At the suggestion of my good friend Nancy Hansen Zuschlag, I wrote to Fr. Thomas Keating about the work that we were undertaking and asked for his wise advice on how we might best proceed. His kind response was filled with encouragement and the mention that if he were in better physical health and had a less demanding schedule that he would otherwise be delighted to help us by providing timely direction. He recommended that I read the book “The Common Heart An Experience of Interreligious Dialogue” by Netanel Miles-Yepez which tells about how for twenty years, a group of spiritual seekers from many religious traditions met in various places around the United States under the rubric of the Snowmass Conferences to engage in the deepest form of interreligious dialogue. The experience was intimate and trusting, transformative and inspiring. When the conference took place, there was a serious commitment to encourage openness and honesty, no audio or visual recordings were initially made, or articles written about, the encounters that took place there.
Eventually, all living former attendees agreed that these reflections on what had happened emotionally, spiritually, philosophically, and theologically during the Snowmass dialogues be documented. The result is The Common Heart – An Experience of Interreligious Dialogue. Fr. Thomas later sent me his personal copy of the book, and I have read it and continue to refer to it often.
The Common Heart is an extraordinary exploration of the wealth of the world’s spiritual traditions combined with dialogue from the heart about the differences and similarities between their paths of wisdom. Participants have including Fr. Thomas Keating, Roshi Bernie Glassman, Swami Atmarupananda, Dr. Ibrahim Gamard, Imam Bilal Hyde, Pema Chodron, Rabbi Henoch Dov Hoffman, and many others.
The author, Netanel Miles-Yepez is the co-founder of The Sufi-Hasidic Fellowship and a Murshid of the Chishti-Maimuniyya Order of Dervishes, the Executive Director of the Reb Zalman Legacy Project in Boulder, Colorado, and the editor of The Way of Contemplation and Meditation (Spiritual Paths Publishing, 2002) and Wrapped in a Holy Flame: Teachings and Tales of the Hasidic Masters (Jossey-Bass, 2003).
Among the rich spiritual insights that emerged through genuine interreligious dialogue in the earliest years at Snowmass, is Fr. Keatings’s short list of points of agreement that he reports in the introduction of The Common Heart:
- The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality, to which they give various names.
- Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.
- Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.
- Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.
- The potential for human wholeness – or, in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transcendence, transformation, blessedness – is present in every human being.
- Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices, but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service to others.
- As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.
- Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate Reality.
Fr. Thomas was also enormously gracious and extended an invitation for me to join him in Snowmass, Co at their June 2010 conference as a Christian representative. In his personal note to me dated 09/01/09 he wrote the following:
Swami Atmarupananda will send you an application. Enclosed, it is [a] description (a Bit smudgy) that is my only copy of the conference content and purpose. I’ll recommend a couple of books later when I return to [from] a lecture tour in Mexico City.
However, owing to his poor health then we were unable to keep up communication in the months that followed. Nevertheless, Fr. Thomas’s brief correspondence and book provided me with enough encouragement and background information to feed my spiritual hunger for a long time to come.