Imagine you are wandering through a vast cathedral. Countless stain-glass windows, radiant in the darkness, represent the modes of worship and ways of understanding that humanity has evolved throughout its history. Some windows picture divine presence through personal forms or attributes, and seekers worship these windows with devotion. Other seekers, preferring the way of wisdom, contemplate stained-glass windows that present nothing personal, simply esoteric patterns evoking primal harmony and unity. Devotion and wisdom are alternate ways to enlightenment. Some sacred traditions interweave both ways.
What occurs as we contemplate these cathedral windows? We are really experiencing light, diffused through complicated contexts that have been created, individually and communally, by visionary artisans. And we cannot step outside this cathedral, which is human thinking, because we must depend on some personal and cultural medium. We cannot articulate any experience, even to ourselves, without some process of thinking. This is not imprisonment but simply the nature of light or reality, which expresses itself as experience only through some particular medium.
Each window of devotion or wisdom translates the same radiance of ultimate consciousness by means of personal figures or symbolic patterns unique to itself. Through dedicated contemplation of even a single window, we can attune to light, or reality, and eventually realize that our intrinsic nature is the light. Once realizing the universal cathedral to be flooded with the conscious light of our true nature, once enlightenment has dawned, we are at home everywhere. We have been freed from the competition between worldviews, by understanding the essential equality of all windows of contemplation and the harmony between the ways of wisdom and of devotion. Everywhere in this vast cathedral, through all possible languages and images, we now recognize the light, or consciousness, which we are, which all beings are, which Being is.
Contemplative thinking is not confined to certain fields such as religion, art, or philosophy but flourishes subtly throughout every culture, often obscurely among small circles or secretly within the inner life of individuals who may or may not be aware of any mystical tradition. This ever-deepening way of contemplation, which follows devotion and wisdom to their source, is perhaps the most precious human possibility. The holy person, or shaman, in every culture—poet, musician, saint, warrior—is revered for the powerful touch that awakens and sustains deep thinking and its sense of discovery, freedom, and harmony. The figure of the shaman is a sacrament through which all members of the culture without exception can enter the mood of contemplation.