Are all religions the same? Yes, at their core. That may not seem possible to you at first because their rituals, deities, symbols and beliefs all seem drastically different.
And really, they are drastically different – on the surface.
But if you look into the deepest parts of their spiritual practices, you’ll find that they are actually all the same.
I come from a Christian background, so I’ll be coming from that perspective. But I will also touch on other religions and traditions in depth.
A Little About Me
Being raised in Christian home in a family of pastors, I have been studying religion and spirituality ever since I was kid (yes I was a nerdy kid that liked reading Pentecostal books about the “healing anointing”.
Now in my 30’s, I consider myself interspiritual. I am a Christian, but I’m also a Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Atheist (in a manner of speaking). I do not believe that the Christian god exists. There are certain aspects of Christian theology that I believe are true, but some are not accurate.
I have come to learn that all spiritual traditions can lead to the spirit of God. I affirm the value of Jesus, the Bible, and God, but I also affirm the value of all traditions. I do not consider it a good use of my time to endlessly debate the details of Jesus’ life, the interpretation of the Bible, politics or theology.
Those discussions have value, but they are merely a stepping stone for where I believe every human – Christian or otherwise – should end up philosophically: In interspirituality. If we have deep spiritual experience with the spirit of God, and an understanding of how all religions lead to that experience, then that eliminates the need for endless philosophical and political debate.
I believe we are now able to make sense of religion and come together as a species, once and for all.
If you passionately pursue transcendent spiritual experiences (aka the spirit of God), and how those experiences work, the details of who Jesus really was, how to interpret the Bible, and how to view God, all fall into place.
I didn’t fully understand the Bible, Jesus and God until I studied other religions and the science of religion. Once I did, I found that the Christian experience of “God”, is actually common pattern in all religions and traditions (including Buddhism).
Finding Interfaith Spirituality (or Interspirituality)
At some point several years ago, I started reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. Changed my life. It set me down the path of true Christian spirituality – one of direct experience, not of “doing for God instead of being with God”.
“Action, then passivity; striving, then letting go, doing all one can do and then being carried . . . only in this rhythm is the spirit realized.”
“The core spiritual issue in stopping revolves around trust. Will God take care of us and our concerns if we obey him by stopping?”
“Detachment is the great secret of interior peace.”Pete Scazzero
Pete taught me about Brother Lawrence, St. Benedict’s Rule of Life, and Ignatian spirituality. These writers all set me on the path of contemplative Christian spirituality.
I’m not sure there is another better definition of contemplative spirituality than his:
- Brother Lawrence called it “the pure loving gaze that finds God everywhere.”
- Francis de Sales described it as “the mind’s loving, unmixed, permanent attention to the things of God.”
- It is about seeing God in all of life, not just in what we might consider the spiritual aspects of life.
- awakening and surrendering to God’s love in any and every situation;
positioning ourselves to hear God and remember his presence in all we do;
- communing with God, allowing him to fully indwell the depth of our being;
practicing silence, solitude, and a life of unceasing prayer; (my emphasis added)
resting attentively in the presence of God;
understanding our earthly life as a journey of transformation toward ever-increasing union with God;
finding the true essence of who we are in God;
loving others out of a life of love for God;
developing a balanced, harmonious rhythm of life that enables us to be aware of the sacred in all of life;
adapting historic practices of spirituality that are applicable today;
allowing our Christian lives to be shaped by the rhythms of the Christian calendar rather than the culture; and
living in committed community that passionately loves Jesus above all else.
“There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God.”J.I. Packer
Returning to Direct Experience with God
Contemplative Christian spirituality and prayer gave me concrete spiritual methods of experiencing God directly. It helped me cultivate a real relationship with the Divine, without all the religious dogma and legalism. It helped me become a better human – more patient, kind, loving, and wise (“the fruits of the Spirit”).
What is religion, without relationship or direct experience of God? Contemplative spirituality focuses on what’s important – how to deepen our relationship with the Divine.
Jesus, the Mystic
Oneness or direct experience with God, is also called mysticism. When many people think of mysticism they think tarot or crystals, but that is a misconception. Mysticism just means direct relationship with the Divine, and there is a rich history of Christian mystics and contemplatives.
This includes Jesus himself, who spoke of being one with God and experiencing God directly. Many of us already have a relationship with God, so you could say we are already mystics.
Jesus also taught us to “go into our room, close the door, and pray to the Father in secret” (Matthew 6:6). We also know that Jesus “frequently withdrew to the mountains to pray” (Luke 5:16). The Psalms of David are filled to the brim of writings that bring us into direct connection with transcendent love (aka, God). Relationship with God is also described as a “peace that surpasses all understanding”.
And as far as I know, Jesus did not bring scrolls with him to study in the mountains. The core of his prayer life did not include scripture. Yes, he was incredibly knowledgeable about scripture. But it seems that his study of scripture was very separate from his prayer life.
So it seems that silence, solitude, and the quiet contemplation of God is the key to true spirituality.
This is verified by Thomas Keating, a catholic monk and the father of centering prayer:
“Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation.”
Seeing God Outside of Christianity
In Christianity we teach that “God is love”, God is infinite, “without love we are nothing”, and that “the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace”, etc. We know from Jesus’ example that in silent contemplative prayer, we get to experience the Spirit of God directly.
I argue that this same Spirit of God is present in all spiritual traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American spirituality, and all others.
Put simply, all religions lead to God because what we experience as God is simply our own infinite awareness. Even traditions like Buddhist meditation – which is not theistic – lead to the same experience of infinite awareness that people call God.
So through contemplation, we start to develop a sense of openness, transcendence, and love for all things. Maybe you experience this already. The infinite love of God becomes a deep reality in our lives. We experience a deep abiding and knowing of the presence of God.
The presence of God is objectless (also called nondual awareness). There are no boundaries between self and the Divine – the boundaries dissolve and we become one. As Jesus said, “I and the Father are one”, where we experience the “peace that surpasses all understanding”.
This union with God is the core ingredient in all spiritual traditions. It is taught in Hindu Vedanta, Yoga (which literally means “union with God” in Sanskrit), Christian contemplation, all Buddhist meditation (especially Zen and Dzogchen), and more. Buddhists do not worship God but they do talk about accessing our universal nature, which is the same experience.
Thought, opinion, desire, craving, aversion, resentment, attachment – all fall away in the infiniteness of God (the sins of ego, in the Christian tradition). In this clarity of mind and heart, even the smallest phenomena becomes magnificent: the chirping of a bird, the cool air in your nostrils, the transcendence of the big, blue sky. As Brother Lawrence said, “I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God”.
If we look at all spiritual traditions (and most religious people don’t), we notice the same striking pattern of letting go, transcendence, and experiencing an infinite presence. Depending on the tradition, it could be also be called boundless awareness, enlightenment, salvation, satori, the Source, infinite presence, pure being, universal nature, or simply infinite love.
If God is infinite peace and love, and our relationship with God primarily consists of experiencing that infinite peace and love, and other spiritual traditions also experience an infinite peace and love in their practices, then the spirit of God is present in all religions.
It’s really that simple. Yes, there are other arguments for the inadequacy of scripture, that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t necessary for salvation, and more. But the argument above gets to the heart of the issue, in my opinion.
Christians, as well as devotees of other religions, all can experience the Divine, but humans tend to tribalize and theologize around how that experience works. If our relationship with God is real – that is, we experience the presence of God in a real, tangible way – then it is pretty easy to see the totality of God in other traditions.
“A heart transformed by this realization of oneness knows that only love ‘in here’ can spot and enjoy love ‘out there.’”Richard Rohr
But, God is not present in all aspects of all spiritual traditions
I will also say that God is not 100% present in all aspects of all spiritual traditions. For instance, I don’t think that the Hindu practice of worshipping cows is practicing the presence of God. Other symbols and gods of Hinduism are not God itself, but they can point to the Divine in a powerful way. Many Christians look at these symbols and gods and judge the religion by these surface objects. If they went deeper and studied their texts, they would see the deeper truths being taught of transcendent contemplation.
Worshiping statues of the Buddha is also not the presence of God. But most Buddhists do not worship statues of the Buddha, as many Christians believe. Deity worship in Buddhism is actually quite rare. Even still, statues are just symbols that lead Buddhists to the Divine, or their own Buddha-hood. They generally do not meditate on the statues themselves. The Buddha even encouraged his followers to question his own teaching.
And it is unfortunate that there are many Muslims who have radicalized their faith. From what little I know about the Quran, it seems that they have perverted scripture to their own ends. But, there is also some evidence that Muslims became hateful towards Americans, after Americans prolonged their occupation of Afghanistan too long after fending off the Russians. Muslim extremism is not the spirit of God – but neither is American imperialism. Regardless, there is an incredible mystical thread of Islam called Sufism. If you’ve heard of Rumi, he was a Sufi mystic. In the Sufi tradition, the infinite love and peace of God is present throughout the tradition.
On the other side, there is much within Christianity that doesn’t directly carry the presence of God either. For instance: baptism, communion, symbols of the cross, or depictions of the Virgin Mary. These are all symbols that can point us to the Divine, but are not the Divine itself. By his own admission, Jesus was merely a man. A powerful, divinely-inspired man, but a man nonetheless.
“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”Jesus
So Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and other symbols can lead us to the Divine. But in the end, we have to let them all go to become one with God and achieve objectless, nondual awareness. This objectless awareness is what’s at the core of all religions, and all lead to the presence of God.
More Evidence for How All Religions Are the Same
Perennial Philosophy, Neurotheology, and Energy Medicine
Over the years, there were 3 massive discoveries that solidified my interspiritual position: the perennial philosophy, neurotheology, and the science of energy medicine.
Neurotheology is a branch of science led by Dr. Andrew Newberg. In it he posits that all spiritual traditions experience the same mental states where the sense of self, space and time dissolve.
In Christianity, we’re taught to “crucify the self”, “less of me, more of God”, etc. Well, this same destruction of self (or ego) is present in all religions, according to the brain scans of Carmelite nuns, Buddhist monks, and Jewish Rabbis. In Christianity, the driver of this self-lessness is the sacrifice of Jesus. But other objects and methods of selflessness are present in all religions, and produce the same results.
“All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not.”Richard Rohr
Nondual Awareness & the Perennial Philosophy
The perennial philosophy shows that there is a Divine reality that “keeps recurring in different world religions with different metaphors and vocabulary”. This idea that God’s presence is perennial is not new, and is well-examined.
These practices go by different names, but have the same exact ingredients: Boundless awareness, Source energy, satori, enlightenment, nirvana, infinite presence, nondual awareness, transcendent love, yoga (which means union with God), Direct Path, universal nature, and more. If you look at the experience behind all of these different words, they all consist of the same ingredients: letting go of ego, transcendence, then abiding in our own infinite awareness (which is what people call God).
“Perennial wisdom isn’t unique to any specific system of thought or belief, but rather a set of teachings common to all of them. Each articulation of perennial wisdom takes on the flavor of the system in which it rests. Mistaking the flavor for the substance leads us to imagine differences where none exist.”Rabbi Rami Shapiro
My teacher friend Keith Kristich has a great explanation about perennial philosophy. A couple great books on this are the Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale, and Answering the Contemplative Call by Carl McColman. Rupert Spira (in the Vedanta Yoga tradition) does a great job of explaining transcendent spiritual concepts in an interspiritual way. There are many interfaith Christian teachers, including Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, and Richard Rohr. Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hanh and others also weave interspiritual ideas into their teaching.
We do not have to die to arrive at the gates of Heaven. In fact, we have to be truly alive. The practice is to touch life deeply so that the Kingdom of God becomes a reality. This is not a matter of devotion. It is a matter of practice. The Kingdom of God is available here and now.Thich Nhat Hanh
Through the present moment, you have access to the power of life itself, that which has traditionally been called “God.” As soon as you turn away from it, God ceases to be a reality in your life, and all you are left with is the mental concept of God, which some people believe in and others deny.Eckhart Tolle
The Science of Energy Medicine
One of the main reasons that Christians treat Jesus as deity is because of his healings, miracles, and resurrection. And these are valid arguments.
Well, there is a science to healing and “miracles”. In fact, Reiki healing in particular is now being used in hospitals to help produce better health outcomes and recovery. There are many other modalities being used in hospitals as well, including healing touch, therapeutic touch, and qigong.
Even Dr. Joe Dispenza is seeing incredible healings in a non-religious setting (both through the placebo effect and energy medicine. The Heartmath Institute is doing compelling research on the power of electromagnetic heart coherence on healing ourselves and others. And through the Maharishi Effect, we are learning that group prayer and meditation has a measurable effect on the world around us (confirming that there really is power in prayer, “when two or more are gathered in my name”, etc).
Through all of this and research by Dr. James L. Oschman, we now know that the power of healing ourselves and others is built into the fabric of the universe through electromagnetic (and possibly quantum) signaling. Check out Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis for the technical mechanics behind these phenomena.
If you’re familiar with the Lost Years of Jesus, you know that the Bible is absolutely silent about what Jesus did from the age of 13 to 30. A lot can happen in 17 years. But evidence suggests that Jesus actually travelled to India and Nepal to study these supernatural abilities. This could be confirmed by the fact that Jesus wasn’t recorded to perform any miracles until he was 33.
In the Hindu Yoga tradition, it was reportedly quite common for yogis to have supernatural abilities, including levitation, invisibility, healing, and more (as evidenced by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali). The Buddha himself was also apparently able to levitate and become invisible. Thomas Aquinas was also able to levitate.
So Jesus’ miracles, while incredible, are not necessarily unique (especially coupled with the likelihood that many of his miracles were likely from the placebo effect in his followers).
This all means that healing and miracles are available to everyone, because those “miracles” are based on energy. If we learn to cultivate and direct our energy, we will be able to do miraculous things. There is actually a lot of solid science to this fact.
God is Energy
It is helpful to think of all spirituality – including Jesus and God – in terms of energy, consciousness, and psychology. Based on my studies of science and religion, it is not likely that God is a being outside of the universe, that we may or may not be able to contact. It is more likely that God is another word for the universal, semi-conscious energy that permeates all things.
“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”Nikola Tesla
“Your True Self is a tiny flame of this Universal Reality that is Life itself, Consciousness itself, Being itself, Love itself, God’s very self.”Richard Rohr
“The Holy Spirit is the kind of energy that is capable of being there, of understanding, of accepting, of loving, and of healing.”Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist Monk
“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”Colossians 1:17
“For from him and through him and to him are all things.”Romans 11:36
God is a state where our highest consciousness and awareness exists (and where we experience our highest sense of peace, love, joy, and wisdom), but people have misinterpreted that experience as an all-knowing, omnipresent creator that has human characteristics (such as wrath). In fact, this is just our innate, divine wisdom when we access our own universal nature.
“The kingdom of God is within you.”Jesus
From what we know about energy medicine, how consciousness likely evolved, the creation of DNA programming, the supposed quantum unified field (which intelligently distributes information and energy), we can deduce that what we experience as an infinite, loving, transcendent God, is really just accessing our own infinite conscious awareness, made possible by universal energy (which may or may not be intelligent).
Even John G. Lake, a famous Pentecostal faith healer in the early 1900’s, likened God’s healing power to the energy of electricity. How right he was!
Jesus also said that “virtue has gone out of me” when the woman with the issue of blood touched him for healing. I believe that his healing power was possible, because he spent so much time cultivating his energy in the mountains through meditative absorption (samadhi in the Hindu Yoga tradition). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali show that these abilities and more, are very common through deep meditative absorption.
So, What Now?
We take action. We practice this perennial spiritual wisdom of how to access the Divine, and spread that wisdom to a world that needs it. When we recognize the deep wisdom of all spiritual traditions, we can accept and love those who believe differently than us. This will bring unity, openness, inclusion, love and healing to our world.
We can also spread the wisdom of mindfulness (particularly nondual awareness) to leaders, parents, kids, entrepreneurs, students, teachers, and professionals. But especially world leaders. If world leaders do not learn this wisdom of awareness, contemplation, mindfulness, love, and peace, humanity may not make it.
We need this perennial truth and wisdom now more than ever.