This is an article that I really like. It has offerings from various spiritual leaders on the idea of paths and how they view the need for them.
Many Paths, One Truth
Throughout recorded history, mystics have worked tirelessly to expose the unexamined assumptions and dogmas that proliferate so readily in society. While the spiritual traditions of the world have sprung up in diverse social contexts and developed unique practices and cultural hues, the prophets and enlightened teachers have always emphasized the underlying unity of all authentic traditions. If all created forms are merely aspects or expressions of One Being, then how could the world’s religions possibly speak of different Gods? Is there is only One, there is only One, beyond name or form. As Lao Tzu wrote, "any Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao."
While the teachings appear to point to the same truth, it is less clear that a given individual can mix practices from different traditions and expect to realize a deeper connection with Reality. This issue has become critical in the complex spiritual marketplace that has developed in the United States in the last few decades. Many new spiritual practices and amalgamated approaches are appearing, and the potential seeker could easily become lost in the thicket of extravagant promises offered on the workshop circuit. While new groups are proliferating rapidly, the monotheistic traditions have also enjoyed major revivals.
Four remarkable contemporary spiritual leaders recently shared with me their wisdom on the mystery of being and the way to inner peace. Representing the Jewish tradition, Rabbi Rami Shapiro is the director of the Rasheit Institute for Jewish Spirituality, the author of Wisdom of the Jewish Sages, and an award-winning poet and essayist whose liturgical poems are used in prayer services throughout North America; Rabbi Ted Falcon is a published author and a psychotherapist in private practice. Cofounder of the International Association of Sufism and Islamic scholar Seyed Ali Kianfar, Ph.D., spoke on behalf of Islamic Sufism. Rodney Romney, Ph.D., retired minister of Seattle’s First Baptist Church and the author of four books, most recently Wilderness Spirituality: Finding Your Way in an Unsettled World, represented the Christian tradition.
Sufis have been relentless over the centuries in their assaults on knowledge without foundation. Dr. Kianfar queries, "Has the mystery of the human being been discovered yet? Who has the answer to this question?" As he writes in his book The Zekr, most people have given up trying to find answers to such fundamental questions. Scientists have searched diligently for centuries to find explanations for the deepest mysteries of life, and their models have begun to resemble mystical teachings more and more. Like philosophers, though, scientists offer only theoretical candy for the mind and provide no guidance into the more nourishing "inner space" of one’s own being. Rather than continuing to languish in the basement of the collective psyche, these questions will become the preeminent concerns of people in the 21st century, according to Dr. Kianfar.
Jewish mysticism has enjoyed a robust revival in the last several decades as many individuals have sought to look within the traditional Jewish rituals and scriptures for the inner teachings of the faith. Rabbi Ted Falcon of Seattle’s Bet Alef Meditational Synagogue has been involved in this renaissance since the 1970s and emphasizes the validity of all of the world’s great spiritual traditions. He likens the spiritual journey to the climbing of a mountain. From the base, one may see only one way to the top (or no way at all), but as one draws closer to the summit, one begins to perceive other routes to the same destination. Only when one has drawn close to the peak and has found one’s footing does the traveling soul benefit fully from deep communion with people in other faith traditions. Participating in recent Jewish-Buddhist dialogues, Rabbi Falcon has been very active in interfaith communication.
Dr. Kianfar also stresses the importance of committing to one path, and the dangers of eclectic, hybrid spiritual amalgamations. From the Sufi perspective, the uniqueness of each individual’s journey toward conscious reunion with the Beloved is never in question, so there is no need to assert one’s special contribution. Only the limited ego fears it is not good enough, and has to struggle futilely to prove its merit. Through the power of concentration, "one steps out of the mirage of self," he states in The Zekr, "and enters the ocean of existence." Every human heart has a direct connection to the divine that can never be severed.
A longstanding supporter of interfaith dialogue, Rod Romney emphasizes that each tradition has much to learn from each other. And while he warns against the dangers of identifying too strongly with one’s tradition, Reverend Romney suggests that situating oneself firmly within one tradition is essential during the early stages of one’s conscious spiritual journey. As one progresses toward a deeper connection with the divine, identification with a specific spiritual tradition becomes an obstacle. "We are essentially One," says Rev. Romney, and any concept that diverts us from this reality is illusory.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro offers an even sharper criticism of getting attached to a "path." He suggests that "from the perspective of God, no path differs from any other. They are all dead ends. There is no path to God, for God is not other than where you are at this very moment." The path helps to bring the traveler closer, but then ultimately each person must each discover Reality for oneself (or for One’s Self).