Paul Andersen: ‘Spirit’ is alive, well in Aspen
September 2, 2002
Few of us had spoken with a Buddhist nun before. Ajahn Sundara ? with shaven head and brown cotton robe ? personified the Buddhist philosophy with a soft voice, a subtle smile, clarity of thought, freedom of being and a deep, inner beauty that will never make the cover of “Cosmopolitan.”
We were challenged to pronounce the name of a Hindu mystic named Swami Atmarupananda, a spiritual teacher dressed in ochre robes. His name was difficult, but not his core message, which can be pronounced as a path to knowledge, devotion and inquiry.
We laughed from the sharp wit of Rabbi Rami Shapiro whose stand-up comedic sermons were tempered with intellectual and spiritual depth. His holistic view of God and his instruction to listen to the “still, silent voice of God” defined the basis of the contemplative life.
When Feisal Abdul Rauf portrayed the grace and wisdom inherent in Islam he opened our minds and hearts to a religion of great beauty that is being tragically twisted into a rationale for destruction. Hearing this Imam chant the Moslem call to prayer was like hearing the voice of Mohammed.
Father Thomas Keating gently drew us away from our everyday lives and our frenetic world in the cloister of the St. Benedictine Monastery on Capitol Creek. Keating’s contemplative prayer provided a place of deep peace from which many participants were reluctant to return.
The “spirit” was alive and well in Aspen last week through an interdenominational “experiment” led by Woody Creek resident Ed Bastian. His weekend seminar ? “The Way of Contemplation and Meditation” ? was a venue for spirit, one of the tenets of the body/mind/spirit trinity that defines the “Aspen Idea.”
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“Just as biodiversity is important to all life, so is religious diversity vital to mankind,” said Bastian, a practicing Buddhist. “Our speakers are to be considered ‘exemplars’ of their faiths because they describe by their lives the underlying values of their beliefs.”
Through “exemplars” from the five major faiths ? Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity ? participants got to drink the water of spirituality from five different wells. Those wells tapped into the same spiritual aquifer, a fount of human virtue.
Peace, compassion, tolerance, wisdom, healing, awareness, clarity, freedom, union, happiness … these were among the touchstones of the exemplars. They are also the underlying humanistic values through which Aspen was reborn in 1949 when Albert Schweitzer memorialized Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
The Aspen Chapel, where most of the sessions were held and where the program culminated with an interdenominational service, clearly realized its mission statement: “The Aspen Chapel is a testament to remind people in Aspen that there is foremost a spiritual dimension to our existence.” Here is a mantra for our times.
An evening session was held at the St. Benedictine Monastery, a rare and hallowed place of peaceful contemplation. Gregorian chants by robed monks opened an otherworldly dimension and the centering prayer was deeply peaceful and transcendent. Here is a national treasure.
The wisdom of the exemplars shone in their ecumenical overtones, their embrace of each other’s beliefs, their shared sacred virtues and generosity of spirit. Religion, as they described it, is not exclusive, but all-encompassing; it is not meant to divide, but to unite.
By their example, it became apparent that the five major religions of the world are not at fault for destruction, fear, hatred and disillusion. The fault lies with the people who wrongfully interpret those religions for dubious self-interests and then foist those corrupt beliefs on others.
When exemplars of the five major faiths can unify for the advance of spirituality, there is hope for peace. When human beings can grasp the concept of God as a divine, universal presence ? the sum of all existence ? there is hope for mankind and the world.
[Paul Andersen thinks Ed Bastian’s “experiment” was a huge success. His column appears on Mondays.]
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