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Brother Wayne Teasdale’s Life & Legacy

Brother Wayne Teasdale’s Life & Legacy

Brother Wayne Teasdale has been one of the more fruitful personalities of our time. His legacy is alive and well in those who knew him, as well as in countless others involved in the various movements his writing foreshadowed and inspired. A true spiritual outlier, Brother Wayne was not always understood or appreciated in his lifetime.

An Introduction to Brother Wayne Teasdale

When I first met him in 1999, Brother Wayne was just beginning to speak more openly in a public fashion. His voice was small, hard to hear, quite shy. He was a bit scared to come out of his shell, worried about his ego taking the reins, getting in the way. He struggled with how to allow his realization to come forth, his own spiritual transmission to be given. As a result, he was dismissed by many as a nice, friendly — if perhaps a little socially awkward — genuinely likable man who lived on his own as a monk. Even today you can hear people say, “What’s the big deal about Brother Wayne Teasdale? I met him, I knew him, I found him very nice, but not of much significance.” Nine years after his death, we’re beginning to see some of the significant fruits of Brother Wayne’s life, not the least of which is the bourgeoning and maturing interspiritual movement Brother Wayne helped to inspire, as well as other projects such as Pir Zia Inayat Khan’s Seven Pillars House of Wisdom, Eboo Patel’s Interfaith Youth Core, and the lives of many individuals like myself whose spiritual journeys he deeply influenced, leading me into New Monasticism.

Brother Wayne’s coining of the word “interspiritual” in his classic book The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions has brought his work into the forefront of spirituality in recent years. As was seen at the international conference at the Cascadian Center in Mount Vernon, Washington this fall, people are searching for new language to describe the emerging spirituality we’re experiencing. [1] The word “interspiritual” has been defined in numerous ways; as a ‘spirituality of the heart,’ the phenomenon of wisdom traditions sharing resources with each other, even as a new religious path. But Brother Wayne originally defined it in this way:

“The real religion of humankind can be said to be spirituality itself, because mystical spirituality is the origin of all the world religions. If this is so, and I believe it is, we might also say that interspirituality — the sharing of ultimate experiences across traditions — is the religion of the third millennium.” [2]

As the twenty-first century unfolds and Brother Wayne’s vision is coming to light, indeed his work is being recognized for its prophetic insight. In truth however, Brother Wayne’s greatest legacy was simply the example of his life.

Brother Wayne was born in Connecticut in 1945, and suffered a difficult childhood. His mother remarried when Brother Wayne was still a young child, and the step father forced his mom to choose between him and her son. She chose her new husband, and Brother Wayne was brought to an orphanage and eventually raised by his Uncle John Cosgrove. I do not believe he ever knew his real father, nor did he ever see his mother again. He had a very lonely childhood, but the one shining beacon in his life was his Uncle John, whom he always spoke of as a Godsend, perhaps even a saint, who helped form young Wayne’s mystical view of the world. From a very early age, Wayne felt he was meant to be a priest or a monk.

After suffering a dark night experience in his teen years, Brother Wayne discovered Father Thomas Keating while visiting St. Joseph’s Abbey, a Cistercian monastery near Spencer, Massachusetts, where Keating was abbot. Father Keating is a founder of the centering prayer movement who is widely considered one of the spiritual masters of our time. Brother Wayne came under his spiritual direction and came to considered him his spiritual father.

 

Brother Wayne was also directly influenced by Dom Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine monk who had lived much of his life in India, whose theology Wayne studied as a graduate student. After receiving a master’s degree in philosophy, Wayne earned a Ph.D. in theology from Fordham University in 1986, where he studied under Ewert Cousins. After writing his dissertation on Griffiths, Brother Wayne received an invitation to join Bede at his ashram in southern India, Shantivanam. In 1989, Bede intitiated Wayne as a Christian sannyasa, a wandering ascetic monk in the Hindu tradition, and gave him the orange robes he would often wear at formal occasions. Brother Wayne went on to teach at DePaul University, Columbia College, the Benedictine University, and the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He was associated with many interreligious dialogue forums and groups, including the Parliament of World’s Religions, The Synthesis Dialogues, Common Ground, The North American Board for East-West Dialogue, the NGO Interspiritual Dialogue, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, and he was coordinator of the Bede Griffiths trust.

A Personal Account of Brother Wayne Teasdale

These are interesting facts about Brother Wayne’s fascinating life, but they don’t capture who he really was. I knew BrotherWayne well. During the final four and a half years of his life, we spent much time together traveling to dialogues and conferences, hanging out with many of my friends from college, working together on the Parliament of World’s Religions, visiting with the homeless. I benefited from countless hours of spiritual direction in his one bedroom hermitage on the South Side of Chicago. He was not only my first formal spiritual teacher, but a close friend. He spent a number of Christmases in my family home, and I accompanied him on his final trip to Dharamsala, India, to visit with the Dalai Lama, with whom he was on intimate terms and considered a mentor. I was also with him during his two battles with cancer, the last of which brought him into his final days of life and his transition into a new form in 2004.

All of this time spent together left a profound imprint on my being, so much so that I have found it difficult to speak much of my time with him. It seems too close to me, too deeply embedded in my heart, too sacred. My hope is through writing about him others will discover the wisdom and vision of one of the great mystical pioneers in our modern age, and one of the more loving and transparent souls to have walked this planet.

Our relationship began in earnest at the 1999 Parliament of World Religions in Cape Town, South Africa. I was attending the Parliament with a group of ten or so from
my Alma mater, Lake Forest College — mostly college students or recent graduates and our religion professor, Ron Miller. [3] Each night during the week long conference we found ourselves closing out the evening over drinks in the hotel bar, discussing the presentations we had seen and engaging in discussion and dialogue around ideas of the spiritual path. Inevitably, Brother Wayne would meander in and join us. He could have been spending time with any one of the highly-esteemed presenters and spiritual teachers there, literally hundreds of them, but he chose to spend this time with us, a small coterie of young spiritual neophytes. His quirky jokes added much laughter to our conversations, and his warm presence grew on us all. Clearly, for me, these nights were of a unique significance, for upon returning to the States following the Parliament, Brother Wayne had successfully, and playfully, captured my soul and subsequently guided my feet firmly onto my spiritual path.

For me, it was a twist of fate that only the Divine could have orchestrated. Having Brother Wayne guide my initial forays into that deeper dimension of existence was both prophetic and formative. At the time, I remember thinking what a funny little word “interspiritual” was, with no inkling that it would gain such wide acceptance as a catchphrase for what I was living. My own spiritual journey has been “interspiritual” in ways that have exceeded perhaps even Brother Wayne’s vision for the term. While Brother Wayne himself was deeply formed within Christianity, and from that standpoint reached out and experimented with the wisdom of other traditions, my path has developed squarely outside of any one tradition, yet has been informed deeply by many of them. Yet, at its basis and root, I cannot say it is different from the path Brother Wayne walked. Our paths both stem from a fidelity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to follow its breath wherever it may blow. Brother Wayne never asked or encouraged me to choose a specific wisdom path, neither Christianity nor any other. Rather, he was open to the movements of the Spirit as they occurred among and between us, and he was willing to allow the uncertainty and freedom of movement for me to follow my path, even if did not look like one that could be easily recognized or even named.

In his 2003 book A Monk in the World: Cultivating a Spiritual Life, Brother Wayne shared an intimate view of how he lived his life. He wrote it during the years we were often together, and I can testify to the fact that the book accurately reflects the vibrancy of his day–to–day life, authentically capturing his spirit and demeanor which shine throughout it. In it, Brother Wayne describes his life as a “committed monastic, yet without a monastery.” He felt there was a special need in our modern age for the monastic ideal to be lived out in the world:

“Without doubt, there is great value in spirituality that emphasizes and supports withdrawal from society. But in our time, with its special needs, we require a spirituality of intense involvement and radical engagement with the world…it is in the real world that the wisdom of the monks must be made accessible. It is in the real world that their awakening and development need to occur, not off in remote solitude…Why do I choose to be a monk in the world and not locked away in a remote hermitage? Because I want to identify with and be identified with all those who suffer alone in the world, who are abandoned, homeless, unwanted, unknown, and unloved. I want to know the insecurity and vulnerability they experience, to forge solidarity with them…I wish to be near the least, the forgotten and ignored, so I can be a sign of hope and love for them and for all others who need me in some way.” [4]

Brother Wayne developed the ideal of a monk outside of the context of a particular religious tradition as well, becoming one of the main inspirations for the interspiritual “New Monastic” movement. [5] In A Monk in the World, he wrote:

“Monasticism has its origin here in the hidden places of the heart…It is this heartfelt monasticism that has inspired so many souls to venture to mountain caves, desert huts, and remote communities throughout the East and West, whether these seekers be Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, or Christian…an inner monk doesn’t require an overtly religious context. It is an innate expression of the mystical quest that everyone can reach by virtue of our common humanity.” [6]

In the same book Brother Wayne discussed his spiritual practice and mystical experiences, his visionary role for the Catholic Church (to which he felt an intimate and prophetic responsibility), the importance of spiritual friendship, his personal relationships with homeless people and what they have to teach us, as well as the phenomenon of “interspirituality” and his struggle to bring about change in our cultural, political, and economic institutions. In a particularly stirring chapter entitled “Tough Grace,” Brother Wayne spoke about humility and the redemptive possibility of suffering through the lens of his first bout with cancer, which resulted in the removal of half of his palate, teeth, gums, and bone.

The day before Brother Wayne was diagnosed with cancer he had a powerful dream, one which foretold of an “impending crisis,” followed by a intuitive experience with the Divine, “in which the Spirit took a hold of my entire being and poured love into me, saturating my being.” Brother Wayne interpreted these events as a “harbinger meant to prepare me…to put my mind at ease…[and] was part of a special grace.” [7]

In recounting his suffering during this time, Brother Wayne echoed the Buddha, who taught that suffering was fundamentally part of life, in terms of the suffering of birth, illness, old age, and death. The Buddha also taught that in addition to this fundamental suffering, there is a self-inflicted suffering that comes out of ignorance and our attachment to desire or aversion to emotions and events. Brother Wayne told how, during his illness, he was forced to give up many of his own ideas about happiness. “Suffering forces us to see beyond where we might be stuck. It helps us to transcend our attachments, our hidden agendas, our elaborate attempts to have it our own way…It throws us into utter simplicity; we understand precisely what we really need.” [8]

Brother Wayne also let us in on the intimate discussions he had with Father Thomas Keating during this time, to whom A Monk in the World is dedicated. Father Keating was convinced that Brother Wayne’s illness was a “dark night of the soul, an inner purification preceding a permanent union with the Divine. He [Father Keating] told me that my illness was a step forward, a sign of real progress.” [9]

It is here that Brother Wayne opened up a deeper understanding of suffering, not just as an intrinsic part of life or a misguided choice, but as disposing “us more readily to divine union.” He understood suffering as something that arrives when we’re ready for it, after years of being strengthened and sturdied through dedicated spiritual practice and searching. Brother Wayne related this type of suffering to the redemptive power of Christ’s suffering, which “performed a kind of divine composting. He took our sin, negativity, and inhumanity and transformed them by his sacrificial love, just as compost is slowly converted to rich earth…through that act a cosmic, mystical transformation occurred.” [10]

Going even further, Brother Wayne hinted that this redemptive understanding of suffering may hold the key for our future progress as a human race.

“We require a mature approach to this part of our lives, an approach that will allow us to understand the gift in the challenge, the jewel in the pain, the light in the darkness beyond the suffering. The progress of each one of us, as that of the human race itself, depends on a more adequate understanding of this mysterious reality in our lives…Suffering manifests an ultimately beneficial, salvific power that transforms all of human negativity into something beautiful, powerful, life–giving, and productive of positive results for everyone, at least potentially.” [11]

Brother Wayne Teasdale’s Fight With Cancer

When Brother Wayne wrote that chapter he was unaware that in only a few more years time he would once again be diagnosed with cancer, and this second battle would be much more terrible than the first. It was a full immersion into his “dark night of the soul.” In the weeks before the second surgery those of us who were with him could literally feel the divine darkness that was encompassing him. When he came out of surgery, he found himself cut off from the world. His palate had been completely removed. He couldn’t speak and was in extreme pain — both physical and emotional. A man who had lived mostly as a hermit monk throughout his adult life could no longer live on his own and had to be taken care of by friends. For a number of months following surgery this was his state, as he endured an aggressive chemotherapy campaign. The day after finishing his final chemo treatment, as many of us were preparing for his healthy return, a blood vessel in his brain popped while he slept, and Brother Wayne transitioned into a new life.

Recalling his first bout with cancer, Brother Wayne had written, “The inner darkness of my spirit was inviting me to subtler levels of surrender. I found myself wanting to radiate the intense love of the Divine Presence, and that became my purpose during recuperation.” [12] In those waning months of his life, as his body was ravaged by cancer and chemotherapy, many of us who were with him experienced a transfiguration of his body. He seemed to shine with radiance and peace, intermixed with pain and suffering. I remembered then something he had once remarked to me, in a particularly transparent, vulnerable and moving moment one evening in his apartment. I had asked him if there was anything he desired, and he replied he had a strong desire to be a saint. He seemed almost childishly innocent in that moment. As I watched him navigate the trials of cancer it seemed to me that his desire had been granted.

Although I lost a dear friend when Brother Wayne died, his words and my memories of him remain fresh and always with me. I remember vividly the day I first met Brother Wayne in 1999 at a talk in Chicago called “The Mystic Heart” just a few months before the Parliament was to begin. During the talk, I made a comment related to the idea of humility. Brother Wayne looked down at me and grew quite serious. As the crowd looked on he asked me, “What is Humility?”

I responded, “Humility is always being open to the possibility of being wrong…”

Brother Wayne paused for a time, “Yes, but see, Humility is more than that — it is Truth.”

Humility is Truth — I wondered what this might mean. We so often associate ‘humility’ with a feeling of being small, of not thinking much of ourselves, especially where others hold us in high esteem. Humility is Truth? Fourteen years later I continue to reflect on that day and the wisdom of what Brother Wayne said.

Brother Wayne’s struggle for Humility was, in some sense, one of becoming less humble in the way that we most often understand it in order to bring forth his Truth and Power. Brother Wayne was one of the few individuals I have met whose spiritual development, in my humble opinion, exceeded his own realization. In other words, he was further along than even he knew. His was a journey of trusting inner guidance, a willingness to go slowly, let things emerge, to recognize mistakes and grow from them. When Brother Wayne relaxed into this trust his transmission began to shine. In the many times we spent together, his spiritual magnificence would come forth, and at times I felt was as if I was in the presence of a spiritual giant. But it was a struggle for him. He spoke to me of it on more than one occasion — yet he was committed to what the Spirit was calling him to do. Even if mistakes were to be made, they would be in service to the ripening fruit of his body, for his intentions were pure. This seems to me to be the only true road to Humility.

I’d like to close this remembrance with one of my favorite stories of Brother Wayne, one that reveals his depth and innocence, and the esteem he was held in by others. During his final visit with the Dalai Lama, at His Holiness’s private residence in Dharamsala, Brother Wayne shared a number of ideas he had been envisioning, such as convening a “Council of Sages” and a peace walk through the Middle East from Jerusalem to Medina. He then tentatively and a bit bashfully inquired what His Holiness thought about these projects, and if he might be interested in participating. His Holiness paused for a moment, and then slowly leaned over and took Brother Wayne’s hand. A deep sense of poignancy filled the air. Looking deeply into Brother Wayne’s eyes, he said that he would be supportive of any and all of Brother Wayne’s projects…because of who he was. A palpable feeling of warmth and love saturated the room. Brother Wayne melted into his chair, displaying the smile of a child who knows just how deeply he is loved and supported. The Dalai Lama saw in Brother Wayne what I was blessed to see, a humble saint with a mystic heart deeply in love with God and all of humanity.
Click to read “Abhishiktananda: Christian Sannyasi and Advaitin” by Brother Wayne Teasdale.

[1] For more on “interspirituality” see Kurt Johnson and David Ord’s The Coming Interspiritual Age (Namaste, 2013), Ed Bastian’s Interspiritual Meditation, and the short article on Huffington Post by myself and Adam Bucko, Interspiritual Revolution: How the Occupy Generation Is Re-Envisioning Spirituality and [New] Monasticism

[2] Teasdale, Wayne, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions, New World Library, 1999, p. 26

[3] I had also convinced my mom, Tricia McEntee, to join us. This was her first step into the world of interreligious and spiritual dialogue, which launched her into her work in personal and social transformation as CEO of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA. I mention this as another “fruit” in whose growth Brother Wayne played a role.

[4] Teasdale, Wayne, A Monk in the World: Cultivating a Spiritual Life, New World Library, 2003, Intro pg. xxiii, xxix, xxxi

[5] For more on “New Monasticism”, see Interspiritual Revolution: How the Occupy Generation is Re-Envisioning Spirituality and [New] Monasticism, as well as the extended article New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Life in the 21st Century, by Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko.

[6] Teasdale, Wayne, A Monk in the World: Cultivating a Spiritual Life, p. xxviii

[7] Ibid. p. 165

[8] Ibid. p. 159

[9] Ibid. p. 163

[10] Ibid. p. 170

[11] Ibid. p. 171

[12] Ibid. p. 163

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Brother Wayne Teasdale's Life & Legacy

Rory McEntee
Rory McEntee

Rory McEntee is a contemplative rooted in the tradition of interspirituality and new monasticism who works at an intersection of spirituality, education and culture. As a close friend and mentee of the late Brother Wayne Teasdale, he was part of the founding of the interspiritual movement. During that time he participated in dialogues and collaborated with many world spiritual leaders, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Currently, Rory is the administrator for the Snowmass InterSpiritual Dialogue, formerly known as The Snowmass Conference. Founded in 1984 by Father Thomas Keating, it brings together spiritual masters from different wisdom traditions to engage in intimate dialogue. He works and collaborates with spiritual leaders from various traditions and is particularly interested in deep, contemplative formation processes for young people that can emerge from collaborative and intergenerational friendships among contemplatives. He credits elders like Joshi Babaji, Fr. Thomas Keating, and H.H. the Dalai Lama as his inspirations and mentors. Rory studied for a Ph.D. in mathematics and teaches math and physics while being a father. He is the coauthor of New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Life in the 21st Century. Rory can be reached at: rmcentee21@gmail.com