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Cultivating Reverence for Our Differences

Are all of the major religions different layers of the same reality or universal truth?

From the outset of my studies in transpersonal psychology, I was challenged by a specific aspect of the transpersonal: the tension around the ideas of perennial philosophy (that postulates the theory of universal truth at the core of major religions) and that of pluralism. In exploring these perspectives, I came to see them as approaching the same goal of reducing the detriments of tribalism and increasing feelings of allegiance and equanimity among different religions/cultures from "opposite" approaches.

Throughout my studies, I gained a deeper understanding of why I felt such tension over these two philosophies. For decades I had unconsciously operated from an assumption of and a bias towards the perennial -- of course there is a common denominator among the world’s religions and they each flow out from the same central, universal truth! I had never really examined this assumption until challenged to do just that in a class dialogue addressing our thoughts on the two being compatible. I recognized some cognitive dissonance I had been experiencing while engaging in the pluralistic work of Cultural Proficiency as an educator.

Examining this dissonance and sitting with that tension was uncomfortable, but it allowed me to make some interesting discoveries. In my pondering, I realized that I wasn’t all that interested in debating the “reality” or “truth” of the perennial. At one point, I expressed it in these terms: “maybe there is and maybe there isn’t a universal truth – the more I thought about it the less sure I became about it, and the more sure I was that it really doesn’t matter to me…”

What I found to be much more significant was the goal of this philosophy, which seems to be coming to understand and respect our spiritual commonalities as strongly as we do our differences, so as to free ourselves from the detriments of tribalism. Rather than debating if there actually is a "universal truth," it felt more important to me to discuss the implications of peoples exploring their commonalities with other peoples, especially ones of a spiritual nature. As Wilber (2017) stated, “In many ways the appeal to recognize sameness in others, harmony in diversity, is also a call to a kind of federalism. That is to say such a recognition will enable the people of the world to hold an allegiance to the whole as well as the particular...”