Interspiritual Revolution: How the Younger Generation is Re-Envisioning Spirituality and [New] Monasticism
by Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko
Originally published on huffingtonpost.com.
“We must all achieve our identity on the basis of a radical authenticity … [for] it is only in the real world of the person — neither singular nor plural — that the crucial factors influencing the course of the universe are at work.”
–Raimon Panikkar, The Silence of God
There can be little doubt that traditional religious frameworks are no longer speaking to new generations as they have in the past, especially in the West. In a recent article in the LA Times, Philip Clayton, former Dean of Faculty at Claremont School of Theology, writes that the fastest growing religious group in the United States is “spiritual but not religious,” in some surveys containing a shocking 75 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29. Clayton argues that young people are not necessarily rejecting a sense of God, rather they feel that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in the structures of the political status quo.
This is why the Interspiritual Revolution is so important. Brother Wayne Teasdale, a lay Catholic monk who was ordained as a Christian sannyasi (an ascetical monk in the Hindu tradition), coined the term “interspirituality” in his book The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions (New World Library, 1999). In it, Brother Wayne said:
The religion of humankind can be said to be spirituality itself, because mystical spirituality is the origin of all the religions. If this is so, and I believe it is, we might say that interspirituality — the sharing of ultimate experiences across traditions — is the religion of the third millennium. Interspirituality is the foundation that can prepare the way for a planet-wide enlightened culture.
We believe this understanding of Interspirituality, as a reciprocal sharing of realizations and contemplative gifts, in which each person’s insights help to affirm, deepen, and direct the other’s journey, is a framework that can be embraced by a new generation of spiritually hungry youth, while also allowing for inter-generational bridges to be built between elders, wisdom traditions and the youth. We call this process spiritual democracy, putting aside our egos and relating to each other in a way in which we can be surprised by the Divine, through which wisdom can come through everyone participating and God emerges as the “between” between friends. Interspirituality leads us to the God that is emerging among us, while naturally allowing us to touch the God within and beyond.
The truth is there is a revolution happening among us. People are waking up to the emptiness of their consumer-driven and materialistic worlds, and are beginning to re-evaluate what matters. The widespread and growing practice of meditation and yoga, the recent examples of young people camping out on Wall Street or the squares of their cities in nonviolent occupations and building a global movement for justice and solidarity, the renewed refusal to allow police brutality or racism a home on our streets, and the growing ecological movement and imminent peril we find ourselves in — these are but early manifestations of something deeper emerging in our collective Soul. Young people are no longer interested in living in a world that doesn’t feel like their soul’s home, and they are willing to question the way things have been done in the past. It is to this questioning, this questing, that we believe Interspirituality has so much to offer, and can speak to the younger generation in a way that nothing else can.
In order for interspirituality to play this potent role, however, we must be careful in how we come to understand it; what it means and what it has to offer. There is a subtle danger in allowing interspirituality to be defined by an amorphous “oneness.” An overemphasis on this can lead to subtle problems, such an assumption that the varying experiences of “oneness” are the same (leaving aside for now the sticky question of whether or not this is actually the case), while at the same time implying, perhaps even unconsciously, that an experience of “oneness” is needed for a seat at the Interspiritual table. While the unity of the human race must be championed tirelessly by Interspirituality, we must also leave ample room for the messy complexity, the blood and marrow, that diversity demands. We explore the deeper contemplative dimension of this interspiritual movement in our new book, New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Living (Orbis, 2015) as well as the sacred activist side in Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation (North Atlantic Books, 2013).
We must also acknowledge different ways of being interspiritual. In particular, we note three of these. One may have a solid grounding in one tradition, and from this foundational point reach out to experience and understand the wisdom of other traditions. This has been the way of many of the founders of the Interspiritual movement, such as Father Bede Griffiths and Brother Wayne Teasdale. Another is the way of “multiple belonging,” fully immersing oneself in multiple traditions, such as Lex Hixon, also known as Shaykh Nur al-Jerrahi, did, and as numerous Catholic monks who have also become Zen roshis have. This way is eloquently described by Matthew Wright, an Episcopal priest and practicing Sufi dervish, in his master’s thesis “Reshaping Religion: Interspirituality and Multiple Religious Belonging.” There is yet a third way, in which one’s primary path is one’s inner guidance, what George Fox, founder of the Quakers, called one’s “inner teacher,” and what Christians have often referred to as the “guidance of the Holy Spirit.” Its emphasis lies on the relationship aspect of Ultimate Reality. This way may not lead to being embedded in a particular wisdom tradition (without eliminating this possibility), but instead to taking on, in a mature and disciplined way, differing teachers, practices and service roles throughout one’s lifetime, under the guidance of the Spirit.
Too often this third way has been described as being selfish, flaky, a spiritual “Esperanto,” or arising out of an inability to commit. In fact of matter, it is all about commitment. It is about fidelity to one’s own path, to the inner impulse that arises within us, and the courage to commit to it with all of one’s being, allowing ourselves the freedom of movement that it demands. It shifts us from a reliance on gurus, dogmas and institutions to following one’s own inner light. It is not freedom for the sake of freedom, it has a purpose. It is the newest and yet most ancient way, as it is the origin of all the world’s wisdom traditions. Our traditions and elders must come to recognize this impulse in the youth, not as a selfish reliance on one’s “self,” but as nothing less than the breath of the Holy Spirit blowing once again upon the waters of humankind, opening up possibilities for new structures and new understandings to emerge. To fail to do so we fear is to relegate themselves to the dustbin of history, making the human race poorer from the failure to pass on the very real wisdom their traditions have safeguarded and passed down for centuries.
Yet, it is unequivocal that a purely subjective guidance tends to be dangerous, as all authentic traditions have attested to. This is why we need communities where we can help each other to discern what is authentic and facilitate the immersion into spirit. This is why we need our spiritual elders and we need our wisdom traditions to give us guidance, but we also need new ways to pass down their accumulated wisdom. The younger generation is not as interested in the theological structures and formulaic dogma’s embedded in the traditions, and a particular path or tradition too often feels to them like a straight jacket rather than a warm, comforting home. Neither is it conducive for them to simply latch on to a new framework, whether an “integral” framework, the ideal of oneness, or a particular new age path or teaching, for this would but confine the breath of spirit that is guiding them from within. Rather, they need an intimacy in which life is shared deeply, where they can be mentored in a way that brings them into the depths of their own life experience and aspirations, and where they can begin to articulate a new, more universal storyline that springs from their own experience and inner contemplative unfolding, which so often exists outside of a particular wisdom tradition.
If elders are willing to open their lives in a life-giving dialogical relationship with the young, they will find youth who are open to their wisdom and experience. Rather than focusing on passing on their religious traditions and theologies, elders should aim to pass on the lived experience of where their tradition has taken them. Then the wisdom of our elders and traditions can be passed down in a way that allows questions, insights and revelations from the younger generation to be present, and helps us to transition into what Brother Wayne called a global “civilization with a heart.”
This more subtle understanding of interspirituality puts a premium on the creation of intimate circles of dialogue and community. This is what the Snowmass Interspiritual Dialogue group, a 30-year experiment founded by Father Thomas Keating, has achieved so gracefully, and what the Interspiritual New Monastic movement, inspired by the spiritual legacies of Father Bede Griffiths and Brother Wayne Teasdale, is dedicated to: creating intimate contemplative circles that can live and breathe of the Spirit, allowing us to come together in such a way that our gifts are received and nurtured, and where we can speak from the depths of our own authentic experience with a willingness to be changed in the light of the revelations of our brothers and sisters.
Interspirituality is about entering into a divine milieu, where “things are transfigured … but in this incandescence they retain — this is not strong enough, they exalt — all that is most specific in their attributes” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “The Divine Milieu”). It is about the uniqueness of the human race itself, and for this to ultimately be discovered in full it needs each of our individual experiences of Life at its lived depths and revelations. It is then through the sharing of these gifts that a new fullness, a new understanding, can emerge. What is true for us individually is true for our religious traditions as well. Each religion, we believe, offers a unique way into the Ultimate Mystery and unique fruits, as does each individual journey. We are ready to move into a unity that is full, that welcomes all textures, where the Buddha’s equanimity complements Christ’s radical love in action, and where the Hebrew prophetic outrage can be merged with the incarnate spirituality of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and the timeless revelations of the Hindu sages.
Do we, the readers of this page, have something to contribute to this discussion? Do we have the courage to cultivate our contemplative lives, to share our unfolding with others? Do we have the wisdom to receive the revelations of others, and be changed by them?
For it is here, among us, that the Kingdom of Heaven which Jesus spoke so intimately of lies, waiting to be discovered through our intimacy with one another. It is here that our unity as a human race lies, and Interspirituality is dedicated to its discovery, leading to new structures, new narratives and new forms that live in communities which are cells of a new world — cells connected in networks of friendship — and one day this emerging web of contemplative being and acting will become a center for all of life, not because someone imposes it or lobbies for it, but because Life attracts more life.
This is the revolution, the Interspiritual Revolution. Come, join us…
(For continuing resources please visit the Foundation for New Monasticism at www.new-monastics.com)
Published with the authors’ permission.