I’ve been interested in how people pursue transcendent meaning (life meaning that goes beyond death) since I was about 18. Psychology now call this area Transpersonal Psychology, and it is largely viewed as the natural evolution of Humanistic Psychology. There’s a very good review on Wikipedia, here.

Over the years, I’ve cumulatively spent many months living in monasteries and ashrams from almost all the major religions. One of the things that has always struck me has been the number of Western Christians who become involved in Eastern religions at a very committed level; taking on the rituals and accoutrement of religions that are essentially foreign to their upbringing and symbolology. This has intrigued me because I’ve always felt that all religions represented different forms of the same path, with each using language and symbols intrinsic to the cultures from which they emanated. Bottom line: I just never got why so many people feel the need to immerse themselves in other religions (including Christianity) when all religions offer very similar pathways to spiritual experience.

A common theme among those I’ve asked this question has to do with the Eastern focus on meditative disciplines. Christianity appears to have distanced itself from its meditative roots, as exemplified by the earliest disciples of the Apostles, who went into the desert to live as Christ had done, immersed in contemplative prayer, simplicity, and self-immolation (universal characteristics of all spiritual seekers regardless of religion).

In fact, many, if not most, Christians don’t have a clue that Christianity itself has a very strong meditative legacy going back 2000 years. It’s methods are almost identical to those of Eastern religions, and as a bonus, its symbology much more familiar and accessible for Westerners (after all, it does take some time and effort to get used to worshiping elephants and 12-armed goddesses with the heads of animals!). These Christian meditative traditions have been at the core of Christian monasticism, and broadly practiced today at hundreds of monasteries within the various Christian denominations.

A wonderful organization and resource site is the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM). Terrific people, and a web site chock-full of practical information as well as historical background. And not a “teaser” site either, where you’re required to buy all kinds of stuff in order to get the full gen (as Hemingway used to call it).