‘The One Garden – many gateways’ project – in service of ‘Spiritual Federalism’



The contemporary Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Happiness (pp20-21) writes about an experience when he first came to feel a connection with ancient Europe through the sounding of church bells.  His description resonated with me because I also have been yearning for ways into ‘feeling at-one’ with major wisdom traditions.  Why?  Well in order to experience the oneness that I believe is at the centre of them all.

In honouring the sweet simplicity of everything that Thich Nhat Hanh does and teaches, and imagining a large walled garden, I have decided to call it the ‘One Garden’ project – ‘One Garden; many gateways’.

Thich Nhat Hanh is my Buddhist gateway to our One Garden.  The other gateways to the One Garden include Abdu’l-Baha, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Shaikh Kabir Helminski, – see HERE for a fuller list.

The project, and learning and teaching about it, is about encouraging realization of oneness – what the Baha’is call the ‘changeless faith of God’.  That oneness is to do with our being human – we are one because all people of goodwill recognize, through compassion, that all humans suffer, laugh, love and struggle to feed their families. That oneness is also to do with the inner oneness of all of the great wisdom traditions – even though men have done terrible things in the name of those traditions – everything from current wars, to the persecution of Baha’i and other minorities in Iran, to making hundreds of millions of people in India into sub-human ‘untouchables’.

But misuse of the wisdom traditions is no reason to ignore the gems of wisdom they contain.  In one sense this is a humanist (small ‘h’) and humanistic project because it is looking for ways to best answer the ultimate question, ‘What is it to be positively and fully human?’.   This includes however looking beyond those horrors men have done in the name of religions to the jewel-like true teachings.

PROCESS: we have evolved a study process that includes head, heart and action, left-brain and right-brain, mythos and logos etc

Contemplative Study Process: head, heart and action!  (includes silence, contemplative reading & dialogue as preparation for better action)

1 Short period of silence (just discovered 1 min = approx 20 breaths!)

2 TEXT – experienced via ‘whole-person reading’ (based on lectio divinia & ‘looking & listening for the inner light’)

a) Read text slowly

b) Quietly absorb and ponder

c) Listen to what it is saying to you by the text – express aloud if you wish but no dialogue

d) Listen for your response, formulate it & express it – express aloud if you wish – but no dialogue until after Step 3

3 Short silence – each can use, if they want, a choice of SHORT phrases from chosen text for repetition as a mantra –

4 Dialogue – as per Prof Matthew Lipman’s philosophical inquiry system

5 Final Short silence – only in silence are we truly at-one!

One thing is missing from this study process and that is creativity.  Go create! – in whatever medium takes your fancy.  Thich Nhat Hanh recommends the writing of poetry as a practice in spiritual development, and as with everything, so far as I can see, he ‘walks the talk’’  But most other art forms can add that vital dimension to personal and group learning.

PERSONAL PRACTICE: This is down to each participant.  We can’t do all the practices of all of the wisdom traditions – there wouldn’t be time to eat or sleep!  In any case this One Garden project isn’t yet another religion, but it does show that we can be a Spiritual Federalist i.e. be happy with our given or chosen tradition and also be at-one with the inner golden core of all of the great wisdom traditions (just as in a federal system like Germany has a person belongs to a region and to the nation as a whole.  However you can’t go far wrong if you start with Breathe; Smile and Go slowly – these simple three everyone can do.  They all bring us back to now and help us stay mindful and balanced.

ACTION: It’s down to each participant.


Perennial Philosophy is the structure of the spiritual journey we all take and a model of the universe in which we undertake that journey – seeHERE



The metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being. – Aldous Huxley

Perennial philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis “eternal philosophy”, also Philosophia perennis et universalis) is the notion of the universal recurrence of ….. insight independent of epoch or culture, including universal truths on the nature of reality, humanity or consciousness (anthropological universals).


Concerning Universalism I make the following distinction.

To subscribe to Perennial Philosophy you almost certainly will hold a ‘pan-religious’ and inter-faith position including some theological ideas such as pan-en-theism – which seems to hold the view that God is both immanent and transcendent – at one and the same time – which I take to be the case.  My favourite quotation that celebrates this idea is;

“God is a circle whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere.”   Empedocles/Anonymous, ‘The Book of the Twenty-four Philosophers‘ (12thC)

On the other hand a universalist in my view however can have an open and respectful mind and an open and generous heart whilst staying with her/his cultural roots.  Such a person I call a ‘Spiritual Federalist’.

Barack Obama (I hope) is one such example. More striking is the specificity of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s traditional Hasidic faith as compared to the Universalism of his heart and astoundingly deep insights into core mystical and eternal reality, and especially the nature of being human in the world – with others.

Either way the world has no more desperate need than an increase in the ability of people to see the oneness in, and beyond, specific belief systems – whether they do it from a truly Perennial Philosophy position or as a Universalist cum Spiritual Federalist.

In an earlier post I introduced the idea of Spiritual Federalism HERE and ‘One Garden – many gateways’ is my personal project in favour of Spiritual Federalism.


NB The ‘one garden; many gateways’ metaphor is of course an alternative metaphor to ‘many paths: one summit’!

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