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Remembering Brother Wayne Teasdale


IN THE YEAR 2000, New York played host to the State of the World Forum, an unusual gathering of scientists, activists, authors, philosophers, business leaders, spiritual teachers, politicians, and world leaders. I spent four days there as a journalist among hundreds of the world's most progressive luminaries, interacting with leading-edge thinkers in their respective fields. I remember hearing Gorbachev's inspiring opening address, watching the cameras and admirers pursue Jordan's Queen Noor up and down the hallways, bumping into someone in the lobby only to find myself apologizing to Deepak Chopra, walking in a door and suddenly realizing that the president of Indonesia had just walked out, talking to a scientist and then learning that he was the one who had discovered “dark matter,” discussing religion with an African participant who I would see years later accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, having someone sit down next to me in a session only to turn and recognize the distinguished Sufi spiritual teacher Pir Vilayat Khan. It was that kind of conference.

Amid all the excitement of that fascinating week in New York, there was one meeting that stood out above the rest. And it wasn't with a world leader, a renowned scientist, or a celebrity activist. It was with an unpretentious Catholic monk whose name was Brother Wayne Teasdale. He and I spent a remarkable day together, and although we never saw each other in person again, I can still remember our conversations as if they happened yesterday, clear and compelling even amidst the noisy clatter of a thousand memories that have come and gone in the intervening years.

Teasdale died this last October, succumbing finally to a long battle with cancer. With his passing goes a personal friend, a supporter of this magazine, and a true light that helped illumine, however briefly, a significant part of this shadowed world. There have been many great mystics in the last century, many passionate activists, and many humble saints. But seldom have all those qualities been combined in one and the same person. Brother Wayne Teasdale was that rare breed.

Born in 1945, Teasdale was raised in a traditional Catholic family, but his true spiritual calling was not to be discovered until the late sixties, when he met Trappist monk Father Thomas Keating. It was in retreats led by Keating that Teasdale, then a college student, would directly contact the transformative power of mystical experience, and his life would never be the same again. “The Divine completely took me over,” he writes in his autobiography, describing his experience at the time. “I was often taken out of myself, my consciousness enlarged. . . . 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.”

Enlivened by his initial forays into the mystical life, Teasdale eventually found his way to India, where he took vows with the Benedictine monk Father Bede Griffiths. Griffiths was a religious pioneer who founded an ashram in south India and built a spiritual path that resided somewhere between Hinduism and Christianity but which embraced the mystical essence of both. This unique form of cross-cultural spirituality—which Teasdale came to call inter-spirituality—would inspire Teasdale's many efforts over the years to bridge the gaps not just between different religious traditions but between individuals and the deeper sources of their own faiths.

In 1993, Teasdale's work took a significant leap forward as he played an essential role in the resuscitation of the Parliament of the World's Religions, helping to mold it into a rich forum for dialogue and discussion between traditions. More recently, he helped initiate the innovative Synthesis Dialogues, bringing together a highly select group of spiritual and religious leaders from around the planet for experiments in collective inquiry. Along the way, Teasdale taught and traveled, wrote a number of books, befriended the Dalai Lama, and became a passionate advocate for the Tibetan cause. Yet despite his eclectic mystical tastes and his adventures on the cutting edge of religious faiths the world over, at the time of his death he was living in a traditional theological seminary in Chicago, struggling with the conservative turn of the Catholic Church, writing, teaching, and caring for the homeless on the streets of the Windy City. As much the simple monastic as he was the jet-set activist, Teasdale had renounced the world completely only to find himself more dedicated than ever to saving it. “I find myself becoming more and more aware of the Source as 'inherently warmhearted,'” he once explained in an interview. “The vast consciousness that is the Divine is not a cold analytical intelligence. It emanates from its very core a concern. Heidegger said that the essence of being is concern, and this is what many of the traditions have tried to communicate.”

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