17. Into The Mystic

A Priest, a Minister, and a Rabbi Walk Into an Ashram

Thomas Merton

From American Veda: “A great many Americans have come to see their birth religions in a new light after being exposed to Eastern spirituality. Harvard’s Diana Eck, for example, wrote in her book, A New Religious America: “Through the years I have found my own faith not threatened, but broadened and deepened by the study of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Sikh traditions of faith. And I have found that only as a Christian pluralist could I be faithful to the mystery and the presence of the one I call God.” Lessons gleaned from Vedic teachings have enabled many alienated believers to reconcile deeply held grievances toward their religious heritage, or to find value in theologies and rituals they had rejected. As a result of that reconciliation, many were able to reestablish—or establish for the first time—some degree of active involvement with their ancestral faith. In many cases, they also experience a shift in their understanding of what religion is, what it can offer, and how it can be practiced in a rational, pluralistic society.”

Perhaps the most important shakeup triggered by the East has been the rediscovery of contemplative Christianity and mystical Judaism. Google Jewish meditation or Christian meditation, and you’ll find tons of entries, many of which are adaptations of mantra meditation using Jesus-oriented phrases or Hebrew instead of Sanskrit.

The chapter discusses the profound impact Vedanta-Yoga has had on the understanding and practice of Western religion. It features luminaries such as Thomas Merton (pictured above) and Bede Griffiths (pictured on the home page), along with lesser-known but important Christian mystics and the equivalent among rabbis and Jewish scholars.


An important section describes the history of Centering Prayer, which is now practiced by tens, of not hundreds, of thousands of Christians. It is the direct result of Father Thomas Keating’s exploration of Eastern meditative practices, which led to an investigation of lost Christian mystical practices and was systematized based on the Transcendental Meditation instructions.