“Physicist Stephen Hawking has remarked that mysticism is for those who can’t do the math. In response to Hawking’s remark, George Cairns retorted, ‘Mystics are people who don’t need to do the math. They have direct experience!’”
So begins The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale. This lucid and open-minded book seeks to discover the universal spirituality to be found at the heart of the world’s religions. Wayne Teasdale was a Catholic and later a lay monk and mystic who devoted himself to spreading interfaith understanding with the aim of bringing about what he called the Interspiritual Age. He recognised that mysticism enhances and accelerates the evolution of consciousness, and that we need these mystical truths in order to transform our culture and survive the challenges of the 21st century.
The Interspiritual Age
The Interspiritual Age is already underway. It embraces a new awareness of our interconnectedness which is arising in response the destructive materialist value system that dominates Western culture. The meaninglessness at the heart of materialism drives us to distraction, consumerism and greed, fuelling the fragmentation of society and the devastation of the environment.
“We have become spiritually illiterate: ignorant of the realisation that life is a spiritual journey, that everything is sacred or a manifestation of the ultimate mystery. We are morally confused, precisely because of this illiteracy. And this illiteracy and confusion have led directly to psychological dysfunction.”
Since all our major problems are global, we will need to find global or collective solutions. We need to build a universal civilisation with a heart which draws its inspiration from the perennial wisdom found in all spiritual traditions.
Every religion has a similar origin: a spiritual awakening experienced by its founders. This is the mystic heart and the foundation for a new universal religion. In talking about a universal religion, Brother Wayne doesn’t mean all religions will blend into an homogenous mush. He advocates a multifaith collaboration built on mutual respect and a shared vision.
Religion v Spirituality
At this point, it’s worth noting the difference between spirituality and religion. Spirituality involves a direct personal connection with the absolute or divine. It means taking personal responsibility for your own spiritual growth, whether within a tradition or not. Religion functions as a carrier of tradition within a community, but it can become dogmatic and even oppose direct mystical experience. Religion can discourage people from making their own choices and so inhibit them from taking personal responsibility for their spiritual journey.
An example of this difference between spirituality and religion, and interspirituality, comes from Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati. Born Joyce Green, Ma grew up Jewish in Brooklyn and later became a spiritual teacher rooted in the Hindu tradition. Brother Wayne recounts an amusing incident which occurred at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, where the Dalai Lama spoke to a crowd of 70,000 people. Wayne was walking with Ma:
“At the edge of Grant Park, where the event had taken place, a number of fundamentalist Christians picketed the proceedings and handed out leaflets attacking the Parliament as demonic. As we walked past a group of them, one man confronted Ma, pushing a brochure toward her and demanding, ‘Do you know Jesus Christ?’ Calmly, and with a smile, Ma told him, ‘Know him? Honey, I’m his mother!’ The poor fundamentalist was dumbfounded.”
The Call to Mysticism
If we want to change the dysfunctional structures of society and steer a course away from the destruction of everything we care about, we must transform ourselves from within first. A revolution without spirituality at its heart would fail because only spirituality transforms from the inside. The coming age needs a spiritual revolution because only a transformation of that depth and profundity will bring us together.
The Mystic Heart provides the tools needed to participate in this spiritual revolution. We are all mystics at heart, whether we’re aware of it or not. But we must choose to act on it.
“Each of us is called to be a mystic. To be a human being means that we are invited into the possibility of transcendental life and experience. We are not here simply to pursue a profane existence spent plotting the course of our human happiness. That is what seems to happen to so many of us, but it needn’t be that way.
We are meant for greater things.
…Such a possibility, however, takes perspective, work, and discipline; it doesn’t come easily, nor in most cases does it just happen. Understanding the mystical dimension of life takes great effort, but it is not impossible.”
The Mystic Heart looks at the similarities and differences between all the major religions, and the shared spiritual practises across the traditions. For those who wish to dig deeper, a comprehensive reading list is included, as well as a handy glossary of terms. Brother Wayne also details how spirituality works through us whether we pursue an inner path of contemplation and/or an outer path of action and service. Other subjects covered include:
- the stages of human development and how they relate to spiritual growth
- the levels of awareness and how they relate to divine and human identity
- the universal components of mystical spirituality and the nature of the mystic character
- the natural world and beauty as vehicles for spiritual revelation
- how the goal of the spiritual path is conceived in each tradition and how they complement each other
I particularly enjoyed the exploration of the similarities and differences between Christianity and Buddhism which sums up the aims of the Interspiritual Age:
“…if Christianity, taken as a representative of all theistic traditions, and Buddhism, a non-theistic religion or, as some call it, a psychology, can somehow reconcile their differences, then perhaps all the faiths can similarly be brought into harmony.”
The Mystic Heart is an inspiring guide to mysticism and spirituality, providing a necessary balance to religious fundamentalism, secular pluralism and fragmentation. Whatever your chosen tradition, whether you identify yourself as a mystic or not, this book is an excellent place to start developing a deeper understanding of the variety of faiths we share and find the common values on which we can build a future worth living for.
“The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He (or she) to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.” – Albert Einstein