Deep within us we carry a question which we cannot even put into words — the God question. But in our best, deepest moments we suddenly experience the answer and we say, “This is it!””

Richard Smoley: To begin with, I’m wondering what use you think there is for the concept of the saint today.  A saint seems to be someone who was once alive on earth, who developed something exceptional, and whose help can still be called upon.

Brother David Steindl-Rast: I’m interested that you picked just those elements.  Intercession is one aspect, of course, but the official notion of a saint in the Catholic church is that a saint is one who has followed Christ with heroic virtue.  This term “heroic virtue” is important and rather interesting.  The notion of the saint comes very close to the notion of the hero, particularly in the sense that the hero is constitutive of the community; the hero creates community.  You can actually say that a community in the full sense is a group of people who have a shared hero — even the Deadheads, for example.

Of course in the full sense the hero is a model that shows us what life is all about.  It’s all about dying into a greater fullness of life over and over again.  The hero is singled out as representative of a particular group of people — a king or a priest or some exalted figure — and goes through some form of death, then returns to the community as life-giver.  Even the Gospels are at least subconsciously modeled on this hero pattern: Jesus is our hero.  That notion of Jesus as hero of the Christian church, although we hardly ever use that term, is ancient.  In early texts you have Jesus compared with Greek heroes; in the Middle Ages, you have songs about “Christ our hero”; in the nineteenth century you have Hopkins, who speaks of the “hero of Calvary” and “Christ my chevalier.”  So Jesus is the hero of all Christians.  The saints, mirroring one or another aspect of Jesus Christ, are heroes — male or female — for subgroups within the Church.

The other aspect you mentioned was intercession.  That’s very important, I think, because the saints that really matter to people are those whose intercession they call upon.  We find that very early in the Christian church.  In its historic development, the veneration of saints has sometimes had unhealthy overtones.  A Christian really doesn’t need a mediator to Christ; Christ is the mediator to God.  But early on you have the saint as a go-between between us and Christ, the go-between between us and the go-between.  That’s a little unhealthy.

But for an intelligent Catholic Christian today, the intercession of the saints and hagiography in general can also have something very positive.  I’m personally very interested in saints; I like to read the lives of the saints, and I pray for the intercession of the saints every day; I pray to a whole slew of saints.  But it’s not in the sense that I need a go-between or anything like that.  You’re a member of the family, and if one of your family members is a very wealthy person, then you too will be better off for it, because that wealthy uncle might once in a while give you money.  The saints have achieved closeness to God; by keeping close to them, you have a better chance of coming close to God himself.  By keeping good company even with living “saints,” spending a lot of time with them — satsang, the Buddhists call it — your spirit will be uplifted.  It’ll make you better.  But if you spend a lot of time with people who are likely to lead you astray, that’s not so good.  In this sense, a close relationship with the saints is something very healthy.

And then of course nothing has as much power to change our lives as the example of others.  No theory, not even any higher experience, has as much power as when it is embodied in a human person.  Unfortunately, there is a lack of heroes in our time.  Young people especially are looking for heroes, not in the narrow sense, but in the wider sense of persons with whom they can identify and by whom they can be inspired.

There are many new books on saints out.  I like the approach of Lawrence Cunningham.  He wrote What Is a Saint? and The Catholic Heritage.  But this heritage is totally embodied, there are no abstractions in that book.  Cunningham goes through all the types of saints, for instance the warrior.  This type embraces both the saints who were martyrs because they refused to serve in the Roman army or other armies, and those who were actually soldiers.  Other types are the ascetic, the pilgrim, the artist, the activist, even the outsider; there is a very important kind of “saint” who has to be an outsider with regard to the Church.

Smoley: What you say about modeling is interesting because if you take the typical life of a saint, you see that the saint is very elevated.  That can evoke two kinds of response.  One is “I’d like to be more like that.”  The other, which is equally typical, is “This is impossible.  I might as well give up.”

Brother David: And you excuse yourself from reaching a level you could reach because you’re looking at a level that you can’t reach.

Smoley: How could you look at that so as to encourage yourself?

Brother David: It depends.  You might be looking at a form of hagiography that makes the saint into so elevated a personage that this model cannot really be imitated.  In that case, I would say don’t read that kind of hagiography, it will only lead you astray.  But the saints were human exactly as we are.  They should be presented with their human weaknesses; they don’t have to be perfect in every way.  The more I look at the lives of saints, the more I find that even in the great saints and in those I most admire, there’s maybe not even 50 percent really to be imitated.  Like us, the saints had human shortcomings.  But they had some outstanding quality that redeemed all the rest.  To show that a very imperfect human creature — which so many saints are and were — can really be perfect in spite of all those imperfections, that’s what a healthy hagiography wants to show.  By the way, are you familiar with the enneagram?

Smoley: Yes.

Brother David: Well, even just a basic familiarity with the enneagram shows you that every human being chooses a partial perfection and so becomes imperfect in a typical way.  That’s pretty evident when you begin to study it.  The enneagram shows that everyone is eccentric in one way or another.  We’re out of the center.  We have to find our balance by moving to a different position on the periphery of the circle. It’s a lifetime task to overcome the particular form of warpedness that each of us has chosen.  But notice that the circle on which the types of the enneagram are arranged is a figure completely different from that traditional one, the ladder, with its different rungs and degrees of sanctity that we had before. 

It’s a totally different approach to human perfection, and therefore to hagiography, if you start out with the circle of the enneagram, in which each type is a point on the periphery and all are off center; the center is Christ, you might say.  All are the same distance of center when we start out.  No one is better off than the other and everyone is in a sense badly off.  We have to overcome our weakness and “go against the arrows,” as the enneagram would say.  That’s such a different thing from having to climb a ladder with the saints on the top and you somewhere on the bottom.  When you go from rung to rung, it’s a linear image; it doesn’t do justice to real life.

Smoley: Of course the ladder is such a traditional image, like Jacob’s ladder in Genesis.

Brother David: Sure, St. John Climacus, St. Benedict, St. Bernard — the idea of a ladder of perfection plays a very important role.  And of course there are some positive aspects to that image too.  But we live in a time of change from linear thinking to global thinking.  In the course of this enormous change, which has happened within my lifetime, some traditional images like the ladder have lost a lot of their power.  We have to find new ones; the enneagram fits better.

Smoley: The question of the enneagram brings up one thing that you had mentioned in an interview several years ago.  You said you didn’t think there was such a thing as an esoteric Christian teaching in the sense of some hidden wisdom that Christ passed on to some of his disciples.  Some say the enneagram came from esoteric Christian teachings, some say from Sufi teachings…

Brother David: Sufi, more likely.

Smoley: What is the role of esoteric teaching in Christianity?  Is there such a thing?  Is that a proper way of looking at it?

Brother David: In 1 Corinthians 2:6, St. Paul says something like, “We teach a wisdom that is for the perfect,” and that has often been understood as some secret teaching that is handed on privately.  Or as the Gospels say, “Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables but to his disciples he explained them,” and so on.  Yet the evidence that there was any secret teaching that was handed on only to the initiated is nil.

There is of course a hidden teaching in every tradition, and also in the Christian tradition.  And the best way of hiding something is to put it out in the open, where nobody who looks for hidden things will ever find it.  So the hidden teaching is right out front, but you have to have eyes to see.  What does that mean in our context, having eyes to see?  It means that you will get at it by committing yourself.  That links up with what was probably from the beginning the intention of that saying, “Those who have will receive; those who do not have, even what they have will be taken away from them.”  Originally that was a proverb that Jesus used; as we say, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”  That’s a common observation; he is probably saying, “Well, don’t you know that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?  It’s the same in the spiritual life.”  That might very well be, and I suspect it is, the kernel of this saying.

But what does it mean?  Well, in Luke, I believe it is, there is an explicit reference to listening: “Take care how you listen!”  Those who give ear and really listen, who have this attention, this openness, more will be given to them.  And those who don’t have any interest will lose what little they have got.  It’s a matter of opening yourself, committing yourself to the message, and then you will enter into those hidden secrets, into the esoteric, if you want.  But it’s not esoteric in the sense that it is not divulged to others.  There were such teachings among the alchemists in the Middle Ages, and also among the Gnostics, but I do not see anything of that sort in genuine Christianity.  And again this fits nicely into hagiography: the saints didn’t achieve heroic virtue and achieve the spiritual status they had because they were given hidden clues, like you give somebody a tip to betting on horses.  They were not given more than any others, and often they had some severe handicaps.  But they committed themselves.

Smoley: So attention and commitment and openness would be the esoteric keys…

Brother David: The keys to the hidden message.  The terms “esoteric” and “exoteric” don’t fit here very well.  Christianity doesn’t have what one normally thinks of as an esoteric teaching.

Smoley: Earlier you alluded to the saint as ascetic.  Much of the emotional charge that the ordinary seeker has toward monastic life relates to the renunciation and asceticism that have been part of monastic discipline for a long time.  People feel a bit apprehensive about it, maybe because of the weakness of modern people, maybe because they’ve seen abuses of the body in past and present.  What is the proper role for asceticism now, particularly in a monastic context?

Brother David: Well, when you start out with the very word “asceticism,” it means “training,” it comes from the athletic vocabulary.  That is the goal: training in the spiritual life.  We know that our athletes do many of the things that ascetics in a religious context do; they have a certain diet, they fast, they abstain from liquor and drugs, and so forth.  They often have to have sexual restrictions, or at least some of them think that they have to, so there are all sorts of restrictions they have to undergo.  You take upon yourself a certain discipline.  But that is only the negative aspect of something very positive, that you are radically committed to something for a high goal; you want to win the prize.  And you know how ancient that is in the Christian scriptures, the comparison between spiritual and athletic discipline.         

So monastic asceticism is something very positive; you’re striving for single-minded attention, single-minded presence to the present moment, and for a single-minded orientation of your life.  For the sake of that, you take on certain restrictions that other people do not take upon themselves.  Unfortunately there have also been many abuses in the past, examples of a very misguided asceticism; as you hinted, asceticism can develop into something life-denying into enmity toward the body and disregard for common sense.  That has all happened, and if you put side by side the excesses of indulgence and the excesses of asceticism, they might hold one another in balance over the course of history.  Some indulge themselves to insanity, others restrain themselves to insanity.  Some flip from one to the other.  I remember Father Thomas Keating telling about those types that come to the monastery: “Formerly they drank everybody under the table and now they fast everybody under the table.”  It’s all competition, and that has nothing to do with monastic life.  So that would be my main point: asceticism is a means to an end and not an end in itself by any means.

Another thing is that we always address the asceticism of the so-called ascetics, but very few people speak about the asceticism of family life.  At least from the perspective of a monk, the asceticism of family life is greater than that of the monastery.  That is not something I have invented.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux spoke about it already as long ago as the eleventh century: how monks should have the greatest respect for householders, because if they’re serious about living their Christian faith, we have a lot to learn from them.  There’s a built-in asceticism in a householder’s life that you can’t avoid.  Monks get up to pray during the night, but if they decide not to do so, they don’t get up.  There is no built-in absolute necessity to do so.  But if your baby cries in the middle of the night, you have to get up; there’s no maybe about it.  And so with almost every one of the ascetic disciplines; in their own way, they’re imposed on the householder.         

Monks are aware of this, and not only in the Christian tradition.  In the Buddhist tradition, the Sufi tradition, and the other traditions too, you will find stories about an ascetic, a very holy person, who prays to God: “Now I have climbed all these rungs of perfection, where is there another teacher?”  And then he is led to the most despised layperson as the great model.  The Buddhist will be guided to a butcher.  St. Anthony of the Desert was sent to Alexandria to a doctor.  Today a doctor is somewhat respected socially, but in those days the surgeon was cast with the barber as not being very respectable.  So he was sent to this despised doctor, who was helping the sick.  Typically in these stories some monk or monklike figure is sent to a layperson to learn what perfection really is. 

Smoley: And of course in the Gospels Jesus preferred the company of whores and tax collectors to that of Pharisees and scribes. 

Brother David: Right. 

Smoley: What about celibacy?  What are the uses of celibacy?  Is sexual energy transformed into something higher? 

Brother David: I can only tell you about it from my point of view.  I don’t want to talk about things that I have not personally experienced.  I know of people whom I very much respect who would give you a totally different interpretation of celibacy.  Mother Tessa, for example, is a Carmelite monastic; she speaks beautifully about celibacy in terms of bridal symbolism.  Carmelites inherited the imagery of the bride of Christ from St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross.  It’s beautiful and poetic, but it’s a bit foreign to my personal experience.

I approach celibacy from a very practical point of view.  I see sexuality as the bodily expression of our relatedness to others.  It’s present in every relationship, even the most casual, and we do well to make sure that the expression is genuine.  If monastics totally belong to everyone they meet — and that’s their calling — how can they genuinely express this in the realm of sexuality?  Total promiscuity might be one way, but that’s not very practical.  The most realistic form is that of relating to everyone as brother or sister — celibacy. The restrictions on our sexuality are not imposed on celibates because there is something wrong with sexuality, but only because if you have set yourself certain goals in life, you have to fit the use of your sexuality to these goals.  And the goal that monastics have set themselves — mindfulness, full belonging to all, full availability to all — this goal puts very severe limits on the use of sexuality. 

The real glory of celibacy comes not from having freed yourself from something that is inglorious; on the contrary, you let go of it with the greatest regret.  The glory comes from having so single-mindedly set yourself on something that you’re holding up — that quest for total mindfulness and universal belonging — that you’re even willing to deprive yourself, and others possibly, of something so glorious as sexuality.

Smoley: There’s an enormous interest in Christian contemplative practices today; the Orthodox Prayer of the Heart comes to mind.  Where in Latin Christianity can somebody go for contemplative practice?

Brother David: Well, my own practice is the Jesus Prayer, which was originally Eastern, but is widespread in Western Christianity also.  First let me say that any practice, not only Christian practices but other practices, that are helpful for the spiritual life are to be encouraged.  We don’t look where it comes from.  I think St. Irenaeus said, “If some statement is true, don’t ask where it comes from.  It’s always the Holy Spirit.”  You can apply this here too.  You can say that if a practice is truly helpful don’t look where it comes from, it’s always the Holy Spirit that has inspired it.

But since you ask what is typically Western, I would mention an unfortunately not well-known practice; it is typically Benedictine, St. Benedict mentions it, and it is called lectio divina — “spiritual reading.”  It consists of reading, as the name says — not necessarily, but typically, sacred scripture — but reading not as much as you can but as little as you can.  So you read only one word, maybe, of a passage, and that already sends you, because you give yourself completely to that.  You let it speak to you and it takes you where it comes from.  So if one word is enough, fine; if you need two words, all right; maybe you need a whole sentence, all right; maybe you need a whole page or two, and that’s all right still, but the less the better.  And then this reading sends you into — I would not say reflecting on what you have read, because that is too active — but into basking in it, savoring it, and that usually lasts for a little while, depending on your psychological state.  Sooner or later you begin to daydream, and then you can come back to the next word or the next sentence or the next page, so that the reading is really like a landing strip from which to take off, and whenever you can’t stay in the air anymore, you come back down to it, taxi, and take off again.  Lectio divina is a practice that has been continuously in use in the Benedictine tradition for fifteen hundred years.  There are now many lay people who practice it too, and they find it very helpful, but it isn’t as well known as it should be, and it is a typical Western meditation practice.

Smoley: Perhaps you’d like to say a little bit about your own practice with the Jesus Prayer.  I’m not familiar with those beads you’re holding, for example.

Brother David: Well, I made them.  I wear them on my finger as a ring.  They have ten beads, so I can use them as a rosary.  The moving of the beads sets in motion a psychomotoric circular process.  It takes some practice, but every time you move the bead, it lets this prayer run off on a subliminal level.  While I talk with you or do other things, moving the beads triggers something within me that lets this prayer flash through my heart.

As you know, there are many different forms of the Jesus Prayer, longer and shorter forms.  I really use only the short form: “Lord Jesus, mercy; Lord Jesus, mercy.”  I find the others too long; I get distracted.  Also with my breathing, “Lord Jesus, mercy; Lord Jesus, mercy” works better.  Besides, I think there is a lot of emphasis in our tradition on sins, and the longer form, “Have mercy on me, a sinner” reinforces that emphasis.  We certainly are sinners, rightly understood.  Not even so much personally, but we live in a world of alienation, of sin; no matter how good-willed you are, you really can’t help causing millions of people in the Third World to be exploited, just by the fact that you live in the First World.  This is sin, much more than your little peccadilloes.  I really am quite aware of this sinfulness.  But I don’t think it is necessary to rub it in with every breath.  I’d rather praise God for having forgiven and overcome sin.  When I say, “Lord Jesus, mercy,” that can be a call for mercy, you are showing!”  It’s a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

Smoley: Our discussion has mostly been in the context of institutional Christianity; yet institutional Christianity seems to be at some sort of crisis, and a lot of people have turned away from it, partly as a reaction to what Christianity has or is believed to have perpetrated in the past.  I’m wondering where you see it going, and where you see the spirituality of the future, for mankind in general, going.

Brother David: Again I speak mostly from the Catholic point of view.  I think you are correct in saying that we have reached a crisis point, but I wouldn’t focus on what we have done wrong in the past.  Surely there is plenty of that, from the Crusades to the witch-burnings to the treatment of the Jews and so forth.  But today’s crisis goes deeper than all that.  One ancient flaw has today reached an unprecedented peak, and that is the abuse of power and centralization.  The emphasis on power and centralization really started very early; and in the first centuries it was probably necessary, humanly speaking, to help the church survive.  But when it was joined to the political power of Rome and became politicized, it really continued to get out of hand.  It is one of those flaws in the Christian tradition that so far has only gotten worse and worse.  Some other abuses, like those of the Renaissance popes, hit bottom and were eliminated.  We don’t have crusades; we don’t burn witches anymore.  But this centralization of power has never abated, and now has reached a point where it is obvious — or should be obvious — to observers inside and outside of the structure that it can’t go on.

I find myself in a position today where the last thing I want to do is push these structures and make them topple over.  They are standing on such thin clay feet that we can’t afford to make them topple over.  They’re going to topple whether we like it or not.  We have to spend all our energy on preparing for how we’re going to pick up the pieces when the structure collapses.  The collapse is imminent.  I can’t tell you whether it’s a matter of days or years or decades, but it is imminent.  Anyone could have predicted that the Berlin Wall was going to fall, though no one could tell when.  We were surprised it went that fast, but it was obvious that it had to fall.  Whatever becomes rigid crumbles.  So this rigid power structure of the Vatican is bound to fall.

I’ve grown up in the church.  I come from a Catholic country and from a Catholic family.  I’m totally identified with the church.  Therefore I am primarily concerned with how we are going to rescue the spirit that created the external structures that are now about to collapse.  How are we going to strengthen that spirit and help it to find new forms?  Life always creates structures; structures don’t create life.  They protect it to a certain extent, and for that I’m grateful.  But now we have to make the spirit really strong, so that when the external forms collapse, out of that strong spirit new forms will come.  What shape they will take, I haven’t the slightest idea.

Actually, the question of centralization and power politics in the church is quite relevant to your hagiography question.  When things are the way they should be in the Christian church, a particular local group will recognize a member of their community as exemplifying the life of Christ in a heroic way: their local saint.  This is the way it should go: from the grass roots up, not by a fiat from above and far away.  More and more people are becoming conscious nowadays of how the process of canonization has become politicized.  We have experienced it here in California with Junipero Serra; he was beatified.  I certainly believe that he was a devoted missionary.  I have no indication that he didn’t exercise heroic virtue for the love of God.  I visit his tomb whenever I have the chance.  But I think that to beatify him in opposition to the wishes of our Native American brethren is not only unwise but uncharitable.  Besides, we have other candidates for canonization who have exercised heroic virtue in helping the Native Americans, Bartolome de las Casas, for example.  He was a Dominican; the Dominicans have tried to get him beatified, but there is nothing happening there.  Well, of course he was also controversial; I’m aware of that.

Maybe the Mohawk Tekakwitha would be more acceptable to Native Americans, but I’m not sure.  Black Christians at any rate have raised objections to the beatification of Toussaint, a black man from Haiti.  They claim that he represents virtues that appeal to whites who would call a genuine black Christian saint “uppity.”  Tensions of this kind cannot be solved as long as white authorities in Rome decide who is to represent genuine black or Native American sanctity.  Their predominant whiteness is not even the major problem, but there is also the question of their recent fascist leanings, represented by the way Opus Dei railroaded their founder, Monsignor Josemaria Escriva de Balanguer, through, despite the most serious objections against his beatification.  At the same time, there is no support from the Vatican for veneration of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, hero and martyr for millions in Central America.  Or what would happen in the unlikely event that the United States Bishops’ Conference should declare, “Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker was really somebody whom we in our time and place can put forward as a model for Christian living”?  Under the present system there is no chance of this happening.

Smoley: We discussed that issue from a Catholic context. What do you see America needing spiritually?  It’s not predominantly a Catholic nation.

Brother David: I’m actually engaged much more in that question than in the other one.  This also ties in with the ecological question, which is intimately connected with the religious question nowadays.

The core of every religious tradition is the mystical tradition, and mysticism is the experience of limitless belonging.  That means limitless belonging to God, if you want to use that term, but also to all humans, to all animals, to all plants — that’s at the core of the mystical tradition.  And since the mystical tradition is at the core of religion, that sense of belonging is both ecological and religious.

Why would we do something about our environment?  Because we belong here; this Earth is our home, our family.  We have a responsibility toward it.  Religion and ecology are deeply connected.  For many people who wouldn’t be caught dead in any church of any denomination, that ecological rightness is their religion, and I think that’s perfectly valid.  But also for many people who are Christians or Jews or Muslims or whatever else they may be, deep ecology is a genuine expression of their religious creed.  In answer to your question, then, what is most urgently needed in American spirituality today is an ecological awakening.  That would be the most appropriate religious gesture for today, it would require all the virtues that religion implies — faith, hope, love, sacrifice — and it’s urgent.  Unless this spiritual awakening takes place, we’re lost.

At this point the number one offender is the military, with its economic ramifications.  A fraction of the money we’re spending on arms could deliver the whole world from hunger and pollution.  And the military is the world’s worse polluter, not only in the roundabout way of taking money that could be used to save the environment, but in that the money itself is spent on polluting the world.  Think of the nuclear arsenal, all the planes and submarines and so on.  Fritjof Capra and I published a book calledBelonging to the Universe: these points are developed in the book.

Smoley: One prominent advocate of the ecological view that you allude to is Matthew Fox.  What do you think of the whole Matthew Fox case?

Brother David: Aha!  Well, Matthew Fox is my friend, and I think he is fulfilling a very important function within the church — and I stress within the church, because prophets have to be within; from the outside, they would only be outside critics.  I think he’s perfectly justified in saying what he says; but few people know that there are others within the church — many others — who are saying exactly the same things, possibly even more radical things.  He gets in trouble not primarily because of what he’s saying, but because of how he’s saying it.  Matt Fox likes a good fight, and Providence is using this.  He receives notoriety, and this notoriety gives wide publicity to the things he’s saying.  He’s right in pointing out that we have spent too much time and energy on redemption-centered spirituality.  But if he weren’t getting into trouble, few people would have heard about this view.  We need Matt Fox.

Smoley: To go back to the question of Christianity in the context of world religion, you’re noted for linking Christian contemplative practices with Eastern practices.  Is it legitimate to look at all the major world religions as basically worshiping the same God?  Is there a hidden ecumenism among the great world religions?

Brother David: Well, I would definitely not put it in those words, because the very notions of “worship” and “God,” for example, are not applicable to Buddhism.  So I would not say that all religions worship the same God.  But if I wanted to use Christian language and speak to Christians about world religions — and that, I think, was what your question was about — I would say that as we Christians understand it, God’s revelation is given to all human beings in our heart of hearts.  Different times and different geographic areas and different historical circumstances have formed different traditions within our common human quest for God.  And some of these traditions don’t even use the term “God,” but it is always a quest for ultimate meaning.  And since God is the source of meaning, I can say with great conviction that all the great traditions lead their members towards God.  Different people need different ways.  These ways are not even equal in the sense that one is as good as another.  After all, a given tradition is not as good a way to God at certain times as at other times.  These structures and these vehicles have their flaws; certainly the Christian tradition has its own flaws.  It is helping and has helped many millions of people toward God, but it is also blocking the way of many good, willing people from God.  We have to acknowledge that.  So it is not only those others that have shortcomings, but our own tradition has shortcomings, and more shortcoming at certain periods than at others.  All the great traditions are designed to help people toward God; all of them fulfill that to a certain extent, but they fulfill it better at certain times than at others, and some of them fulfill it better for certain people than for others.

Smoley: In this time in history, is there a tradition that’s working better than others, or for certain types than others?

Brother David: Watch out: we have to be careful that we don’t erect a ladder here and say one is higher than the other.  We might rather envision the great religious traditions arranged on the circumference of a circle.  At their mystical core they all say the same thing, but with different emphases.  We know their deepest message from our own deepest moments of religious insight.  Deep within us we carry a question which we cannot even put into words — the God question.  But in our best, deepest moments we suddenly experience the answer and we say, “This is it!”  That’s also what all the religious traditions say at their mystical core.  We in the West — Jews, Christians, Muslims — put all the emphasis on “this” — on the manifestation of Ultimate Reality in time and space: “This is it!”  Others, the Buddhists typically, emphasize the “it” — the unmanifest, beyond all its manifestations: “This is it!”  And still others, the Hindus, for example, will smile at this seeming contradiction and say, “What really matters is that this is it.”

Reprinted from Gnosis, Summer 1992, no. 24, pp. 36-42.

Br. David Steindl-Rast