Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Universal Heritage of Wisdom

"Intertwining Paths"
- in my meditation garden -

One of my main reasons for writing this daily blog post is to celebrate and draw upon the great common wisdom shared among a variety of seemingly divergent world religious traditions. As a Christian I rely upon the teachings of Jesus, make regular references to the Jewish heritage of my own faith-tradition, I sometimes refer to Islamic literature, sometimes make reference to the wisdom of native peoples, and almost daily refer to Buddhist teachings which I have embraced as an integral part of my own path of following the Way of Jesus.

Since writing this blog, I have discovered that many people are not only comfortable but eager to explore the directions of other religious paths; but there are others who are quite vehemently opposed to doing so.

For example, I often get responses from fellow Christians who are rather appalled at my regular Buddhist references. They fear I am watering down the faith, rejecting the unique and central importance of Jesus.  From time to time I also hear from “committed Buddhists” who believe that a Christian (let alone an ordained priest) can’t possibly understand the complexities of Buddhism and has no business relying so heavily upon a Buddhist wisdom that is far more “spiritual” than Christianity.

At the very least, these responses to my blog often make for some lively, robust discussion.

I agree with the ancient Sufis who say that while there are any paths to the truth, you have to choose one and walk on it because you can’t walk on all of them at once. I also agree that all spiritual paths are not the same as the others; and yet, as I see it, many paths are very similar, and from time to time they even intertwine and travel along the same highway.  I think it's rather foolish not to learn from another and share our common wisdom.

I can dearly love my own family while respecting, admiring and at times even imitating the neighbors who live next door.

A few years back I was reading a book on “world religions” when I came across this passage which I thought was a description of the life and teachings of Jesus:

He saw, not only with his mind but with his whole being,
just how the world and human existence in it worked,
how everything was in a constant process of interconnected movement,
how suffering is caused when humans greedily try to break the interconnections
and hold onto things just for themselves.
He saw how suffering can be alleviated through letting go not just of selfishness
but of the very self in compassion for all beings.

I soon discovered that this passage was not about Jesus. Based on the Buddha’s first sermon, it described who the Buddha was and what the Buddha taught – the parallels were stunning to me.

Some years ago when I first began to think about the commonality of teachings found in so many apparently different wisdom traditions, I couldn’t quite understand it. I wondered how the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of the Buddha could seem so similar? They are, after all, separated by 500 years in time and come from completely different parts of the world? But then I came to see and to believe that “truth is universal” a wisdom that is innate in our human condition. Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Hindu sages, the great prophets of Israel, the prophet Muhammad, the shamans of native peoples - they have all dipped their spirits into this universal ocean and then taught a common wisdom to be shared not only with their own followers but with the whole of humanity.

As I see it, at this point in our human history we are compelled to move beyond clinging so tightly to our own religious, myopic tribalism, beyond our delusions that we alone have discovered the way to truth, and that it is the only way or the best way.

In their recently-published book New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Living, Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko make this observation about new spiritual directions for the 21st century:

Our religious traditions must be seen as a common inheritance for all humanity,
each with its own integrity,
yet also belonging to a universal heritage of human wisdom.

To this I say, AMEN!


  1. "I agree with the ancient Sufis who say that while there are any paths to the truth, you have to choose one and walk on it because you can’t walk on all of them at once." ___I've been wrestling with this lately, Paul. Some Christians say we have fallen into the "trap of Relativism". Lately, I'm suddenly having trouble with the mental gymnastics of reconciling other religious paths that I love with the specific words of Christ "I am the" etc, etc, etc. He seems to clearly teach that there is no other legitimate pathway to God but through him. ...This Cognitive Dissonance is beginning to unsettle me. Any suggestions? _____ (mike)

    1. Mike -I just don't read this literally. I don't think Jesus even said "I am the Way" -this was a later understanding of the emerging Christian church. . In fact in early Christianity, people referred to themselves as 'people of the Way'--they followed the Way of Jesus... I believe you can walk the Way of Jesus while still respecting and even learning from other Ways.