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The Authentic Everywhere.

Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World's Religions. Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 1999. 250pp. $23.95 (cloth).

Mystics throughout the ages and from every religious tradition have experienced a common spirituality, but they have been considered the privileged (or perhaps eccentric) few. What seems to be new in Teasdale's emerging "Interspiritual Age" is that the mystical experience is emerging in ever larger numbers of people, and he encourages those numbers to grow. In his words, "Each of us is called to be a mystic. To be a human being means that we are invited into the possibility of transcendental life and experience. We are not here simply to pursue a profane existence spent plotting the course of our human happiness. That is what seems to happen to so many of us, but it needn't be that way. We are meant for greater things."

Following a foreword by one of the most revered mystics of our time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Teasdale first takes us through an exploration of what unites us across religious lines. Here he draws on his history in interfaith work, among other things having been active in both the 1993 and 1999 Parliaments of the World's Religions. This experience has convinced him that humanity is ready for the dawning of a new age of understanding, in which the unity of the cosmos and the interdependence of all forms of life are recognized, and in which the human family is integrated in all of its diversity. "Interspirituality" is a term that Teasdale has coined to describe this new age. He defines "spirituality" as "an individual's solitary search for and discovery of the absolute or the divine." Mysticism is the direct experience of the absolute, and religion is what grows out of that direct experience. Teasdale is clear about both the value and limitations of religions, which he warns us are "valuable carriers of the tradition within a community, but they must not be allowed to choke out the breath of the spirit, which breathes where it will." The real religion of humankind, he declares, is "spirituality itself, because mystical spirituality is the origin of all the world religions." "Religions at their best, in their moments of greatest authenticity, are communal forms of spirituality, but the weight of the centuries adds countless formal elements that often have little relevance to a living spiritual practice. These formal, perfunctory forms of religion distract their adherents from the pursuit of the more authentic forms of the spiritual life. All traditions suffer this tendency to formality."

This view will not be comfortable for those who treasure the uniqueness of their religious traditions and resist any attempt to gloss over the differences. There is great concern among some today that the historic traditions are under attack, and that even the interfaith process is just another way to blend those traditions into a single world religion. While the direct mystical experience may be accessible to a growing number of people, those who rely on secondary sources for religion do not take kindly to any diminution of the importance of those sources. It is increasingly difficult, however, to maintain a religious tradition in isolation from, and ignorance of, other traditions. The information and communications explosion of recent years has bridged historic gaps and boundaries. Interfaith activity has been increasing rapidly in the past few decades; this book introduces us to some of the pioneers of those efforts.

While himself a Roman Catholic lay monk, Teasdale has deeply studied the wisdom of other traditions. He applies this study to an exploration of human nature as consciousness, treating us to the insights of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Greek philosophy. His conclusion is that through the mind, consciousness makes perception and everything else happen for us as individuals. Divine consciousness is the totality in which all things abide. It is through our individual consciousness that we touch the divine consciousness in the mystical experience. We achieve this meeting of the individual with the divine through spiritual practice. According to Teasdale, there are as many forms of spiritual practice as there are individuals, but they all have the same goal, the individual's transformation and integration with the cosmos. In order to achieve authentic spirituality, he feels, it is absolutely necessary to develop some form of spiritual practice.

He does not, however, teach the way of separation from the world into a life of total contemplation. Engagement is the outer path--the way of action. This path brings us into relationship with both the world of nature and the world of social action and service. The spiritual journey integrates the inner and outer life, bringing together both contemplation and action. The process of engagement takes form in selfless service and compassionate action, including the responsibility to speak out against the abuse of human rights and of the earth and all its inhabitants. Teasdale goes on to treat the responsibilities of social action in detail, even calling the Roman Catholic Church to task for its lack of leadership on the current situation in Tibet, an absence it had displayed earlier during the Holocaust. "In these instances," he says, "when humanity looks to Rome for courageous leadership, it finds only cautious bureaucrats." While his devotion to the church of Rome is not uncritical, he is clear in identifying his deep commitment to his Christian roots, which he feels have been strengthened through the study of other religious traditions.

A great deal of Teasdale's narrative is personal in nature, giving the reader an intimate glimpse into the evolving life of a true mystic. While others who have had the mystical experience often find it difficult to describe, Teasdale succeeds in making his own journey highly accessible. Those who are drawn to the mystical path will find much here to inspire and sustain them.

Peter Laurence is Interim Executive Director of the Temple of Understanding and also directs the Education as Transformation Project, cosponsored with Wellesley College.
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Title Annotation:Review; Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World's Religions
Author:LAURENCE, PETER
Publication:Cross Currents
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2001
Words:998
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