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Published: Sunday, 11/14/2010

The quest for spirituality: Transcending religious boundaries

These two different religious rituals were part of the rich cultural texture of the community I grew up in. My mother — an unlettered woman of uncommon wisdom — would string such varied religious traditions together with the refrain that we are all children of the same God.

Spirituality has been defined as the ultimate reality or transcendental dimension in the world. Once closely linked to religion, it is now defined broadly to include those who do not profess to a religion. Across all the spectrum of beliefs and nonbeliefs people strive to reach a higher state of awareness, wisdom, and inner peace. It may be through prayer, introspection, or contemplation, but the quest is the same. Man strives to fulfill an innate desire to achieve a state of mind that is rewarding and satisfying beyond the material world we live in.

In my worldly wanderings, I have witnessed and have been impressed by people who follow different routes to find inner peace and contentment. On the surface we may not see anything in common between a Jew rocking back and forth at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and a naked Hindu ascetic, or sadhu on a pilgrimage during the Kumbh Mela in India. Or for that matter, a Muslim pilgrim on her way to Mecca shedding tears of joy and a young Christian woman in Jerusalem weeping silently while holding the edge of a stone slab where the body of Jesus is believed to have laid in the Church of Holy Sepulcher. In each case, it is a personal journey of discovering one's inner self and being.

Then there are those who realize the affirmation of their inner self by physically and mentally challenging and pushing themselves. Whether someone climbs to the height of a mountaintop or retreats to a secluded monastery in the desert, the quest is the same.

There are also those who worship only at the altar of hard science. Occasionally, they are startled and surprised, as are most others, with the realization that there is a limit to our understanding of the world around us. Is it possible that quantum physics at its outer fringes enters the illdefined realm of metaphysics? Could those who find religion to be the ultimate reality and those who reject such superstition and believe only in the gospel of Newtonian physics, drink from the same trough located somewhere in a mysterious no-man's-land?

These are philosophical musings that do not deter those who seek meaning and peace through worship, prayer, exercise, or charity. Buddhists and Hindus on the pilgrimage to Mount Kailash in western Tibet expose themselves to the physical rigors of walking 32 miles through mountain passes as high as 18,000 feet and then go on to complete the religious journey by walking the 50-mile circumference of the nearbyLake Manasarovar. Some Tibetan monks perform the kora, as the circumambulation is called, by crawling the entire 32 miles around Mount Kailash on their stomachs. Many succumb to the rigors but they embrace the calamity with satisfaction.

We are all linked in a commonality of purpose in our individual lives. There runs a common thread between the undulating Jew at the Wailing Wall, the naked Hindu sadhu in Kumbh Mela, the Muslim pilgrim on her way to Mecca, the Christian woman in the Holy Sepulcher and the Tibetan man crawling the punishing heights of the Himalayas and the lone hiker in remote wilderness.

We all ride life's fence lines equipped with our own unique set of tools and provisions. For most of us our ultimate destination has to be the same even though we take different routes.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

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