It's five o’clock in the morning and the church bell rings. The monks, headed by their abbot, enter the church from a side entrance and then, after showing their respects to God by kneeling down, they take their seats in front of the altar. Beautiful, mystical singing and glorification of God fill the hall. I feel at home, after all, at least in this lifetime, Christianity is my religious background and I still feel a connection to its tradition, especially in the association of sincere seekers of the truth.
I have spent almost five days here at the Benedictine Abbey of Münsterschwarzach in Germany. It was very inspiring to experience such an enlivening community. Here, still around eighty monks have dedicated their lives to God and live together according to the principle of „ora et labora“ praying and working. I very much enjoyed learning about their lifestyle and I am happy that they still do exist! (1)
But that was not the main purpose of my visit. I was invited to represent Hinduism (our Vaishnava tradition) for a special interfaith program. Special in the sense that it was not just one of these superficial talks on differences and common features of religious rules and practices. No, it was a several day retreat with the aim to discover the inner teachings of our practices. We asked ourselves questions such as: „what does it mean to go deep in our spiritual life? How do we become deeply rooted in our own tradition and how does the experience of an actual connection to God help us to truly appreciate other traditions on a deeper level?“ Organized was the gathering by the Weltkoster who is supported by, and cooperates with three Benedictine Monasteries in Germany and Austria. (2)
Very quickly we developed an intimate atmosphere where we were able to share from the heart about our inner life. The group was consisting of Brother Jakobus, contemplation teacher, host and senior Benedictine monk who joined the monastery almost 40 years ago; Markus, a protestant priest and teacher; Tenzin, a Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition, originally from East Germany and ordinated by the Dalai Lama; Hüseyin, a student and teacher in Sufi Tradition; Alexandra, organizer and religious scholar, and myself. Daily we spent more than nine hours together sharing our meditation and contemplation practices, visiting the prayers held at the church, reading from our scriptures, enjoying vegetarian meals together and having a lot of profound dialogues about our spirituality. What a gift it is to connect with such wonderful spiritual seekers!
Once more my conviction was confirmed. The more we are able to experience a true internal, spiritual connection, the more we will be able to see our common root, God or that beyond matter. If you feel God’s love and compassion in your own heart and your neighbor experiences the same love in his heart, then there will be a natural connection regardless of how you call your God or how you have come to that connection.
His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja, who was one the pioneers in connecting with other faiths, expressed this very same realization in a most beautiful way:
„It is our state of consciousness that matters in spiritual life, not just external religious forms or practices. The language we use for prayer is not important, nor is where we pray—in a barn, a cathedral, a temple, or our bedroom. All the externals are details to help us attain greater inner experiences. If the internal spiritual connection does not develop, the externals become almost a waste of time. (..) Every tradition has inner teachings. Each of us should try to learn more about this deeper knowledge in our own tradition, for it helps us see beyond the external aspects of religious life. The Lord’s love and compassion are universal. Those who are caught up in external, exoteric practices tend to become sectarian, and sectarianism is responsible for many of the world’s problems, setting one group against another and causing untold suffering. As we go more deeply into the inner teachings, we discover the common foundation of all spiritual traditions.“ (3)
1 - See Blog 25
3 - His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami, from the Book: Spiritual Warrior 2, Chapter 9, Love of God