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The Challenge to the Global Community of Religions

"In this new ecological age of developing global community and interfaith dialogue, the world religions face what is perhaps the greatest challenge that they have ever encountered. Each is inspired by a unique vision of the divine and has a distinct cultural identity. At the same time, each perceives the divine as the source of unity and peace. The challenge is to preserve their religious and cultural uniqueness without letting it operate as a cause of narrow and divisive sectarianism that contradicts the vision of unity and peace. It is a question of whether the healing light of religious vision will overcome the social and ideological issues that underline much of the conflict between religions."

-- Dr. Steven C. Rockefeller, Middlebury College, Spirit and Nature, p. 169


The United Communities of Spirit network emerges out of the confluence of religious and spiritual traditions. In a global environment involving the interaction of hundreds of once insular traditions, the UCS network embraces them all.

It seems clear to us that the spiritual philosophy of "truth" is necessarily undergoing an intense period of transition, as influences from every spiritual and religious tradition around the world, and from an array of scientific disciplines, impact the awareness of any sincere and informed seeker of truth.

The seeker is confronted with an array of questions. "Do I pick one of these traditions, and reject the others as false? Or do they all somehow point to truth, each in a different way? Is there some common underlying reality, which is incompletely described by any of them? Can I combine elements from many of these traditions in my own unique way, or must I simply accept one tradition, and close myself to all others? Do new scientific ideas and insights influence the meaning of religious ideas?"

In our increasingly close-knit "global village", cultures which were once isolated from one another are coming into close contact. Ideas which one seemed foreign are becoming well-known and accepted. In our western culture today, concepts from eastern religions such as "karma" and reincarnation are quite familiar. If these principles are valid, how is a traditional Christian to relate to them?

This confluence of religions throughout global culture can be understood as a large-scale process of creative ferment. Each traditional approach to religious truth is challenged by its encounter with another tradition, tending to create a synthetic (or "syncretic") blending or amalgamation of spiritual ideas in the mind of the religious seeker. And the entire process is seasoned by new ideas and insights from science

Through our UCS/Lightweaver network project, we are creating a cooperative multi-level network, intended to facilitate cooperation between members of any and all global faith traditions and movements. We adopt no one position on most metaphysical and theological questions, and we are open to participation by anyone with a sincere interest in the spiritual future of global society. Our project is "multi-level", in that we are able to accommodate within a single framework a variety of attitudes towards interreligious harmony. We respect all global traditions in their own terms, and have no desire to convert anyone away from their present convictions. We recognize unquestionable validity in a great many global traditions, and believe that the Holy Spirit can operate fully and successfully through almost any of them. We see no need to develop one universal common religion for all of humanity -- yet it seems clear to us that the global confluence of religions is, indeed, tending to create a new universal spirituality, that incorporates perspectives and insights from all traditions.

For us, all of these positions and attitudes are reasonable and acceptable, and we give precedence to no one them. The power and grace and healing energy of the Holy Spirit can operate through any of these frameworks, when properly approached, and it is to this Spirit that we give highest allegiance.

In response to the challenge posed by Dr. Steven Rockefeller, the UCS network offers a means to weave into a single framework the widest array of attitudes towards interreligious relations, while at the same time providing a medium for accommodating harmony and cooperation on projects of mutual concern. We are creating a forum for "unity in diversity" that celebrates the unique merits of each particular approach to the divine energy, yet also provides a way that each of these approaches can be welded into a cohesive common framework.

If the religious and spiritual people of the world are to realize their own highest ideals, and fully unfold the potential of their unique traditions and hopes for the future, they must work constructively with members of other faith traditions, towards the realization of shared and universal objectives. The UCS network can assist in facilitating this process, by providing a means of high-speed electronic interconnectivity, through which ideas can be shared across all borders of geography and tradition, and projects developed which benefit everyone.

Through the UCS project, we have placed online a variety of resources intended to build global interreligious community. Two main text resources are

In this review of the Lightweaver philosophy, we review the basic statements of our doctrine and intent, as taken from our front page, and then go on to consider a wide array of topics regarding interfaith relations. You are invited to contribute to this discussion by asking any question which you feel is important, and which is not addressed here.


"We believe that the spiritual transformation of global culture can arise through a cooperative network system, that brings together into one linked context the highest insights of all religions, and coordinates the participation of millions of people."


"In a process of sacred coalescence that unites the lightbearers of this planet in one communion, we are working together to build a global network of spiritual light. "

"Our network combines insights from every religion and spiritual tradition, as we seek to build illuminated community among the people of the world."

"We share a vision of unity in diversity, that honors plurality, and recognizes the great richness of alternative spiritual perspectives and interpretations."

"But we also recognize a universal transcendence that bonds the human community as one. "


Herewith follows quotes and commentary from the book The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, (c) The World Community for Christian Meditation, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 1996.

This book introduces a variety of themes and philosophic principles which are essential to any discussion of interreligious harmony or unity. As time permits, we will respond to selected excerpts from this text, in the form of dialogue.

p. xii
From the outset, he [the Dalai Lama] gently and quietly reassured his listeners that the last thing he had come to do was "sow seeds of doubt" among Christians about their own faith. Again and again he counseled people to deepen their own understanding and appreciation of their own traditions, pointing out that human sensibilities and cultures are too varied to justify a single "way" to the Truth. He gently, but firmly and repeatedly, resisted suggestions that Buddhism and Christianity are two different languages for the same essential beliefs. With regard to ethics and the emphasis on compassion, brotherhood, and forgiveness, he acknowledged similarities. But inasmuch as Buddhism does not recognize a Creator God or a personal Savior, he cautioned against people calling themselves "Buddhist-Christians", just as we should not try "to put a yak's head on a sheep's body."

When asked what adherents of different faiths could do together without mixing up yaks and sheep, he recommended scholarship, meditation, and pilgrimages. And then he told of going to Lourdes and finding there such an aura of the sacred that he bowed down and prayed to "all holy beings" for the sustenance of its healing powers. At moments like this, one could hear the audience catch a collective breath, perhaps of pleasure and surprise at an expression of reverence at once so pure and yet so uncompromising of the Buddhist tradition from which it came.

The Dalai Lama's commentary on the Christian Gospels constitutes the heart of this book, and the implications of these words reach far forward into the continuing dialogue in the coming millennium between the religious traditions of the human family.

In his opening remarks, the Dalai Lama spoke about the importance of all the different forms of dialogue being practiced today between religions. He affirmed the importance of scholarly dialogue. But he also said that he felt the most important -- and to use a characteristic term for a Buddhist -- the most effective dialogue was not intellectual exchange, but a conversation between sincere practitioners from the position of their own faiths, a conversation that arises naturally from a sharing of their respective practices.

This idea is common to Christian and Buddhist thinkers. In the early Christian monastic tradition, the Fathers spoke warmly about the importance of praktike, the knowledge born from experience rather than conceptual knowledge. Cardinal Newman spoke of the danger of living your faith simply form a position of "notional assent," lacking experiential, personal verification. John Main's insistence that it was necessary for Christians to recover the contemplative dimension of their faith was based on the assertion that we must "verify the truths of our faith in our own experience." What is new about this idea in the context of The Good Heart is that the concept is applied to dialogue between different faiths, and not just to the depending of the discovery of one's own traditional religious beliefs.

This is very challenging and, to may sincere practitioners, also disturbing. It suggests that there exists a universal, underlying level of common truth that can be accessed through different faiths. When people of different faiths are in experiential dialogue with one another, the truth can be experienced through their willing suspension of exclusivity towards one another. If this is true, then does it follow that each particular faith in no more (no less?) than a particular door into the great audience chamber of Truth? As we shall see shortly, the Dalai Lama addresses the challenge very subtly and directly.

If, as the Dalai Lama believers, the proof and authentication of all religion is the realization of a good heart, a human being's innate qualities of compassion and tolerance, the same standard can be applied to dialogue, which has today become an important work and activity of all religion.

Dialogue should make us not only feel better about others but also make us more conscious of ourselves and more true to our own essential goodness. Dialogue makes us better people.

We cannot achieve this in the abstract. Dialogue demands not just clarity of ideas and a certain degree of knowledge about one's position and the position of other people; it demands a personal involvement . . . The intellectual discipline required for dialogue allows the natural tendency toward egotism to be filtered or contained. This releases the individuals involved in dialogue to find the deeper levels of their own consciousness where dialogue opens into a common window of truth through an experience altogether beyond the conceptualizing mind.

At the Good Heart Seminar, the Dalai Lama led us into this awareness of the value of difference immediately and without hesitation. He said from the beginning of the Seminar that the purpose of his commenting on the Gospels was not to assist in the construction of a synthetic universal religion. He does not believe in creating a single universal religion but does believe in respecting, and indeed reverencing, the unique characteristics of each religion.

When recognizing some of the real, strong parallels between the teachings of Jesus and of the Buddha, he smelled the danger of certain words intruding as "false friends". Then he would say how important it was to recognize the significance of both parallels and differences. He said that the meaning of these points of convergence and departure between religions is to be found in the spiritual and psychological needs of their respective practitioners. People have different needs, which are met by the unique particularities (the "differences") of each religion.

In order to develop a genuine spirit of harmony from a sound foundation of knowledge, I believe it is very important to know the fundamental differences between religious traditions. And it is possible to understand the fundamental differences, but at the same time recognize the value and potential of each religious tradition. In this way, a person may develop a balanced and harmonious perception. Some people believe that the most reasonable way to attain harmony and solve problems relating to religious intolerance is to establish one universal religion for everyone. However, I have always felt that we should have different religious traditions because human beings possess so many different mental dispositions: one religion simply cannot satisfy the needs of such a variety of people. If we try to unify the faiths of the world into one religion, we will also lose many of the qualities and richness of each particular tradition. Therefore, I feel it is better, in spite of the many quarrels in the name of religion, to maintain a variety of religious traditions. Unfortunately, while a diversity of religious traditions is more suited to serve the needs of the diverse mental dispositions among humanity, this diversity naturally possesses the potential for conflict and disagreement as well. Consequently people of every religious tradition must make an extra effort to try to transcend intolerance and misunderstanding and seek harmony.

In general, I am in favor of people continuing to follow the religion of their own culture and inheritance. Of course, individuals have every right to change if they find that a new religion is more effective or suitable for their spiritual needs. But, generally speaking, it is better to experience the value of one's own religious tradition.

[D.L.:] As I mentioned earlier, I do not personally advocate seeking a universal religion; I don't think it advisable to do so. And if we proceed too far in drawing these parallels, we might end up doing exactly that!

Therefore, it is crucial that religious teachers teach according to the receptivity, the spiritual inclination, and the mental disposition of each person. One cannot eat a particular food and then say, "Because it is nutritious for me, everyone must eat it".

To achieve a meaningful dialogue, a dialogue which would mutually enrich the two traditions, I feel we need a foundation that is based on the clear recognition of the diversity that exists among humanity, the diverse mental dispositions, interests, and spiritual inclinations of the people of the world.

It is also crucial to recognize that both spiritual traditions share the common goal of producing a human being who is a fully realized, spiritually mature, good, and warm-hearted person. One we have recognized these two main points -- commonality of the goal and the clear recognition of the diversity of human dispositions -- then I feel there is a very strong foundation for dialogue. It is with these convictions, these two principle premises, that I always enter into dialogue with other traditions.

p.174 (from The Buddhist Context, by Thupten Jinpa, translator for the Dalai Lama at the Seminar)
The Good Heart Seminar was a deeply inspiring experience for me. I can still invoke the atmosphere of serenity fused with warmth that was so potent throughout the conference. Looking back, it seems that I went through the entire event as if being led by an invisible spirit. My most powerful memory still retains the clarity of mind and the sense of togetherness that I felt with the participants at the Seminar.

The historical nature of this dialogue cannot be exaggerated. For the first time in history, the head of a major non-Christian religion was publicly teaching and commenting on the sacred Christian Gospels. To hear the words of the four Gospels spoken by the Dalai Lama was a truly moving experience. As we experienced the juxtaposition of a voice and tone so familiar with the words and imagery of a non-Tibetan scripture, it was as if a totally new scripture was being taught to the congregation. This was truly a spiritual moment, and many people felt this at a deep level. In moments of such profound spirituality, each and every one of us is capable of transcending our ordinary perceptions of separateness. Thoughts of all "isms" are eclipsed when we succeed in going beyond the bounds of rational, cognitive limits. Whether one calls this transcendence, religious experience, or spiritual awakening is secondary. What is important is that all sacred teachings of the world's major religions are capable of leading us to such religious depth.

Is it these thoughts that come to mind as I sit down to write a brief overview of Buddhism for this beautifully presented volume of The Good Heart.

Before closing, a few words on the general attitudes in Buddhism toward other religions is in order. Like any other major religion, Buddhism perceives it path to be universal in that it addresses the fundamental problems of human existence. In this sense, it does not see its message and normative doctrines as being limited to any specific historical or cultural context. Yet, right from an early stage of the evolution of the Mahayana, Buddhism has accepted the existence of other paths that may be better suited to the spiritual temperament of individuals. There is an acknowledgment of diversity at the most fundamental level of spiritual orientation.

As one of the Mahayana classics puts it, "There exist diverse inclinations, diverse interests, and diverse spiritual paths." This, I think, is the basis for the Dalai Lama's often stated "supermarket of religions." According to Buddhism, all these spiritual paths are valid in themselves, for they answer the fundamental yearning of millions of individuals. The validity of a spiritual teaching should not be judged on the basis of its claim to metaphysical truth. Rather the criterion must relate to its efficacy in providing spiritual salvation, or freedom.


In a cultural context that relies upon a religious tradition for its moral and ethical foundations, the creative process of confluence and competition among religions can be deeply unsettling. Before the influence of diverse cultures became prominent, it was possible to ground the ethics of a society in a spiritual tradition. Thus, in the United States, we could speak of ourselves as a "Judeo-Christian culture", and generally derive our social values from this tradition. But today, in a social environment that includes new citizens from all over the world, the once implicit assumption of Judeo-Christian values is being challenged. In a society that advocates the "separation of church and state", as we do in the United States, how can we presume to impose these values on our new Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim citizens? If we do not follow the ethics of our cultural history, what ethics should we follow? In this context, it is too often true that the entire concept of ethics becomes weakened. Any ethical system is seen as arbitrary and rooted in a particular culture, rather than in universal truth and "divine law".

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