East Meets West:
Towards a Global Mysticism
Follow all water to its source and youíll find rain. Follow the rain up into the sky and youíll find clouds. Follow the clouds to their source and youíll find the ocean. Follow all rivers and streams and eventually you will get to the ocean - again. On the surface of the seas it is rough and choppy. However diving down into the waterís depths, it gets calmer and darker, heavier and colder.
Eventually you find yourself in another world in which you cannot function as a living being without special equipment. And there is even something beyond that where no human as far as we know has ever been able to penetrate, at least not in physical form.
This is the story of "the Path" -- the spiritual path that leads through the known and the unknown. Itís been said that there is a difference between religion and spirituality, and I agree. You can have one with or without the other. But putting that difference aside, the fact remains that social scientists and religious scholars from all faiths have long recognized certain commonalities and themes running along the multi-colored threads that weave the grand tapestry of the worldís great religions and spiritual traditions.
After all, itís just water -many waves and forms but one substance. The light reflecting on the surface of the water changes its color all the time. Color is the way we perceive the light. Yet you donít see the colors of the rainbow in a fight for dominance. They co-exist peacefully to make up one of the most spectacular displays of beauty, harmony and hope in the universe.
Politics and religion are usually forbidden topics of discussion in social circles. But the trend is changing -- it must in light of a growing global economy and rapidly shrinking world, thanks to information technology. Interfaith work is essential for the sake of planetary survival; weíve got to get along. In the January, 1998 edition of The Toastmaster, author Daniel O'Keefe published an article thatís been a long time coming called "Afraid to Talk Religion?" He says, "Toastmasters should be able to talk about important aspects of their lives without turning the speech into a sales pitch." I think that applies to all of us.
To better understand one another, we need to learn about all cultures and religions, and to share whatís important to us. The more we do this, the more we find out weíre not so different after all. Teaching tolerance to our children enables them to better adapt and adjust to the demands of a rapidly changing world and growing global citizenry. Besides, it's simply comforting to recognize and remember that the strange person sitting across the table is still a human being, and underneath it all, cries the same color tears and bleeds the same color blood. They smile the same smile of joy when greeted by a loved one. And they savor that same aroma of a freshly cooked meal, just like you.
Of course there will always be political differences that tend to be divisive - but they donít have to be. For instance, not long ago I was pleasantly surprised to see pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates engaged in constructive dialogue. It was evident that both sides valued life and wanted to see a reduction in the number of abortions. They just could not agree on how to go about it. But at least they found common ground in one area. And thatís where it all starts. Thatís the foundation for a better world right there.
The best way to learn about a different faith or religion is to talk to one of its adherents directly - not just to read what others have to say about it. I'll give you a good example. I moved to Mesa, Arizona in the late 80s, a town founded by and largely populated by Mormons. Mormons, like Jews, have a lively history of adventure and persecution that has given rise to a lot of misperceptions about them. It wasn't until I went to work for a law firm that was founded by a partnership between a Jew and a Mormon that many of my misperceptions about both religions were dispelled.
In fact, I was surprised to find that Mormonism shares some similarity to Gnosticism - my favorite color thread in the fabric of truth so to speak. Few people know that "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by best-selling author Stephen J. Covey, is really a secularized version of a Mormon text made to appeal to all people of any or no faith. And yet it has changed the lives of countless individuals and organizations all over the world. Why? And how did he do this? Simple. He went to the source of the teachings - the underlying substance - the building blocks or root threads that hold the entire tapestry together - principles - "divine laws" that can be proven to work by personal experience in spite of any labels or dogma that orthodox religion attaches to it.
Underneath and behind the outer appearances of all great religions and spiritual traditions Ė these higher laws and principles can be discovered. However, sometimes itís takes a little effort because you have to learn to read between the lines and to think abstractly. For one, you have to start from a framework that rejects dogma at face value and that presupposes the existence of a common thread of truth. That does not mean that dogma has no purpose. Sometimes it is a necessary part of the Path and serves to provide much needed structure and stability in the lives of those who need it at that time. But eventually, the law of impermanence prevails, and those beliefs are seen to be inflexibly rigid and no longer effective when confronted with problems of a deeper and more complex nature. Then itís time to let go and allow the paradigm shift into a more open-minded, less certain way of viewing things, yet a way that is more practically suited to our modern lifestyle. This does not necessarily invalidate the former version of truth Ė it just allows for a more expanded and universal interpretation of that truth - a wider, more useful and inclusive perspective. This is the nature of evolution and awareness. To quote a scripture from the Bible: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." ( I Cor. 13:12.) Itís that face to face stuff that is seldom talked about which is going to be the major theme in this series of articles.
This spiritual Path has two basic lanes of travel: the exoteric and the esoteric. Esoteric means, "meant for or understood by a few." Exoteric refers to everything else. For instance: In ancient Egypt, reading, writing and arithmetic were considered occult or esoteric sciences that only a few understood and utilized. Now practically everyone uses them. Once esoteric, they are now exoteric. Another example: in the old days witches used bandages of molded bread to heal wounds. Today we know that mold is a source of penicillin. Shamanistic peoples have always known about the medicinal value of herbs and plants. Modern science eventually catches up and "validates" that knowledge - turns the esoteric into the exoteric. These terms are relative however, and cannot always be clearly distinguished - just as a road may have highly variable patches of dirt and asphalt running together and which at times may even overlap. But one thing is for sure: esotericism always recedes into exotericism; the dirt road usually ends up paved. Because the more people who travel it, the more likely it is to be paved - to make the way easier for others. That is the nature of progress. And you know, weíre still going to have our preferences. Some people will always prefer the smooth surface and profuse camaraderie of the paved highways. Others like the relative seclusion and challenge of the dirt roads. To each his own. Thatís what makes the world so diverse and the rainbow so beautiful.
We've got fundamentalist Christians who interpret the Bible literally. Then there are Christians who attend the Unitarian Church or Unity who interpret scripture symbolically and metaphorically, relying upon a less dogmatic analysis of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Weíve got mystics and ascetics who denounce the physical body and the material world. Then we have Satanists and nihilists who say let's live it up while we can because the physical universe is all there is. Either side can carry their approach to the extreme. And this is why, as Buddha suggested and learned the hard way by personal experience, that itís sometimes best to follow "the middle road."
Then we still have pioneers who are way out there -- cutting through the brush and the bramble - actually making new paths - extending the road - way up ahead of most of us. Some of these pioneers make history, like Jesus and Buddha, yet some don't. Am I saying that those who are further down the road are somehow closer to the goal or "God" and therefore more holy, spiritually evolved or enlightened? Hell no. That would be spiritual elitism. A holier than thou attitude has no place on the Path except to serve as a rock to stub your toe on. And there's nothing like falling flat on your face to put you back in your place. For one, the issue of a "goal" is irrelevant, prescribes limitations, and can be misleading. The inner world like the outer world is round and spatial - not flat and linear. Furthermore, would you judge your seven-year-old child who is just learning rudimentary arithmetic to be innately dumb or somehow less capable because she has not yet comprehended quantum mechanics or even calculus? Of course not. So be careful. This is not a game, a race, or a contest. The great spiritual teachers all point to something inside of us all that is already completely pure, equally divine, and perfectly enlightened as it is. Itís just a matter of becoming aware of it - of "unfolding" or "awakening"- so to speak. Thatís what traveling the road is all about. And thatís what the "Esoteric Orders" or mystery schools behind all great religions and spiritual traditions -- both east and west - have set out to help us do.
Judy Kennedy, aka Wayward Muse
Posted with permission:
I Am Valley
Back to Apprentice Weavers