Seven Pillars House of Wisdom > Articles > One Path, Many Paths

One Path, Many Paths

A Dialogue on the Role of Religion in Modern Times

Adam Bucko and Zachary Markwith

The growing recognition that possession of Divine Truth cannot be exclusively claimed by any single sacred tradition is an important sign of the broadening of religious thinking in our time. The “Perennialism” of René Guénon and Frithjof Schuon and the “Interspirituality” of Fr. Bede Griffiths and Br. Wayne Teasdale are two major conduits of universalist thought in the last century. Among the emerging generation of teachers and activists, Zachary Markwith (right) and Adam Bucko (left) stand out as notable representatives of these respective schools of thought.

After Seven Pillars’ founder, Pir Zia, read Adam Bucko’s recent manifesto (co-authored with Rory McEntee), “New Monasticism” (excerpt here), he was inspired to invite Adam and Zachary to engage in a dialogue about the relationship between religion and spirituality. Adam and Zachary happily agreed, and the first installment of their correspondence is published here, preceded by Pir Zia’s invitation. A second installment will follow soon.


Dear Adam Bucko and Zachary Markwith,
The Belgian classicist Franz Cumont wrote in 1906:
“Let us suppose that in modern Europe the faithful had deserted the Christian churches to worship Allah or Brahma, to follow the precepts of Confucius or Buddha, or to adopt the maxims of the Shinto; let us imagine a great confusion of all the races of the world in which Arabian mullahs, Chinese scholars, Japanese bonzes, Tibetan lamas and Hindu pundits would be preaching fatalism and predestination, ancestor-worship and devotion to a deified sovereign, pessimism and deliverance through annihilation—a confusion in which all those priests would erect temples of exotic architecture in our cities and celebrate their disparate rites therein. Such a dream, which the future may perhaps realize, would offer a pretty accurate picture of the religious chaos in which the ancient world was struggling before the reign of Constantine.”
Just over a century later, it is clear that the state of affairs that Cumont could only conceive as a distant possibility has been realized as an undeniable reality. We live today in a world in which almost all of the great spiritual traditions of the world are within reach of the modern seeker in some form.
This plethora of choices creates new questions. Should the seeker remain committed to the traditions and institutions of her ancestors? Should she, instead, study the various available traditions, and choose the one that speaks most meaningfully to her? Should she try to ascertain commonalities between the various traditions, and follow the principles and practices of more than one faith? Or should she abandon traditional forms and institutions altogether, and create her own worldview and practice? These, I believe, are questions that many young people are grappling with today.
I am writing to you because I know that you have both deeply reflected on these questions. Zachary Markwith has an advanced degree in Islamic Studies, and has written a superb book on traditionalist universalism entitled One God, Many Prophets (forthcoming from Fons Vitae). Adam Bucko has been working for years to bring spiritual and material renewal to disadvantaged and homeless urban youth, and is an heir to the interspiritual legacy of Br. Wayne Teasdale.
You clearly have in common a deep sense of the sacred, but it seems to me that you have quite different approaches to religion and tradition. I feel that a conversation between you could be very fruitful. It could help, I think, bring into focus the questions, problems, and opportunities that confront the modern seeker. Exchanging thoughts with each other might offer you both the opportunity to hone your own messages.
I could imagine the dialogue beginning with a response from Zachary Markwith to Adam Bucko’s recent New Monasticism manifesto (with Rory McEntee).
Key questions in the discussion might include:
Tradition and change: How is “tradition” defined? What kinds of adaptations are legitimate? Who decides?
Esotericism and exotericism: Is orthodox exoteric observance a requirement for authentic access to the esoteric dimensions of a tradition? Is it possible to successfully practice multiple exoteric and/or esoteric traditions simultaneously? What is the relationship between the inner and outer layers of a faith?
And, individuality and community: Is an authentic sense of community, shared vision, and responsibility possible without tradition? Does tradition impose unacceptable limits on individual experience and discovery?
Of course, if you accept to undertake this dialogue, what is most important is that you pursue the issues that are most interesting and relevant to you.
I send with this my very best wishes.
                                                Sincerely yours,
                                                                  Zia Inayat-Khan


Dear Adam,

I share your inclusive vision of the revealed religions, humanity and the world.  It seems to me that we can and in some cases must take cognizance of and learn from all of the great traditions, East and West, and those who embody their highest ideals in the past and present. You have mapped out some of the different paths a spiritual seeker might take, including adopting a single religion, creating a synthesis between two, and even forging one’s own path not bound by any one. It seems to me that each revealed religion is a unique path that leads to the same Summit, to paraphrase Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. Many in the West are wary of taking a single path because of our history of religious exclusivism and chauvinism, but one can be a sincere Buddhist, Christian, or Muslim, for example, while also taking inspiration from other religions and those who practice them. I think many have lost confidence in the efficacy of the religious rites and spiritual path of a single tradition because the dedication to one tradition is so often accompanied by intolerance and the abuse of power.

What is most important to me is what works and the evidence suggests that the surest way to enlightenment or sanctity is through one of the great living traditions, be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. It is true that inspired syntheses exist and continue to create men and women of virtue and even sanctity. Sometimes particular individuals and entire communities may be forced down this road by circumstance and providence. However, I wonder how helpful it is for most people to explore these possibilities when spiritual disciplines and guidance remain accessible in Buddhism, Orthodox Christianity, and Islamic Sufism, for example? I recognize that there are always exceptions and even great saints such as Sri Ramakrishna who practiced multiple forms. In his case, it seems that he reached the end of the path before embarking on others.

There are many who find doctrinal and aesthetic supports from other religions—their sacred texts, saints, and art—but in my view it is most helpful to be rooted in the practical aspects (i.e. rites, spiritual disciplines, etc.) of a single tradition. My own understanding and even practice of Islam and Sufism has been profoundly enriched through exposure to Advaita Vedanta, Zen, Taoism, Hesychasm, and the Kabbalah. While I firmly believe that all of these paths lead to Self-realization, it seems to me that it is sufficient and in most cases necessary to focus on the Divine through one. A single revealed Name of God or apophatic meditation contains all of the power and grace to deliver us. It also requires all of our concentration. There is always the temptation to mistake the path for the Goal, but it seems that there are a growing number of religious people who recognize that other paths also lead to God or the Unity of Being in the language of the Sufis. I think we have a challenge to preserve religious diversity precisely so that we can perceive our spiritual unity with all that is. The revealed religions remain so many pathways to that realization.

I am of course open to other possibilities and welcome your own views on the matter. I am intentionally trying to tease out some of the questions and issues that Pir Zia encouraged us to look at. However, I recognize through him and others such as Huston Smith that my own approach is not the only one that works. We do live in a unique time and place, and I will leave it in your capable hands to present the other side of things. I also hope that we can look at related points you made in “New Monasticism,” including the wedding between the paths of action and contemplation that your articulated with great insight.

I send this with my very best wishes and respect.



Continue reading…

Zachary Markwith is a doctoral student and adjunct professor at the Graduate Theological Union who specializes in early Islamic spirituality and comparative religious studies. He earned an M.A. in Hinduism and Islam at the George Washington University and a B.A. in Islamic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has also worked for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Food Not Bombs, and the International Peace Project on issues that include Islamophobia, poverty, nonviolence, and interfaith relations. Zachary has studied Islamic spirituality with traditional teachers from West Africa, Iran, and North America.

Read more about Zachary Markwith

Adam Bucko is an activist and spiritual director to New York City’s homeless youth. He grew up in Poland during the totalitarian regime, where he explored the anarchist youth movement as a force for social and political change. Adam emigrated to the US at 17, but his desire to lead a meaningful life sent him to monasteries in the US and India. His life-defining experience took place in India, where a brief encounter with a homeless child led him to the “Ashram of the Poor” where he began his work with homeless youth. Upon returning to the US, Adam worked with homeless youth in cities around the country. He co-founded The Reciprocity Foundation, an award winning nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of New York City's homeless youth. Additionally, Adam established HAB, an ecumenical and inter-spiritual contemplative fellowship for young people which offers formation in radical spirituality and sacred activism. Adam is a recipient of several awards and his work has been featured by ABC News, CBS, NBC, New York Daily News, National Catholic Reporter, Ode Magazine, Yoga International Magazine and Sojourner Magazine. and

Read more about Adam Bucko

7 May 2013

Tagged Under
mysticism, revelation, religion, Buddhism, spirituality, interfaith, community, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, The Great Mystery, faith, Our Sacred Heritage, Interspiritual, God,
  • print
© Copyright 2019 Seven Pillars. All rights reserved.