A Big Experiment

The Perennial Tradition

A Big Experiment
Friday, August 16, 2019

Rami Shapiro, a rabbi, teacher, and author on Judaism and spirituality reflects on the enriching, powerful experience of interspiritual dialogue initiated by Fr. Thomas Keating (1923–2018).

In 1984 Father Thomas Keating invited a small group of contemplatives from eight different religious traditions—Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic, Native American, Russian Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic—to gather at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, to engage in what he called “a big experiment.” [1]

The experiment was to see what would happen when meditators from different traditions meditated together and shared the spiritual insights they gleaned from their meditation. Within a few days it became clear to the attendees that while their religious vocabularies were different, their experiences were not. As one attendee put it:

I enter into meditation as a slice of American cheese: thick and solid; my egoic self intact and feeling apart from both God and creation. I return from meditation as a slice of Swiss cheese: thin and filled with holes. I know myself and all others to be a part of God. Indeed, there is no other at all, only the One, the Whole, the Ultimate Reality I am calling God. And with this sense of wholeness comes a sense of holiness, a sense of love from and for all beings. . . .

During the first few years of the Snowmass Conference, a series of agreements arose among the attendees. Father Thomas compiled the first eight and brought them to the group for consideration. With lots of conversation and some editing, the Snowmass Conference Eight Points of Agreement came into being. We include them here as a way of sharing a contemporary expression of perennial wisdom arising not from ancient texts but from the lived experience of contemporary mystics—women and men who, while coming from specific traditions, dare to step beyond them to see what is on its own terms.

The Eight Points of Agreement

  1. The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality, to which they give various names.
  2. Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.
  3. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.
  4. Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.
  5. The potential for human wholeness—or, in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transcendence, transformation, blessedness—is present in every human being.
  6. Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service to others.
  7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.
  8. Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate Reality. [2]

It took us until the late 20th century to say such things, and now we almost see them as obvious. There is indeed an evolution of consciousness and a convergence of consciousness that does not need to dismiss or dilute any one tradition.

References:
[1] The Common Heart: An Experience of Interreligious Dialogue, ed. Netanel Miles-Yepez (Lantern Books: 2006), 1.

[2] Thomas Keating, “The Points of Agreement,” Introduction to The Common Heart, xvii-xviii.

The World Wisdom Bible: A New Testament for a Global Spirituality, ed. Rami Shapiro (Skylight Paths Publishing: 2017), 150-151.

Image credit: A Moment of Prayer (detail), Frederick Arthur Bridgeman, 1877, Private Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In every historical epoch and in every cultural tradition, there are those who practice a form of contemplation that puts them in a position to receive the gift of an unfiltered divine encounter. —James Danaher

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