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.