Various Texts from Brother Wayne Regarding Common Ground

Further selected passages from "Mystic Hours" and "The Mystic Heart“

Finding Your Place in the Interspiritual Movement:

I have only offered a few examples from tens of thousands, but it should be clear that a permanent and growing interspiritual movement is on the rise everywhere! You can do many things to participate in this great outpouring of spiritual vitality. You can read interspiritual books — works on meditation and prayer and other spiritual experience — like those listed in the recommended reading section. You can join the interfaith groups that exist in most cities, and are becoming increasingly common in churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques. You can participate in retreats in other traditions, and encourage the study of the world’s religions in our schools — beyond the universities to high schools and grade schools, cultivating religious tolerance and curiosity in our children. Ultimately, through these actions, you can enlarge their vision and heart to include all the traditions.

Back in the 1970s in Hartford, Connecticut, where I grew up, I attended a talk by Rabbi Gliberman, an Orthodox rabbi from New York City who was speaking at the local Integral Yoga center, an enthusiastic venue for interfaith understanding. In addressing the then-new phenomenon of people from one faith crossing into another, Rabbi Gliberman beautifully defined the task of interspirituality in our lives: “In exploring other traditions and in embracing them, remember, it isn’t a question of instead of— Buddhism instead of Christianity, or Christianity instead of Islam — but rather of in addition to, that is, in addition to Buddhism, Christianity, in addition to Christianity, Islam.” We don’t reject our own tradition, but build on it. I have never forgotten these precious words. They are prophetic, defining in clear, simple terms how we must view our future. Basically, Rabbi Gliberman was teaching the necessity of an open heart, the attitude of openness in the face of the monu­mental changes that is required of us in this universal, interspiritual age.

Dialogue Between Catholicism and the Other Religions:

Since the Vatican Council opened the Catholic Church and other world religion to interreligious dialogue, monastics have carried the primary responsibility for this significant, mystical interfaith work. ...

Thomas Merton and Eastern Traditions…

Merton was far ahead of his time. His spirit of openness, building on the work of countless others, guided the Catholic Church into new realms of interreligious understanding. The full realization of the Churchís new view appeared in 1966 in a decree of the Second Vatican Council entitled Nostra Aetate. In this document, the Church acknowledged the truth and moral values of the Eastern religions, and committed to a course of dialogue with them. The watershed document radically transformed—virtually overnight—a historically negative attitude into a dialogical one. By removing the obstacles to mutual exploration between Christianity and the other religions, particularly those of Asia, this change has greatly contributed to the emergence of interspirituality.

Indeed, the Vatican now has a department devoted to relations with non-Christian traditions. Formerly known as the Pontifical Council for Non-Christian Religions, it was renamed in the I9Sos the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and is currently chaired by Francis Cardinal Arinze, a Nigerian. In the early 1970s, the department commissioned the Benedictines and Cistercians, or Trappists, to carry out the Churchís dialogues and encounters with representatives of the Asian traditions, especially Hindus and Buddhists. The Church later formed an organization to implement this mandate, Dialog inter Monasteres, or simply DIM. A North America counterpoint was established in 1977, which is now called Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, or MID. The founders of MID include, among others, Sister Pascaline Coff, OSB, a Benedictine nun from Osage Monastery in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, and Father Theophane Boyd, osco, a Trappist from St. Benedict's Monastery, in Snowmass, Colorado. Both of these organizations actively promote dialogue and encounters with Buddhists and Hindus.

One of the most celebrated of these was the Gethsemani Encounter between Christian and Buddhist monastics at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Mertonís monastery near Louisville, Kentucky, which took place for a week in July 1996. The Gethsemani Encounter included dialogue on such issues as ultimate reality, prayer and meditation, monastic formation work, and the role of the teacher. The warmth, openness, respect, affection displayed among the participants made this event an important success. The Dalai Lama himself has told me that he felt it represented a great step forward in Catholic-Buddhist relations.

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Understanding Toynbee’s Remark :

I have puzzled for years over Arnold Toynbee’s observation that the meeting of Buddhism and Christianity would be the most significant event of our period in history, trying to understand its meaning and implications. One resource we can enlist in helping us unpack Toynbee’s statement is the much maligned and misunderstood German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel.

Hegel made an important discovery about how human understand­ing develops. After reading Plato’s Dialogues with great attention, he per­ceived in them just how our awareness grows. As he watched Socrates converse and debate, meeting others’ certainties with objections or ques­tions, Hegel slowly saw the first position shift as it took objections into account. He realized that understanding is a dynamic operation of thought that requires the tension of opposites to unfold. Insight develops out of this conflict of opposites.

If we examine our own views over time, we can easily recognize this principle at work. It is called dialectic. Hegel not only discovered its oper­ation in human understanding — in all human beings — but in history as well. History is dialectical; it advances through a series of polar tensions that are resolved in a higher view. For example, the tension between the Roman Empire and the Christian Church led to a synthesis in which the church as the new establishment became the empire. Later, the strug­gle between the medieval church and the state led eventually to the emer­gence of the modern secular state, which in turn led to democracy. Throughout it all, an inner struggle waged between the logic and consis­tency of the positions.

Toynbee’s point becomes concrete in the actual relationship of Christianity and Buddhism, especially in the light of Hegel. It is clear to me that these two traditions are in a dialectical historical process. If Christianity can represent, in this relationship, the position that God exists, while Buddhism negates this view or is silent about the existence of God, then up the road of history; the honest, open, patient, and gener­ous dialogue over this and other matters — such as arguments over the existence of the soul, karma, reincarnation, grace, free will, and eternal life — will lead to a breakthrough that will carry humankind to a higher level of awareness. The dialectic must progress because truth cannot tol­erate a contradiction, and the Christian-Buddhist relationship is a histor­ical contradiction awaiting resolution.

What eventually does emerge will go beyond both Buddhism and Christianity in their present views. It will be a new view that both can embrace, a subtle refinement of what they have both known. It is difficult to predict the precise shape of this forthcoming breakthrough, but I think it will have something to do with a process understanding of the divine -- even though this process may occur in human reason and understanding, rather than in the divine itself. Process theology or thought assumes an incomplete quality to God’s knowledge and being, that somehow the divine needs us to complete itself. I think it is more accurate to say that human understanding of the divine is in process, or develop­ment, and this is suggested by the differences between Buddhism, Christianity, and other faith traditions.

The implications for the human family are far-reaching. A change in view that takes us beyond the impasse between the positions of God or no God can introduce a vehicle to higher consciousness into world cul­ture. Discovering a way to reconcile this supreme contradiction is not unrealistic when we consider that religions are not static systems but liv­ing social organisms capable of unlimited growth. To journey toward this enlarged vision, we must experience the truth found in the meeting — and dialogue — of opposites.

In dialogue, these opposites open a way for the truth to reveal itself. I have often felt that Buddhist mysticism begins and ends where Christian mysticism ends: in unitive consciousness. Buddhism declares nondual awareness as the truth, the ultimate level of reality. Christian mystics refer to the same thing. Meister Eckhart, for instance, tells us of the soul’s return to the Godhead, the God beyond God. “When I go back to the divine ground,” he wrote, “back to the Godhead, nobody asks me where I’ve been, and God passes away.” How can we speak of God when there is only God? This God is the absolute reality of ultimate awareness. Ultimate awareness, the vast unlimited consciousness of the divine, is also the nature of mature enlightenment. Thus Christian mysticism ends where Buddhist mysticism begins, and ends — its goal. This starting point and goal is what the Buddha himself understood through his awak­ening to enlightenment.

Followers of Christ and the Buddha are engaged in deep, meaningful, vital, exciting, ongoing conversations. With their openness, awareness, and sense of responsibility to humankind and the planet, they will serve as a platform to launch humanity to a new understanding of life, reality, nature, and the cosmos — an interspiritual understanding. History clear­ly demonstrates that spiritual vision sustains civilization. Without such a vitalizing spirituality, the ultimate heart of religion, civilizations inevitably decline, and are taken over by other systems.

The Buddhist-Christian relationship is a bridge to a new, universal civ­ilization. If Christians and Buddhists enter the relationship with genuine openness and trust, free of hidden agendas and expectations these meet­ings will change both paths. The relationship will mutually expand the horizon of their understanding of faith, reality, and truth. The fruit of their conversation will be a new vision of the divine, one that embraces all sentient beings. Combining the powerful social engagement of Christianity — in particular Catholicism — with Buddhism’s all-encompassing, nondiscriminating awareness of all life forms will create a deeper, more meaningful practice of justice. The resulting spirituality or mystical practice will embrace the totality available from the vast deposit of humankind’s inner experience. This is one of the primary goals of interspirituality.

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