There is a reality, a mystery not usually in our consciousness. It is pointed to across the ages by mystics who follow religious traditions, by those who don’t ... and by quantum physics. It has been called Tat (That), God, godhead, dharmakaya, Allah, Brahman, Adonai, That Which Cannot Be Named …
The tendency of our minds, our egos and our religions is to conceptualize it and to create dogma around it. Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us:
Your concept or perception of reality is not reality. When you are caught in your perceptions and ideas, you lose reality.
Jalal ad-Din Rumi, 13th-century Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic describes it this way:
Never miss a local story.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
The Bible points at it, too, saying:
And God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.
To me, spirituality is longing for, seeking, abiding in … and as … that reality. The Oxford Dictionary defines a mystic as: A person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.
In contrast, the same dictionary defines religion as: The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, a particular system of faith and worship.
So we can be spiritual without being religious. And vice versa.
Religions have exoteric and esoteric aspects. The exoteric — a church, a mosque, a temple — a mass, a puja, a fire ceremony — is how they look from the outside, varied and diverse. The esoteric is the spirituality at the heart of the religions, where the mystics live. It is one.
True mystics often recognize and respect each other, even though they follow different religions. Thomas Merton, a Euro-American Catholic, said this about Thich Nhat Hanh:
He is more my brother than many who are nearer to me in race and nationality, because he and I see things exactly the same way.
Violence and hate have been, and continue to be, perpetrated by self-identified “followers” of many religions, including contemporary Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. People who do these things lack right understanding and experience of the mystery that is the foundation of their traditions.
From Thich Nhat Hanh, again:
(When) we are in touch with the highest spirit in ourselves, we too are a Buddha, filled with the Holy Spirit, and we become very tolerant, very open, very deep and very understanding.
May this come to be, for people around the world, across traditions.
Shih-In Ma received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Penn State. Her spirit called and she quit a corporate career for an M.A. in transpersonal psychology and began an “unconventional” life. She has practiced and done numerous retreats in Christian, Buddhist and Hindu traditions as well as studying Sufism (mystic Islam) and some shamanism.