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15.5: Connections Between Mystical and Eastern Perspectives

  • Page ID
    12275
  • One of the most pleasing aspects of studying Yoga, Buddhism, Kabbalah, Christian mysticism, and Sufism is the recognition that all of these spiritual approaches to life respect one another. An examination of the works of many authors, representing each of these mystical approaches, suggests that there is but one God of the mystics (Armstrong, 1993). Sufi, Kabbalistic, and Zen practices often seem quite similar, as do select Hindu, Yogic, Buddhist, Judaic, Taoist, and Christian teachings (Holy Bible; Khan, 1999; Lao Tsu, c. 600 B.C./1989; Mitchell, 2000; Walker, 2003). Renowned Buddhist teachers, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama (1996) and Thich Nhat Hahn (1995, 1999), have offered extensive comparisons of Buddhism to Christianity, as Paramahansa Yogananda has compared Yoga to Christianity (Yogananda, 2004a,b). Two of Fr. Laurence Freeman’s books on Christian mysticism have forewords written by the Dalai Lama and Sir Yehudi Menuhin. Menuhin, who was Jewish, was also a personal friend of the guru B. K. S. Iyengar, and wrote the foreword for one of his books (Iyengar, 1966). Fr. Freeman has written an introduction for one of the Dalai Lama’s books. Fr. Thomas Merton was friends with D. T. Suzuki, wrote Mystics & Zen Masters (Merton, 1967), traveled extensively throughout the Far East (Burton, Hart, & Laughlin, 1973), and the Dalai Lama praised Merton as having a more profound understanding of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known. In addition, Merton had a keen interest in Sufism, and taught a course on it, though he claimed not to understand it very well (Baker & Henry, 2005).

    Similar to the importance of a guru, Sufis also emphasize the importance of a teacher, or sheikh. The sheikh must be someone who practices what they preach, in order to be an example for their students. A Sufi sheikh understands not only the complexity of Sufism, but also the complexity of the individual seeking Allah. In Sufism there are no self-appointed sheikhs, and all orders can trace their heritage to the prophet Muhammad (Fadiman & Frager, 1997). In Judaism, a priest is typically called Rabbi, which means teacher, and Jesus was often called Rabbi as well. Rabbis often believed that the whole of Israel (as in the Jewish people), were called to be Rabbis (Armstrong, 1993), and most Christians have heard that they are all called to be evangelists, or those who teach the faith and try to convert others to Christianity. As confusing as the mystical approach to the Deity can be, it should hardly be surprising that mystics believe in the need for a teacher to help others understand this path. When it is done sincerely, for those who are indeed seeking the Deity, it is a wonderful gift to be able to give, and even more so to be able to receive.

    discussion question \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Does the fact that mystics from so many different faiths can come together and share their faith offer hope to the future of humanity? Or will human nature always be a source of prejudice, discrimination, conflict, and war? If religion and/or spirituality cannot help, can psychology surpass them in the service of peace and contentment?

    A Final Thought

    One of the great challenges facing the world today, as it has been for thousands of years, is the belief that one religion is right, and all others are wrong. A Jesuit priest named Fr. Anthony de Mello, SJ (1931-1987), who lived in Poona, India, compared Christian contemplative prayer to a variety of Eastern practices, and wrote marvelous stories to convey this message of diversity (de Mello, 1978, 1982, 1990). The following story, from The Song of the Bird, exemplifies the folly of insisting upon a single religion being the only way to God:

    A Christian once visited a Zen master and said, “Allow me to read you some sentences from the Sermon on the Mount.” “I shall listen to them with pleasure,” said the master. The Christian read a few sentences and looked up. The master smiled and said, “Whoever said those words was truly enlightened.” This pleased the Christian. He read on. The master interrupted and said, “Those words come from a savior of mankind.” The Christian was thrilled. He continued to read to the end. The master then said, “That sermon was pronounced by someone who was radiant with divinity.” The Christian’s joy knew no bounds. He left, determined to return and persuade the master to become a Christian.

    On the way back home he found Jesus standing by the roadside. “Lord,” he said enthusiastically, “I got that man to confess that you are divine!” Jesus smiled and said, “And what good did it do you except to inflate your Christian ego?”

    Unfortunately, Fr. de Mello’s writings led to him being censured by the Roman Catholic Church. Regardless, Fr. de Mello continued to consider the Catholic Church his spiritual home, and he dedicated The Song of the Bird to the church. Clearly, he believed and practiced what he was teaching to others.