From the earliest days of Schachter-Shalomi’s career, he was continually involved in ecumenical dialogue with leaders and practitioners of other spiritual paths, from Trappist monks to Sufi sheikhs. These frequent forays into what was then forbidden territory led Schachter-Shalomi to describe himself as a “spiritual peeping-Tom.” But far from being a mere browser, Schachter-Shalomi became deeply learned in the most minute aspects of the theory and experiential practice of these traditions, praying matins with the monks and performing dhikr with the Sufis.
This deeply personal approach to dialogue led to significant friendships with many of the world’s great philosophers and spiritual teachers, including: Father Thomas Merton, Pir Vilayat Khan, Ken Wilber, and the 14th Dalai Lama.
The twin peaks of this ecumenical work had to do with the increasingly significant dialogue between Jews and Buddhists. Always sensitive and sympathetic to Jewish involvement in Eastern traditions, in 1990, Schachter-Shalomi was invited to a meeting in Dharamsala, India, between the Dalai Lama and Jewish leaders, to discuss how Tibetan Buddhism might “survive in exile.” This dialogue, and Schachter-Shalomi’s remarkable influence upon it, became the focus of a best-selling book by Rodger Kamenetz called The Jew in the Lotus. Immediately, the book became a catalyst for Jewish-Buddhist dialogue and the sensitive issue of why so many American Jews were involved in so-called ‘Eastern’ spiritual paths.
Within a few years, Schachter-Shalomi was invited to take up the World Wisdom Chair at Naropa University, the only accredited Buddhist-inspired university in the Western hemisphere. Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado became home to Schachter-Shalomi and a new phase of his teaching career. By the time of his retirement from Naropa in 2004, he had influenced thousands of students and spiritual seekers of all backgrounds.