pray as you can, not as you can't!" We must take responsibility for our spiritual lives. This means finding the right way to relate to the divine, and this is what prayer helps us to do.
The evolution of an individual's spirituality is a mysterious and intimate matter. It originates in the heart, in deep stirrings that may be only beginning to form. These stirrings represent an insatiable longing for fulfillment. St. Augustine identified the source of this stirring in his celebrated prayer at the beginning of his autobiographical Confessions: "You (O God) have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." We are created for the spiritual journey. To exist means that we share the task of perfecting self-transcendence through prayer, contemplation, meditation — the nitty-gritty of the spiritual quest. To be spiritual means essentially to take responsibility for our inner journey, while using all the resources from all the traditions available to us. They are our common heritage; they belong to each one of us. All we require to tap into them is the capacity to do so, the requisite generosity of spirit. These great treasures are part of a universal mystical tradition, and our growth in the future depends on our willingness to integrate them into our own experience.
Spirituality in the Religions
The inner commitment to live the search for the divine — spirituality as the disciplined quest for enlightenment — is often lived out within a religious faith. Throughout many of the major religious traditions — in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Catholicism, and the Orthodox church — this search often unfolds within the context of monasticism. The whole purpose of Christian monastic life, for example, is to activate inner experience, to intensify the search and cultivate spiritual practice through reading, reflection, meditation, and contemplation. Contemplation is the mystical process of cultivating union with God, or the inner realization of ultimate awareness. These experiences are further developed through study and discussion.
Monastics are, in a sense, "professionals" in spirituality, and monasticism has traditionally been the place where mysticism has flourished in the Church. Yet monastics often fall far short of realizing their ideal mandate of mystical contemplation. This is certainly true in most monasteries regardless of the tradition, though the Trappists in the Catholic tradition are very committed to contemplation. Thomas Merton, a Trappist or Cistercian, was almost single-handedly responsible for awakening a contemplative form of spirituality in the Catholic Church in America and Europe, and his influence extends far beyond Catholicism. To this end he wrote some fifty-one books and two thousand articles, all from his monastery!
Islam and Judaism lack a monastic system to cultivate the inner life of contemplation, but they have nonetheless reached a rich spiritual fruition in their own forms of mysticism. The Sufis, without rejecting their Moslem identity, represent the heart of Islamic spirituality. In Judaism, the collection of esoteric wisdom known as Kabbalah, which means tradition, is the basis of Jewish mystical spirituality;, as is the cultural and spiritual expression known as Hasidism, a form that came considerably later, in seventeenth-century Poland.
Countless souls throughout the world's religions live intensely focused mystical spiritualities, but most of them have taken responsibility for their spiritual journey. They relate to their religion in a healthy manner, avoiding overdependence, and thus remain able to grow into their full potential. Brother David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk and leader of interfaith encounter, of learning from other cultures, and, so, of interspirituality. He has made the distinction between being rooted in your tradition and being stuck in it. The point is to have roots that nourish, rather than a desperate dinging that chokes off real spiritual vitality. Spirituality is always about what nourishes. Tradition is useful as long as it enhances and serves the inner life. When it becomes an obstacle, we need to rethink the hold our religion has on us.
Religion and spirituality are not antagonistic to each other; rather, they mutually enrich each other — if their relationship is based on openness and respect. Most mystics throughout history were part of a religious tradition. At the same time, anyone actually living an authentic spiritual path has assumed responsibility for their own development. Religious people without authentic spiritual paths often merely go through the motions of being part of a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. They attend out of a sense of duty, tradition, or social expectation. Their observances are perfunctory rather than heartfelt; their minds and hearts are not in harmony with the spiritual quest. Of course, people grow as they move along in their earthly lives. Their desires and longings grow. Sooner or later something awakens in them, and they embark on their inner search of discovery and fulfillment.
The Nature of Mysticism and Spirituality
Mysticism means direct, immediate experience of ultimate reality. For Christians, it is union and communion with God. For Buddhists, it is realization of enlightenment. Evelyn Underhill's classical definition is perennially true: "Mysticism, in its pure form, is the science of ultimates, the science of union with the Absolute, and nothing else, and that the mystic is the person who attains to this union, not the person who talks about it. Not to know about, but to Be, is the mark of the real initiate."
Although all forms of mysticism are inherently part of spirituality, not all kinds of spirituality are intrinsically mystical. Because churchgoers usually don't experience ultimate perception during the mass, liturgical spirituality (forms associated with the rituals and public prayer of the churches) is not primarily mystical. But clearly the Eucharist, through participation in the rite itself, promises a mystical relationship with Christ and the Trinity. Although much of Christian spirituality is inspired by the Eucharist, and history has seen some eucharistic mystics, mystical spirituality goes beyond this mediated form to direct relationship with God.
The Types of Mystical Spirituality
Mystical spirituality has many types, each valid in its own way. Natural mysticism is found in every culture. Theistic mysticism, a mysticism focused on God is present everywhere except in Buddhism and Jainism. Intimately associated with many forms of theistic mysticism is the mysticism of love, a dominant, powerful spiritual orientation in Christian and Sufi contemplative literature. The mysticism of love is present throughout the Christian mystical tradition; it became deeply embedded in the culture of the Middle Ages through the bridal mysticism of the Victorine and Cistercian monks, with their emphasis on learning, withdrawal, and contemplation. The term "bridal" uses terms from human love to express intimacy with God and union. So profound was this monastic impulse that it inspired the courtly love tradition celebrated by the knights and troubadours of wider medieval society.
The mysticism of knowledge predominates among Buddhists. Unrelated to God or a divine being, it concerns the realization in consciousness itself of ultimate wisdom and compassion. This kind of mystical spirituality depends on actualization of awareness on an ultimate, nondual, or unitive level of mind.
The mysticism of the soul emphasizes the eternal nature of the self, the Atman as the vehicle for union with the divine. With its emphasis on the self, this form predominates in Indian mysticism. It is also found in some Christian mystics (notably Augustine, Meister Eckhart, and the Rhenish sage Jan van Ruysbroeck, who entered profound relationships with God through the depths of the self or soul), as well as Sufis like Rumi and Attar, and the many anonymous Jewish sages.
The Elements of Mystical Experience
We can also distinguish between mysticism as an experience and mysticism as a process of spiritual life. The former is very common, while the latter requires an ongoing commitment, regardless of the tradition.
Mysticism as a process — mystical or contemplative spirituality — has a number of characteristics, which are true of all its forms in the various traditions or schools. Mystical spirituality is practical, experiential, ineffable or nonconceptual, unitive or nondual, noetic, integrative, sapiential, giving certitude, and in possession of transcendent knowledge from direct experience.
All mystical experience, though involving the here and now, happens in the present moment of the eternal now, since time is contained in eternity. Mysticism is a revelation of the eternal in the midst of the temporal, and in that revelatory communication, it presents us with states of consciousness that possess the following elements.
Mystical spirituality is always practical: its experience is eminently beneficial to a person's life and well-being. Because it concerns one's ultimate situation, it is never abstract. It always contributes to one's inner landscape —the development of individual character.
Mysticism is also experiential. By stressing what can be known and experienced mysticism is similar to science's empiricism. Both are based on experience. Just as science is related to what actually is, so the mystical life is directly in contact with what is ultimately real.
Mystical spirituality, in its peak moments, is ineffable. In its infinite presence, it is incomprehensible to the mystic, who has infinite potential but only finite ability as a human to experience, at least in this mode of existence. The divine or ultimate mystery is infinitely actual with an infinite and eternal amount of time, and so the mystic always labors at a disadvantage in relation to the divine itself. Only the ultimate mystery, or the divine can compensate for us.
Mystical consciousness is nonconceptual; it transcends the need for concepts because it knows all things in its eternal now. It does not perceive successive events and individual objects but rather the totality, in every moment of eternity. It knows everything in knowing itself, and everything is always spontaneously present to it. Being infinitely aware in this manner it knows in a unitive fashion, which is also in an intuitive way. When we know or experience the reality of the divine, we know it through its own modes of knowing, and hence it is ineffable. We have nothing to which to compare it. Essentially ungraspable and incomprehensible, the source eludes us.
Excerpted from THE MYSTIC HEART by Wayne Teasdale. Copyright © 2001 by Wayne Teasdale. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama||xiii|
|Preface by Dr. Beatrice Bruteau||xvii|
|Part I: Finding What Unites Us|
|Introduction The Mystic Heart: Our Common Heritage||3|
|The Interspiritual Age|
| The Parliament of the World's Religions|
| The Turn to Spirituality|
| A Dot on a Blackboard|
|Chapter 1 A Bridge Across the Religions and Beyond||15|
|What Is Spirituality?|
| Spirituality in the Religions|
| The Nature of Mysticism and Spirituality|
| What Is Interspirituality?|
| The Treasure of Community|
|Chapter 2 Crossing Over: Pioneers of Interspiritual|
|The Meeting of Christianity and Hinduism|
| Dialogue Between Catholicism and the Other Religions|
| Buddhism Comes to the West|
| Finding Your Place in the Interspiritual Movement|
|Chapter 3 The Mirror of the Heart: Consciousness As the|
|Root of Identity||51|
|Hinduism: Supreme Identity in the Mahavakyas|
| Buddhism: Enlightenment, Shunyata, Nirvana, and the Doctrine of No-Self|
| The Greeks: Plato and Aristotle|
| The Christian Understanding|
| Who We Are Is Where We're Going|
| A New Paradigm of Identity: We Are Consciousness|
| Quantum Physics Shows Us Reality and Self-Identity|
| The Nature of the Divine|
|Chapter 4 "The Paths Are Many But the Goal Is the|
|Same": Discovering the Way||79|
|The Inner Path: The Way of Contemplation|
| The Outer Path: The Way of Action|
| The Place of Spiritual Transformation|
| The Asramas and Margas: Living the Sacred|
| The Integration of Action and Contemplation|
| The Goal of the Spiritual Journey|
|Part II: The Practical Nature of the Mystical Way|
|Chapter 5 The Mystic Character||105|
|The Problem of the Ego-Driven Life|
| The False Self|
| Actual Moral Capacity|
| Solidarity with All Living Beings|
| Deep Nonviolence|
| The Mystic or Contemplative Character|
| Who Is a Saint?|
|Chapter 6 Spiritual Practice: The Crux of Inner Change||125|
| Spiritual Practice|
| Mature Self-Knowledge|
| Transformation As the Reality of Inner Change|
|Chapter 7 Out in the World: The Spirituality of Action||147|
|Simplicity of Life|
| Selfless Service and Compassionate Action|
| The Prophetic Voice|
| The Fruits or Capacities of the Spiritual Journey|
| The Fruits of Spirituality Work Together|
|Part III: The Mysticism of the Natural World|
|Chapter 8 Natural Mysticism: Reading the Book of Creation||173|
| Readers of the Book of Nature|
| Natural Contemplation As the Capacity to Read the Books of Creation and Life|
| A Spirituality of Creation|
| The Mystical Experience of Totality|
| The Spirituality of Pilgrimage|
| Nutrition and Spirituality|
| Yoga and the Martial Arts|
| Toward a Holistic Spirituality|
| Natural Meditation|
| Discourse of the Rose|
|Part IV: Global Mysticism|
|Chapter 9 The Promised Land of the Spiritual Journey||211|
|An Intermystical Bridge: The Guidelines for Interreligious Understanding|
| The Summit of the Spiritual Life|
| Mystic Visitations: Personal Experience of the Summit|
| Stations of the Mystical Summit|
| Dreams: Channels of the Sacred|
| Experimental Mysticism|
| Reaching the Further Shore of the Spiritual Journey|
| Becoming Cosmic in the Center|
|Chapter 10 Opening the Heart of the World: Toward a|
|A Universal Communal Spirituality|
| Beauty in the Intermystical Journey|
| Discovering the Mystic Heart Together|
| A Special Message to the Young|
| The Church As Matrix of Interfaith Encounter|
| A Universal Order of Sannyasa|
Posted January 6, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted August 7, 2011
No text was provided for this review.