Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Where to find real ecumenism?

For some years now, I have been a contributor to discussion boards. It all started when I came across a daily quotation, by email, from the work of Anthony de Mello, the Indian Jesuit who wrote extensively about ways of prayer. His work fitted my own growing sense that the old separations between religious traditions were impediments to spiritual growth in the modern world.

After a Yahoo group was formed to discuss the work, it became clear that our moderator did not want open debate and a few of us decided to form a more accepting and 'liberal' group. This group still, sporadically, functions.

After my visits to India in 1998 and 2001, I began contributing to Buddhist and Christian discussion boards. In both cases, I found a worrying degree of dogmatism and a level of personal invective that went directly against the basic principles of both traditions as I understood them.

Following a link in one of the more interesting posts, I began to post on Ezboard fora and, in due course, was persuaded to administer and moderate one of them.

As time went on, I found that there were like-minded people out there for whom the spiritual quest was important but who could no longer could accept the exclusivity that many other demanded. My own studies of Christian and Buddhist scripture, alongside a renewal of regular practice and retreats, led me to a number of conclusions that suggested new vistas of co-operative spirituality. Even apparently exclusive texts, like that often quoted from Saint John, opened themselves as possible inclusivity:

"No one can come to the Father except through me." (Jn 14:6)

Time and again, this verse was quoted as evidence that only by becoming a Christian could an individual gain salvation. The definition of 'Christian' and the meaning of 'gaining salvation' were both circumscribed and exclusive, sectarian.

Because I had become convinced that the Jesus message, like the BuddhaDharma, was inclusive rather than exclusive, I spent some time reflecting on the meaning of these words, particularly their sense in Greek. It did not take me too long to see that there was a completely different meaning that could be found. Elsewhere, Jesus calls himself "the gate of the sheepfold" (Jn 10:7) which chimed with words which His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke to me at a private audience in 2001 when he said: "Lord Jesus is your door; Lord Buddha is my door."

As a result, I began to glimpse that Jesus could be revealing that liberation is here and now for all people, through him, whether they claim it or not. It is, for some, simply a random and anonymous gift, like alms dropped into a blind beggar's cup.

With that in mind, I began to re-read the gospels as inclusive.


When I share this vision of the teachings of Jesus and Gotama as inclusive and applying to all people, here and now, not depending on membership of any particular sect or group, I find that the idea is pretty unacceptable to many people.

There are those who are, themselves, members of a particular group such as a church. They are hostile to the idea that outsiders are also "co-heirs to the Kingdom". Others have rejected their view of Christianity and do not want to imagine that its root is other than that which they dislike.

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