Should You Design Your Own Religion?

One question, many answers

| July/August 1998

Religion Section:

God with a Million Faces
Mix-and-Match Religion

The Feminine Mystic
One Woman's Quest to Reconcile Feminism and Spirituality

Should You Design Your Own Religion?
One question, many answers

John Daido Loori Roshi
Abbot, Zen Mountain Monastery
Mount Tremper, New York

Creating a self-styled practice from fragments appropriated from various religions results, at best, in an ineffective practice or, at worst, in a practice that embodies conflicting forms that can be self-deluding rather than nourishing and healing. A classic example of this is the common tendency to mix various meditation techniques from different traditions -- which ultimately end up working against each other.

In most cases, hybrid religious paths are a reflection of our cultural trend of greediness and consumerism. With all the possibilities, why give up anything? The consequence of this attitude is that we entertain ourselves with teachings that are meant to transform our lives.

Father Thomas Keating
Cistercian (Trappist) priest and monk
St. Benedict's Monastery
Snowmass, Colorado

The ideal way to develop a practice is to plug into a tradition that has long-range experience, literature, and rituals that support it. When you make a collage of various traditions, you run the risk of digging too many wells in a desert, which might take a lot of time, whereas if you work one well that has a good reputation, where water is to be found, it might be more rewarding in the long term.

Information about other traditions can complement and enrich your particular path, but you need to be well rooted before you can derive any true benefit. Without that rootedness, it's hard to judge the value of complementary practices, some of which may be peripheral to the basic thrust of your primary path. Yet with so many opportunities available, it's hard to develop the motivation that most traditions require to get to the bottom of what they have to offer. It may be best to postpone the immediate gratification of experimentation and invest in the long-range program. Too much looking around can be destabilizing. A tree without deep roots can be blown over by a fairly mild wind.

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