Paradigms of ecumenism as a spiritual practice: Father Thomas Keating and Swami Atmarupananda discuss the theory and practice of dialogue.
I first met Father Thomas Keating and Swami Atmarupananda in the summer of 2002 in Aspen, Colorado. At the time I was working on a short book on meditation in different religious traditions (2) and thus attending an interreligious conference on the same subject at which both men were teaching. (3) Immediately, I was struck by the profound erudition and deep commitment to spiritual practice exhibited by each man; these were living exemplars of Christianity and Hinduism, steeped in the wisdom and cultures of their respective religions, just as they were wrapped in the distinctive garb of their own monastic orders. However, as I began to talk with them further, I discovered something still more interesting to me personally: As committed as each was to his own religious tradition (and concomitant practices), both were equally committed to ecumenism and to dialogue as a kind of spiritual practice.
This fact led me to wonder--is dialogue an option, obligation, or practice on par with, say, reading the Vedas, lectio divina, telling a rosary, or saying japa over a mala? Moreover, is it legitimate to consider dialogue as such within a specific religious tradition such as Christianity or Hinduism? Though neither man speaks directly to this question in the interviews below, I would argue that it is.
Ecumenism exists on the margins of our religious traditions, like a bridge over a chasm connecting two continents. Because the bridge is open-ended, ecumenism in any one tradition will never be so distinctively Hindu as a puja or as Christian as a Mass; (4) nevertheless, on an arch over either side of this "bridge," Hindus and Christians will inscribe their own mantras--"Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names" (Rig Veda I, 164:46) and "In my Father's house are many rooms" (Jn. 14:2). This is to legitimize the activity from both sides, to say, "This endeavor is fully in accord with my tradition. 'In my Father's house are many rooms,' and I may visit them in order that I may truly know the fullness and splendor of 'my Father's house.'" Thus, it is clear that ecumenism is not so much to be identified with the "rooms" as with "doors" between these "rooms."
If ecumenism is not an activity with any characteristics distinct to one religion or another, what then is its value to a particular religious tradition? On a basic level, ecumenism can be seen as a salutary attempt at getting to know one another better, to achieve a measure of understanding and tolerance; it is a means by which one may come to view one's own tradition and spiritual practices from another perspective, to discern the similarities and differences by dialogue and close observation. However, on a deeper level (what Fr. Matthew Fox calls "deep ecumenism"), (5) it is actually an opportunity to learn about oneself while in full engagement with another, opening oneself to change--for in any true listening, there is always the possibility of being changed by the encounter. One might even choose to participate in the practices of another religious tradition, to engage in experiential learning or "participatory epistemology," as Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, (6) one of ecumenism's pioneers, likes to say. Such "knowledge," he suggests, can open one up to an understanding of the deep structures, (7) the basic technology beneath the Christian or Hindu exterior, discerning (as both Fr. Keating and Swami Atmarupananda will point out) what is "essential" from what may be considered "accidental" (in the philosophical sense) in our own religious traditions. In many ways, this is what Max Muller (1823-1900) had in mind when he paraphrased Goethe, saying, "He who knows only one religion, knows none." (8)
From this perspective, ecumenism and dialogue might be seen as a kind of "diagnostic" to be run on our spiritual lives as well as our religious traditions--to see how well each is functioning--and to be used as a tool for refining our own understanding of scripture and spiritual experience. In this way, ecumenism might also be seen as a valid spiritual practice for every religious tradition in existence today.
The Snowmass Interreligious Conference and the Obstacles of Ecumenism
In the years that followed my first meeting with Fr. Keating and Swami Atmarupananda, I found that, as I was getting to know them better, they were already well acquainted with one another. Swami Atmarupananda, it turned out, was a Hindu representative to the Snowmass Interreligious Conference, (9) a well-known dialogue group convened by Keating in 1984. The Snowmass Conference (as it is generally known) is likely one of the world's longest continuously running ecumenical dialogue groups of its kind, if, indeed, there is another of its kind.
First begun over twenty years ago as a private retreat for invited representatives of different religions, the conference has continued with only minor interruptions until this day. Recently, however, the Snowmass Conference has begun to rethink its mission. As the members have reached a certain maturity in their own dialogue with one another, they have begun to think that it might be time to take on the role of "spiritual elders," reaching out to those who would like to begin similar groups, to offer the benefit of their experience on a mentoring and apprenticeship basis. In 2004, this general reorientation moved them to approach me to help them collect their experiential wisdom about the process of dialogue into a book. The result was The Common Heart: An Experience of Interreligious Dialogue. (10)
The interviews with Fr. Keating and Swami Atmarupananda that follow were simply two among many fascinating interviews conducted in preparation for the writing of The Common Heart; nevertheless, these two always stood out to me as exceptional for their clarity, contemplative depth, and penetrating insight. In presenting these two interviews together, I wish to highlight three aspects of each that I feel are made stronger in juxtaposition. The first, as I have already pointed out, is a common understanding of ecumenical dialogue as a spiritual practice. The second stems from the interviewees' varied experience of and deep insight into actual dialogical situations. The third aspect follows up on the first: Even if ecumenism is acknowledged as a valid activity within a tradition, the manner in which it is acknowledged is also important to dialogue-anything from mere tolerance of other traditions to a deep and abiding recognition of their essential unity with one another. Thus, part of my interviews with Fr. Keating and Swami Atmarupananda follow this line of thought; however close they may be on the issue of ecumenism itself today, they clearly had very different starting points.
It is obvious that Keating, a Roman Catholic Christian monastic and a former abbot, has very different commitments than does Swami Atmarupananda. Nevertheless, it is necessary to understand the different paradigms in which each man began his own ecumenical engagement. For Keating--though beginning this activity in the new freedom afforded by Vatican II (11)--there were still political and doctrinal issues to contend with as well as difficulties in his own community around this work. So, to my mind, he was something of a trailblazer, having to find a path where none existed previously.
For Swami Atmarupananda, the situation was quite different. Whereas he also had to work within the formal structure of the Ramakrishna Order, it is not quite an organization in the same sense as the Roman Catholic Church, nor has it ever had to "accommodate" ecumenism as the church has. Inspired by Sri Ramakrishna (1836-86), a Bengali Hindu mystic, the Ramakrishna Order made Ramakrishna's insight that "all religions are true" and "all religions are paths to the One Reality" a central tenet of the order. Because of this, Swami Atmarupananda was able to make quite a different start on the ecumenical path. Nevertheless, as we will see, this freedom brought with it other obstacles, perhaps more subtle but equally difficult to navigate. So, whereas both men share substantially the same view of ecumenism today, we may learn different things from their respective journeys; from one, we may learn something of the history of dialogue in the West, and from the other (a Westerner who went to the East), we may learn about the issues practitioners of all religions will face in the future as ecumenism achieves greater and greater legitimacy and acceptance.
Trailblazing Ecumenism." An Interview with Father Thomas Keating (12)
Ft. Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O. (b. 1923), is a Cistercian monk and former abbot (1961-81) of St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. He is the founder of Contemplative Outreach and the Snowmass Interreligious Conference, a former president of the Temple of Understanding, and a former chairperson of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue. The author of numerous books and articles on Christian contemplative practice, including Open Mind, Open Heart (13) and Manifesting God, (14) Keating is one of the world's most widely recognized and revered teachers of the contemplative and mystical dimensions of Christian spirituality. He travels extensively throughout the world to contemplative outreach organizations, colleges, and interreligious dialogues, and he currently resides at St. Benedict's Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado.
Netanel Miles-Yepez: How did a good Roman Catholic and Cistercian monk like yourself come to be involved in interreligious dialogue? There can't have been much of this happening when you made your first ecumenical forays into that territory.
Thomas Keating: Well, it's true, when I started there weren't many Roman Catholics involved in interreligious dialogue. Thomas Merton (15) [a fellow Cistercian] was really pushing the boundaries writing about Zen in those early years before his death in 1968. (16) He was definitely a pioneer in this area, and I had been privileged to see some of his unpublished conferences from that time.
Nevertheless, it was the documents of the Second Vatican Council that eventually opened up this possibility for me in a real way. At that time, most of the Christian traditions wouldn't touch the Eastern religions with a ten-foot pole! So there wasn't much incentive to study that material. It was looked upon with a certain hesitation, because it was thought that it might injure the Christian faith. Everybody had a different perspective, but often those perspectives were caricatured and misrepresented by ignorance and anxiety about the purity of doctrine.
Then the Second Vatican Council made a 180-degree turn in its attitude, and one particular document of the council spoke specifically about ecumenism with both Christian denominations and non-Christian religions. Those documents were liberating in that they gave people the freedom to pursue this possibility openly. I certainly experienced freedom, and I might never have done so otherwise.
NM-Y: Why not?
TK: You see, I felt a great loyalty to the Christian scheme of things and never wanted to dilute the faith in any way for those whom I [as an abbot] was trying to encourage in the contemplative lifestyle, in pursuing the spiritual implications of the creed and the major doctrines of the Christian religion. So it was really an enormous change and step forward, and very few people were prepared for it.
NM-Y: What was the official vehicle of that dialogue within the church?
TK: After the Second Vatican Council, a group called the North American Board of East-West Dialogue was formed. The initiative for this group came from one of the congregations at the Vatican, the Congregation for Interreligious Dialogue. Thinking that Benedictine monks and nuns were the logical people to engage in a dialogue with the monks of other traditions--given that both were interested in contemplative spirituality and a lifestyle that supported it--Cardinal Pignedoli (17) approached the abbot general of the Benedictine Order about this possibility. And because we Cistercians were of the same family, so to speak, we were also invited to take part in this East-West dialogue. (18)
That first meeting was held at Petersham, Massachusetts, in 1979, and a board of trustees was put together. It took a while for the group to be well accepted in the larger Benedictine community, but we had, even at that first meeting, quite a spectrum of people who showed interest in it, including some Cistercian abbots. Other participants were Robert Mueller of the United Nations, Juliet Hollister, Swami Satchidananda, Fr. Basil Pennington, Bro. David Steindl-Rast, and Raimundo Panikkar. (19)
NM-Y: Were you familiar with the work of Fr. Panikkar at that time? [Panikkar is a Spanish-Indian Catholic priest who fuses Hindu spirituality and Catholic Christianity in his practice.]
TK: I had read some of his books, and I have met him several times over the years. He gave a second conference on monasticism sponsored by the North American Board of East-West Dialogue, perhaps at Mt. Holyoke, from which came his book, Blessed Simplicity. (20) Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend because I was in a prolonged sabbatical retreat on the mountainside at Snowmass for about five months. I would liked to have been present there, but I didn't want to break up the retreat.
NM-Y: Was the meeting at Petersham when you first became involved in this kind of dialogue?
TK: No, I started getting interested in interreligious dialogue in the late sixties. I was abbot of St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, from 1961 to 1981, and a little before 1970 we began to invite speakers from other religious traditions to the monastery.
At the time, a number of Eastern religious teachers were coming to the West. Just a half hour up the road from the monastery was an insight meditation center that drew a number of outstanding vipassana [Pali, "insight"] teachers from the Buddhist Theravada tradition, and they often came down and visited us. One of these was Ajahn Chah. (21) I was very impressed with him, and we had a great time together; he had the same kinds of problems in his monastery as I was having in mine, and we had great fun comparing notes. He was like an old shoe. He reminded me a lot of Pope John XXIII, whom I had met briefly and whom I also admired greatly. (22) He was really laid-back. He had a very strict monastery and I don't know what he was like there, but he was friendliness itself when he visited us. That was one introduction.
Another was Joshu Sasaki Roshi of Mount Baldy in Los Angeles. (23) Just before we met, he was actually about to head for Europe to look for Trappist [Cistercian] monasteries there since he had heard ours were most similar to the Zen Buddhist monasteries of Japan. When he heard about St. Joseph's Abbey, he decided that he didn't have to go quite so far. He came and offered to give us a sesshin [a special period of intense meditation], and we accepted. After that, he came to the monastery about twice a year for about ten years offering sesshin. Fortunately, I was able to get to most of them and hear his teachings first hand. I was very impressed with him as well.
NM-Y: What was it about Sasaki Roshi that so impressed you?
TK: Sasaki Roshi's broad-mindedness was an inspiration to me because he was looking to teach Christians Zen. For him, Zen was not the property of Japan or even Buddhism but a kind of universal religious attitude. I admired that perspective and have adopted it in my own life. I found the little exposure I had to Zen extremely helpful and Sasaki Roshi's taishos [dharma talks] very mind-expanding. He was of the Rinzai School and made a special effort to find Christian kinds of koans for us.
One of the monks at St. Joseph's Abbey, a Jesuit priest, Bro. [Robert E.] Kennedy, received the dharma lineage of Bernie Glassman Roshi, the dharma heir of Maezumi Roshi, in a wonderful ceremony at the monastery. (24) The dharma was formally imparted to him and now he is a Cistercian monk who is entitled to teach Zen.
NM-Y: I like to call this "dual-citizenship."
TK: Well, I guess you could call it that!
NM-Y: The dialogue has obviously come a long way in the intervening years; were all the monks as inclined toward dialogue as you were in the early days?
TK: No, this was brand-new territory and not looked upon with great confidence by some members of the community that I was leading. In other words, you had to move with a certain discretion in these areas. When Sasaki Roshi put on the Cistercian habit and joined us in the refectory, it was a little shocking to some people, and they clearly wondered where the monastery was heading!
NM-Y: Were there any visits from representatives of traditions other than Buddhism? What about Hindus?
TK: Well, we had much less exposure to the Hindu folks. But we were pleased to host Swami Satchidananda and several teachers from the Transcendental Meditation Movement.
In those days, most of my exposure to Hinduism was coming through my reading, and even that was fairly limited because of my duties as abbot. I had read some of the books that were popular at the time, like Christopher Isherwood's Vedanta for the Western World, (25) and we were very interested in the Hindu-Christian dialogue going on in India with Bede Griffiths, who visited us a couple of times. (26) We also read the books of Swami Abhishiktananda [Henri Le Saux, O.S.B.; 1910-73] with great interest. These Christians who were trying to live a monastic life in a Hindu culture made a strong impression on us.
NM-Y: A moment ago, you suggested that these "visits" were the cause of some tension in the monastery; did this limit the amount of dialogue you were able to do?
TK: When I was abbot, as much as I felt we benefited from these encounters, not all of the monks were interested. And with all the work that office involved, I couldn't really attend interreligious dialogues as much as, say, Bro. David Steindl-Rast, who was one of the pioneers in the New York area, especially in his dialogues with Eido Roshi. (27) I really didn't have time to devote to interreligious dialogues until I resigned as abbot of St. Joseph's in 1981. But then came the Centering Prayer work, and though I didn't intend to, I started spending a lot of time responding to those requests.
NM-Y: Did Centering Prayer get started in 1981?
TK: Actually, the Centering Prayer work began around 1976 at St. Joseph's Abbey after a year's trial of a method by Fr. William Meninger, basing himself on indications from the Cloud of Unknowing [a fourteenth-century work written in English by an anonymous monk], but I wasn't expecting to continue with that work after I resigned as abbot in 1981. I was hoping to focus on dialogue. Nevertheless, I became more and more involved with the Centering Prayer Movement over time, and this eventually grew into Contemplative Outreach at the end of 1984. There has been something of a tension for me in trying to serve both categories, both ecumenism and Contemplative Outreach.
NM-Y: Really? When I have observed you in interreligious dialogue or teaching Centering Prayer, you seem to move seamlessly from one category to the other, almost as if there was an intrinsic relationship between the two.
TK: Yes, there was a lot of interaction between the two, and it has grown over the years. It was all evolving at that time. You see, a great many Christians had joined one or another of the Eastern disciplines over the years because they couldn't find any spirituality in the Christian milieu, whether in churches, parishes, or schools; in fact, many have said to me that had they known there was a Christian contemplative practice, they wouldn't have gone to the East. Still, I think they have benefited by it, and although many have remained there, others have returned to the religion of their childhood because they really felt more at home there. And, with a practice [Centering Prayer] that was comparable to what they had learned in Buddhism or Sikhism, they were able to continue their journey in continuity with the religion of their youth.
But, that was not our reason for doing this work. The point was really just to renew the Christian contemplative tradition and to make it an option in the marketplace for those who would never have the opportunity or go through the difficulty of learning the comprehensive and integrated wisdom of those teachings.
NM-Y: Why did you feel this was a need?
TK: During my early encounters with teachers of other traditions at St. Joseph's Abbey, I met a lot of Buddhist and Hindu teachers and their students, and it was evident to me that they were benefiting from their respective practices. For example, there was a psychospiritual wisdom presented in the form of "methods" articulated in Buddhist meditative disciplines that wasn't articulated in quite the same detailed and practical way in the Christian scheme of things. Certainly these existed in the Christian tradition, but they were fairly diffuse and not quite so focused-in on a practical daily method with comparable psychological insights. It was as if these teachers and their students had arrived at the monastery saying, "Well, here's our method, what's yours?" There was no answer; we really didn't have a method as clearly articulated as theirs.
For us, the monastic lifestyle was a structure, an environment conducive to spirituality, but it wasn't a method in the same sense. It certainly had many practical rules and disciplines, many of which are duplicated in almost all monastic traditions, but they didn't quite apply to the individual in the same way many of the Buddhist practices did. For instance, take mantra recitation from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions; this was present in the Christian tradition but was not as well worked-out or directly applied to the individual--based on the individual's needs, temperament, and personality--as seemed to be the case in Eastern spiritual traditions.
NM-Y: It seems to me, looking back over your career and your writings, that you have spent a great deal of time and energy not only articulating a clear "method" but also in making the psychological and contemplative sophistication of Christianity explicit.
TK: That's true. It was there, but it was distributed over a great number of books. In this work, I benefited a great deal from contemporary science and psychology, especially from developmental psychology, which I feel is an essential kind of truth that all of the world's traditions need to take into account. Likewise, I believe that the teaching about the Unconscious from [Sigmund] Freud on has had tremendous consequences for the spiritual journey.
NM-Y: Do you see this development in your work as an outgrowth of those early dialogues with Buddhists?
TK: Yes and no. Keep in mind, I was teaching the contemplative dimension of the gospel from the time I became novice master in 1954, and some of my books, like Crisis of Faith, Crisis of Love, (28) are conferences that I gave to novices in the early 1950's, which I later modified and presented to the community when I became abbot in 1961.
NM-Y: I feel there is a subtle move that happened historically that will probably be overlooked in the history of interreligious dialogue because the bridge is so short. When Zen and Tibetan Buddhism arrived on the American scene, it was the meditation that was drawing people initially. It seems to me that there was also a ferment and parallel interest in reviving the contemplative aspects of the Abrahamic traditions in the mid-to-late 1950's; it was happening at the same time with you, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, and Fr. Thomas Merton. This interest and activity very narrowly preceded the interest in interreligious dialogue; perhaps there is a relationship between the two, an attempt to talk about the "tools of the trade"? Is it possible that the growth that was happening in that sphere fueled and followed into what became a dialogical movement?
TK: Yes, there is no doubt that there was a movement of the Holy Spirit to revive those things at the same time, and that was partially due to the accessibility and interpenetration of different cultures.
One of Sasaki Roshi's students, Leonard Cohen, was the first person to tell me about the Hasidic mystical tradition of Judaism that was present in Poland, which was virtually destroyed in the Holocaust. (29) He told me that he would have been a part of that tradition if it was still accessible, but instead he hooked up with Sasaki Roshi. Later I met Rabbi Dovid Din, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, and his student, Rabbi Miles Krassen, all of whom were continuing this mystical tradition and making its contemplative depths available to people.
NM-Y: After you resigned as abbot in 1981, what direction did you take?
TK: Jacob Needleman had visited St. Joseph's at one time (I think the first chapter in his book, Lost Christianity, describes his visit there) and later invited me to give a talk in San Francisco to his group. (30) While I was there, I also gave a talk to a Gurdjieff group, and that summer I went to the Naropa Institute to take part in the Christian-Buddhist dialogue initiated by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. (31)
Later, in the fall, I went to [the] Omega [Institute] in Rhinebeck, New York, where there was an interreligious group that included a number of outstanding people: Rabbi Dovid Din, a fabulous interpreter of the Hebrew Bible with whom I became close friends, and the Korean Zen master Soen Sa Nim, who started a big place in Providence, Rhode Island. He was delightful. He invited me to make a tour of South Korea with him, but I wasn't free to do that at the time.
NM-Y: You founded the Snowmass Interreligious Conference around that time, didn't you ?
TK: I always saw myself as more of a "convener" than a "founder." It was really just a big experiment in the beginning, and I didn't know how it would all work out.
I began planning it in 1983 after taking part in a series of Christian-Buddhist dialogues at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. (32) During these "dialogues," I noticed that we, the dialoguers, weren't speaking to each other as much as we were addressing the audience. But, on the two occasions when the conveners succeeded in bringing us together a day before the conference, we got on very well and actually got to talk to one another as peers, albeit all too briefly. I asked myself what would happen if the whole point were just to get together and talk, without an audience. What if it were broader than just a Buddhist-Christian dialogue? So that was the initial motive for getting that first group of teachers together at St. Benedict's Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, where this began, and where it got its name, the "Snowmass Conference" (though we didn't always meet there).
NM-Y: Was the primary purpose to take the dialogue out of the public arena because you had noticed that the audience was influencing and impeding the intimacy of the dialogue?
TK: It seemed to me that it was dominating the dialogue. The rich interchanges glimpsed in those brief periods we spent together before the conferences began were all but nonexistent when we came before an audience. I thought, let's just come together to talk about what helps us most in our spiritual practice. This, it seemed, would be far more fruitful, and hopefully we would come to a better understanding of the terms we were using to communicate. You know, you can use the same term, but if you are interpreting it in your own way, from your own cultural background, and the person you are dialoguing with is presupposing his or her own interpretation, then there is a lot of confusion.
NM-Y: How does a person's spiritual quality affect the dynamic of dialogue? After all, this must be a consideration in maintaining such a group.
TK: Well, I am certainly not qualified to judge anybody, but it is usually obvious that some people have been more exposed to the levels of spirituality that are considered more advanced in all the traditions, and it can affect the quality of the dialogue. But, it is important to reserve judgment, remembering that everybody's contribution is nothing more than that, a contribution. We cannot discount that growth may also occur as a result of the dialogue itself.
NM-Y: Looking back, can you discern any development in yourself from the time when you began to dialogue and any assumptions that may have changed over time?
TK: Oh, sure! I certainly have a greater respect [for] and understanding of the other world religions, a greater openness [toward] and admiration for their methods and teachings, a greater sense of communion with the people who are practicing, and a sense of the oneness of human nature. It has greatly expanded my own worldview and understanding of the Christian religion and, if anything, has deepened and enriched it. I find a lot of insight in dialogue that helps me to better understand the Christian scriptures or to explain them from a more contemplative perspective. In every way, I feel that it is enriching and valuable.
NM-Y: What effort was necessary to bring that about?
TK: In the beginning, given the narrowness of my perspective, it required a strict discipline of trying to bracket my own ideas and to be open to seeing them from a different perspective. True dialogue is an ascetical discipline; it really is quite searching at times and challenging to one's own presuppositions. Sometimes you are left trying to figure out how it all fits together: How can I explain this from a Christian perspective? How do I recognize and uphold the truth of this non-Christian presentation in the Christian worldview? Sometimes the two seem opposed, and it requires some soul-searching reflection and a willingness to change.
Ultimately, I find it liberates one from aspects of one's tradition that are cultural and not of the essence of the teaching. Usually, these have become so intermingled with the essence over the centuries that you cannot discern the difference without being challenged to look at the whole thing from an objective perspective--and that isn't so easy to do. It requires time, energy, and courage, but I have felt impelled to do that in my dialoguing, especially as part of the Snowmass Conference.
NM-Y: So, real dialogue requires a certain spiritual askesis [Greek, "training" or "asceticism"]?
TK: That's right. Often the question is: How in the world am I going to harmonize this with what I have always taught and believed? The answer is: You have to go slowly and be willing to unwrap your prepackaged values. It's a demanding discipline.
Those who don't have a good grasp of their own traditions should go into dialogue advisedly. Often, when these people get into the deeper aspects of dialogue, they don't quite know how to handle it. You need to have a point of departure for discussion and evaluation and some sense of what is nonessential in your own belief system.
It is a process of unfolding over a long period of time, an openness to the subtle changes that take place in oneself, an open vulnerability to the wisdom of other teachings. Now I find this very enriching and enjoy it. Hearing the explanations today, they no longer seem contradictory to anything in the Christian mystical tradition. It wasn't always that way, so that is some sort of progress, though perhaps others will think it a regression.
NM-Y: What was the basis for dialogue in the Snowmass Conference?
TK: Well, if our proximate goal was friendship, the ultimate goal was really to understand the religions of the world from the inside, from the perspective of someone who had practiced and benefited from them. For several years--maybe the first four years of the Snowmass Conference--we tried to see if we could come up with any agreements on the spiritual level.
We came up with a set of principles that we agreed on, and it was really quite surprising. It wasn't as though there was absolute agreement, but we felt comfortable enough to say "yes" to them, though we might have preferred to express them a little differently here and there. Nevertheless, it does represent a commonality that is very significant and very striking. We called these our "Points of Agreement." I have been asked to publish these in several places. They were even in the "Report" of the World Parliament of Religions that happened in Chicago after the 100-year hiatus. (33)
After that, we moved on to sharing common elements in the way of practice, like fasting, spiritual reading, guidance, chanting, trying to lead daily life from a meditative motive, from the contemplative space--all of those things that are common. All the religions have practices like these, though some emphasize one more than another.
NM-Y: Did you do any work on the "Points of Agreement" in preparation for the first Snowmass Conference in 1984 or did they come solely from the dialogue?
TK: I think there might have been a draft of a few points that we used as a point of departure. Some we threw out right away, and others we continued to work on. We revised it again the next year and for about four years total, then we started discussing our differences. That was very interesting too, but we didn't feel it was necessary to make a list of them!
NM-Y: Speaking of differences, have you found any way of working with a fundamentalist position in dialogue?
TK: [chuckles] Not so far. They are not very willing to speak to me; they think I am a disaster. They have a very literal interpretation of scripture which can be very frustrating and painful because it doesn't do justice to the text or its transformative potential. There is a meaning behind the text and a mystery to which it can only point.
NM-Y: What do you feel is the primary purpose and contribution of dialogue today?
TK: There is a mutual enrichment and sharing in deep dialogue that gradually dissolves suspicion and allows the religions to work together in the world. On the other hand, I also think that basic understanding, friendship, and respect are contributions we can make to the invisible spiritual world of humanity through our dialogue, and I believe that right disposition affects everybody, whether they can see it or not.
Universalism and Ecumenism: An Interview with Swami Atmarupananda (34)
Swami Atmarupananda (pronounced "ott-mah-roopa-nahnduh") was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1950 and grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina. In 1969, he joined the Ramakrishna Order at its Chicago center and then spent five years in training at the Vivekananda Monastery in Ganges, Michigan. During this period, he made a trip to India and received spiritual initiation from Revered Swami Vireswarananda, president of the order. In 1975, he returned to India to further his studies and entered the monastic training college of the Ramakrishna Order at its headquarters outside Calcutta. From 1977 through 1981 he spent five years at the Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, a remote ashrama in the Himalayas, working as the assistant editor for the English monthly Prabuddha Bharata (Awakened India) while continuing his monastic training. In 1979, he took sannyasa from his guru, receiving his present name. Returning to the U.S. in 1982, he settled at the Ramakrishna Monastery in Trabuco Canyon, California. In 1984 he was posted to the San Diego branch of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, becoming its resident minister in 1987. There he was a founding member of the Interreligious Council of San Diego and served as its secretary and later president. In September 1997, the swami moved to Stone Ridge, New York, to found the Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely, where he served as the resident minister until 2005. Today, he is once again living at the Ramakrishna Monastery in Trabuco Canyon. He is a member of the Snowmass Interreligious Conference, a frequent speaker for the Spiritual Paths Foundation, and an active teacher throughout the U.S. and Mexico.
Netanel Miles-Yepez: Swamiji, in the Ramakrishna Order, there is an open door to interreligious dialogue through Ramakrishna Paramahamsa because of his own personal engagement with other spiritual traditions; would you tell us something about his dialogue and how it affects members of the order to have his example.
Swami Atmarupananda: Most people involved in religion come into a particular tradition and follow that path through a lifetime. For most of us it takes a lifetime of dedication to make any significant progress on the path, while others may go the length of the path and come to a state of illumination, staying in that light until the body finishes its participation in this life. Now, illumination is conceived of differently in different traditions, but there is usually a relatively straight trajectory through a path to its culmination point. This is how Ramakrishna started out.
He was born into the Brahmin caste in India and followed a particular path within Hinduism throughout his youth, but, after having a life-altering vision of the Divine Mother, he attained illumination and became curious as to how illumination happened in other paths. So, he began to follow different trajectories within Hinduism, in each case attaining to illumination. He did this over and over in Hinduism and then turned to paths in other religions.
It should be stressed that Ramakrishna wasn't a synthesizer--using bits of different traditions and putting them together. His way was to follow a particular path in its detailed integrity until he came to the illumination of that path. For instance, when he followed Islam, he took a Sufi pir [elder or master] as a teacher and lived as a Muslim, performing salat [prayer] five times a day, until he attained to illumination. Though he never had a Christian teacher, he read the Christian scriptures daily with a devotee of his until he had an experience of Jesus and, through Jesus, an experience of God in the personal and impersonal aspects--what would be called the "Godhead" in the Christian tradition. So, in his own life, he tested different traditions and came to the conclusion that all spiritual paths lead to the experience of God, or Reality. No matter what their differences are, they are experiencing the same Reality in different aspects or expressions.
This is a conclusion wholly consistent with the Hindu tradition, but as far as we know it had never been proved before in direct experience the way Ramakrishna proved it. So, this teaching is at the core of the Ramakrishna, or vedanta, tradition--the belief that all spiritual paths lead to Reality, personal or impersonal. This affects the tradition and its adherents, opening one first to the value of other traditions and then to the value of dialogue itself.
NM-Y: In my reading of Ramakrishna, there is an essential humility about him that allows him to be so open.
SA: One of the charming aspects of Ramakrishna's life was that he was not one who practiced and attained illumination in isolation, that is, in an aloof, blissful state of forgetfulness of the world. He always came back to the world--albeit a world transformed in his awareness--which he considered sacred, then he sought out people known for their deep spirituality. In the very hierarchical situation of India, it was unusual for a highly "realized" person to seek others out; it was understood that others should seek him out. But, in Ramakrishna's case, he searched for men and women who had attained spiritual heights and shared their company, both learning from them and also teaching them. This was part of his humility and realization.
It wasn't just spiritually illumined people either; he also sought out people who were "great" in other fields of human activity. He felt that wherever there is an element of "greatness," in any field, there is an element of the Divine Mother's power, and he wanted to show respect to that power.
Nevertheless, this example doesn't mean that every devotee of Ramakrishna or monk of the order is actively involved in ecumenism or interreligious dialogue. It does mean that it is an integral, respected part of the tradition that everyone is aware of, and thus [it is] open to anyone who wants to participate in it.
NM-Y: Was this ecumenical feature important in your own introduction to the order?
SA: For me, it was critical; it was what attracted me to the order.
I was brought up in a Protestant Christian home, going to church every Sunday. I was involved in all manner of church activities, including the choir and youth group. But, one day when I was sixteen, I was standing outside of church waiting for the service to begin after Sunday school, and suddenly a whole flood of ideas came to me. I had never had any serious religious doubts before and had never thought in such a disciplined way as I did then; it wasn't intentional--these thoughts just washed over me:
We Christians know that Christianity is the only true religion, and we Protestants know that Protestantism is the only true form of Christianity, and my particular denomination, while believing most of the Protestants are good, certainly knows it is the best of the Protestants. So how was it that out of the billions of people in the world I was one of the lucky few born into the best denomination of the only true half of the only true religion? If the world was created by God, as we were taught, and God was benevolent, why did He appoint me to be so fortunate? Now, my Catholic friends also believe that Christianity is the only true religion, but regard Catholicism as the only true half of that tradition. So if I had been born in Saudi Arabia, perhaps I would have grown up thinking that Islam was the only true religion, and my sect of Islam the best form of that religion. And if China (these are the very places and traditions I thought of then) in a Buddhist family, I would think that Buddhism is the only true religion and my sect of Buddhism the best form of Buddhism. So it seems to depend on where you are born what you think is true religiously. They teach different things, so they can't all be true; they contradict each other in their exclusive claims, and so it is most likely that none of them are true.
There on the spot I became an agnostic.
Shortly after that, I went to Sweden as an exchange student, which was fertile ground for an agnostic, as less than ten percent of Swedes at that time believed in God. I fed my agnosticism most of the year I was there until I came across an English book in a Swedish bookstore. It was called Vedanta for the Western World, (35) and on the back cover it said, "Vedanta respects all religious traditions. It believes that all religions are true, and that sectarianism (the claim to be exclusively true) is harmful. Religions are different because of the different cultures in which they arose, speaking different languages and having different rituals for different types of people, but all lead to the experience of spiritual Reality."
Here was a tradition that had looked at the same evidence I had, and, where I came to a negative conclusion, they had come to a positive conclusion! They are all true, it is just the exclusivist claim that is untrue; the language and forms that were the expression of it were different but not the essence. I felt drawn to this positive conclusion, so I bought the book, took it home to the place I was living, and everything that I read in it seemed to ring true with something inside of me.
NM-Y: If I remember right, that is quite an ecumenical book. There is even a chapter on Brother Lawrence from the Christian tradition by Gerald Heard or Aldous Huxley. (36)
SA: Actually, that was the other thing that sold me on the book; it had a number of essays by Aldous Huxley, whom I had already read and admired greatly. I thought that if he liked this tradition, then I am pretty sure I would too.
NM-Y: After you joined the Ramakrishna Order, did you continue to pursue your ecumenical interests, or did you find yourself needing to become more grounded in that tradition?
SA: When I first joined the order, though I loved the vedanta philosophy, I had been studying Chinese Buddhism for a while, and, for the first several years I was in the order, I felt culturally more akin to things Chinese. I had even studied Chinese and kept my Chinese texts with me in the monastery. Everything Chinese I loved, and this became a real conflict for me for several years. As if that weren't enough, I also developed a great love for Catholic and Eastern Orthodox mysticism and monasticism. All these traditions were pulling at me and I didn't know precisely where I belonged. "Vedanta is wonderful," I thought, "but, what if ...?"
After five years in the order, I went to India to stay for seven years. The first two years in India I spent in our training college at our headquarters. I studied Sanskrit and the scriptures and enjoyed it immensely, but still I kept my Chinese-language books, which I had not been able to pursue for some time. I still had the idea that I would do so. When I did papers in the training college, if they were to be on religious thinkers other than persons in my lineage, instead of picking thinkers in the Hindu tradition I would do Nagarjuna, the great Indian Buddhist philosopher, and Wang-Fo, the Chinese Zen teacher. That interest was still very active and was the source of a mild conflict.
When I finished the training college, I was going by taxi to Calcutta, and suddenly there was a very clear moment when I realized that some of my deep psychological structures had shifted. It had been years in the making, but I suddenly saw it: My identity was now completely rooted in vedanta; my spiritual identity had solidified in this tradition. It was a striking experience, and I can still remember it quite clearly. After that, I gave away my Chinese books; I no longer needed to keep that secret option open.
I continued to love and respect Buddhism and Christianity, but now it was from the standpoint of vedanta; I no longer felt a conflict as to where I actually belonged. Later, as an assistant editor for Prabuddha Bharata, "Awakened India," a vedanta journal in English, I wrote a series of articles on Christian saints and the bodhisattva ideal of Buddhism from the standpoint of a vedantist. So that was an important shift in my internal life.
NM-Y: Would you say that being rooted in the tradition, and knowing it, heightened and clarified your approach to ecumenism?
SA: Very much so. One of the riches we have today (that was never possible before) is access to all of the world's spiritual traditions. In any metropolitan area are teachers of almost every tradition you can think of, and even in small towns there are bookstores and libraries with books on these traditions. The downside is that, with so many choices, often one cannot settle on the one tradition most appropriate to one, choosing instead to remain an eternal seeker, never finding a tradition and deepening within it. It is possible to incorporate into one's spiritual life ideas from various traditions, but in my experience, this can only be done helpfully and healthily if we are rooted in a particular tradition and practice, taking wisdom from the borders and incorporating them into our center. But, if we don't have a center--just little bits from here and there--we're not really going anywhere with anything, so we have to have depth and a place to access profundity. That is our tradition and practice within that tradition.
After my experience of becoming rooted in vedanta, I could understand the depths of other traditions, because I understood the depths of my own. I could then assimilate wisdom from elsewhere into my own practice. Before becoming rooted, there was internal conflict (and competition); it was like trying to go east, west, north, and south all at the same time and always feeling a little disoriented. Afterward, I knew I was going north but could turn and take in the beauty of east, west, and south and then continue on my journey north. In the end (and here is where the directional analogy fails), all of these paths end in the same place, but you have to walk one to get to that "place" of depth.
NM-Y: How did you become involved in actual dialogue?
SA: After I came back to the United States, five years after this experience in the taxi, I went to California and was there for fifteen years. Over time, various invitations came for me to speak to church groups and college classes about vedanta and to compare it to other traditions. Eventually, I helped to found the Interreligious Council of San Diego. It was an active council and did important work, facing social problems with a united front, but it was not inwardly satisfying for me, because its purpose was not to share on an intimate spiritual level. It was important work; it just didn't have the dialogical dimension I longed for.
Nevertheless, it led to other opportunities. Because of my involvement in that group, I was invited to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to have a Hindu-Christian dialogue on the topic, "'When Religion Is Not Enough: Discovering Your Own Spirituality." Then, in the early 1990's, I was asked to become a member of the Snowmass Conference, a well-known ecumenical dialogue group started by Fr. Thomas Keating in 1984. I had long been familiar with this group and was thrilled when I was asked to join. At that time Gayatri Devi (37) and her successor, Sudha Ma, were no longer able to come to meetings, so I was asked to represent the Hindu tradition in the group. Actually, the first year I was asked to attend as a guest and afterward was asked to join as the Hindu representative.
More recently, I have been involved in the interspiritual seminars of the Spiritual Paths Foundation, held around the country, which seems a little like an extension of the Snowmass Conference, as its founder, Ed Bastian, is a member of the conference, as were a number of the speakers.
NM-Y: Part of the uniqueness of Fr. Keating's Snowmass Conference was his decision to take the dialogue out of the public arena and bring it into an intimate setting, where everyone could speak openly; how did it feel finally to engage in a dialogue where it didn't matter who was listening? Did it change the dynamic for you?
SA: It changed the dynamic in a very positive way. This was a dialogue where we didn't have to think about our "public face" but only about what was in our hearts; we could share openly with people who weren't going to go out and say things out of context and make difficult situations for any of us. This was one of the most attractive features of the Snowmass Conference.
NM-Y: Even when one doesn't have to maintain appearances, we still have our commitments, our "rooted-ness" in a tradition, so what remains of the "public face" that is important in the dialogue or that may hinder it?
SA: Obviously, there would not be much use in having a Hindu or a Muslim in a dialogue group who couldn't really represent their tradition, that is to say, one who didn't have the essential knowledge of the tradition and rootedness in it-losing the "public face" doesn't mean becoming an amorphous spiritual entity with no perspective and depth. The absence of the need to protect a "public face" simply allows us to speak from the standpoint of our tradition but more personally than a flat theological stand would allow.
I have had positive and negative experiences with the "public face" in dialogue. Some people have a much harder time than others relaxing into the dialogue situation, and some are not able to overcome it. In that instance, the person is bound up in an organizational, dogmatic identity that will not allow them to speak openly.
NM-Y: I remember Raimundo Panikkar [a Catholic priest with deep connections to the Hindu tradition] saying, "I can say whatever I like, as long as I make it clear that I am not speaking for the Catholic Church." (38) He has a certain freedom but makes it clear what is his own personal view and what is the church's doctrine. Is what the "organization," the Ramakrishna Order, thinks a consideration for you in public dialogue?
SA: The Ramakrishna Order is concerned with upholding the essence of the tradition and doesn't take many organizational positions on things that all members have to uphold. For me, it isn't a big issue, but for others, it is a major consideration. No one can toe 100 percent of an organizational line; people are too complex to do that.
NM-Y: From your point of view, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the "dialogue of theology and defining the differences"?
SA: Too often, theology is born of a situation where an intellectual (not necessarily spiritually experienced) has read scripture and then considered the rational implications for the tradition. But, from a vedantic standpoint, at least ideally, theology is only an explanation for experience. When we just intellectualize, without understanding the inner experience, it can obscure rather than clarify. Certainly, in Hindu philosophy you will find plenty of fine distinctions that can get divorced from experience, but it is ideally understood that, to be a true theologian or philosopher, one has to be a person of deep experience; first comes experience and only then the explanation in rational terms, the means by which it can be conveyed from one mind to another.
This is even more important in philosophy because it speaks more in terms of principles that any educated mind, whether Chinese, Indian, African, or American, can understand. Theology, however, exists within a cultural and mythological [a symbolic world of experience and dialogue] context. Nevertheless, these rational explanations become problematic when we use them to defend ourselves from others, to keep from listening to another who is saying something that our theology doesn't recognize. It can be used as a means of expression or as a means of defense and aggression, but as an explanation for the context of our experience, it is useful. In dialogue it is good to stick to experience.
Now, the differences are also important. Ramakrishna, as I mentioned before, insisted on keeping Islamic food laws, wearing the clothes of a Muslim, and doing everything according to Islam when he was following that path; he didn't want to be a Hindu taking a mere "taste" of Islam, he wanted to experience what it was to be a Muslim. So differences are important.
Often Hindus are rightly criticized for too glibly saying, "We're all one, and it is all the same." But, that's not what the tradition says; that is just what people say who take a superficial view of the matter. A particular path has its own integrity, but there are accretions accumulated over time in a tradition that may not be essential, while other parts are completely integral. Unless you understand that, you can't really understand the experience of another person.
NM-Y: What are some of the lessons you have learned about the dynamics of what makes dialogue work?
SA: Well, the first thing is well enough known to be a cliche, but the problem with cliches is that we forget the point of them, remembering only the words. Nevertheless, for me, the ability to listen and hear what the other person is actually saying is essential. Now, this kind of listening doesn't come from mere politeness, and this is a mistake that is often made; true listening can only happen if you sincerely believe that the other person is really trying to say something important. This may sound obvious, but it is not obvious at all. People are usually so focused on what they have to say that they don't really listen, and then they don't understand and think the fault is with the person they weren't listening to.
So we must have the willingness and the ability to listen--two different things. Some people are willing, but don't know how. You must come with the conviction that other person has something to say that is valuable. You may not agree with it, but they wouldn't be speaking unless it was meaningful to them. So, it becomes your task to find out why it is meaningful to them, what they are trying to say, and in what context they are saying it. All these things have to fit together, and this is extremely important to a successful dialogue.
Vivekananda teaches that anybody who has thought deeply about life, human experience, and the cosmos has something to say that is important. One may not agree with him or her, but it is important to listen. For instance, in the 1950's, to listen to anything that came from Karl Marx would have been difficult for an American because of the rampant hatred for Communism current then, and though, as a religious person, I am obviously not a Marxist, I believe Marx had something important to say. (39) He had thought a great deal about the human condition, and, though I may disagree with his solutions, his analysis of human problems has a lot to say to us still. Likewise, I am not a Freudian, but the truth is, Sigmund Freud looked deeply into the human mind and had important things to say. It is not enough to dismiss him, saying, "He was all about sexual repression!" Freud wasn't a Freudian, and Marx wasn't a Communist--they were just trying to figure things out, and because of that they learned important lessons.
So, there may be ways of looking at religion that are not natural to me personally, but neither should I close them out, saying, "That poor misguided person! Thank God, I know better." You may not agree with everyone, but for dialogue to be rich, you should have the conviction that others have unique perceptions of reality, and if I really listen, I am going to learn something.
Of course, we must be realistic also; in any gathering of people, someone comes more to talk than to listen, and that is destructive to dialogue.
NM-Y: The philosopher Ken Wilber has a criticism of what often happens in dialogue today, that it is often "flat." (40) You have a circle, and many viewpoints are expressed, but that is all that happens--it is just talk and remains flat--it doesn't have a spiral dynamic to it, it doesn't ascend. So if dialogue isn't just "talk, "what has been the fruit of dialogue in your life?
SA: That is a very important point, and I agree with Wilber's criticism. This is often what happens: Dialogue is reduced to a "flatland" of two-dimensional views put out for everyone to see, but no one is changed by any of it.
For me, there is a deep learning that takes place; the intellectual encounter with another tradition from books is replaced by a positive confrontation with reality, with another person who actually believes this--and believes it deeply. You can read a book about comparative religions and see them two-dimensionally, and even have a two-dimensional dialogue, but encountering another person of spiritual depth affects one personally. When you hear someone speak with depth and conviction, the experience is transforming.
I have also seen people who have entered dialogue with relatively narrow theological frameworks and who in time expand in extraordinary ways through this encounter.
But, even beyond this, when the dialogue is good, we share an experience of flowing with a higher intelligence; our individual understanding seems uplifted into a collective sharing with something higher. In a sense, this is the most important aspect of dialogue. It doesn't always happen, but when it does, there is nothing like it. When we are immersed in the wisdom of that collective sharing, a higher understanding descends on all of the individuals involved.
(1) Note from the editors: Since the interviews are transcripts of conversations with the author, they have not been edited in the usual way as if they were intended to be academic essays, but they retain the more colloquial speech used in the interviews.
(2) N. Miles-Yepez, ed., The Way of Contemplation and Meditation (Woody Creek, CO: Spiritual Paths Publishing, 2002).
(3) This conference was the Spiritual Paths Foundation's "Way of Contemplation" seminar in Aspen, Colorado (August 23-25, 2002). Its speakers included Fr. Keating, Rb. Rami Shapiro, Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf, Swami Atmarupananda, Ajahn Sundara, and Dr. Edward W. Bastian.
(4) My examples for this introduction are all drawn from the Hindu and Christian traditions. The Veda ("knowledge" or "wisdom") is the primary revealed scripture of all Hindu traditions; lectio divina is the practice in the Christian tradition of reading or listening to a book believed to be divinely inspired; a rosary is a string of beads (often containing fifteen "decades") used by Christians to recite "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys" and for contemplative remembrance of each of the fifteen mysteries of the Christian tradition; japa is Hindu mantra recitation over a mala, a string of 108 beads; a puja is a Hindu ritual oblation; and a Mass is a Roman Catholic service celebrating the eucharist.
(5) See Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000).
(6) Rb. Schachter-Shalomi (b. 1924) is a former professor of Jewish mysticism and psychology of religion at Temple University and founder of the Jewish Renewal and Spiritual Eldering Movements.
(7) The term "deep structures" is borrowed from the linguistic theories of Noam Chomsky (b. 1928).
(8) Goethe's famous saying was: "He who knows only one language, knows none." I first heard Muller's paraphrase from my mentor Alford T. Welch at Michigan State University, and I am still grateful for it.
(9) The conference is named alter the site of its first retreat: St. Benedict's Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado.
(10) Netanel Miles-Yepez., ed., The Common Heart. An Experience of Interreligious Dialogue-The Snowmass Interreligious Conference Reflects on Twenty Years of Dialogue (New York: Lantern Books, 2006).
(11) The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (Vatican II) was an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church in which reforms were discussed. It was officially opened under Pope John XXIII in 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI in 1965.
(12) This interview was conducted on June 1, 2004.
(13) Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart. The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (New York: Amity House, 1986; new ed.: Rockport, MA: Element, 1992).
(14) Thomas Keating, Manifesting God (New York: Lantern Books, 2005).
(15) Fr. Thomas Merton (1915-68) was an American Cistercian ("Trappist") monk active in ecumenical dialogue and in creating a Christian contemplative renaissance.
(16) Merton authored Mystics and Zen Masters in 1967 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Zen and the Birds of Appetite in 1968 (New Directions).
(17) Cardinal Sergio Pignedoli (1910-80) was an Italian cardinal and a member of the Roman Curia in Vatican City.
(18) The Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance saw itself as a reform of the Benedictine Order, breaking away in 1098 under Robert of Molesme. Both Benedictines and Cistercians follow the Rule of St. Benedict.
(19) Robert Mueller (b. 1923); Juliet Hollister (1916-2000), founder of the Temple of Understanding; Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002), influential Hindu yogi; Fr. Basil Pennington (1931-2005), a Cistercian abbot and a founder of the Centering Prayer Movement with Keating and Fr. William Meninger; Bro. David Steindl-Rast (b. 1926), a Benedictine monk active in interreligious dialogue and teaching contemplative practices; and Ft. Raimundo Panikkar (b. 1918), a Roman Catholic priest and Hindu scholar.
(20) Raimundo Panikkar, ed., Blessed Simplicity. Tthe Monk as Universal Archetype (New York: Seabury Press, 1982).
(21) Venerable Ajahn Chah Subhatto (1918-92) was one of the greatest meditation masters of the Theravadin Buddhist tradition in the twentieth century.
(22) Blessed Pope John XXIII was born as Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in 1881 and was elected the 261st pope of the Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City on October 28, 1958. He called Vatican II (1962-65) but did not live to see it to completion, dying on June 3, 1963.
(23) Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, Roshi, (b. 1907) is a Japanese Rinzai Zen teacher who has lived in the U.S. since 1962. Joshu Sasaki is the founder and head abbot of the Mt. Baldy Zen Center, near Mount Baldy in California, and of the Rinza-Ji Order of affiliated Zen centers.
(24) Tetsugen Bernard Glassman, Roshi (or Bernie Glassman), is the leader of the engaged Buddhist group Peacemaker Circles International. He is a direct spiritual descendant of Taizan Maezumi, Roshi, (1931-95), a Zen Buddhist monk who had a major early influence on the growth of Zen Buddhism in the U.S.
(25) Christopher Isherwood, ed. and intro., Vendanta for the Western World: Vedanta and the West (London: Allen & Unwin; Hollywood, CA: Vedanta press, 1951).
(26) Alan Richard "Bede" Griffiths (1906-93), also known as Swami Dayananda (Bliss of Compassion), was a British-born Benedictine monk and mystic who lived in ashrams in South India.
(27) Eido Shimano Roshi is the abbot of the Zen Studies Society.
(28) Thomas Keating, Crisis of Faith, Crisis of Love (New York: Continuum, 1995).
(29) Leonard Cohen (b. 1934) is a Canadian poet, novelist, and singer-songwriter.
(30) Jacob Needleman is a professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University and the author of many books.
(31) Chogyam Trungpa (1940-87) was a Buddhist meditation master, scholar, teacher, poet, artist, and a Trungpa tulku (reincarnated lama). He was a major figure in the dissemination of Tibetan Buddhism to the West, founding the Vajradhatu community and Naropa University and establishing the Shambhala training method.
(32) The Christian-Buddhist dialogues included Keating, Mother Tessa Bielecki, Bro. Steindl-Rast, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Dr. Reginald Ray, and Dr. Judith Simmer-Brown.
(33) The final version of these points may be found in Miles-Yepez, The Common Heart, pp. xvii-xix.
(34) This interview was conducted on June 4, 2004.
(35) See note 25, above.
(36) Henry Fitzgerald (Gerald) Heard (1889-1971) and Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894-1963) were both vedantists, as well as novelists, educators, and brilliant philosophers.
(37) Srimata Gayatri Devi (1906-95) was the niece of Swami Paramananda, one of the great vedanta teachers in America and the youngest disciple of Swami Vivekananda. When Swami Paramananda made her his successor, there was a split with the Ramakrisha Order, and the Order of Ramakrishna Brahmavadin was formed. Her successor is Srimata Sudha Puri, a current member of the Snowmass Conference.
(38) This statement was made in an interview presented in a video titled The Shifting Paradigm.
(39) Karl Heinrich Marx (1818-83) was an immensely influential German philosopher, political economist, and socialist revolutionary.
(40) Kenneth Earl Wilber, Jr. (b. 1949), is arguably the most influential philosopher in the world today. His philosophy focuses mainly on creating an "integral theory of consciousness."
Netanel Miles-Yepez (Jewish/Sufi) is descended from a Sefardi family of crypto-Jews (anusim, "forced" converts), tracing their ancestry from Mexico back to medieval Portugal and Spain. He studied history of religions at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI; and contemplative religion at Naropa Univeristy, Boulder, CO--specializing in nondual philosophies and comparative religion. He moved to Boulder to become reacquainted with his family's lost tradition of Judaism and to study Hasidism under the guidance of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He is an ordained Sufi murshid (guide) and the cofounder with Schachter-Shalomi of the Inayati-Maimuniyya Tariqat, fusing the Sufi and Hasidic principles of spirituality espoused by Rabbi Avraham Maimuni in thirteenth-century Egypt with the teachings of the Ba'al Shem Tov and Hazrat Inayat Khan. He is currently the executive director of the Reb Zalman Legacy Project, the executive editor of Spectrum. A Journal of Renewal Spirituality, the former editor of print and Web-site publishing for the Spiritual Paths Foundation, and advisor for the Spiritual Paths Institute. He is author and editor of The Way of Contemplation and Meditation (Spiritual Paths Publishing, 2002); Wrapped in a Holy Flame: Teachings and Tales of the Hasidic Masters (Jossey-Bass, 2003); and The Common Heart: An Experience of Interreligious Dialogue (Lantern Books, 2006). His forthcoming books include "A Heart Afire: Stories and Teachings of the Early Hasidic Masters" (Jewish Publication Society), and "Living Fully, Dying Well: An Integrated Approach to the End of Life" (Sounds True). He lives in Boulder, where he is a spiritual counselor, writer, and painter of religious icons.
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|Publication:||Journal of Ecumenical Studies|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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