What is interspiritual meditation and how does one practice it? Read below to find out the process.
The History of Interspiritual Meditation
Within every religion, there is small population of dedicated contemplatives whose inner lives go mostly unnoticed by the general public. They might be monks, nuns, hermits, teachers, or regular folks living seemingly unremarkable lives. Their interior practices take them beneath the surface of religious rituals, prayers, songs, mantras, incantations, and institutions. In their meditations, they relive the epiphanies of their founders and saints. Generation after generation, they safeguard and nurture the roots of profound spiritual practice. Without them, the heart of their tradition would simply stop beating.
For most of history, these individual contemplatives have not been exposed to the practices and principles of other traditions, and the general public has been oblivious to the treasures in their midst. This is mostly because specialized training is required for each contemplative practice, and because the wisdom keepers have been separated from each other by oceans, mountains, deserts, religious boundaries, and language. But now we live in an extraordinary time when lineage holders of the world’s contemplative traditions can begin to share the hidden wisdom that has been transmitted from teacher to student over hundreds and even thousands of years. Today’s population shifts and the Internet, along with new translations of esoteric texts, have enabled a sharing that was never possible before. A new vision that many are calling “InterSpirituality” is emerging from this unprecedented level of communication and sharing among contemplatives of many traditions.
Interspirituality of Silence
InterSpirituality begins in silence. As Father Thomas Keating often says, “Silence is the first language of the divine.” So when fellow contemplatives from many traditions come together, we are bathed and softened in the nectar of silence. Our individual spiritual identities are made permeable by the delicate mist of shared intention, experience, and gentle speech. In our dialogue and teachings, we learn deeply from each other the fruits of contemplative wisdom and practice from our differing traditions. Just as travelers to foreign lands return to see more clearly their own homelands, our InterSpiritual journeys into other traditions helps us to discern the refined nuances and gems of our own tradition as if for the first time. By traveling a while in other contemplative traditions, our own meditations become the vehicle for universal wisdom and kinship with people of all traditions. This is equally true for people without a tradition. For these practices awaken the divine potential dormant within their hearts and minds.
The result of this InterSpiritual process is that we never again see each other as “the other.” The rigid boundaries of religious identity are dissolved as we clearly regard others as our self. There is a felt-sense of unity within our diversity, a unity that emerges from compassionate intention, shared experience, and a humility regarding our capacity for conceptual certainty of the ineffable. Our experience together is a celebration of the combined wisdom, creativity, and energy arising from our diversity.
This InterSpiritual experience is a foundation for global peace. It is the promised land wherein our human potential can be fulfilled; the safe harbor in which people of all religions can all find refuge; a universal covenant binding us to an integral, reciprocal, and essential relationship with all of existence; a shared aesthetic in which we can walk hand-in-hand for the common good.
My initial taste of InterSpiritual Consciousness came during my first evening with Father Thomas Keating’s group of meditators from many traditions as part of his ground-breaking inter-religious retreats held at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. That night, we silently meditated in a circle with each other and then began a deep contemplative dialog. Like intersecting ripples from many pebbles dropped in a still pond, our consciousnesses overlapped and merged. The sharing of tranquil bliss was palpable. Afterwards, I reported on my meditation to the group. Then, the priest from an Eastern Orthodox tradition replied: “Ed, your meditation sounds just like my experience from our Hesychast tradition.” The Vedanta Hindu Swami followed by saying: “I would use these same words to describe a meditation from our tradition.” Finally, the Hassidic Rabbi added: “Yes, this sounds very much like the experience of my Jewish meditation.” It was then I knew that I had found my InterSpiritual family and a spiritual direction of my life.
I was inspired by the Snowmass Conference to found the Spiritual Paths Foundation in 2000. Over the past fifteen years, I have worked closely with over fifty leading meditation teachers of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American traditions. In both programs, I’ve had the unique opportunity to learn first hand how love, compassion, the Golden Rule, spiritual unity, service to others, and reverence for nature are the sacred threads that bind all religions together. By working closely with seasoned contemplative practitioners of many traditions, I’ve been privileged to experience the profound depths of their meditative techniques, processes, and experiences.
What I learned was quite surprising to me; for though my PhD and practice was within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, I found that my understanding of Buddhism and Buddhist meditation was deepened and enhanced by experiencing the inner teachings and meditations in different spiritual traditions. It became quite clear that there were shared processes found in nearly all of the traditions which made their meditations more effective. Thus, I began to see that these shared meditative processes might be distilled into a unique InterSpiritual practice, allowing people of different traditions to meditate together, sharing one process, while still keeping what is unique to their own traditions intact.
In the hope of making this remarkable experience more accessible to all, I developed a practice called InterSpiritual Meditation that weaves together these shared processes. This seven-step meditation process can be practiced alone, in the company of people from the same tradition, or from many different traditions or among those who are spiritual but not religious. It’s designed to help people develop a foundation for health, inner peace, wisdom and compassion; and its purpose is to foster these sacred qualities in group practice, bringing about a shared experience of the sacred which can be an inner foundation for harmony into our divided world.
It is called InterSpiritual Meditation because it draws together key components of meditative processes found in many of the world’s religions. This is not meant to be a new religion or a new synthesis of religions, but a process through which we can celebrate the unique contributions of each spiritual tradition, being a way for us to better embrace and be nourished by the marvelous spiritual diversity that has been given to us.
Religion, Spirituality, & InterSpirituality
But what is InterSpirituality? And how does it differ from the basic ideas of religion and spirituality? To make this clear, we first need to define both religion and spirituality. It seems to me that the following definitions by the Dalai Lama suffice for a broad and diverse audience.
Religion I take to be concerned with faith in the claims to salvation of one faith tradition or another, an aspect of which is acceptance of some form of metaphysical or supernatural reality, including perhaps an idea of heaven or nirvana. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma, ritual, prayer, and so on.
— His Holiness, the Dalai Lama
Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit—such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony—which bring happiness to both self and others.
— His Holiness, the Dalai Lama
InterSpirituality is a term I apply to the intentions, processes, and experiences shared by the contemplative spiritual traditions that are nested within the world’s major religions. It connotes a more nuanced approach than conventional inter-faith or inter-religious dialogues based on “tolerance,” “rapprochement,” and “respect.” InterSpirituality goes far deeper, indeed, to the very heart of the spiritual experiences that gave rise to the major religions. It holds the promise of a genuine sharing of our respective spiritual experiences, and a conscious joining at the deepest levels of our being. It suggests a profound level of inter-being-ness with all the elements and beings of existence. InterSpirituality represents the next phase of understanding between people of different spiritual traditions.
The Seven-Part Process of Interspiritual Meditation
InterSpiritual Meditation can be applied to personal practices designed to foster an individual’s spiritual development, as well as for group practice as a means of InterSpiritual sharing. It helps each participant to deepen their own personal spiritual path and to support the spiritual awakening of each other.
Joining in stillness, we are free from imposing our beliefs and the names of our truths on one another. Thus we are able to honor and celebrate the practices of every spiritual tradition in silent assent and acceptance. We can experience a unifying InterSpiritual consciousness emerging from the integrity of each tradition, and we can discover a profound unity within our diversity. We are free to bask in the love and compassion, abundance and strength of our shared wisdom, being of one heart.
Together, we engage silently in a seven-step process of meditation in which each individual participant applies his or her own spiritual understanding and practice to each step. It is a kind of contemplative liturgy for group meditation.
Here’s an abbreviated outline of these seven steps:
1. Step One: Motivation–“May I be healthy and happy.”
Physical, mental and spiritual health are intertwined, and meditation nurtures sustainable health and happiness. We begin meditating with determination and confidence that it will help us to heal the innermost causes of illness and suffering. We rest into InterSpiritual Consciousness for universal healing.
2. Step Two: Gratitude–“May I be grateful for life’s many gifts.”
With gratitude we remember the blessings of friends, family, and the environment that nurtures and sustains us. We are grateful for the easy and not so easy things. We invoke and honor our teachers, mentors, and great role models. We invite them to remain present and pray that their examples will guide us.
3. Step Three: Transformation–“May I be transformed into my highest ideal.”
Focusing on the highest ideals for our life, we acknowledge and confess our shortcomings and promise to patiently persevere in our personal transformation. We vow to remove our inner obstacles and negativities. Without guilt, we forgive others and ourselves as we offer our lives in service to our highest goals.
4. Step Four: Compassion–“May I be loving and compassionate.”
We set our intention on love and compassion–the transforming energy for the health and happiness of all. We vow to help all beings be free from the causes of their suffering.
5. Step Five: Mindfulness–“May I be focused and mindful through breathing.”
Mindfully, we concentrate on our breathing. This calms, clears and focuses our mind. Thoughts, memories and feelings are observed and released. We focus on our breath, drawing it into the heart-center of our being. Opening ourselves to the reciprocity of universal love, healing, and wisdom, we establish the tranquil focus for deep meditation.
6. Step Six: Meditation–“May I become wise through meditation.”
Meditation and contemplation are taught in many ways by many traditions. With sincere respect and appreciation for them and dedication to our own practice, we silently engage in our own meditation. Alone or in community, we deepen our own wisdom as well as our InterSpiritual Communion with other diverse experiences of the “sacred.”
7. Step Seven: Dedication–“May I serve all beings.”
Visualizing our family, friends, colleagues, antagonists, and all beings throughout the world, we rededicate ourselves to becoming servants of peace, justice, and environmental health. May this meditation help us to engage together in the world with passion, patience, kindness, and wisdom.