"We have a universal responsibility to speak out when we see injustice, oppression, and the abuse of human rights, the rights of the earth, and other species," writes an impassioned Brother Wayne Teasdale in his book The Mystic Heart
. "Personally, I find the silence [on the crisis in Tibet] disturbing and morally indefensible; it indicates a lack of courage and moral strength that hides behind considerations of prudence and discretion."
There are few souls as gentle as Brother Wayne Teasdale, "lay monk" and pioneer of the interfaith movement, who also speak as stridently and compellingly as he does about the necessity for all spiritual leaders to actively respond to the crises facing the world. But for Teasdale, the result of any true and deep mystical experience must be an active and engaged response to the cries of a suffering humanity and an embattled earth. Brother Wayne Teasdale
has devoted much of his life to facilitating understanding, respect, and practical cooperation among spiritual leaders. Serving on the board for the Parliament of the World's Religions, he was instrumental in bringing almost eight thousand people of different faiths together for the 1993 Chicago Parliament, an event that led, among other things, to the pivotal signing by two hundred spiritual leaders of Guidelines for a Global Ethic
. He also organized the Synthesis Dialogues, an interreligious, interdisciplinary forum moderated by H.H. the Dalai Lama, designed to bring key figures from diverse professions together to explore the value and implications of mystical experience. And, together with His Holiness, he helped to draft the influential Universal Declaration on Nonviolence
Teasdale's spiritual calling began almost fifty years ago when, as a child, one warm summer's eve, awed by the infinite splash of stars in the dark sky, he decided that when he grew up, he was going to be a priest. Raised in a Catholic family in Connecticut, his early years were full of faith and optimism, but the tumultuous times of the sixties and the cruelty and inhumanity of the Vietnam War sorely challenged his nascent conviction in the immediacy and goodness of God and plunged him into what he describes as a three-year-long "dark night of the soul."
In the midst of this period, questions unresolved, Teasdale enrolled in a small Catholic college in New Hampshire run by monks of the Benedictine Order. The monks were associated with St. Joseph's Abbey, a monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts, whose abbot, the highly revered Father Thomas Keating, ran contemplative retreats for laypeople that Teasdale attended. Teasdale's time with Keating had a profound impact on him, reopening him to the mystical dimension of life. During those days, he writes, "The divine completely took me over . . . I was often taken out of myself, my consciousness enlarged, and perceptions of everything altered from within. Space and time were suspended—I couldn't think, analyze, remember, imagine, or speak. I hovered between fear and awe. . . . Saturated by [the Divine's] incomparable love and mystery, all I could do was to assent to its presence within, around, and through me. . . . Fired with urgency and expectation, I gave myself to the divine."
With renewed commitment, Teasdale dedicated himself to his spiritual practice. In 1973, he struck up a correspondence with Father Bede Griffiths, a spirited and innovative Benedictine monk who drew on Eastern meditative traditions to enrich his Christian path of charity and selfless service, and eventually Teasdale spent two years at Griffiths's Benedictine ashram in southern India. Life in India opened his eyes both to the depth of Eastern mysticism and to the very pressing reality of overpopulation, deforestation, environmental degradation, and resource depletion. Taking a renewed set of renunciate vows under Griffiths, Teasdale dedicated himself to a life of simplicity, service, and 'interspiritual' pursuit.
Deeply convinced that solutions to problems of the magnitude facing our world today lie in genuine mystical experience, experience that transcends the boundaries of religion and culture, Brother Wayne Teasdale has become a tireless spokesperson for the practical power of profound spiritual realization. "It is the inner life that is to spark the change in consciousness that will permit us to advance," he emphatically states. "My own inner, or mystical, process . . . accounts for the passion with which I speak."