Indian Wisdom, Modern Psychology and Christianity.
Part III. Chapter 4
The Non-Dualism Hidden at the Core of Christianity.
In this period of the turn of the millenium, some fundamental metaphysical conceptions such as non-duality are no more limited to their area of origin. Nevertheless, if this notion takes root rather easily among us, it may be that it was expected from inside by the Western tradition and by Christianity.
Non-dualism corresponds to the spiritual paths which do not distinguish God’s substance, or the Absolute, form the created and which affirm they are one. Dualists systems put on top a personal God, non-dualist systems a non-personal absolute. In this sense, dualism is usually associated with the path of devotion, and non-dualism with the path of knowledge. Vedanta, ancient buddhism and Zen are non-dualism. These non-dualist schools influenced modern psychology; there are relationships, for instance, between Zen and Gestalt. In a wider sense, one can discern a non-dualist background in many new emerging movements, from spiritual ecology up to the notion of unified field in physics via Heidegger’s philosophy of being. In this sense, an in-depth review of the potentialities of non-dualism in the West and of its real realationships with Christiantly seems to be proper in this book. We will first evoke a short history of non-duality in the West, and then will focus on the real relationships between non-dualism and Christianity before considering a few possibilities for the future.
Elements of the History of Non-Dualism in the West
Many things have happened since Vivekanands, at the end of the XIXth century, came to the West to speak of non-duality as a possible basis for universal spirituality. Hatha Yoga has become a common practice in the Western nations, even in the countryside. Some movenents inspired by non-duality such as Transcendental Meditation have grown to the dimension of a new religion. In Tanzania, they have been given 25% of the country to develop it both on spiritual and economic lines. In France, there are about two millions Buddhists, according to the latest estimations, which seems more than the practising catholics, whose number is about 2% of the population, i.e., 1200000. Jacques Brosse evoked the relationship between Zen and the West in one of his recent works (1). My friend Jean-Marc Mantel organized a conference on meditation in Jerusalem where delegates of the three religions of the Book talked and where the possibility of non-dual realization of the Absolute and the transcendence of religious barriers by the simplicity of an inner elevated experience was also emphasized. The coming of a non-dual and impersonal spiritual path in this sacred City is a new trend.
In India, Swami Abhishiktananda’s ideas are going their way. I visited in Poona a Christian ashram whose superior, Sara Grant, has been able to write a booklet : ‘Towards an Alternative Theology-Confessions of a Non-dualist Christian.’ (2) Her full-fledged studies of theology at Oxford do not prevent her from defining herself as a non-dualist Christain now. A disciple of Swami Abhishiktananda, Vandana Mataji, who received religious training in the Order of the Sacred Heart, was able to say in the Parliament of Religions in Calcutta in September 1993, to put it in a nutshell : ‘For me, it is hardly essential to know if I am rather a Hindu Christian or a Christian Hindu.’ For this, she received the ovation of an audience consisting of about five thousand people. Father Bede Griffith has also reflected and published on how to reconcile non-duality and Christianity.
This article is not written for those who are in the kindergarten of spirituality, but it is drafted for those who know how to ponder and who, through their evolution, have been able to create an inner distance from the emotional reflexes linked to the devotional or institutional conditioning. These three fields, emotional, devotional and institutional, are usually knotted together, and this very knot is an obstacle to a serene meditation on deep subjects. This should be kept in mind.
As for me, I have been following a Vedantic path for the last nine years that I mainly spent in India. My basic training is Christian and I think I have studied more the mysticism of this path than many active Christians. What I will give in this article are my impressions, my intuitions. I do not think that one can write in this field with the precision of a mathematician. Those professional theologians of the past who appeared to be able to do it seem rather dangerous to me because they freeze the vitality of inner experience and their work can easily be exploited by a centralized power as a penal code to determine which are the lawful ideas and which are not. Having said thus, it is not vital for me to tell what I think since the end of the Yoga I practice is not to think, but to attenuate this talkativeego which is only a small spot on the sun of the Self…
Let us come now to the history of the hidden non-dualityin the West. Since Christianity has imposed itself, and has therefore imposed devotion as the only way of salvation, non-duality and the path of knowledge have been able to discretly survive thanks to the teaching of Platonic and neo-Platonic Philosophy. I say survive, because Christian apologetics have made constant efforts to make people believe that the search for Unity was merely an intellectual process, keeping for Christianity the prerogative of genuine spiritual experience. Actually, the path of knowledge is a complete path is itself, able to transcend intellect as well as devotion can do, and to reach an intensity of being analogous to the union with Jesus. The experience of Vedantic sages of India shows it to us still today. On the other hand, intellectual deviation is possible in the devotional path as well, just correctly expounding the theology of grace does not make one automatically filled with the love which should gush out of this grace.
However, a really mystical non-dualist teaching has been able to be integrated with Christianity thanks to a trick : the translator into Latin of a text which has been strongly influenced by the neo-Platonician Proclus had the good idea to attribute it to the first disciple of Saint Paul in Athens, Denys the Aeropagite (3); consequently, it has been read and meditated upon by most medieval mystics, including Saint Thomas of Aquinas. The rejection of false conceptions one can have of God is an essential element of the path of knowledge and at the same time has deeply influenced eastern Christian mysticism. (4) Another author with a strong non-dualistic tendency, Evagrius Ponticus, was ‘smuggled’ into the Christian tradition for a couple of his texts under the name of Saint Nil of Sinai. The change of attribution was identified by Father Irénée Hausherr. One was reproaching to Evagrius his link with Origen’s thought and equally to have been able to write a whole book on inner life where he did not speak of Jesus.
As to Meister Eckhart, specialists usually make great efforts to bring him back in the direction of the official doctrine under the pretence of putting his ideas again in their context. It is the contrary, though, which seems obvious to me : if, in the heavily dualistic atmosphere of his epoch, Eckhart dares claim non-dual experiences, it means that the latter was fundamental for him. So one should interpret his writings in a not less but more non-dual sense than he has been able to write. It is the same for those other Christian mystics who have let appear non-dual experiences in their texts. If there have been only a few mystics to follow the path of knowldge in the west, it does not mean that they did not need it, but that they were discouraged by the heaviness, the monolithism of an Old Testament-like monotheism.
There have been in the West atypical experiences of the Self which have come out spontaneously among poets and philosphers. Louis Gardet devoted a good hundred pages to this subject (5). Heidegger also acknowledged that his view is common with Zen non-dualism when he discoverd the latter : ‘If I understand well Zen, that is what I tried to say in all my writings.’ (6) He also clearly describes the basis of the path of discrimination when he writes : ‘One should separate the authenticity of Being from the factitious character of existence.’ (7) Nevertheless, one should have much more than metaphysical intuitions to practically establish and transmit a complete spiritual path. Another example of non-dual intuition can be discerned in Camus’ book ‘The Plague’ :‘Can one be saint without God?’ That is the only concrete problem that I know today.’ (8)
In India, the unity of substance between man and the Absolute is so natural that the same is used to designate both : for’ ‘atman’ means both ‘self’ and ‘the Self’ (there are no capitals in Sanskrit). The leading thread of this path of knowledge is the ancient questionning of the Upanishads : ‘What is this knowledge by which everything can be known?’ To put it differently, that comes to affirm that there exists an experience through which Homo sapiens can become ‘fully sapiens’, a crowning of consciousness at the level of individual experience when it is becoming universal. In India, it is widely acknowledge that devotion which reaches its peak (parabhakti) is one and the same with knowledge (jnana); this idea could inspire Christian non-dualists.
The very title of my article echoes Raimundo Pannikar’s book: ‘The Unknown Christ of Hinduism’ (9). He has taken back Justinius the Martyr’s idea regarding Christ disseminated at the core of pagan religions and he tried to show the presence of an ‘unconscious Christ’ in Hinduism. Nevertheless, I have the impression that my task is easier than his. For non-dualism refers to an individual experience, but which is unconditionned since coming after the rejection of conditionings, while the word ‘Christ’ is bound to refer to Jesus, a personage which lived in a context very different from India.
To my eyes, the role of comparative mysticism is to feel the weight of one’s own cultural a priori which is almost impossible to see directly : one needs a mirror to observe his own face. For that, one requires a fundamental sympathy which is that of a genuine searcher for truth; ‘Non entratur in veritatem, nisi per charitatem’ : ’One does not enter truth , if not through charity’ (Saint Augustin, 10).
I find that the richness of our time is the plurality of religious groups; for instance I feel that the birth of an advaitic ashram in Rome is a sign of the times. Rafael, who started this center, teaches not only Shankaracharya but Plotinus as well, in its direct mystical significance and revives a tradition of religious pluralism which had been eclipsed for fifteen centuries in this capital. The more groups there are, the more chances people will have to find the path which actually suits them; and their interaction will be stimulating : from the rubbing of two stones springs the spark of consciousness. It is true that a religious monopoly can bring a seeming peace, but it may be the peace of the graveyard.
We will now consider the relationships of non-dualism with Christianity. We will first review several divergences which are sometimes presented as essential, but which will appear to us superficial after some reflection. Afterwards, we will see a few deeper differences. There is a famous Zen koan which says : ‘What is the significance of the coming of the Patriarch (Bodhidharma) from the West?’ Perhaps one will find in this article elements of an answer to this new possible koan in this turn of the millenium : ‘What is the significance of the coming of non-dualism from the East?’
Non-Dualism and Christianity : Twelve Points of ‘Parallel Divergences’
By this paradoxical designation of ‘parallel divergences’, I gather here twelve points where the differences between non-dualism and Christianity seem more due to misunderstandings than to irreconciable oppositions. This will also give an opportunity to discard a couple of specious arguments advanced by a few Christian theologians ignoring most of the philosophy and practice of non-duality. One should realize that in India, most people follow a devotional, therefore dualistic religion, but the already ancient interaction with the non-dualistic conceptions enables spiritual people and sages to readily pass from one to another; this contributes to the fecundity and vitality of Hindu thought and religious practices. Let us come to the various points of objections.
1) ‘Non-duality is a vague doctrine’, this idea is often heard. For instance, it could be the most prefered basis for drug-addicted people to interpret their experiences, etc… There are several answers to this : first, the ‘vague’ is often only in the mind of the Christian theologians who have acquired a superficial knowlwdge of a few non-dualist ideas, most often through the writings of other Christians and who do not have any experience of meditative practice corresponding to this path of knowledge. Fortunatly, there are exceptions who become more frequent nowadays, but not without tension with the rest of the Christian community. Non-dualists like Shankaracharya with advaita vedanta or Nagarjuna with Madyamika Buddhism have established philosophical systems whose coherence does not fall short form that of a Saint Thomas of Aquinas. It is true that most mystics do not like to imprison their experiences in rigid and overdetailed systems. Jesus, Buddha, do not have elaborated complex philosophies supposed to answer every question in detail. The Desert Fathers do not have a very explicit theology, but the radiance of their advice inspires us till now.
The notion of enstasis-‘staying inside’-(a word used by Mircea Eliade while speaking of Yoga) is not more hazy than that of ecstasis. On the contrary, one can note that the notion of ecstasis surmises the union with a God whose existence has ever been difficult to prove while enstasis only requires a return inside, and everyone can have a direct perception of what inside can mean. The term ‘enstasis’ indeed does not seem so well fitting : the non-dualist meditator searches and experience of the whole which abolishes differences between inside and outside, between enstasis and extasis; therefore, one could instead call this alternate state of consciousness ‘holostasis’.
2) ‘The non-dual experience of nirvana is a state of torpor which results in no real change in the individual’.
There are two important distinctions to make : first between the experience of ‘snoozing’ during a spiritual practice.This is called by M Anandam yee ‘shyunya’ and the true experience of emptiness, ‘Mahashunya’. The other distinction is between a temporary dissolution of the mind and the ego (manolaya) and its definitive destruction (manonasha). The first is more or less effective according to its depth, but the second corresponds to the great experience which is definitive if we consider the benefit it provides. One can not even speak of transformation of ego, since before there was an ego, but after there is no more. In the path of devotion as well, every love experience is not transforming : it depends upon its authenticity and its depth.
3) ‘Non-duality teaches a truth for a select few, while dualism is a democratic teaching for the masses.’
Certainly, in Vedanta, there is a distinction between empirical truth (Vyavaharika) and absolute truth (paramartha). Nagarjuna also speaks of the two truths (satyadvaya) and in Japanese Buddhism one speak of ‘provisional law’ versus ‘definitive law’. I think this is a concrete attitude which respects the differences of level between people and which allows us to integrate various spiritual paths by simply hierchising them, not by choosing one and destroying the other. In this, there is no question of sociological discrimination : everyone is allowed to experience the absolute truth, but he will have to make an effort which few want to do. There is no possibility of non-dualism without this practical distinction between the two truths. Christ himself respected this distinction : if not, why has he not organised the Last Supper in the Temple courtyard, or has he not appeared to the crowds after his Resurrection?
The concept of rational unity between all the levels of inner development is an idol, and one should stop sacrifying to it. It is an attempt towards uniformization which hinders both beginners, who would like for instance to use violent trance to communicate with God, and the advanced mystics who emphasize upon knowledge and the spontaneous cessation of the sense of ‘I am the doer’. The real problem is that hierachy is afraid not to understand well the ‘definitive law’ and not to be able to check those who follow it naturally. Buddha tells the following story :
“Two brothers go the mountain to cut wood and come back heavily loaded. All of a sudden, the younger sees a big heap of copper coins and drops his wood to take as many coins as he can. The elder thinks : ‘I have worked so hard for this wood that I will not loose it. I will come back afterwards to take the coins.’ Further down on the path, the younger brother sees silver coins which he takes instead of the copper ones, while the elder remains attached to his wood which he had gathered by the sweat of his brow. Later, the same occurs again with golden coins. When afterwards the elder comes back to take the coins, they had disappeared.’ (11).
4) ‘Non-dualism is a doctrine which is cold and devoid of love because it does not acknowledge the supreme value of the human person.’
Here is an essential question and we will develop it in more detail. It may have been in the thirties that personalism asserted itself most; in Judaism, there has been Martin Buber’s book ‘I and You’ and in Catholicism, the foundation of the Journal ‘Esprit’ (‘Spirit’ or ‘Mind’) with especially Mounier and Berdiaev. The historical background of this epoch was rather ominous : democracies had paled before the ascent of totalitarisms and, actually, it was urgent to pass onto the crowds tempted by the over-simplification of mass movements that the human person was inalienable. By listening or reading certain western authors, one has the impression that the average Indian should be half schizophrenic under the pretext that he has not the notion of external person. For those who have lived in India, this idea appears of course fanciful. The ordinary Hindu has a personality and an ego as everyone. He may care more than westerners to be in harmony with his family and his clan (Gotra), and this is, to their eyes, a sign of psychological maturity. One who wants to be independent, which means to remain alone far from the family is seen as a kind of asocial element, as a failure; but for the spiritual life exists the possibility of renunciation where one cuts the links with the family. In this sense, it is a strong process of individuation, but which does not stop there, because it continues by a new widening, that of an opening to the Universal Consciousness, whatever name can be given to it.
Upon close scrutiny, the notion of the Christian person, difficult to clearly distinguish from the individual, is rather hazy. It is beyond the usual ego, it is ‘pure presence’, it is ‘strictly ineffable like the divine person’ (12) : one may wonder what is left of the person, except the result of a kind of pure act of faith claiming that the person must continue to exist. Lossky says : ‘by renouncing his own contents, by giving them freely, by stopping its existence for himself, the person manifests fully in the unified nature of all. By renouncing his particular good, he dilates infinitly and gets enriched by everything in everybody.’ (13) That describes exactly ego dissolution in the vedantic experience, and this process has hardly any reason to save the person as such.
Obviously, the belief in doomsday obliges one to keep a sort of shadow of individuality who can answer ‘present’ to the last call. Likewise, in Hinduism, there is something of the person, or of the ego, which passes from one life to another to convey individual karma; but Hinduism also acknowledges that beyond that, full Liberation is possible : then, karma and person dissolve in the Self. The candle light disappears into the sun, the process follows its logic until the end. Personalist theologians are so much attached to their idea that they feel obliged to correct the Fathers themselves: it is amusing to note that one of them, quoting Gregory of Nysse, ‘The concepts create God’s idols, the enraptured only feels something,’ needs to correct ‘rather someone’. (14) Gregory of Nysse, as a full-fledged mystic, had the intuition of the ultimately impersonal character of the Absolute. That is why he has said ‘something’ like the ‘tat’ (That) of the Upanishads when they evoke the Supreme. This annoyed those theologians who have less elevated experiences and who run after the person as someone could run after his own shadow, hoping one day to grasp it.
If Christ has become nothingness, has emptied himself (‘kenosis’ in Phil II-7), why could other human persons not do the same ? Should it not be the least to do ? This represents a logical process. Is it not written : ‘If the grain of wheat which fell into earth does not die, it will not bear fruit. ? Can we say, in thruth, what remains of the grain after it dies? Science itself, following its recent discoveries in neuropsychology, questions the notion of person and comes to a rather Buddhist concept of ‘agregates’ whose impermanent association gives the impression of personality. (15) This should not lead to nihilism or weakening. Plotinus says : ‘The man who denies his own individuality does not lessen himself but on the contrary grows to the dimension of universal reality.’ Recently, another exponent of the path of knowledge, Nisargadatta Maharaj, said : ‘The highest charity is to give the consciousness of ‘I am’.’ An idea which underlies the insistence on the notion of person is, ‘There is happines only in relation’. Hindu dualists take the simile of a lump of sugar : one must be different from the lump of sugar to be able to enjoy its taste : but it is less respectful of the Absolute to consider it as a lump of sugar and to want to make it an object of tasting. That leads us to speak of the question of anthropomorphism in dualism. The descriptions of the union to God as a marriage or as intercourse betwen lover and beloved are no more satisfying after a certain level of evolution. They sound too much like the projection of an unpurified desire, and psychiatrists rightly note that one gets delirium according to one’s desire. The dualists’ idea according to which we will experience more and more of God’s love and that indefinitely, sounds to me very anthropomorphic. This is the wish of lovers, but reality seems rather different. When we read more and more books, we know more and more things, so, by analogy, when we make more and more spiritual pratices, we should get more and more results. But can we reduce spiritual path to a geometrical progression? Can we not defintitely be attracted by the Eastern notion of sudden change of level in counsciousness? Is it not necessary beyond a certain level, just as the passage from Newtonian physics to Relativity has been needed to integrate new experiments? Strange enough, by going beyond the anthropomorphic notion of person, one comes back closer to man and to his direct experience. Nisragadatta Maharaj says : ‘There is no other God that this sense of presence.’ (16) Meister Eckhart boldly affirms in a famous sentence : ‘If I were not, God would not be either.’ (17)
What matters really is not the projection of desires, like laser into superior mists, but the letting of those desires, their complete giving up, in order that ‘That’ could reveal itself. This is not easy : that is why so many spiritual disciplines have been evolved. Personalists criticize non-dualism by saying, ‘Non-dualism employs techniques, dualism rests on love only.’ The first reflection which comes to my mind is that love is a technique too, or an ‘art’ if the term ‘technique’ makes one afraid. He who follows the path of devotion must gradually learn to play with his emotions, and not to be played by them in order to be able to fully direct them towards the Divine. Vedanta is not against Yoga as a practice of purifying the mind, but it repetitively underlines that ‘That’ reveals itself freely. The Realization of the Self is beyond the meditations which aim to unite us to a given divine form (upasana).
Dualism has a tendency to harden, to thicken the ego by granting it a substance of its own different from divine substance. One can wonder, from the viewpoint of depth psychology, if a relationship does not exist between dualism, the violently affirmed transcendence of Judaism and Islam (see ‘Qul Allahu Akbar…’ Say : ‘God is the Highest’ in the daily Muslim prayer) and the trauma of circumcision. This agressive occurence, even if it appears at different ages in the two religions, may represent a cut in the world of primeval unity. Is not this cut so effective because it acts on sexual force, because it creates an awakening of this inner energy which India calls Kundalini? By the way, this could be a theme of reflection for those interested.
One cannot speak of going beyond the person with precision if one does not clearly distinguish two exits from the ego, upwards and downwards. The latter can correspond to schizophrenia which is a state below the ego or in a more attenuated way, to a kind of modern thought which is reductionist, even nihilistic, and that Jean Wahl had aptly called ‘trans-descendance’. That is why I would prefer to speak of ‘transpersonalization’ rather than ‘depersonalisation’ which has a pejorative, even pathological undertone. Likewise, it seems to me better to speak of the path which liberates the person, which is ‘transpersonal’ regarding the path of knowledge, rather than speaking of ‘impersonal’ path, a word which is associated for most people with coldness and rejection. Speaking of this, one should note that the transmission of so-called ‘impersonal way’ like Vedanta or Zen is made in a very personal way, between master and disciple, through a vital relationship which extends for years. (16) In this sense, this relationship is less impersonal than the institutional transmission which is the most common in Christianity. A true practicioner of the path of knowledge has an intense devotion for the Being. He practices in this direction. Nisrgadatta Maharaj speaks of the ‘explosive illumination of the ‘I am” (20).
Jacques Maritain, who was a srict Thomist, tries to make an opposition between the path of devotion and that of knowledge : the first is meant to correspond to the mystic of fire, and the second to that of mirror. The simile is obviously pregnant with apologetic undertones, insinuting that the path of knowledge is frozen, and that is shows nothing else than his own face, which means the most external aspect of ego. First, one should note, fire fulfills it’s vocation only when the fuel has been completely consumed, which means when duality is consumed and only unity remains. Besides, when it is intense, the mysticism of knowledge is more than a fire, it is a laser which separates the Real from the unreal. On the other hand, those who need to rest on God with human face-therefore who looks astonishingly like them may be more like the mystic of mirror than those who directly dive in the formless Absolute. Is the other which has the same aspect with us really ‘other’?
Which sort of images evokes Saint Augustine’s famous ‘Deus intimior meo’ ‘God more intimate to myself than myself’. One could glimpse a kind of ultimate center under the various layers of personality and conditionings, or else, a ground of the human being which widens more and more by opening oneself into the Being. Both representations, the grain of conciousness or the limitless space,are regularly used to evoke the Absolute in Vedanta. (21).
A last objection to impersonal non-dualism is that one who does not believe in the person cannot respect him. It seems to me that, on the contrary, more so, since he is no longer prevented by the filter of his own person to appreciate the other objectivity, as he is. Only when two persons, which means practically two egos, are related, there are manipulations and conflicts.
The notion of person, in its concrete form of personality, is of course useful in the field of education so that adolescents and children could assert themselves as such. It is equally useful from the sociological viewpoint, in order for the individual not to be crushed by the mass or by the state machinery. More deeply, this notion is closely related with physical love, the smallest physical detail being invested by the lovers with strong emotions. For a mature mystic, this notion of person, which at the beginning had been a help, becomes an obstacle.
In conclusion the idea arises of ‘personalist stage’ : the human person is the very type of the empirical, provisional (vyavaharika) truth which disappears when one comes close to the Absolute, like the moth in a candle flame. Inasmuch as one believes in it, one is submissive to it, one is dominated by it. When one starts questioning it, the sun of Realization begins dawning. Non-dualism does not contradict any doctrine, it gives all of them their place instead and integrates them in its worldview. Those who still keep in their mind, as an aftermath, that ‘personal’ means life and ‘beyond personal’ means death, can meditate on this Zen koan for a long time : ‘The living enters the coffin, and the death carries it.’
5) One often objects to non-dualism that it is coldly technical, that it does not have the notion of gratuity because it does not have the concept of grace.
Even in Yoga which is the most technical part of Hindu spirituality, the notion of grace is present. Patanjali’s Yoga-sutras speak of ‘surrender to the Lord’ (ishwara-pranidhana, 1-23) as a possible way to reach the Absolute. Vedanta, being non-dualist, does not have the notion of God’s grace, but strongly emphasizes Guru’s grace and the notion of gratuity. Knowledge reveals itself on its own, without being the automatic reward of our spiritual endeavours. It is on this very point that Vedanta has differenciated itself fom Purva Mimansa, the school which imediately preceeded it. In Mahayana Buddhism, the notion of ‘spontaneous realization’ is equally at the forefront.
Christian prayer accepts the notion of the automatic efficacy of prayer up to a certain extent, and in this resembles Yoga : ‘Knock, and it shall be open.’ This efficacy not only depends upon God’s good will but also exists in spite of his reticence, as we can see in the parable of the bothered man who ends us yielding to the beggar to get peace. The Orthodox, unlike Catholics, even acknoweldge that grace has been wholly given, and that from the beginning of humanity. This grace is paradoxical, as it is well said in the apocryphal words of Saint Ignatius of Loyola : ‘One should act as if everything depended upon man and nothing upon God, and one should trust God as if everything depended upon God and nothing upon man.’ (22) One can interpret the proposition of theology : ‘Man is deified through grace, and not through nature’, by seeing under the term ‘nature’ the ego, for this seems to be his own nature for the ordinary man : ‘I am myself, and nothing else’. Then, this affirmation is not different from what Vedanta says : the force which transforms the ego comes from beyond the ego, from the Self in non-dual language.
The dependency of Christians upon God’s grace easily gives a tragic dimension to their spiritual life, inasmuch as they cannot eventually grasp why and how it comes. Philaret of Moscow says for instance : ‘Man is suspended between two abysses, like on a diamond bridge which is God’s will; above him is the abyss of divine darkness towards which he is called, below is the abyss of non-existence, from which he has been extracted and to where he can only fall if he renounces his vocation, without being able, though, to ever come back to pure non-existence.’ (23) One who follows the path of dualism has not only a bet to make, that of God’s existence, he must also bet that he will go to paradise and not to hell..From the viewpoint of spiritual psychology, the sense of absurdity and existential angusish may be the other side, the ‘shadow’, in the Jungian sense of the term, of the belief in the grace of a God who is completly good.
The question of grace is linked to that of transcendence and immanence. One often reproaches non-dualism for falling into complete ‘immanentism’, into pantheism by saying that the Absolute, the world and man are only one. It is true, non-dualism has no difficulty to integrate pantheism as a stage of spiritual development. It does not feel obliged to violently reject it as monotheism does. However, the very movement of non-dualism is transcendent and apophatic : it is the ‘neti, neti’ (not this, not this) of the Upanishads. It is interesting to know, by the way, that one speaks of non-dualism and not of monism, to be able to keep its character of ineffability to the Absolute, beyond the pairs of opposites, beyond even being and non-being. In Christianity, except perhaps for a few mystics, one is rather afraid to question, to go beyond the very being of God. In this sense, non-dualism is more transcendent than dualism.
7) Another frequent objection against non-dualists is that they would neither be able of action in the world, nor of demonstrating a scientific mind since they consider that the body as well as the world are illusions.
Let us start speaking of the body. Christians repeat that Incarnation only can give the body its ultimate dignity by returning it to its primeval vocation of temple of the Spirit. One should first say that, for non-dualists, body is not only the temple of the Spirit, but is is Spirit itself, since there is only one ‘substance – Spirit’ which is the ground of everything. In non-dualism, one acknowledges that the mind is based on the body, and it is repeated that we are lucky to have had a rebirth in an human body, and we should not waste it. We have seen that Vedanta accepts Yogic practices as a means to purify the mind. While speaking of this, it is interesting to note that it is precisely in the non-dualistic atmosphere of India that body techniques aiming to the spiritual and which are gathered under the general term of Yoga, are more developed : it may be because a good number of Hindus felt the limitations of the exclusive explanation of spiritual progress through God’s grace.
Indeed, affirming the reality of the body is common sense : the ordinary man is convinced of the reality of the body, and I am sure that if one could speak of metaphysics with animals, they would equally support this reality. Doubt regarding this basic fact comes from the skillfulness of human counsciousness to progress; the desequilibrium of doubt is the step of thought. This disengagement from body consciousness is not a question of body asceticism, but of understanding. In this sense, Christian ascetics, with their macerations, seem to have paid less respect for the body than neo-Platonicians who used to say that the latter was not so important vis-a-vis consciousness, but at least would not torture and martyrize it. I have more closely examined this question in the chapters 2 and 3 of this part.
Let us come now to the second point of the objection : ‘the unreality of the world according to non-dualism’. Certainly, there have been Buddhist schools which have supported the complete irreality of phenomena, like Vijnanavada. However, in Vedanta, the manifested world, maya, is described as neither real nor unreal, in practice challenging any description (anirvachaniya). Additionally, the world is unreal vis-a-vis the Absolute, (paramartha), but is has relative reality (vyavaharika), as we saw above when we spoke of the two truths.
If we want an example of the capacity of action of Vedantins, we may mention the Ramakrishna Mission inspired by Vivekananda’s ideas on practical Vedanta, which is said to be the biggest humanitarian organisation in the world. Although it is mainly spread in India, one should remember that India represents almost a billion inhabitants nowadays. This fact shows well that Vedanta and action are not incompatible.
On the other hand, it seems that Western science has not developed because of the Church, but in spite of it. Controversies on evolution which still continue today seem hardly to have troubled modern Hindu thought. The idea of an impersonal Self seems more readily assimilable to the notion of unified field developed by contemporary physics than a personal, creator God, ‘Deus ex machina’ of dualist doctrines. Scientists had to put aside this conception of God to be able to evolve. Every really religious man considers that God is in the world and that he is more real than him; if not, he is only a materialist who mayf ollow a few rituals from time to time. Nil of Sinai says : ‘Blessed is the monk who sees every man as God after God.’ (24) and also : ‘The monk is one who, while retiring from the midst of man, is united to them and sees himself in every body. (25)
What is important is not to give up the world, but to give up one’s ordinary conception of the world, to see God in it, to deify it as the Orthodox say, or as is written in the beginning of the Isha Upanishad : ‘By the Lord (Isha) enveloped must this all be whatever moving thing there is in the moving world. With this renounced, thou mayest enjoy…’ (Hume’s translation). Abbot Alonios had this non-dualistic intuition of the disappearance of our ordinary conception of the world thanks to the stoppage of the mind : “If man does not say in his heart, ‘there is in the world only myself and God’, he will not obtain rest.” (26) Isaac the Syrian, though his direct experience, had equally reached a conception close to the ‘creation by seeing’ (drishti shrishti) of Hindu thought : ‘The world dies where the current of passions stop.’ (27)
Saint Thomas acknowledges that the world may not exist when he writes : ‘It may be that everything which is not God does not exist.’ (28) Gregory of Nysse sensed the paradox of a world which is both real and unreal when he said : ‘The paradox of the world is to have its existence in non-existence.’ (29) Meister Eckhart does not hesitate to affirm the ultimate unreality of the creation as an obvious fact : ‘All creatures are pure nothingness. I do not say that they are minute or that they are something : they are pure nothingness. What has no being is nothingness. All the creatures have no being because their being depends upon God’s presence. The only difference between Christian classical theology and Vedanta is that the first says that man has lost his state of deification and must find it again, while the second says that man only believes he has lost it.
One can criticize the Vedantic notion of the world as ‘anivachaniya’, beyond any description. Is this not an easy solution, an escape which leaves the problem unsolved? This is true. But every metaphysics and theology leaves certain problems unresolved. Christians themselves acknowledge that ex nihilo creation (creation from nothing) is inexplicable. How has God been able to descend from the intemporal to the temporal to accomplish the act of creation ? If he is Almighty, how can we explain man’s freedom ? Out of love, they say. But if God is really complete, how is it that He needs love? And if man was perfect before the fall, is it not illogical that he chose the evil? Globally, the problem of evil is more difficult to solve in a dualist system where the world has been created by a compassionate God. For non-dualists, evil does not come from sin, but from ignorance, from maya which has no beginning, but has an end at the time of liberation. This conception of evil as ignorance is more in keeping with the spirit of modern psychology than that of evil as a fault.
The notion of an elected people which seems granted if seen from inside Judaism and Christianity will rather be a matter of scandal seen from outside. This God who has chosen a few percent of humanity to make them the elected people and who has rejected the others, if not to hell, but at least to a lower level, seem to be more an inferior being than a God in the eyes of these ‘others’. In this sense, these metaphysics which refrain to refer to an elected people and a personal God certainly represent a progress towards a possibility of real universal tolerance.
In India, one has tried totally pure non-dualism (advaita vedanta) as well as Vaishnavite dualism : Ramanuja created qualified non-dualism (vishishta advaita) trying to reconcile certain Vaishnavite religious beliefs with non-dualism. Most historians of philosophy confess that his attempt has been shabby, not because he was a bad thinker, but because his very initial aim was trying to put a circle square. (31) Just as Christian mystics did not like so much mitigated monastic rules, mystics of contemporary India hardly refer to mitigated (qualified) non-dualism when they speak of Vedanta, but rather to Advaita.
A last objection which has been often put by theologians regarding non-dualism is that it does not have the benefit of a revealed Word, by the very fact it does not acknowledge a personal God. Moreover, non-dualism would not have the possibility of a progressive revelation of God in history.
First, one should say that in Hinduism, the Vedas, including the great words (mahavakyas) of Upanishads are considered as revealed to ancient sages (rishis). They have not heard them from a personal God, as the Prophets did, but they have ‘seen’ them directly : it is the very meaning of the word ‘rishi’, the seer.
Non-duality has no special difficulty to accept the notion of evolution. This evolution take place within empirical truth and does not change anything of the Absolute. On the other hand non-dualism does not believe that our world goes towards a paradise on earth or that God reveals Himself more and more in it. There are indeed clear improvements in certain fields, but regressions also occur in others. People’s minds are more refined, but at the same time prone to suffer for more subtle motives. The very notion of a wholly compassionate God makes still more striking the scandal of evil. The belief that happiness on earth will follow a continuously growing graph like the industrial production of a country which develops well sounds a bit too much like ‘metaphysics of the industrial revolution’. The non-dualist deos not need it to motivate his work on himself or at the service of others.