As we continue to deepen our shared perception of ourselves as a global human people, the role of religious tradition must change. Adherence to a single body of religious teaching has played a role in the early global era as a way to mark cultural distinctiveness, to resist colonialism and to construct personal meaning in a global society which can seem to be merely an alienating commercial market.
Each religious tradition, as it matures, develops multiple layers – the most accessible characterised by adherence to some core ideas and a felt allegiance to the community. Deeper layers require an understanding of the body of thought in the tradition. At the depth of any tradition, lies a heritage of disciplined practice which often sees itself as the practice of the founder or of his or her closest disciples.
The first, most accessible layer is open to almost anyone who walks in the door, but each step deeper requires more commitment to the tradition and this often creates division between very religious people. Commitment to one set of beliefs, one body of thought and one community can mean rejection of other traditions and the people who follow them. As global travel, communication and integration hasten, religious people increasingly encounter each other and these rejections of each other sometimes lead to arguments, violence, even war.
How might this be resolved? The classic answer in the West has been secularism – which began as a political doctrine that religion and politics should stay distinct, but has become a cultural assumption that religion is dying out – that mature societies have no religious convictions. Global studies of cultural attitudes suggest that this trend in the West is far from universal, that in fact religious adherence is increasing globally not decreasing. So how, within religions, can we find a way to integrate multiple religious communities in our global society?
It’s the deepest layers of each religious tradition at which, paradoxically, the traditions find themselves in the greatest agreement – those truths disclosed by disciplined spiritual practice tend to be fairly common across religions. These experiential truths often include a vast spaciousness of non-personal mind and an all-embracing sense of universal love – both of which motivate practitioners to connect across traditions.
It is from seeing these connections between traditions that Mitch Edwards seems to have come to this new book on meditation. As with all of Mitch’s work, the book draws from his own insights into the deep commonalities between spiritual traditions and he illustrates those insights with abundant quotes from various sources, ancient and modern. The result is a delightful ride through the hypertextual panaorama of Mitch’s insights and I recommend you relax and enjoy that view.
Having drawn out these common threads, almost as an afterthought, Mitch delivers in one page a summary of the single practice in common across most traditions – repetitive prayer based on a short phrase, commonly called mantra practice in Asian religions, but familiar to those of us from the Abrahamic traditions too. He suggests that this simple practice can help us see beyond differences to experience the vast mind and universal heart in which we live and move and have our being.
Enjoy “The Mind and Meditation”, but beyond that, try Mitch’s suggestions out and see what lies beyond the city walls, out in the spacious desert.