In the Arabic speaking countries of the near east today, one can go to a village and ask, "Are there members of the "tariqeh" here"? People will know what you mean and will direct you to a spiritual guide; a holy person, or sufi if the village is Islamic, or to a Christian monastic or Jewish mystic in those communities. The Greek word for tariqeh is odos which is translated as "Way" in the Christian New Testament (Acts 9:2) The "followers of the Way" were how the early Christians were known. In the earliest book of the Hebrew bible, the prophet Amos preaches against the rulers of his time for turning aside the "dakbahr" or way of the poor and afflicted. Jesus said, "I am the Way". What does this mean?


Today many people are questioning their religious upbringing. Many are discouraged by exclusive claims to truth in a world increasingly experienced as multi-cultural. Others have abandoned their faith in despair. Yet, there is a great longing to move from a sense of nothingness and futility towards joy and trust and to recapture the inner life. Many young people don't want to be "masters of worry", but "servants of trust." Too often, they feel the church has let them down.


What can link together a deep spiritual life and down-to-earth solidarity with our fellow human beings who are different than us. What about the separation of churches, the conflict between religions? Is there a way of peace, an answer to these persistent problems?


It is important to make a distinction between religion and "way" , "tao" "tariqeh" or "dakbahr". Religion can be understood as a framework of rituals, rules and beliefs by means of which a person seeks to worship God and find and articulate answers to questions such as,


* What is the nature of the universe?
* How to account for the presence of evil and undeserved suffering?
* How is man saved (enabled to live authentically)?
* What is the source of Authority?
* How to justify claims of divine or inspired revelation?
* What are the responsibilities of discipleship?
* How is one rewarded for faithfulness?


Religion is culture specific. Like language, religion is a framework, a medium through which we articulate our deepest longings toward something greater than ourselves, offer our worship of a transcendent presence in the universe and by means of which we communicate and dialogue with others.


In contrast, way , tao , tariqeh and dakbahr do not have to do with religion but with a manner of life or conduct, the interior pathway or "spirituality" of religion. In all religions, it is understood that there is the way of man and the way of God or Tao. To be a disciple is to place oneself under the guidance of a spiritual master; to learn to live in such a way as to be in harmony with the way of God or the Tao, rather than one's own way which is the way of futility which Buddha described as the way of passion, ignorance and attachment. The early church father, Irenaeus said, "We are children of ignorance and necessity." Lakota prayers contain the litany, "Have pity on us, God, for we are a common people to be pitied."


The Way of God, or the Tao is the pathway to self-enlightenment, to the kingdom in our midst, to peace and harmony within the universe. It is a difficult and narrow way because it is a way of self-renunciation or sacrifice. We are called to give up clinging to our ignorance, our passions and our inappropriate attachments which are the result of pride, ego and individualism. Only then can we live in joy and peace. Many are called to follow the Way, but few succeed.


What is truly remarkable is the discovery that this interior pathway is almost identical in the different religions. The pathway taught by Buddha, Jesus, the Tao Te Ching, Rumi, and many other great religious mystics is very similar. An individual can prosper enormously by becoming a devotee of any one of these great pathways. At the same time, many people make only a superficial effort at discipleship and others distort the great teachings because they do not understand their true universality.


What can we make of this? Does it not seem reasonable that God/Tao can be known by all people in ways consistent with their culture, language, history and experience and that there are many pathways to the same ultimate reality but we do not all speak the same language on the road?


"The divided, ascending
Paths at the foot of the mountain
Do differ, but
We all see the very same
Moon at the summit."
Nitobe Inazo (trans. Chwen Jiuan A. Lee)


Without the discipline of discipleship, institutional religion becomes an "end" in itself. A form without substance. The true substance of any religion is its spirituality.


"The great Tao flows everywhere,
both to the left and to the right.
The ten thousand things depend upon it;
it holds nothing back.
It fulfills its purpose silently and makes no claim."
Tao Te Ching, (34)

The past 30 years have witnessed a unique coming together of practitioners of the eastern and western religions, especially in the monastic communities who are entering into dialogue and discovering much in common. At the same time, there has been a movement to reclaim the ancient teachings, the stream of ancient wisdom and practice of our various religions which are truly universalist in nature and which, over time, have become corrupted and overlaid by historical and political considerations.

The Tao of Christ explores some of the results of these fruitful dialogues and offers a new, yet old way to re-imagine and practice our faith in order to recapture its true universalist vision.