The Blog

The Religion of Spirituality

In 1949, Max Zeller, a disciple of the visionary psychotherapist, Dr. Carl Jung, came to Jung with a dream he could not understand. In the dream, he saw a 'temple of vast dimensions' under construction.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.


In 1949, Max Zeller, a disciple of the visionary psychotherapist, Dr. Carl Jung, came to Jung with a dream he could not understand. In the dream, he saw a "temple of vast dimensions" under construction. As far as he could see, in every direction, there were multitudes of people participating in the building of the temple. Though the temple was only in its beginning stages, the foundation had already been laid, and he was himself working on a pillar. Hearing this, Jung simply nodded and said, "this is the temple we are all building today." It is "the new religion." We don't know all the builders, of course, because they are "in India and China and in Russia, and all over the world." But "this new religion will come together."[1]

This is what Jung believed. The problem for us is that the process has only just begun, and we do not yet know what shape it will take or how it can help us. Looking at the rubble of the past and the chaotic building-site of the present, many people today -- both spiritually-inclined and secular -- are understandably declaring "the end of religion." But what neither seems to understand is that religion cannot die unless we, as human beings, somehow cease to feel and long for that indefinable, ineffable awareness of the sacred to which religion is merely a response. Until that happens, we will continue to reach out to the sacred, and we will use religion to get it. The real question is, what kind of religion will we use to access the sacred? Will we continue to use the old religions of the past, whether in their conventional or mystical forms? Will we evolve and participate in new hyphenated fusions of traditions like Christian Zen or Sufi-Hasidism? Or will we embrace a greater religion of spirituality, as some are already suggesting? I think the simple answer is yes.

Until fairly late in the 20th-century, no matter where you might find yourself on the map, you were likely to live in a more or less homogenous culture, where most people were "like you" in language, race and religion. If you knew anything about another religion, you probably viewed it as something inferior. But today we live in a world where cultures are increasingly bumping up against one another, and where religions are learning to co-exist. Today we find that our neighbors are Hindus, and our co-workers Muslims. In almost every metropolitan area, we have access to yoga classes, Buddhist meditation, Hindu satsangs, Muslim Sufi dhikrs, Christian Centering Prayer groups and Jewish Renewal services. Living in this spiritual marketplace, in a time when many of us find ourselves cut-off from the religions of our birth, and with almost every religious possibility within reach, some are asking, "How do we choose between them?" Nevertheless, my sense is that this is not actually the question they want to ask; I think they are bewildered at having to make a choice at all... Indeed, I don't think they want to choose anymore.

In the Jewish mystical tradition, the expulsion from Eden is characterized as the loss of the primal unity. Having eaten the fruit of the eitz ha'da'at, or "tree of knowledge," humanity suddenly found itself cast headlong into the world of separation, into a world devoid of the sacred, in which we could only see the differences between things.[2] But in the last century, we have again eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge -- of other cultures and religions -- and found, paradoxically, that we are really one people, one body, whose needs are the concern of all.

Our current access to all the religions of the planet is slowly (or perhaps quickly) putting an end to the myth of religious superiority, the view we call "triumphalism." But something else is happing as well. It is also eroding the clearly definable boundaries of our current religions, giving many the feeling that there is no longer any particular reason to be exclusively wedded to one religion or another. Many people no longer want to be boxed-in to any one tradition. Having had access to them all, and having seen the unique tools and beauty of each, who can believe that any one of them has all the answers anymore?

Given this awareness, which religion you choose really becomes a matter of emphasis and individual need. For a tall person, a ladder with rungs far apart is preferable, while a shorter person obviously prefers one with rungs set closer together. Still, both are ladders, and both are designed to facilitate access to higher regions. In the same way, religions have all developed the same basic tools to deliver an experience of the sacred, but each has a different emphasis and uses these tools in different ways, just as the ladder is used for different jobs. What the spiritual seeker is able to do today, which is different than through most of our past, is choose which religion (or even which aspect of a religion) is most suitable to their needs, their purpose, and their abilities.

Over the last 40 or 50 years, the gradual dawning of this awareness of personal choice has led to an interesting evolutionary phenomenon, one I like to call, "hyphenated religion."[3] With all the jostling and bumping up against one another that happens in the universe, new relationships are bound to form, just as atoms gain and lose electrons, or different chemical compounds are formed in seemingly random interactions. In the world of religion, such interactions have led to the development of hyphenated loyalties -- Christian priests who have become recognized Zen roshis or Vedantic swamis, rabbis who have become Sufi sheikhs or embraced a more shamanic form of Judaism. Today, there is hardly anyone who doesn't have some kind of 'hyphen,' whether they be dedicated Christians devoted to Jungian psychology or resolved atheists to Yoga practice, couples learning to handle the demands of inter-marriage or individuals integrating dual cultural identities. So why should it be any different with religions? Although there is certainly an element of choice at work here, it is also clearly an evolutionary process, the planet mashing things together, as it always has, creating a healthy diversity for itself and new forms of life.

But this phenomenon of hyphenated religion is just the beginning of a larger process. Each hyphen must, in time, join to form a part of the mortise-and-tenon construction of the temple of the new religion, described in the dream of Jung's disciple. In this process, the magisterium -- the body of spiritual teachings, lore, rituals and techniques -- of each individual religion must, in the interaction with other religious traditions, begin to 'surrender electrons' and form a new magisterium that "transcends and includes" both.[4] The process will go on, contributing to and eventually forming a greater magisterium of all religions, where the myths and practices of each will become the rightful inheritance of all people. In this sense, it will be a true religion of humanity, though I believe it will be defined as the religion of spirituality, with these basic values:

The religion of spirituality will recognize the centrality of the spiritual, valuing it above religion, which must serve exclusively as a cultivator of spiritual awareness. The religion of spirituality will be comprised of the magisteria of all religions and unified by the primordial mysterium at the heart of all. It will recognize the call of the spirit as the source of all previous religions, and will utilize the deep structures of religion, made clear by comparative analysis, as the catalyzing basis for further spiritual evolution. The distinctively nuanced teachings and practices of independently developed magisteria will continue to serve the needs of individuals and their unique spiritual orientations from within the greater, unified magisterium of the religion of spirituality.

Why is "the new religion" to be defined by spirituality? Because the 'spiritual but not religious' have declared it so. They have made it clear that spirituality is more important than religion. What they have not yet discovered is what to do about it; for doing is the territory of religion. Religion is the tool that allows us to access the spirit with regularity, to catalyze growth and spiritual maturity, to accomplish spiritual awakening and transformation. Thus, religion in the future must be the handmaiden of spirituality. One is clearly the servant of the other, though both are essential ingredients. Over time, these two ingredients -- the deep structures of religion and heart-essence of spirituality -- will be extracted from the individual religions, making a religion not of the Buddha or the Christ, not of the mind or of the heart, but of Humanity and Wholeness, the parts and nuances of each the inheritance of all, a reflection of the primordial human archetype, Adam Kadmon, as it is called in the Jewish mystical tradition.

This is my conviction. But it is also clear to me that we are not there yet, and won't be for a very long time. It is not enough to have a vision of the future and theoretical access to the 'Greater Magisterium of the Religion of Spirituality.' We must also understand those deeper structures of religion, the basic technology of how religion works to accomplish spiritual transformation, and put that understanding into practice over a long period of experimentation. Actual understanding will come slowly, organically. We are only beginning to understand what it means to have commitments in more than one tradition. We still don't have a firm grasp on how one balances and honors each without making one or both anemic. And what will be the role of the old traditions in a universal structure which must, over time, make them all less relevant? How painful will the descent into a lesser degree of relevance be, and how will we deal with the inevitable reactions of violence, which we are already witnessing? The questions still far outnumber the answers.

After Jung had interpreted the dream of the temple of "the new religion," his student, Zeller, asked him if he knew how long it would take to build. Jung answered without hesitation, "About six hundred years." "Where do you know this from?" Zeller asked. "From other people's dreams and from my own."[5] Six hundred years in transition to a new religion? Or six hundred years for that religion to reach its peak? And what does it mean that the foundation is already laid? However we interpret the dream, three things are clear: our current religions will continue for a long time yet; they will evolve and begin to hyphenate; and the great experiment of the religion of spirituality will proceed, slowly creating the structures of spiritual practice that will define it as a true incubator for spiritual transformation. For this is what is lacking today, and the reason we must bear with the slow evolutionary process.

(Part three of a three-part series on The Religion of Spirituality. Part one was "The End of Religion," and part two was "Spiritual and Religious.")


1. Max Zeller, The Dream: The Vision of the Night, ed. Janet Dallett, Los Angeles: The Analytical Psychology Club of Los Angeles, 1975:2.

2. Actually, the 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil,' etz ha-da'at tov va-ra, Genesis 2-3.

3. After similar usage by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who often referred to the hyphen connecting a person to more than one religious commitment.

4. A phrase used by philosopher Ken Wilber in his descriptions of holarchies.

5. Zeller, The Dream, 2.

Popular in the Community