I find it so interesting to see how our human tendency to fall into black-and-white thinking often applies both to those espousing conservative or traditional religion and to those who are more mystically oriented. In this context, we are dealing with two different views on the usefulness (or non-usefulness) of words and concepts.
On the one hand, we have the traditional or conservative wing of each tradition, which focuses exclusively on concepts in the form of doctrines, words (often interpreted literalistically) and ideas. We get the sense from this approach that there is no underlying unity that ties them all together. Distinctions get hardened into separation, with one side viewed as right and the other side viewed as wrong. Here, for example, fundamentalist Christianity sees an extreme separation between its own view and that, say, of Eastern religions, viewing the former as true and the latter as false.
On the other hand, those of us who are more contemplative or mystically-inclined often tend to gloss over distinctions in the quest to see how all things are actually One. This is especially the case with a pop form of mysticism - often called "New Age" - which basically says that all religious traditions (and non-traditions) are really saying the same thing. Here, however, the hidden subtext is the belief that all religions and non-traditions at their core are actually saying the same things that "I" believe. In other words, one's own belief system is subconsciously viewed as Absolute and universal, but then is projected out onto all of the other traditions, disabling us from hearing what they are ACTUALLY saying in all of their rich uniqueness.
I'm convinced that BOTH distinctions AND non-distinctions are necessary to make a full picture, and that they are meant to work together. On the one hand, we have LOGOS or masculine wisdom, which makes distinctions between things; say, between different religious traditions. This kind of approach focuses on the uniqueness of each, and understands that each is actually NOT saying the same thing. It is analogous to a romantic relationship, where each partner must have their own particular and unique sense of identity before they come together. Otherwise, one of the partners will tend to merge with the other, losing his or her identity (and unique contributions to the relationship) in the process.
However, this kind of Logos wisdom is meant then to give itself over to SOPHIANIC or feminine wisdom, which takes those very distinctions and uniquenesses and shows how they all fit together into a larger Whole. For myself, I love seeing how it all fits together, but my joy and excitement in this unity would remain incomplete if I failed to make the distinctions. Thus, for example, I love seeing how Christian mystical and Tibetan Buddhist and Native American world views each contribute something necessary and unique to my own spiritual journey.
As usual, I'm a Both/And kind of person. For me, this approach leads to the richest kind of experience possible :)
Photo: Rosy Paintbrush cross-pollinated with Western Yellow Paintbrush, Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness, CO
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.