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The Compassionate Eye

The Voices of Namaste Publishing and Our Guests

What Is Interspirituality?

May 03, 2010

Editor's Note: Today’s Compassionate Eye is by guest Kurt Johnson, PhD, who is a cofounder of InterSpiritual Dialogue in Action ( and widely engaged internationally in spiritual teaching, professional science, social activism, and ethics (

Kurt serves in a number of capacities for the American Ethical Union, Humanist Institute, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and various organizations active in the teaching of nondual consciousness.


How many of us have heard of the word “interspirituality?” The word was coined by Brother Wayne Teasdale, a pioneer in exploring the underlying essence of spiritual experience in all the world’s religions.

Interspirituality is the subject of his now-classic books The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World's Religions (1999) and A Monk in the World (2002). 

Over the course of about a decade, the word interspirituality has become commonly used throughout the world, with hundreds of citations at Google and other search engines. 

Interspirituality is important for understanding what distinguishes spirituality and religion. 

In a nutshell, interspirituality refers to a spirituality so deeply rooted in the heart and the heart-experience of oneness—so deeply rooted in "felt-sense"—that any creed, belief, background, history, indeed anything that could cause separation between beings, becomes secondary if not irrelevant. 

Interspirituality is about love and oneness, not “who is right” in the world of exclusive religious narratives, stories or claims as to history, historical persons, or what will happen in the future. 

Interspirituality is more about the underlying essence of religious experience, which is spirituality: the sanctity of all things, the forever now, and all that this implies.

In this way, interspirituality is different from conventional interfaith, which is really a horizontal discussion among various religions, beliefs, and creeds in the hope for more tolerance, peace, and mutual understanding. 

Interspirituality also transcends and delves deeper than conventional trans-traditional spirituality, which is an authentic enjoyment of many paths but perhaps not including the actual experience of this mystery of absolute oneness in multiplicity.

Interspirituality also sees all religious experience and spiritual paths as one existential evolutionary process, converging toward what the ultimate potential of our species can be in both consciousness and heart.

Thus the truth of who we are in consciousness and heart has been evolving and converging through all the spiritual paths and spiritual experiences of our species. It's a vertical process, not about the question of "who knows best" regarding belief or creed, but about our relationships reflecting ever-higher realizations of love.

Below are some links many find useful in enhancing their understanding of interspirituality:

About interspirituality worldwide:

Briefly about Brother Wayne Teasdale:

Briefly about InterSpirituality:

About the Universal Order of Sannyasa which Brother Wayne saw as one of many vehicles for this message:

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Kamilla's picture

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Kurt Johnson's picture

Thanks Raymond and T.S.:

I've been away at a conference (founding an "alliance of young contemplatives").

Actually there is perhaps a useful way to respond to both of your posts at the same time. First of all with regard to Raymond's post I think Wilber would see a natural hierarchy of what kinds of "tooth fairy" claims are really most useful for us as human beings. He also tends to evaluate such value based on a scale with horizontal and vertical axes. NOW: so that this suddenly doesn't sound intellectual or abstract, it's actually very simple. The overall value of a "tooth fairy" claim would be fairly low on the vertical scale since it's a useful bemusement for a child but less useful for our species solving our problems.

Although Wilber would probably agree that his "integral view" could also be classed as another "perspective on a perspective on a perspective", as opposed to claiming to be "truth", he would probably propose that there is more universal usefulness in that discussion then the one about the "tooth fairy".

AND, very much in sync with your Point 3, and T.S.' s comments about Parker Palmer's work is this whole thing about "communities of meaning". Now one thing Palmer points out about meaning is that, ultimately, something is most meaningful when it proves both meaningful and skillful to the largest amount of people or largest number of experiences..... so Palmer talks about "communities of congruence"-- where things make sense, and are skillful, for the most amount of people.

Now, obviously, one could have a large community "making sense" of a fundamentalist religious view, but it's skill value would appear quite low esp. when it came to the "edges" of processing the implications of its view on or with people of another view. You might actually get a conflict or a war etc. But processing a community of congruence based on a view about universal love might have both a high value for "making sense" and also for being skillful, etc.

So, this is why Wilber seems to see "value" on an ascending scale of true skillfullness (and that defined in relation to trying to "serve everyone in the conversation" etc.).

So, I think re: your point 3, Wilber is less concerned with "who believes what Truth claim" re: "making meaning" than "who perceives reality operating in a dynamic way that serves the most interests of the most people and the most experiences of those people". That kind of a paradigm also seems to have the highest possibility to evolve creatively and naturally etc. since it is not fixed but always evolving toward being more and more skillful and more and more truly serving.

So, there is nothing arbitrary in Wilber-- it's really more about how "sliding scale" wisdom can evolve in more and more skillful ways. Luckily, he and Don Beck see our species evolving toward more skill. So does Paul Hawken ("evolution itself is optimism").

So, Raymond YOU would be a great candidate to join us in the Community of the Mystic Heart ( This will become the CMH in a few days due to a universalizing of the name. This is the association Wayne Teasdale wanted to see to really dedicate itself to this conversation. Take a look at the website and see if that strikes any chimes (and see the Calendar page). The entire visioning by Bro. Wayne about the UOS/CMH was an association would could just carve out a place, and community together, for pursuing this discussion. It's striving to be such a "community of congruence".

I hope this post had addressed your questions. Let me know if not.


raymond sigrist's picture

Thanks for this exceptionally well-written response Kurt.

Can we perhaps then say, according to Wilber, that every spiritual perspective (including my own, of course) is potentially at risk of having no completely provable validity? In other words they might all turn out to be tooth-fairy stories. However, if I am reading you correctly, Wilber’s story is purported to at least be the story that works the best for the most people and for the most good?


raymond sigrist's picture

Hi Kurt

Yes, I think your answer is quite useful for an exploration
of the spiritual landscape of this world we inhabit. Thanks for distilling this down so as to get closer to some of the central issues. I think that the interspirituality approach which you have outlined is probably more effective than the “conventional exclusive religious claims approach.”

To go a little further in this process of discovery, I suggest that the following might be key aims in many spiritual traditions:

1. Overcoming existential angst, that is to say, attaining moksha/liberation
2. Enjoying the ability to experience universal love
3. Obtaining meaning for human life

It seems that in Wilbur's point of view, other than his, almost every other spiritual paradigm having these aims is based on beliefs that are as valid as the claim that the tooth fairy exists. It would also seem to be the case that most (or many of) the religious leaders of the various sectarian traditions are aware of this point of view, a
point of view that is not only Wilbur's, but is also held by those in the inter-spirituality movement. I find that this tooth fairy claim is quite plausible, but suspect it might also be applied to Wilbur’s view.

I am particularly interested in how Wilbur treats number 3 above.

But first a question: am I being an accurate observer/reporter so far?


T. S. Pennington's picture

One of the aspects of Interspirituality that I find so interesting is how people view the metaphors of their faith tradtion. There are people who take their metaphors quite literally and do not see the wisdom that stands behind the metaphors; it is this perennial wisdom that gives such power to the narratives. So at one level of understanding is a willingness to look beyond the literal interpretation. There are major differences in the metaphors described in the various faith traditions. But there are many common themes in all these traditions that bring a person's awareness to living in the moment, expressing gratitude for all that is given, showing compassion to all of creation and all those attibutes that would be labeled wisdom. A person may come to the point that they are able to see this perennial wisdom in all the faith traditions and may even want to try move 'beyond' them. But in the end, the perennial wisdom cannot be stated except in metaphor. I think that a mystic naturally moves towards being a poet. One of the tricks is that we have to be constantly willing to give up the metaphors that we hold dear for an ever greater metaphor.

I like Dr. Parker Palmer's definition of a paradox. A paradox is when the opposite of one great truth is another great truth. The challenge is to be able to stand with one leg on each side of this apparent chasm.

Kurt Johnson's picture

Rory, thanks so much, especially since I know you are an old friend of Bro. Wayne Teasdale. I'm going to post the link for your comment at both the ISDnA Forum and the Sannyasa Forum at yahoo so people there may want to come over here and read what you have to say. The discussion there gets pretty lively from time to time.

Thanks again, and thanks so much for being a part of this and what we're doing with the Sannyasa experiment!


Rory McEntee's picture

Hello all, a wonderful article and discussion...I thought I might share how my own understanding of "interspirituality" developed...more through a sort of scientific reflection and study process which led to an understanding of the spiritual journey in general...I share this because I think it might be a helpful way to approach others...through the rational mind which is so dominant at this time on our planet.

I was first introduced to the "spiritual journey" through a class on the historical Jesus in college. Jesus was presented as a wisdom teacher rather than a saviour, teaching, essentially, a path to "enlightenment", or what he called the "kingdom of heaven". This opened my eyes to the "idea" of the spiritual journey...of a latent ability within the human being to undergo further consciousness growth. This led to a further study of the the "spiritual path", and it was here that I found that the only rational conclusion that could be made was that such a path existed. I came to this conclusion by looking at the various "enlightened beings" who have appeared in nearly every culture, every religion, every time period throughout human history. In doing so one finds that they recite a similar story, which I sum up as such:

1) The Existence of a Path to an "enlightened state", a state of "union with God", a "higher state of consciousness" which reveals an immanent and transcendent unity with Ultimate Reality, and bestows upon one divine qualities (notably love, compassion, wisdom, and the eradication of all negativity).
2) The ability of human beings to walk that Path and attain that goal
3) The declaration that there exist techniques that can help man/woman to walk that Path

It seems to me that you find the above points being declared by certain rare beings in nearly every human culture...and in their descriptions of this "Path" there are so many similarities, so many overlaps, that the only rational conclusion is that it is Truth...that these people are experiencing something cross-culturally, something innate in the human being. How else to explain a person growing up in India, under a Buddhist philosophy, in the 7th century (Chandrakirti), describing nearly the same story as a Catholic priest, in Spain, in the 16th century (St. John of the Cross)? Or a Hindu in the 19th century (Ramakrishna)? Or an Islamic Persian in the 13th century (Rumi)? Or the countless others who have appeared throughout human history, in nearly all cultures and religious traditions, even outside of religious traditions altogether? All declaring in one way or another the above points, all repeating the same story? The only explanation is that it's true!!!

As a short endnote I should point out that there are differences among the various "paths" as well. Different language and concepts have been employed, and it's my guess that different paths may serve to highlight and develop in greater or lesser ways certain divine attributes. However, the idea of a Path itself which leads to a radically altered way of being in the world, and which leads to the elimination of human negativity and the attainment of divine attributes, is universal. To me, it declares our unity as a human race, and shows that our ability to rise into a divine state of consciousness is a truly Human inheritance, and exists regardless of our creeds, beliefs, societal and cultural structures. It was in this way that I approached my own spiritual journey...and I see "interspirituality" as a vehicle for our human race to come into this type of understanding of who we are...and as a basis for a truly "global culture" based on Truth.

Thanks for the opportunity for this discussion and feeds the soul :)



raymond sigrist's picture

Hi Rory

Well said. I agree that there seems to be an underlying generic spiritual dynamics that is found in all wisdom traditions.

re: "To me, it declares our unity as a human race, and shows that our ability to rise into a divine state of consciousness"

What does this entail? Since you mentioned the elimination of all negativity, I am thinking it might include immortality. Am I correct?


Kurt Johnson's picture

Re: Raymond's comment--

It's not as simple as telling her (or him) that she (or he) is wrong.

As Wilber says in Integral theory, the fact that the world has many narratives about what is "True" (including ones that clearly contradict each other) and that its normal for folk following those narratives to believe they are true, means (to quote Wilber) "everyone is a bit right and everyone is a bit wrong".

What he means by that is that "everyone is right" in the sense that it is absolutely normal (and expected) that everyone would believe the narrative they embrace is true. In that sense everyone is a bit "right" (that is, if you can't see the bigger picture you'll settle for smaller one, etc.). But everyone is also a bit wrong because it is impossible, factually, for two or more contradictory stories to both [all] be true.

However, they all contain some operational and mythological truth (that is, they are stories that compel people, just like a child is perfectly "right" for believing in the Tooth Fairy if someone told them it is true, even though factually we would probably all agree there is no Tooth Fairy).

The only hope, and the kindlly way to perhaps handle it, is to ask the person if its possible for them to get a larger-picture view of the world (in which people are believing contradictory things as "true") and realizing that its impossible that all of them could be right.

For instance, ask them if they could see the world like an Extraterrestial would see it, when the ET goes back home and reports "these humans are strange; they are having wars over different stories about their origins and destinies, and don't seem to be able to realize that it's impossible that all the contradictory claims they are making could all be true. It's so sad".

That would be the compassionate way to look at the world predicament about historical narratives and exclusive religious claims. Such exclusive narratives hold people within a certain "subset" of experience (let's say like the long-lost religions that set the Inca's against the Quechnians in ancient South America), but it all looks rather odd (and sad) to anyone looking at the whole picture.

Now you might be asking: It is possible that ONE of the conflicting "Truths" could be true? Of course, but how would you know? Again, only by arguing or fighting about it. This is just the same predicament.

So, appealing to the big picture, in a kind way, would seem to be the only way to go. When I have gone to conferences where people reported how they had reached this "higher" neutral vision, from where they could love EVERYONE without any concern about "who is right" re: exclusive religious claims, this is one path people report was successful for them.

Another is that they ended up realizing that the idea that one group could be right, at the expense of the other, ended up (in the context of Love) "not making any sense" they abandoned exclusive religious claims as a kind of "immature" spirituality.

maybe this answer helps?

raymond sigrist's picture

Hi Kurt
" (1) a natural innocent tendency to "take shelter" in the narratives, stories and contexts with which they are familiar, or which they have been told since young (the narrative of the religious denomination, the narrative of the nation, the culture, the ethnic-group etc.) and (2) a natural tendency to experience discomfort about exploring more deeply (where the "turf" is new and the mind naturally flags "danger"). "

So may I conclude that you would say something like this to the person I mentioned? In other words, you would tell her that she was wrong?


Kurt Johnson's picture

The Comments by Raymond and Allen are actually quite in tandem. As I said last night on the Namaste Radio interview (which is also available at the website here) every human being has an innate, deep-seated, need for Safety.

How this need plays out, as implied by both Allen and Raymond's posts is both (1) a natural innocent tendency to "take shelter" in the narratives, stories and contexts with which they are familiar, or which they have been told since young (the narrative of the religious denomination, the narrative of the nation, the culture, the ethnic-group etc.) and (2) a natural tendency to experience discomfort about exploring more deeply (where the "turf" is new and the mind naturally flags "danger").

In Integral (Ken Wilber's work) we're asked to "just take this as a given": people will want to take shelter in what is comfortable for them and ALSO, they will tend to think their view (or the view of the narrative to which they subscribe) is "right" and "normative".

Truth is, given that, as Wilber says, everyone is the world is really "located at a different 'kosmic address'" each naturally having different "givens".

Starting from there we can then ask, "what does it take for someone to begin exploring more deeply and broadly?"

Usually, of course, it is some event, series of events, or a result of just natural maturing that leads each person to ask new questions. In asking those questions they also see "hey, there are other narratives, other experiences, out there" that I can try on and see how they fit. And sometimes they take a look at these. This begins that evolution from first a denominational spirituality, to a more mature trans-traditional spirituality and, finally, to true interspirituality.

This is the cusp or transition that both Allen and Raymond are pointing to. Thankfully, when people begin to take that step they find there are already communities of people who are taking this step and having this discussion.... at Namaste for instance, at the ISDnA InterSpiritual Multiplex etc. etc. And in this discussion we all need to encourage each other. That is what Bro. Wayne's "Interspiritual Dialogue" was all all about.

This is where Adam's comment comes in. The persons he mentions are persons involved in this new "sweep" toward a wider vision, and all of them are resources for this wider journey from quite different and very rich perspectives.

As they say in Zen: "Enjoy the show!"

BEST! and thanks for joining the conversation

Kurt Johnson's picture

Adam Blatner tried to post this comment earlier but somehow the Namaste spam filter wouldn't let it through; he ended up sending it to me personally. So I'll post it for him.

Actually my response also triggered the spam filter so I've tried deleting his website address in case that was what was doing it..... we'll see.... Yes, that was it!!!!!

It's late here (like 3 AM) so I'll reply to these posts tomorrow! love from here, kurt

here's Adam Blatner's comment:

Here was my comment: It's good to see this out there! Another angle on inter-spirituality might be those who are promoting "The Great Story" or the "Epic of Evolution," such as Michael Dowd, Connie Barlow, Brian Swimme, Thomas Berry, and the like. (I'm warming up for a presentation of this new complex of memes or ideas that catch on for my local elderhostel lifelong learning program here in central Texas.)

More later. Warmly, Adam

adesalme's picture

Hello Kurt!
You wrote
Interspirituality also transcends and delves deeper than conventional trans-traditional spirituality, which is an authentic enjoyment of many paths but perhaps not including the actual experience of this mystery of absolute oneness in multiplicity.
The seeking of oneness seems important to spiritualiy. I may seek oneness with the divine, which seems more "achievable" than seeking oneness with other people - the way to do this and still maintain our "places" in spirituality seems another part of the quest oin interspirituality. There are many "ways" posed by people, and we must necessarily (?) see the divine through our brains and souls and beings and our oneness through the same.
The way people in this country say "I am spiritual but not religious" holds both promise and resistance to this quest, I think. The promise is in not necessarily needing to cohere to a particular dogma or set of beliefs - the resistance is to so individualize the matter as to want to make spiriuality only what wewant it to be and not to risk losing self (sic) in connection with others.
Does this bring any comment from you? I like Raymond's approach, too, as seen in other threads, but it is a bit too disconnected or purely observant for me (I am probably misunderstanding him grossly).
Peace - Allen D

raymond sigrist's picture

Hi Kurt

re: " indeed anything that could cause separation between beings, becomes secondary if not irrelevant."

This is also my perspective.

A question for you: What is your response to a believer from a sectarian religious community who tells you that you are wrong for not adhering to the beliefs of her religion?