Monday, February 11, 2008

What Is Interspirituality?

[Here are my latest musings on the nature of the work I do in Interspiritual dialogue.]

What Carl Jung is to dream, and Joseph Campbell is to myth, Interspirituality is to religion. Just as Jung uncovered and revealed the deep archetypal structures of human dreaming, and Campbell uncovered and revealed the deep psycho-spiritual structures of human mythology, so Interspirituality should seek to uncover and reveal the deep structures of human religion and religiosity.

This is very different from interfaith for which Interspirituality is inevitably mistaken.
Interfaith is a conversation, sometimes benign, sometimes helpful, sometimes necessarily and sometimes unnecessarily confrontational, between people fully ensconced in their respective faiths. The goal is to help one another understand each other’s position, but not to change it or take it to a new level or depth of wisdom. Interfaith “dialogue” is in actuality a series of separate uni-faith monologues, and there is nothing really “inter” about it.

Interspiritual conversations are something else entirely. While articulating and clarifying faith traditions may be the starting point, the goal is to move beyond our respective camps into a place of not-knowing where we explore together what may be true, regardless of what our respective religions say is true. This can only happen among people rooted in their respective traditions who are also dedicated to going deeper; dedicated to the proposition that there is something deeper, and that by sharing with one another we can probe into that deeper unknown to shed light not only on our separate faiths but on the very nature of faith.

This is far more than an exercise in “compare and contrast.” This is something radically different than a series of monologues, “We Hindus believe… We Jews believe…” Interspiritual dialogue has to be done in the spirit of fearless, compassionate, and respectful inquiry. Each participant has to be ready to say— in light of what may come up in conversation— “My tradition may be wrong about this;” “My religion may have to rethink and change this;” or even “My religion knows nothing of this and should adapt what your religion sees that we might see more clearly ourselves.”

There can be no defensiveness, no boundaries, no settling for “we agree to disagree.” Where we cannot see any further we have to humbly wait for the Spirit to show us the next step. That is why Interspiritual conversations must be rooted in silence, not-knowing, humility, and contemplative practice and inquiry, unlike conventional interfaith dialogues with are too often rooted in official dogma and approved chatter.

In Interspiritual conversation participants must be radically open to the other. Not that we find a generic faith that trumps individual faiths, but that we continually point to the fact that religions are like the proverbial blind men describing the elephant. Each has a piece of the picture, but even the sum of the parts does not yield the whole.

I am more than willing, in fact I am compelled, to say that my own tradition, Judaism, is, to borrow the Buddhist phrase, a finger pointing to the moon and not the moon itself. Interfaith dialogue focuses on the fingers; Interspirituality should focus on the moon.

To do this participants in Interspiritual conversations need to learn the core teachings of the various faiths represented in a larger context. Without a larger container for our conversations all we end up with is a potpourri of spiritual platitudes and a pseudo-universalism rooted in the false notion that all religions are saying the same things. All religions, just as all dreams and all myths, draw from the same pool of human needs and nature, but what they do with these is shaped by their unique histories and cultures. Interspirituality needs to direct our attention to that shared pool, identify the needs that are driving things, and then try to articulate the greater truth seeking to speak through the diverse voices of the world’s religions.

This does not negate the notion that there is something divine involved here. But the image is not of God revealing religion to humanity, but of humanity seeking to reveal God through religion. If we assume that our respective faiths are given by God, and are therefore True, Complete, and Perfect in and of themselves, there is no need for Interspirituality at all; interfaith will do just fine. Interspirituality, as I see it, is not rooted in God, Tao, Dharmakaya, Reality but in humanity’s search for This. As such all religions are human in origin and limited by human nature. I realize this goes against the grain of revealed faiths, but unless we can make this Copernican revolution in religious thinking we have nothing to offer but a refinement of interfaith tongue wagging and head butting.


Unknown said...

Good distinction, Rami.

I like the word. My wife and I practice different traditions, yet we hold very similar values in our traditions. Interfaith always seems so clinical and tidy, respecting out of tolerance, yet not out of passionate love. We have an interspiritual marriage, I think I could say.

AaronHerschel said...

Your buddhist proverb about the finger pointing to the moon reminded me of this poem by William Carlos Williams:

To A Solitary Disciple
William Carlos Williams

Rather notice, mon cher,
that the moon is
titled above
the point of the steeple
than that its color
is shell-pink.

Rather observe
that it is early morning
than that the sky
is smooth
as a turquoise.

Rather grasp
how the dark
converging lines
of the steeple
meet at a pinnacle—
perceive how
its little ornament
tries to stop them—

See how it fails!
See how the converging lines
of the hexagonal spire
escape upward—
receding, dividing!
that guard and contain
the flower!

how motionless
the eaten moon
lies in the protective lines.
It is true:
in the light colors
of the morning

brown-stone and slate
shine orange and dark blue

But observe
the oppressive weight
of the squat edifice!
the jasmine lightness
of the moon.