In this article, Ed Bastian articulates his views and hopes for a new genre of interspiritual practice that honors the contemplative wisdom, process and experience at the heart of many traditions. It is excerpted from the introduction to the book “Meditations for InterSpiritual Practice.”
WITHIN EVERY RELIGION, there is small population of dedicated contemplatives whose inner lives go mostly unnoticed by the general public. They might be monks, nuns, hermits, teachers, or regular folks living seemingly unremarkable lives. Their interior practices take them beneath the surface of religious rituals, prayers, songs, mantras, incantations, and institutions. In their meditations, they relive the epiphanies of their founders and saints. Generation after generation, they safeguard and nurture the roots of profound spiritual practice. Without them, the heart of their tradition would simply stop beating.
For most of history, these individual contemplatives have not been exposed to the practices and principles of other traditions, and the general public has been oblivious to the treasures in their midst. This is mostly because specialized training is required for each contemplative practice, and because the wisdom keepers have been separated from each other by oceans, mountains, deserts, religious boundaries, and language. But now we live in an extraordinary time when lineage holders of the world’s contemplative traditions can begin to share the hidden wisdom that has been transmitted from teacher to student over hundreds and even thousands of years. Today’s population shifts and the Internet, along with new translations of esoteric texts, have enabled a sharing that was never possible before.
InterSpirituality begins in silence. As Father Thomas Keating often says, “Silence is the first language of the divine.” So when fellow contemplatives from many traditions come together, we are bathed and softened in the nectar of silence. Our individual spiritual identities are made permeable by the delicate mist of shared intention, experience, and gentle speech. In our dialogue and teachings, we learn deeply from each other the fruits of contemplative wisdom and practice from our differing traditions. Just as travelers to foreign lands return to see more clearly their own homelands, our InterSpiritual journeys into other traditions helps us to discern the refined nuances and gems of our own tradition as if for the first time. By traveling a while in other contemplative traditions, our own meditations become the vehicle for universal wisdom and kinship with people of all traditions. This is equally true for people without a tradition. For these practices awaken the divine potential dormant within their hearts and minds.
The result of this InterSpiritual process is that we never again see each other as ‘the other.’ The rigid boundaries of religious identity are dissolved as we clearly regard others as our self. There is a felt-sense of unity within our diversity, a unity that emerges from compassionate intention, shared experience, and a humility regarding our capacity for conceptual certainty of the ineffable. Our experience together is a celebration of the combined wisdom, creativity, and energy arising from our diversity.
This InterSpiritual experience is a foundation for global peace. It is the promised land wherein our human potential can be fulfilled; the safe harbor in which people of all religions can all find refuge; a universal covenant binding us to an integral, reciprocal, and essential relationship with all of existence; a shared aesthetic in which we can walk hand-in-hand for the common good.
These pages contain the contemplative offerings of mature meditators from many traditions. In them, you will find both similarities and distinctions. You might gain insights to enrich your own practice, or be inspired to engage in one more deeply than another. They have been carefully chosen and skillfully edited by Netanel Miles-Yepez who has been invaluable to the work of the Spiritual Paths Foundation over the past ten years. I am deeply grateful to Netanel and to our authors for their contributions to this volume and to the emergence of InterSpiritual Wisdom in our times.
This volume is a companion to my own book, InterSpiritual Meditation: A Seven Step Process from the World’s Spiritual Traditions, in which I have offered a simple contemplative liturgy which both experienced and aspiring meditators can practice on their own or together. In this process, each meditator engages in their own practice while at the same time contributing to a shared contemplative experience that is inclusive of the sum of its parts.
The Spiritual Paths Foundation is following in the footsteps of such InterSpiritual pathfinders as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Father Thomas Merton, Father Thomas Keating, and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Through our classes and programs, we bring together contemplative lineage holders from many traditions to share the wisdom, methods, and experiences of their respective paths. In so doing, we ask them to speak from their own understanding and experience, rather than for their traditions. This is because the world’s spiritual traditions are far too vast, deep, and diverse to be neatly summed-up in a single presentation or meditation.
Spiritual Paths classes, retreats, and online offerings are immeasurably enriched by the meditations and discussions among our teachers and students. This collection of contemplative practices is a marvelous example of our work together.
DR. EDWARD W. BASTIAN
Santa Barbara Harbor, California 2010