A Universal Communal Spirituality

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

The discovery and emergence of community between and among the religions and the various cultures around the planet are a vital component of interspirituality. The active commitment to this large community is itself a new type of pragmatic spirituality. All those who are working in this area of interspiritual community are actually engaged in developing this new form of spiritual life. I especially want to give credit to Wayne Teasdale and Thomas Keating’s work in this field, along with Thomas Merton of course.

What does it mean to be human? Of all the different species on this planet, man has the most complex brain structure of all of them. Our body is designed to sustain life and give order and meaning to it. We have a unique ability to SEEK. What are the processes that maintain human life moment to moment? When we look deeply at how humans structure and live life, and compare it with the processes inherent in the universe, we see chaos vs. order. We humans have the unbelievable capacity to create chaos. It is in our DNA maybe. When we seek order we look at both nature around us and look out into the vast reaches of space. And we experience order. Experience yes, but understand – maybe not. BUT…what humans have developed over time is a capacity to understand changes of the world around us, and have developed the capacity for SPIRIT, equanimity and moral order. Thus we attempt to control this social chaos in meaningful ways. Another human characteristic is that of WONDER. A wonder we can share with others of deep faith that in turn motivates energy for seeking. Seeking the integrity of everything.

We have developed a transcendent quality to over come our tendency for self destruction. This quality I will call spirit, that has permeated our civilization and created the moral by which we are sustained. Human spirit is a quality of human life that results in living a creative existence; a poetic humanness that in turn engenders the feeling of wonder. You might be interested to know that the word spirit in Latin means “to breath”. As Jon Kabat-Zinn puts it, “The in breath is inspiration; the out breath expiration. From these come all the associations of spirit with the breath of life..”. This, I see, is the root of spirituality. Human spirit is an enrichment. We use our consciousness to make our selves a better person when we come to realize the interconnectiveness we have to the whole universe; to all creation; and especially with each other.

Now, I agree with Kabat-Zinn when he says that he avoids using the word “spiritual” particularly in the way we hold the sharpening and deepening understanding of a meditation practice; especially in my own Buddhist practice. This is not to deny that meditation can be thought of fundamentally as a spiritual practice. It’s just that I have a problem like he does with the inaccurate and frequently misguided notion of the word. But I also recognize that when using mindfulness meditation and practices this allows everything to shine with the luminosity that the word spiritual is meant to mean. So in this context I use the word with no trepidation.

This conscience understanding of interconnectiveness and interdependency is how we come to realize the social nature of human existence. We are social beings. Promoting the growth of bonds of community is a necessary spiritual activity. Such an activity is an act of solidarity with all living beings. Breaking down the barriers that separate the religions and spreading the spirit of acceptance, mutual trust, and understanding is a profoundly spiritual act and one that advances community in the world and lays the foundations for a universal spiritualism.

We all originate from the tribe, although the narrative of our lives depends on how we are as we adapt to our individual experiences. So many of our skills as a species were learned and perfected in this early formative experience within this tribal community. It is in community that compassion and altruism have a room to unfold and take root in individuals. It is in and through community that the human family will resolve the ecological crisis that has been at least partially caused by people living apart in cultural divides.

Just as interspirituality became possible with the rise of community in the interfaith movement, the emergence of a global spirituality is only feasible as a result of the openness, mutual trust, goodwill, and generosity of the members of the world’s diverse traditions. The spiritual life of the next thousand years and beyond will have these significant components: it will be contemplative, interspiritual, socially engaged, environmentally responsible, holistic, engaging of other media, and cosmically open.

I am not suggesting a monolithic spiritual belief. But a respect for the common nature of the spiritual practice each of our traditions has that makes us a family within “the universal human expression.” The various religious and spiritual traditions will remain viable as long as they respond to the changes that come to reflect the contemporary discoveries of science, global social realities, and most importantly – by keeping this capacity for seeking the wonder of the spirit that is found in all of us if we quite the mind and listen for the voice within.

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