August 21st, 2014

An Interfaith Crucible: (Parabola Interview with Mirabai Starr)

Interviewed by Jeff Zaleski

Mirabai Starr is an adjunct professor of philosophy and world religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos. She is the author of God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and other works, and is the translator of Dark Night of the Soul, by John of the Cross, and The Interior Castle and The Book of My Life by Teresa of Avila. Recently Starr has emerged as one of the most impressive voices connecting multiple religious traditions. Her years spent at the interfaith Lama Foundation contributed to her understanding; and so, apparently, has her more recent work as a locksmith.

MS: I believe we are endowed with a faculty of discernment that guides us to seek life-giving truths. When we encounter different faiths, we know exactly how to excavate and sift to find the jewels that lie at the heart of each tradition. Every religion contains a treasure trove of wisdom teachings and transformational practices, and each one is also burdened with divisive messages and a history of violence and oppression. The gems are our birthright, and this God-wrestling process is our legacy. Contrary to the assumption that the inter-spiritual path is for those who lack conviction—spiritual dilettantes who dabble in the feel-good aspects of religion because they’re too lazy to cultivate the discipline required for “real” religious life—it requires tremendous rigor and courage to say “yes” to the beauty wherever we encounter it, and to say “no” to whatever generates the poison of “otheriz-ing.” There is a subtle elitism—almost a violence—in the message that we have to “pick one path and go deep,” implying that following multiple points of entry to Spirit precludes depth. My own encounters in an array of religious contexts have been anything but shallow! And I am finding more and more people like me, who seem to be temperamentally incapable of choosing one way to God, to the exclusion of all others.

An Interfaith Crucible:

An Interfaith Crucible:(More From Mirabai Starr)

P: In the current issue of a popular Buddhist magazine, a Buddhist scholar writes, “One can get only so far … by following other religions; only Buddhism has the path to liberation from suffering. All roads may lead to the base camp, but only Buddhism leads to the summit.” What would you say in response to
that statement?

MS: I respectfully disagree. My entire life’s work is predicated on the eradication of any such dualistic claims. I am not aware of a spiritual path on the planet that is not fully dedicated to soothing our pain and showing us the way home to truth.

P: Why practice any tradition at all? What does practice bring?

MS: Spiritual practice is direct experience. When we follow our breath in the Zen tradition, or repeat the names of God in Islam, or kindle the Sabbath candles and welcome the Shekinah on Shabbat, or offer the light of a butter lamp to Mata Durga, we are harnessing timeless technologies precisely engineered to open the heart and transform consciousness. Practice knocks on the door of the soul and it opens to the presence of the sacred. It shifts us from the intellectual realms of theology into the embodied space of spirit as it pours into and animates all that is.

P: Please describe your daily practices, especially how you might integrate more than one tradition into your daily routine.

MS: I begin most mornings by paying homage to the array of saints and masters on my puja table (altar): Buddha, Krishna, Ganesh, Christ, Mary, Tara, Kali, Hanuman, Neem Karoli Baba, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Ananda Maya Ma, Rumi. I light incense and wave it in slow circles as I silently chant a short prayer in.......
An Interfaith Crucible:

OMG!  There are even fundamentalist Buddhists! :(