What is Universalism? – Ans: It is the perennial wisdom of the inter-spiritual, inter-mystic

Major points of agreement developed by 15 spiritual leaders from nine different religious traditions, including: 

Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, Native American, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

These guidelines are not presented as definitive, but they offer a useful starting point for interfaith religious dialogue. They were written by the SnowMass Ecumenical Conference, convened by Fr. Thomas Keating, 1984 -89.

1. The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality, to which they give various names: Brahman, Allah, (the) Absolute, God, Great Spirit.

2. Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.

3. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.

4. Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.

5. The potential for human wholeness—or in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transformation, blessedness, nirvana—is present in every human person.

6. Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service of others.

7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance, illusion, weakness and suffering.

8. Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness (unity) with Ultimate Reality.

9. Prayer is communion with Ultimate Reality, whether it is regarded as personal, impersonal (transpersonal), or beyond them both.

The participants in the Snowmass Conference who discovered these areas of agreement were all long-term practitioners of their respective spiritual paths, to the point of embodying their respective traditions in a remarkable way. Although these guidelines point to certain truths that appear to be common to all religions, they do not imply that all religions are the same. The guidelines in no way contradict the spiritual uniqueness and richness of any one tradition.

During the Snowmass Conference, which met in annual week-long retreats for several years, various areas of disagreement were also discovered and explored. The participants became very honest with each other in stating exactly what they believed, but they did not try to convince the others of their respective positions. To their delight, they found that discussing their points of disagreement actually increased the bonding of the group even more than discovering their points of agreement.

Interfaith spirituality is a growing movement toward a universal spirituality world wide, as practitioners from different faiths discover how their own spiritual lives are enriched by learning from other traditions. Interfaith spirituality has a profound role to play in healing the religious divisions and conflicts in the world.

For an excellent introduction to interfaith spirituality, see “The Mystic Heart” by Wayne Teasdale (New World, 2001).


Alternative version

The Snowmass Conference's Guidelines for Interreligious Understanding

  1. The world religions bear witness to the experience of the Ultimate Reality to which they give various names: Brahman, the Absolute, God, Allah, (the) Great Spirit, the Transcendent. 

  2. The Ultimate Reality surpasses any name or concept that can be given to It. 

  3. The Ultimate Reality is the source (ground of being) of all existence. 

  4. Faith is opening, surrendering, and responding to the Ultimate Reality. This relationship precedes every belief system. 

  5. The potential for human wholeness — or in other frames of reference, liberation, self-transcendence, enlightenment, salvation, transforming union, moksha, nirvana, fana — is present in every human person. 

  6. The Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices but also through nature, art, human relationships and service to others. 

  7. The differences among belief systems should be presented as facts that distinguish them, not as points of superiority. 

  8. In the light of the globalization of life and culture now in process, the personal and social ethical principles proposed by the world religions in the past need to be re-thought and re-expressed.

from Speaking of Silence: Christian and Buddhists on the Contemplative Way by Thomas Keating


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