Nondualism has attracted renewed interest in the West in recent decades, through the introduction of esoteric Hindu & Buddhist religious philosophies, and with the support of writers such as Ken Wilber and leaders such as Andrew Cohen. Traditional nondualism, in its purest form, is generally taken to be that of Shankara, and Georg Feuerstein summarizes the advaita realization as follows: ''The manifold universe is, in truth, a Single Reality. There is only one Great Being, which the sages call Brahman, in which all the countless forms of existence reside. That Great Being is utter Consciousness, and It is the very Essence, or Self (Atman) of all beings."
These teachings are themselves to contribute to enlightenment, a spiritual transformation in which the individual is profoundly changed, to have some kind of liberation from 'the bondage of conditioned existence'. These transformations may be sudden or progressive, and those to whom it happens typically want to share their fortune with others to lead in them in the same direction, with the aim, inter alia, of easing them of their ignorance and troubles.
The Moral Problem with NondualismThe well-known 'moral objection' to nondualism is that it does not tell the unenlightened (or enlightened, for that matter) how to live. Classically, the world is recognized as being either completely unreal, or only partially real, and the nondual teaching does not in any way address the ethical or moral dimension of human life. Tradition in Hinduism deals with this issue by restricting the individuals to whom the absolute teachings were revealed to those who have already fulfilled demanding moral and ethical qualifications for discipleship. And even more than that, Shankara himself states that the qualifications for discipleship also demanded an extraordinary degree of detachment from and transcendence of worldly desires.
Now, however, nondualism is available to everyone who can browse bookshops, libraries and websites. Not a few these days are attracted to nondualism precisely because of the disconnection between spirituality and morality, as they see thereby the possibility of some kind of salvation for everyone (including themselves) irrespective of their own moral life. However, a modern sensibility has been brought to bear on the subject, one that has been influenced by Christianity, with the result that nondualism as taught today has developed in interesting and subtle ways. The purpose of this essay is to examine those changes, and compare them with what might be expected from a theistic perspective.
Before proceeding, I remind you of the relevant essentials of what it means for a view to be theistic. Theism is the view that there is an Infinite Absolute that is the source, sustainer and redeemer of creation. In particular this Source is Love and Wisdom themselves, and just as these are the essence of human spirituality, in the Source they are the essence of a Divine Human nature, who is the Lord God of the whole universe. Rational creatures living on planets are created to be distinct of the Source, but are sustained and saved in their lives by conforming themselves to receive the Love and Wisdom from the Absolute, not just on Earth but everywhere necessary, in order to perform good uses from love by means of wisdom. Such an account is derived in most part from Emanuel Swedenborg's "Divine Love and Wisdom", where it is intended to be a account that is both rational and empirical, and which can be understood eventually without paradoxes.
Is the Life of a Nondualist Paradoxical?Avoiding paradoxes where possible is a good thing for two reasons. Most fundamentally, it is desirable because, from a contradiction, it is strictly possible to logically derive any thesis whatsoever. The only way to avoid that is to have further qualifying conditions; so why not make the situation clear from the beginning? The second reason is that the promulgation of ideas is much easier when they do not appear to have visible inconsistencies.
The next post will examine how a modern nondualist practitioner Andrew Cohen addresses these issues.
The well-known 'moral objection' to nondualism is that it does not tell the unenlightened (or enlightened, for that matter) how to live.ReplyDelete
Nonetheless, it is no more morally objectionable for non-dualism to not tell people how to live than it is for the philosophy of science to not tell people how to live. Neither purports to be in the business of, so to speak, telling people how to live. So why would anyone, e.g., criticize a bumblebee for failing to signal when turning left? It's not supposed to.
Two points from the article linked to above:
1. Even though "modern" Advaita seems to emphasize the indivisible nature of the world and Brahman, or the Self Absolute, Advaita philosophy has traditionally expressed, as noted religious scholar Lance Nelson points out, a "deep metaphysical bias against the world. . . . In the end, the Advaita tradition fails to present a true nondualism of world and Absolute. . . . It is rather an acosmic monism. It achieves its nonduality not inclusively, but exclusively. Empirical reality is admitted in a provisional way, but in the end it is cast out of the Absolute, out of existence.
Now consider Swedenborg,
o That which is eternal is, for that which is without end is, because it has being from the Divine, which is infinite, and the infinite as to time is the eternal. But that which is temporal relatively is not, because when it is ended it is no more. AC 8939
o What endures to eternity, this is; but what has an end, this relatively is not. That which is, the Divine provides; but not that which is not, except insofar as it conduces to that which is. AC 10409
o The Divine Providence does not look to that which is fleeting and transitory, and which comes to an end together with the life of man in the world; but that it looks to that which remains to eternity, thus which has no end. That which has no end is; but that which has an end, relatively is not. AC 10775
It is not difficult to see that even the Divine Providence as defined by Swedenborg does not care about empirical reality, except in a provisional way, and that in the end the temporal simply does not exist.
So, if non-dualism is to be criticized, or held up as a foil, then perhaps it is advisable to be both clear and precise that it is currently misinformed/deformed instantiations of traditional non-dualist philosophy that is being pressed into service. Doing so would not be inconsistent with the intention behind the proposed approach to dealing with paradoxes, i.e., it would consistent with an intention to avoid confusion.
2. The unwholesome tendencies characterized by narcissistic, neurotic and deeply cynical convictions so common today create a dangerously weak foundation for a nondual perspective that transcends all pairs of opposites, including right and wrong... For to be embraced, absorbed and utterly consumed by the Absolute is one thing--but to escape from the inherent complexity of life in order to avoid the overwhelming demand that true surrender requires is another thing altogether.
Still, as Swedenborg (in paraphrasing Aquinas) wrote, Misuse of uses is also possible, but misuse does not do away with use, even as falsification of truth does not do away with truth except with those who falsify it. DLW 331
The true danger inheres not in the genuine or traditional nondual perspective--which, remember, is nondual by way of exclusion (i.e., via excluding the relatively not real)--but in the narcissistic, neurotic and deeply cynical ego.
But this weak ego seeking escape--as opposed to 'transcendence' (or, to use Swedenborg's terminology, quiescence)--is in big trouble no matter which way it turns. And the clear nature of its big trouble is not some nondual flimflammery, but in the stubborn maintainence of its utter separation (through rejection of influx) from God.
Science does not pretend to be a guide to life: it does not even attempt to say what is good or not good in our daily lives. So it certainly helps to have some guide to choose what is good. Whether it is a principle or a Person which guides us, we should certainly want to avoid what is evil. That means that we cannot ever "transcend all pairs of opposites, including right and wrong".Delete
You say that Swedenborg has that the temporal 'relatively is not'. Maybe so, but this does not mean that it does not exist at all. In fact, he claims that the temporal 'conduces to what which is' (in your second quote).
The way I read this, is that there is something about our temporal actions which has effects up to infinity: namely that they make us permanent individual persons. It is necessary to live in time, in order to have eternal life. That, to my mind, is one basic message of Christianity that is missing in non-dual philosophies. (There are many other messages too, of course, especially concerning how we should treat our ego life.)
Two points from the article linked to above:Delete
Although the name Andrew Cohen sounded vaguely familiar to me when I read the blog post, I hadn't immediately sought to put some shape to the vague recollection. I've since done that, and now regret having relied on quotes from him to make my points. A better way could have been found.
Science does not pretend to be a guide to life: it does not even attempt to say what is good or not good in our daily lives.ReplyDelete
I agree--it does not. But it hadn't been said or implied that it does, only that, as you have just said, it does not.
You say that Swedenborg has that the temporal 'relatively is not'. Maybe so, but this does not mean that it does not exist at all.
1. There is no 'maybe so' about whether Swedenborg "has that the temporal 'relatively is not'". He definitely does. It is only in regard to whether Swedenborg is correct in having it this way that one can say 'maybe so'.
2. The TNP does not say that the temporal does not exist. It in fact recognize that the temporal is real, in the sense that it has existence; but the TNP also says that it is unreal, in the sense that its existence is impermanent. In other words, in saying that the temporal is unreal, the TNP means, just as Swedenborg later held, that in relation to that which is without end the temporal relatively is not.
o Can anyone fail to see and admit on rational grounds that there is only one essence that is the source of all essence, one reality that is the source of all reality? What could become manifest except from some reality, and what is the reality behind all reality except reality itself? And whatever is reality itself is also the only reality, reality in its own right. Since this is the case--and everyone sees and admits it on rational grounds and could see and recognize it if it were not the case--what other conclusion is there than that this reality that is Deity itself, that is Jehovah, is all there is to everything that exists and happens? DP 157
The way I read this [that the temporal 'conduces to what which is' (in your second quote)], is that there is something about our temporal actions which has effects up to infinity: namely that they make us permanent individual persons.ReplyDelete
According to Swedenborg, the sense of independent individuality is an illusion. He does qualify this by saying that it is a necessary illusion. The illusion, however, does not cease being an illusion for the reason that it is necessary, anymore than melted butter ceases to be butter for the reason that it is melted.
It is necessary to live in time, in order to have eternal life. That, to my mind, is one basic message of Christianity that is missing in non-dual philosophies.
The actual truth is that living in time is highly valued in traditional non-dual philosophies. They hold that it is only while living in time is it possible for one to be divested of attachments to self and the world. Swedenborg's Christianity, on the other hand, is far more lenient, in that it says that these divestitures, contra TNP, continue to be possible in the afterlife.
(There are many other messages too, of course, especially concerning how we should treat our ego life.)
Here is but one example of Swedenborg saying/implying how we should treat out ego life:
o Be it further known that all evil flows in from hell, and all good through heaven from the Lord. But the reason why evil is appropriated to a man is that he believes and persuades himself that he thinks and does it from himself, and in this way makes it his own. If he believed as is really the case, then evil would not be appropriated to him, but good from the Lord would be appropriated to him; for the moment that evil flowed in, he would reflect that it was from the evil spirits with him, and as soon as he thought this, the angels would avert and reject it.AC 6206
Swedenborg is saying that we should recognize our ego life for the illusion that it is, and that things will be a whole lot better for us if we do.
Most people, however, do not (or seem not to) grasp either the meaning and import of this. Swedenborg recognized that this was the case, and that it would continue to be the case. So he also spoke of how we should treat our as-if-it-were-genuinely-real ego life given the assumption that it is not merely as-if but actually, really and truly genuinely real.
Even so, he does not merely say how we should treat it from this latter perspective, but also that the illusionary nature of it will be realized eventually--if we follow a proper course.
But what if a proper course is not followed?
Then, he says, one winds up in hell in the afterlife, where the true nature of the as-if-it-were-genuinely-real sense of self goes unrecognized for the illusion that it is for all of eternity.
In fact, and with respect to the afterlife, Swedenborg says that the illusion is recognized as such only by those who are in heaven.
I think that you are confusing two things here, which should not be confused.Delete
For example, you argue from the non-existence of an "independent individuality" to the conclusion that our ego is an illusion, and not real. You seem to think that, for an individuality to be real, it has to be independent. That is not correct.
I think that we can truthfully sense that we have a dependent individuality or ego. Such a dependent individuality is not unreal, but actually exits. Indeed, it produced by what is eternal, or being itself. Dependent egos have a 'derivative being' compared with 'being itself', so relatively they are unreal, but they are certainly not unreal or illusory in an absolute sense. If that were the case, then the productive work of God would be illusory, and producing nothing good.
Just from God's point of view: how could he love beings that were absolutely unreal or illusory? That does not make sense. Since he certainly cannot love himself, there must be something separate from him.
Your quotation from AC 6206 does not indicate that our egos are unreal, but only that we should not think that our egos have independent individuality. Should we think that (by mistake), then we attribute all our thoughts to our independent existence, and (as you say) do not follow the proper course.
I agree that an "independent individuality" is an illusion, however much it may be necessary for us in our present spiritual state. However, it is only the independence which is illusory, not our individuality. This is the illusion, therefore, which proper spiritual insight helps us to overcome.
Such a dependent individuality is not unreal, but actually exists.
In response to your S1, I said R1. (S1: The way I read this.... R1: According to Swedenborg...)Delete
And in response to your subsequent S2, which was a subject related to but also independent of your S1, I said R2. (S2: There are many other messages too... R2: Here is but one example of Swedenborg...)
Now you abstract R1 from its context, abstract R2 from its separate context, snap them together, then claim that I argued, "R1, therefore R2."
Employing operations like these, I can be made out to have argued all kinds of things.
You seem to think that, for an individuality to be real, it has to be independent. That is not correct.
I agree that it is incorrect to think that that is what I think.
This is what I do think:
If the Deity itself, that is, Jehovah (or Divine Love and Divine Wisdom should this terminology be preferred), is reality itself, thus the only reality, i.e., reality in its own right (DP 157), then everything which is not this, is relatively unreal. This includes the individuality of sentient beings, be that individuality dependent or independent. The labeling of the individuality of a sentient being as 'unreal' is shorthand for 'relatively unreal' or 'relatively is not'; this labeling of that individuality is not to posit that it absolutely does not exist, but to not make the mistake of (implicitly) arguing the following:
If God is the One, Only and Very Reality, then whatever exists, since it is real, must be God. Ian exists, therefore Ian is God.
If 'relatively unreal' (or some lexical variation thereof) is dismissed as nonsense, then God ceases to be the "Very Reality which Alone is" (DLW 45).
If it is still confusing that 'relatively unreal' does not mean non-existent, then let it be asked: What is the difference between a faith which is real and a faith which is not real? Both kinds of faith exist. Yet, one is real and the other is not.
However, it is only the independence which is illusory, not our individuality. This is the illusion, therefore, which proper spiritual insight helps us to overcome.
You previously asserted that angel are states of love. Now it sounds like you are, in effect, asserting that they are something more than that (i.e., that 'angel' is something other than a label attached to particular states of love).
1. not make the mistake of (implicitly) arguing the following:Delete
not make the mistake of (implicitly) arguing something like the following:
2. If 'relatively unreal' (or some lexical variation thereof) is dismissed as nonsense, then God ceases to be the "Very Reality which Alone is" (DLW 45).
If 'relatively unreal' (or some lexical variation thereof) is dismissed as nonsense, then either Ian indeed is God, or God ceases to be the "Very Reality which Alone is" (DLW 45).
I apologize for not taking full notice of your definition of 'unreal' as 'relatively not real'. Remembering that does help me to understand what you are saying. Then, in fact, I agree with what you "do think", as stated in your most recent comment.Delete
Still, when you say "the sense of independent individuality is an illusion", I think it would help for you to specify whether it is the sense, or the independence, or the individual existence, which is the illusion. I cannot tell. Later, you say that it is our 'ego life' which is the illusion. That still does not help me.
The way I understand "God is the Very Reality which Alone is", is that 'Any real being is either God, or dependent on God'. That is the way I avoid the conclusion that every existing being is God.
I return finally to your last comment about my claim that angels are states of love, and your question whether I must have them something more than that:
The situation of angels is actually more complicated than indicated in this statement, as we should distinguish three things that are needed to define their being. First are their actions while living on some earth: these actions are needed to define some individuality apart from God. Second, they need to have some soul that is recipient of the life from God. That soul is indeed a substance which is a state of love, but is a comparatively selfish or 'hard' substance. Third, there is the 'soft' substance of divine love which flows into the soul to be received and retained there to be later reused.
The third things has the second as a prerequisite, and the second thing has the first as a prerequisite. Thus there are indeed more constituents to angels than states of love.
PS: Though in the future I am sure I will never remember or use that definition of 'unreal' again, as it is too far from normal use. Alternatively, when we say "unreal X", we should clarify whether we are referring to the non-existence of X, or to some deficiencies in its nature or quality. In your case, you did specify, but regrettably I did not pay attention to the specification.
Note: please try avoiding the use of abbreviations apart from book titles.
Though in the future I am sure I will never remember or use that definition of 'unreal' again, as it is too far from normal use.ReplyDelete
You had in the past provided evidence of understanding "that definition of 'unreal'". From your 2004 paper Dualism in Descartes and Swedenborg (with emphasis added):
"Most nondualists hold that the manifest body of the world is ultimately found to be unreal and nonexistent compared with the Absolute."
I could say that I had relied on this past evidence, but then I would be saying something that isn't real. What I was relying on was what you (say you) take to be abnormal, but which I and countless others (and you too, I believe, curious denial above notwithstanding) consider to be normal, i.e., that something can be simultaneously existing and unreal.
Dictionary definitions, in addition to saying that unreal means having no actual existence, also acknowledge that something can be simultaneously existing and unreal.
- Not real or substantial; illusory.
- Slang So remarkable as to elicit disbelief; fantastic.
- imaginary or fanciful or seemingly so (ex., an unreal situation)
- having no actual existence or substance
- insincere or artificial
"I had a whole bowl of popcorn for dinner." "That's not a real meal."
"I had expected he would win the marathon." "He has bronchitis, so you're expectation was unreal."
"Isn't this pearl necklace beautiful?" "Yes, it is. But I can tell that the pearls are not real."
- That weighty causes [of concubinage] are unreal when not based on what is just, even though on an appearance there of. CL 474
- The wisdom that does not make one with its love appears to be wisdom, but it is not[.] DLW 39 (Not all wisdom which exists is necessarily real.)
- The light of life is Divine Wisdom, which is received from the Lord alone. Consequently all things that come into being from that light, unlike those from the light of the world, are real. [What is the obvious implication?] For this reason people in the next life have said several times that the things they behold in that world are real, whereas those that man beholds are by contrast not real. AC 3485
- The real is distinguishable from that which is not real by this--that the real is in actual fact what it appears to be, whereas that which is not real is not in actual fact what it appears to be. AC 4623
- Love is not real without wisdom[.] AR 875.6
- Charity without faith is not real[.] AR 875.7
- One's own prudence is not real and only appears to be[.] DP 191
- The good which comes from man is not real good[.] NJHD 155
- The innocence of infancy, or of little ones, is not real innocence, since it is solely a matter of outward form and not internal. HH 277
- There are appearances [in heaven] that are not real, which are things that become visible, but do not correspond to interiors. HH 175
- I...was informed that everything that proceeds from the Lord is real, [and] that what proceeds from spirits is not real, though it appears so[.] SE 4339
- [T]he truth is that God is infinitely all; and man of himself in comparison is nothing. TCR 29
- A person who ascribes glory to Him does so because he venerates Him as the One who is supreme[,] and humbly regards himself as nothing in comparison. AC 8263
- [W]orldly blessing is nothing in comparison with heavenly blessing[.] AC 8939
- ... why the mere oral confession that one is a sinner is not repentance. Every man, even a wicked one and a devil, can say this, and with some show of external devotion... But who does not see that this confession, proceeding from no inner feeling of devotion, is altogether unreal[?] TCR 517
OK. You are persuading me to shift my idea of the normal use of 'unreal'.Delete
There are clearly multiple meanings that can be indicated by the word.
1. The way I understand "God is the Very Reality which Alone is", is that 'Any real being is either God, or dependent on God'. That is the way I avoid the conclusion that every existing being is God.ReplyDelete
This is another way of putting it. And I can see why it works.
2. ...Thus there are indeed more constituents to angels than states of love.
Thank you for this.
3. please try avoiding the use of abbreviations apart from book titles.
Ok. I mean, yes, I will try to do so.
RE: "The well-known 'moral objection' to nondualism is that it does not tell the unenlightened (or enlightened, for that matter) how to live."ReplyDelete
Ha, ha, ha! What a hoot. I was a hippie and had lots of friends "into" Eastern philosophy. I liked it too, in my like/abhor kind of way. There has never been a more dogmatic group than the nondualists I've known. There was lots of pressure to live correctly. Peer pressure to live correctly, in fact, would be my definition of nondualism.
I'll browse the Buddhism library selections: "limit potatoes, refined grains, and sweets" says Thich Nhat Hanh (he's deligtful, btw). "...This becomes a habit of the mind. Educate your mind to this habit ..." says the Bhagavad Gita.
Random page in "Buddhism" says, "... that he remains ardent, self-possessed, and mindful, having overcome both the hankering and the dejection common in the world".
"Andrew [Cohen] explains what it means to “pay attention” in the practice of meditation, and evokes the mysterious power of enlightened awareness."
Wake up, pay attention, eat correctly, breath correctly, stare correctly, give birth correctly, think correctly, disdain common Christianity, disdain anyone who is common while you are at it, bend correctly, decorate correctly, meditate ...
Well, maybe it was just my unreal experience.
Sounds real to me.Delete
As I understand it the assumptions of nondualism are:ReplyDelete
1) the enlightened will behave morally as a result of their state
2) Seekers of enlightenment will have a reasonable grasp of morality as a precondition of study.
3) Everyone else gets their morality from a variety of conventional teachings. Nondualism does not seek to *replace* other religions and philosophies at the everyday, social level.
Advaita is *part* of Hinduism, and so on.
I have seen may people in the West who are attracted to Advaita, but without going through Hinduism. Some, indeed, without having any particular religious tradition as their background at all. Where are these people supposed to get their morality from?Delete