Non Duality and the Person

One of the consequences of the seemingly unstoppable spread of the contemporary cult of atheism is that when people react against it and decide to follow a spiritual path they often take a lot of their atheism with them. I mean by this that their atheistic assumptions have sunk so deeply into their minds that they don't see them for what they are. This can manifest itself in various ways but one of the most common seems to be that such people look for a spirituality without God. For some this might be seen as a purely intellectual choice, but for others it is a matter of wanting to drink the wine without thanking the host who provides it. Who, in fact, made it.

Many Westerners who take to Eastern forms of religion are attracted to the non-dualistic varieties, either Buddhism in which God plays no part at all or advaita Vedanta, the philosophy of Sankara in which a God of sorts exists but plays no real part and who is eventually left behind as no longer relevant. The common point of both these is that the individual self is regarded as having no real existence. What you are is pure consciousness. In reality there is only the Absolute and your aim is to know yourself as that. This view has a certain logic going for it but is it actually true? It's a powerful idea but I believe it to be a mistaken one. It is certainly an incomplete one because the fact is that, while there may be a state of pure consciousness that a human being can enter into, you, as an individual, are also real and this is the more profound truth. For God created you as an individual with whom he might have a relationship and who might progress to ever higher states of divine being, and, though you may renounce that, if you do you are failing life's challenges and giving up its highest rewards. 

Before I looked at advaita seriously I assumed it was a pure description of truth, just a more radical form of the basic spiritual philosophy that man and God are ultimately one. Closer investigation, however, revealed unqualified non-dualism to be based on Sankara’s highly selective cherry picking of the Upanishads, interpreted in the light of Buddhism which he wished to contest but was obviously very influenced by. I now see advaita as tending to the reductive and simplistic for it fails to see that the One and the Many are both essential in a universe in which the highest truth is in growth and relationship rather than pure being. That is why it has no explanation for this whole world of creation; why anything came about in the first place and why there is this ignorance it believes to be the veil on reality.

We examined that in the last chapter but let me expand on it a little more here. Advaita is reductive because it denies the reality in creation, reducing life to the absolute alone when the great joy of it is that it is the absolute and the relative together, both being and becoming, change and changelessness, moving and working together, and the union of the two brings about something completely new. Sankara was a great philosopher, no doubt, but he was also a logician who couldn’t deal with the paradoxical statements in the Upanishads so left out what didn’t suit his thesis. For him the One and the Many must be opposites and only one of them could be true. This is why he has no explanation for creation which he says is a mystery not to be understood. He can’t see that it is God expressing himself in order to become more than he already is by creating other beings with whom he can then have a relationship.

This is why I now regard advaita as a one-sided view of reality that breaks down under proper analysis because it ignores the fact that what God creates is real and has a purpose. No doubt, in an ultimate sense, everything is one but the individual is also real and if that were not the case then love would be unreal. To give it reality only in the relative world of multiplicity, as advaita is forced to do, is no different to dismissing it altogether. But anyway the point is that it is not only valid in the relative world for love exists at the deepest level of being. You might even say that love is the deepest level of being. This could not be the case if the deepest level were pure unqualified oneness. Only the Trinity can account for love as a fundamental truth.

This is where the Christian revelation goes further than any other religious teaching. Ultimate reality, God, is not the oneness of complete unity. It is the three in oneness of the Trinity. So it is more like a ceaseless dance of self-communion than unqualified abstract being. This is such a remarkable truth that it makes the heart leap with joy to know it (which, incidentally, is a confirmation of its truth). For it means that love is real, beauty is real and life is not static but able to grow and expand, in all probability limitlessly. It also explains the personhood of God and thus reveals that the highest truth is not impersonal as in Buddhism and advaita but personal. This has long been known in the West and is fundamental to Christianity, but the legacy of atheism means that many modern spiritual seekers reject it and take to the more 'scientific' philosophies of the East. Of course, there are branches of Hinduism which believe in a personal God but these are generally regarded as second tier as, in the context in which they arose, a kind of modified polytheism, they usually are.

So the huge mistake many people interested in spirituality today make is to place the impersonal at a higher or deeper level than the personal.  Being transcends personhood, they think. This seems to make sense to the rational intellect so is popular with the spiritual intelligentsia. And yet the truth, open to the intuition, is exactly the opposite. Personhood is the fullness of being. It is the end to which all abstract being (if that actually exists) is directed. God is a Person and, even though he does have the aspect of pure being too, this is a limited part of the totality of what he truly is not the completeness or wholeness of it. In like manner it is a limited part of what you truly are, and if you restrict your spiritual approach to pure being or pure consciousness alone you are falling short of your divine destiny and the purpose God had in creating you as an individual soul. Why not embrace the greater truth?

It should also be said that most of those who think they can overcome their individuality this way will end up deceiving themselves, and fall into a fantasy world in which the self has renounced the self. Either that or else they will have to come back to the idea of God as a person and themselves as his creation.

So I now see strict non-duality as a flawed philosophy, understandable in terms of man struggling to grasp the truth about himself and release himself from identification with the material self or ego but superseded by the revelation of the Trinity which shows how oneness and multiplicity can coexist without the latter being in any way unreal. Those who think that the spiritual goal is merely to attain to pure consciousness are making a mistake. Consciousness always has a quality of some sort just as light always has degrees of brightness, and this should be a matter for rejoicing because it means that our expansion into God can have no end.


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