Since being in California (which has been just under a year), I have had these incredible and wondrous opportunities to study religion and spiritual systems first hand. Although I've always been fascinated by the study of these things, my fascination was always rooted in books and texts. Here, I am engaging in very full and authentic ways with people and teachers who are active practitioners of various paths.
I read God Is Not One by Stephen Prothero, and I really appreciated his distinctions. Of course we have this gooey feeling sometimes that all paths are one, and that people are just using different names or words. When I look closer at that gooey feeling, I find that it has more to do with the interconnectedness of human experience than the fact that all our paths are so similar. But interestingly enough, I have found a few truths that remain true across the spectrum of these practices. I have specifically been most intimately involved with Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and yogic philosophy as put forth by Patanjali.
These are the truths I see manifest across the board:
1. Practitioners make an active effort to cultivate genuineness and authenticity.
2. Practitioners have a deep rooted sense of compassion and non-harming toward other beings.
3. Practitioners are very aware of the motivations of ego and self, and attempt to avoid acting out of pure egoical or self-interested intentions.
4. Practitioners have a very strong idea of what is ethical, and intentionally live their lives according to certain standards (some common ones include food restrictions: either meat-free or humane slaughter, honesty, sexual integrity, non-harm: physically and with intentions, and awareness or self-study).
5. Practitioners are concerned with what is real and what is not real, in whatever capacity that may occur. There is this idea that we can fool ourselves about what is really happening, and we must make an effort to cultivate discernment, wisdom, and awareness.
6. Practitioners use certain rituals and practices as a framework for cultivating the qualities I've explore above.
7. It feels good to be around people who are fully committed to these paths.
There are, of course, many many differences within the specific belief systems, but I find the similarities to be much more interesting. Obviously, I can't speak for all people of these paths, but the ones I have gotten a chance to love and know are truly kind, giving, genuine, loving people. I mean really truly uplifting others and cultivating these qualities of awareness, compassion, and wisdom.
I wonder what sort of role commitment and conviction play in what I'm noticing? And what about the self discipline inherent in commitment? Can we cultivate such things as these without a specific path? Without a framework?
I know my own experience: I can go much deeper in the context of my vows and my path. Is this true for others?