The Snowmass Interreligious Conference

St. Benedict's in Snowmass, Colorado

Rabbi Hoffman's first visit to Snowmass was in 1963, when he was 16. When he returned in 1995, it was not as part of an Outward Bound mountain climbing trek, it was to participate in a unique conference of spiritual teachers.

The conference, held since 1984 by Father Thomas Keating of the St. Benedict's Monastary in Snowmass, Colorado, has invited "deep practitioners" from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American, and Islamic traditions to compare notes, connect, and clarify. One result has been to distill out some profound points of agreement shared by each of the participants.

Until 2006, few people even knew about these encounters, so the publication of "The Common Heart, An Experience of Interreligious Dialogue," was a great gift to the world in providing a window into this rarefied spiritual "think tank."

As a sample of the richness of this book, here is Fr. Keatings's short list of points of agreement that he reports in his introduction:


  1. The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality, to which they give various names.
  2. Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.
  3. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.
  4. Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.
  5. The potential for human wholeness - or, in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transcendence, transformation, blessedness - is present in every human being.
  6. Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices, but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service to others.
  7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.
  8. Discliplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one's own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate Reality.

Just reading these 8 points is a lot to think about - and the entire book is just as thought provoking, and much more. Like reading the script of a play, each speaker is identified and makes their comment. I haven't yet read the entire book, but I came across this quote of Rabbi Hoffman's and will put it here because it is so crucial, and is a recurring theme in his teaching. His students will probably recognize these ideas:

"The idea of a hasid is that one is increasingly strict about one's own personal practice, while becoming a more and more warm and flexible person toward others. I know, the usual example is more rigid, less tolerant. But it was the innovation of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who founded Hasidism, to stand this on its head." [p.48]

The Ba'al Shem Tov said, 'Humility, separation and sweetening unity.' The idea of making boundaries is to create integrity; clarification is vital, and if you do that based on humility, then there will be a unity with whatever you are separating from. Whether it is milk and meat, women and men, Catholics and Jews, the result of the separation will be a unification. I would call it the clarifying separation. I believe in that. If it is done with arrogance, on the other hand, the result of the separation will be blame and shame and more conflict."

After I finish reading "The Common Heart," I'll add to this page. Until then, it's available at your nearest web browser - just search for:

"The Common Heart, An Experience of Interreligious Dialogue"

Including Fr. Thomas Keating, Roshi Bernie Glassman, Swami Atmarupananda, Dr. Ibrahim Gamard, Imam Bilal Hyde, Pema Chödrön, Rabbi Henoch Dov Hoffman, and Grandfather Gerald Red Elk.

Netaniel Miles-Yepez, Editor

Forward by Ken Wilbur

"One of the worlds longest-running interreligious conferences reflects on twenty years of dialogue."

Lantern Books, New York, N.Y. 2006
ISBN 1-59056-099-X