Saturday, November 7, 2015

Guardians of the Truth

"Many Paths of Wisdom"
 - in my meditation garden -

The other day I came across a fascinating article in the religion section of the Huffington Post. It was a story about the Catholic Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, and the Buddhist, Dalai Lama. Although Merton died quite a few years ago, the Dalai Lama still cherishes his life-long friendship with this man. He continues to think of Merton as his spiritual brother, he even honors Brother Merton as a mentor on the path of wisdom.

Ever since Pope Francis declared Thomas Merton to be a spiritual hero in his speech before Congress a few months ago, more and more people have become familiar with who Merton was and what he stood for - a great champion of dialogue between different religions. In fact, a good deal of Thomas Merton’s writings demonstrate his special connection to Buddhism (hence his strong relationship with the Dalai Lama); and while this relationship is generally applauded nowadays, it wasn’t the case back when Merton was still alive. Thomas Merton’s ongoing relationship with Buddhism was considered to be “scandalous” and the hierarchy of the Catholic church warned the faithful to avoid Thomas Merton and his highly suspect, subversive teachings.

Interestingly enough, even to this very day, I know plenty of religious people who are very wary of “dabbling in” the tenets of other religious traditions. Personally, I am a committed follower of the “Way” of Jesus but I also take great solace in the teachings of the Buddha; however I recognize that plenty of people are very uncomfortable with me for doing this, and I am regularly scolded by other committed Christians who believe that reading Buddhist literature or turning to the teachings of Islamic Sufis or Hindu mystics “waters down” the truth of Christianity.

Of course, I see it very differently.

It seems to me that there is a great danger among religious and spiritual people who believe that since they have “found the truth,” they are entrusted to be guardians of the truth they have found.  Religious institutions of all stripes- churches, temples, mosques and synagogues are often turned into “guarded fortresses” charged with preserving the truth that has been passed down to them over the ages.

And yet, it seems to me that if something is indeed “true” or “wise” or “beautiful,” it cannot nor should it be contained or guarded. In fact, if something is true than it should be true across the borders and boundaries of human knowledge and understanding.

For example, all major religious wisdom traditions unequivocally hold up “compassion” as the fundamental core principle for guiding the life path – this is true in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam, in Buddhism, Eastern and many other traditional indigenous religions. So, this makes me believe there is some underlying and universal truth to the assertion that “compassion” is the compass that points our lives to the way of peace.  The fact that religious traditions other than my own celebrate the importance of compassion affirms this truth rather than “watering it down.”

Recently I have been reading about what some have called an interspiritual approach to pursuing a path of wisdom and truth. A few months ago I came across this definition that I like very much:

Interspirituality plants us firmly outside of a fundamentalist adherence
to our particular religion or spiritual path,
demanding that we take seriously the revelations, realizations,
and contemplative gifts of all authentic wisdom and religious traditions,
as well as insights from science, ecology, art, culture and sociology.

Our various traditions are a common inheritance for all humanity,
each with its own integrity
yet also belonging to a universal heritage of human wisdom.

As I see it, on a path of wisdom, we all need to move outside our fortresses where we huddle together to guard the truth. If something is true, it is always shared and we all can learn from one another’s wisdom. The scandal does not lie in dialogue with different others, the scandal lies in our refusal to dialogue.

Jesus taught:

You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free!


  1. My Father's house has many mansions. . .

  2. Yes! This practice of interspirituality becomes essential in an Asian context. It is the religious and even Christian thing to do.