Below are referrals to a few hand-picked sites that, in our opinion, either provide reliable sources of religious information or embody the principles of authentic spirituality. We point people in the direction of experiential spiritual realization, and we shun teachings that fall short of this goal. Stay tuned for updates.
– John Roger Barrie
There are two main branches of Buddhism: (1) Theravada (the “Way of the Elders”); and (2) Mahayana (the “Great Vehicle”). There are two major traditions that derive from the Mahayana branch of Buddhism. One is the Tantrayana, or Vajrayana, of Tibet, which combines the esoteric rituals of Tantra, the philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism, and the native Bön religious beliefs in animism, shamanism, and magic. This has created the colorful religion unique to the region of Tibet we know as Tibetan Buddhism, which presents singularly powerful paths to enlightenment. Within Tibetan Buddhism are four schools, listed from the oldest first: Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelugpa. The second major Mahayana branch is the Chan tradition, more widely known as Zen. There are two primary schools of Zen: the Soto (Tsao-tung) and the Rinzai (Lin-chi).
Within Buddhism there are a plethora of schools and teachings. Rather than recommend individual centers, we are providing links to two major Buddhist referral sites. By way of disclaimer, we advise the sincere seeker to carefully investigate the resources included on these sites on their own:
For Christian mystical practices, we recommend that you contact your pastor (if Protestant) or parish priest (if Catholic). If they cannot prescribe a contemplative regimen for you, try contacting the Benedictines, Carthusians, or Trappists, or one of the Orthodox branches that actively teaches the Jesus Prayer.
We steer away from recommending megachurches, televangelists, and megavangelists. Some, but not all, are slick marketers who profiteer by selling the commodity of Christ. Many instill dogma and beliefs into their followers but provide no means for, “the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God” (from Fr. William Meninger’s former website). Follow Jesus instead. And take up contemplative prayer.
In 1974, Fr. William Meninger (1932–2021), a Trappist monk, revived the practice of Christian (Catholic) contemplative meditation and founded the Contemplative Prayer (centering prayer) movement. Contacts for local Contemplative Prayer groups are listed below. Along with Fr. Meninger, the chief proponents of the Contemplative Prayer movement include the Trappist monks Fr. Thomas Keating (1923–2018) and Fr. Basil Pennington (1931–2005), and also Fr. Carl Arico, a diocesan priest. I was fortunate to have attended classes/retreats with all three, and so my recommendation is based on personal experience.
In 1975, Fr. John Main (1926-1982), a Benedictine monk, initiated Christian contemplation at his Benedictine monastery in London. Thus began a global spiritual network known as The World Community for Christian Meditation, now directed by Fr. Laurence Freeman, also a Benedictine monk.
– opens in a new windowThe Benedictines [a contemplative Catholic order]
– opens in a new windowThe Carthusians [a contemplative Catholic order]
– opens in a new windowThe Trappists [Also known as the Cistercians. Think Thomas Merton.]
– opens in a new windowContemplative Outreach [the main website for the modern Contemplative Prayer movement]
– opens in a new windowOrthodox Prayer resources [This link provides an excellent compendium of information on Orthodox Christian prayer. The only drawback is its staunch anti-ecumenical stand.]
– opens in a new windowThe World Community for Christian Meditation [Father John Main’s website]
– opens in a new windowGlide Memorial United Methodist Church [Although I’m not aware of any mystical practices promoted by this legendary San Francisco-based church, founded by Rev. Cecil Williams, I have rarely seen a more stunning example of the Christian principle of “love one another” in action.]
Hinduism, as with Christianity, has seen its share of questionable teachers. While there are a handful of respectable groups, the one movement we highly recommend is the Ramakrishna Order, named after the Hindu saint Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) and popularized by his chief disciple Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). This order promotes the opens in a new windowVedanta philosophy and embraces an interfaith approach. Managed by educated, respected Hindu monastics who maintain the highest degree of integrity, they also serve as ministers of its various centers located throughout the world. I began visiting the Vedanta Society of Southern California in around 1975, and so my recommendation is from personal experience.
We generally shun referrals to hatha yoga teachers. Hatha yoga is a relatively superficial practice that focuses too much on the body. Practice deeper meditation techniques in order to transcend all identification with the body.
– opens in a new windowRamakrishna Order [the main center in India]
– opens in a new windowRamakrishna Order – U.S. Centers [includes 22 U.S. states]
– opens in a new windowRamana Maharshi [d. 1950. One of the great Hindu adepts of the 20th century]
– opens in a new windowRamana Maharshi – Worldwide Centers [includes formal ashrams in New York and Nova Scotia]
– opens in a new windowSwami Ramdas [d. 1963. Not to be mistaken for the American teacher Baba Ram Dass]
– opens in a new windowSwami Sivananda [d. 1963. Swami Sivananda was a prolific author and indefatigable teacher. Focus less on his (and his disciples’) hatha yoga teachings and more on his spiritual teachings in order to reap the most benefit.]
More to follow!
- opens in a new windowDalai Lama photographopens IMAGE file , opens IMAGE file by Christopher Michel, licensed under opens in a new window(CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons.
- opens in a new windowSwami Vivekananda photographopens IMAGE file , uploaded by Wikimedia user 2030791rosemerin, licensed under opens in a new windowCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. / Cropped from original.