A recent survey by the PewResearch Religion and Public Life Project found that nine out of ten Americans believe in the existence of God or a universal spirit. Seven in ten Americans say that they are absolutely certain of God's existence, and six in ten believe that God is a person with whom people can have a relationship.

The quest for God has been going on throughout human history resulting in a treasure trove of beliefs and practices about the Ultimate Reality in the world's religions and wisdom traditions. The Abrahamic traditions affirm the presence of a transcendent reality known as Yahweh, God, and Allah while indigenous cultures locate the divine in nature and the unity of all existence. Even the nontheistic traditions like Buddhism focus on some quality such as compassion that goes beyond the limited perspectives of the individual. Meanwhile, nearly one in four in the millennial generation describe themselves as unaffiliated with a religion, and there is also a growing atheist movement. Clearly, the search for what God is — or isn't — is a major endeavor of our times.

On this episode of Global Spirit, Phil Cousineau's two guests are Jacob Needleman, a philosopher, spiritual seeker, and author of many books, and Pir Zia Inayat Khan, Sufi teacher in the lineage of his grandfather, Hazrat Inayat Khan, and spiritual leader of the Sufi Order International. To illustrate the yearning for God that is happening in many different places and settings, the program features original footage from a recent spiritual retreat led by Pir Zia and a discussion of God by some of Jacob Needleman's philosophy students.

Cousineau skillfully draws out the insightful comments and personal stories of his guests as they ponder the essential mystery and ineffable quality of God, the importance of questions to those on the spiritual path, the quest for God as a never-ending process, the difference between belief and faith, the dialectic between grace and effort on the spiritual journey, the three aspects of God, the role of the spiritual teacher, the need for active and passive dimensions in our relationship to God, and the role of music and breath as pathways to connection with the Holy One.

To Continue This Journey:

  • Identify some of the important questions that have animated your spiritual quest. What are the most important questions you are wrestling with right now?
  • Pir Zia states that since we haven't created ourselves, we do not belong to ourselves; we belong to the One who made us and sustains us. What are the implications for you of this view of human nature?
  • Respond to Jacob Needleman's mystical experience as a young boy with his father looking at the night sky filled with stars. Share with a friend or write in your journal about a moment when you experienced the presence of God.
  • Pir Zia explains why music is sacred, a way to pray to God that respects the sanctity of the Divine ineffability. What role has music played in your search for God?
  • Read What Is God? by Jacob Needleman. He finds a path to God through inner experience, an ongoing quest for Truth, and the practice of non-egotistic emotions such as compassion, humility, wonder, sorrow, grief, and empathy. He also takes on the challenge of bringing some clarity and freshness to the still raging debates between atheists and believers about the existence of God.
  • Read Saracen Chivalry by Pir Zia Inayat Khan, a visionary classic on the spiritual quest and the transformative power of the chivalric code. Built upon reverence, it leads to wisdom, courage, temperance, generosity, justice, and nobility.
  • Jacob Needleman is professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University and former director of the Center for the Study of New Religions at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Needleman is the author of many books including Why Can't We Be Good? and The American Soul. He is profiled in S&P's Living Spiritual Teachers Project.• Pir Zia Inayat-Khan is president of the Sufi Order International and founder of Suluk Academy, a school of contemplative study with branches in the United States and Europe. Together with Shaikh al-Mashaik Mahmood Khan, he leads the Knighthood of Purity of the Hazrati Order. For more information see www.sufiorder.org and www.knighthoodofpurity.org.