Friday, 17 February 2017

The Incompatibility of Advaita and Christianity

Following on from the earlier post here are some comments I made elsewhere on the subject of advaita and Christianity and how they cannot be seen as two aspects of one truth. Either one or the other is true, they cannot both be correct, and, in fact, it is advaita that is the false doctrine. It may contain certain insights, and it is undoubtedly very tempting for intellectuals, but ultimately it is a false trail.

You cannot square Christianity with advaita Vedanta and keep the integrity of both. That is, square Christianity with advaita as it really is not as it is in the romantic interpretations of Christians who want to mix it with their Christianity and keep the best of both worlds. The problem is you just can’t do that with advaita since it absorbs and relegates to the relative plane anything you try to reconcile to it. Your Christianity will become just a provisional thing to be transcended when you are wiser. Fundamentally it’s part of the world of maya.

The fact is that advaita denies the reality of the individual soul and of God in any real and personal sense. You can’t escape that. There are various mental contortions by advaitins who seek to have their cake and eat it, usually something along the neither real nor unreal line, but, when all is said and done, advaita is exclusively monistic and does not allow any true existence to creation or anything in it. Hence, to be intellectually consistent, you cannot follow advaita and believe that God is love.  Love requires duality. It requires a personal God and for humans to have real individuality. Even if there is union underlying it, as of course there is, if love is to be real then duality has also to be real. And if love is not completely real then it's not real at all.

That’s why Ramanuja rejected Sankara’s one-sided and highly selective interpretation of the Upanishads. Reality is far subtler and more wonderful than the simplistic version of it propounded by Sankara who seems, hagiography aside, to have been primarily an intellectual motivated by the attempt to defend the Vedas against Buddhism. He therefore incorporated bits of Buddhism into his system, the better to fight it. I really don’t think that people like Swami Abhishiktananda*, and the Traditionalists who followed Frithjof Schuon, understood what advaita is actually saying. Seduced by the apparent profundity of its non-negotiable doctrine of oneness they sought to blend it into views they already had, not appreciating that if you took it on its own terms it just demolished these, rejecting anything else as a halfway house to be left behind once true knowledge dawned. The Trinity cannot be reconciled to advaita. In fact, it is precisely what saves us from the illusion of advaita or any kind of monism.

Some people say that advaitins are just describing reality from the point of view of their experience of it and this is as legitimate as anybody else's description since we are trying to describe something that is beyond description. It's not that simple. Advaitins, following Sankara, do think that what they are describing is the ultimate. It's not an experience of it or an approach to it. It is it. They would say any experience is still part of duality and they would also say that Christianity is part of duality and therefore still rooted in ignorance. So from the point of view of advaita Christianity, or any approach to God in which there is any kind of distinction between Man and God or any chance of a real relationship between them, would always be inferior to it.  I'm sure there is a state in which everything is experienced as one with no division and no centre anywhere. But I think this entry into the undifferentiated ground of being is a lesser state than the union in love with God as described by some Christian mystics, though there may be certain similarities. But the differences are crucial. And the main one is that in the highest Christian state individuality is preserved. That is not the case in advaita which thinks itself the highest realisation but is, in my opinion, a lesser understanding because it doesn't see that unity and multiplicity are both true. Christians would say that God created the world and saw that it was good. Advaitins don't really believe in God, creation or even goodness. That’s a pretty fundamental difference and that's why for me advaita is not that different to atheism.The only God it allows is one who is still part of the world of make believe.

I can see why people might think you can reconcile advaita and Christianity because there is oneness at the bottom of them both but it is a very different sort of oneness in that the oneness of advaita allows for no differentiation at all in ultimate reality while Christianity, because of the Trinity, does. This incidentally is much more in line with our intuitions and experience of how reality actually is and while that is not conclusive nor should it be rejected without good reason.

If advaita were true then this world would be pointless. One of its weaknesses is that it has no explanation for the world so basically dismisses it.  It also restricts the absolute to a static, impersonal, inactive, relationless consciousness devoid of potentiality and agency which raises the question how does anything ever arise from that?  I think it is illogical too which contradicts its main claim to intellectual superiority. The reason I say this is because it restricts reality to the absolute alone instead of seeing that reality is the absolute and the relative interacting together. Becoming without being is impossible but being without becoming is nothing. So while there is a hierarchical relationship between them the relative is an essential part of the absolute, without which it could not be known. And this is why I say that non-duality, if taken literally and at its own estimation, strips the world of beauty, goodness and love. 

I have felt the need to make these points because many people nowadays mistakenly think that non-duality is a more advanced spiritual understanding than theistic religion, specifically Christianity. In fact, the opposite is the case. A monism in which there is no differentiation at all, in which everything is reduced to the impersonal One, is actually a much more intellectually limited concept.  Your individuality is real. Without it you could know nothing. You would be nothing. Yes, you must transcend exclusive identification with it. No, you do not reject it or come to know it as unreal. Your true being is in God but that can only be refracted through your individual being and in that process there is love.

Beware if you want to reconcile advaita (or any kind of non-duality) with Christianity as it eats up everything it comes into contact with. You will be left with advaita but no Christianity not to mention no self, no love, no beauty, no goodness. Advaita takes the ground mystical state as the whole of reality instead of seeing it as part of reality which can't just be reduced to its fundamental tone. You might say that it takes the via negativa as the whole instead of seeing that without the living God of the via positiva that is incomplete and truly, eternally, void. Reality comprises both as does Christianity.

* A Christian monk who tried to blend Christianity with non-dualistic Hinduism

Monday, 13 February 2017

Advaita and Christianity

Can you reconcile Christianity with advaita, the Indian philosophy of non-duality based on a monistic interpretation of the Upanishads? Some people believe you can, particularly those who think that it describes the pure essence of all religions, a sort of ur-spirituality into which everything else is absorbed, but I am not one of them. There is a basic contradiction between a view that believes everything is reducible to an undifferentiated oneness (advaita) and one in which unity and multiplicity are both happily contained (Christianity). Superficially the two might seem compatible but in that case Christianity would have to mean something different to what it has always been understood to mean, and it would be no more than a provisional approach to ultimate truth, to be transcended when that ultimate truth, advaita, was known. So it would be just another religion in the relative world, no different to any other, and that is not what Christians believe nor what the evidence, I would say, suggests. I mean by that the evidence of the person of Christ and of his teachings. Just about the only Christian who can be produced in favour of a possible compatibility is Meister Eckhart, but I would see him as someone who emphasised one aspect of the whole, possibly neglected during his lifetime, the unmanifest absolute, at the expense of the totality of it. The idea that the relative is just subsumed into the absolute and has no meaning or purpose in itself is not part of Christianity but it is central to advaita.

A major problem in any reconciliation is that non-duality, if we mean by that Sankara’s advaita, denies the reality of the individual soul while that, in a way, is the whole point of Christianity which alone, as far as I can see, is able to integrate unity and multiplicity in a way that does violence to neither. For though Christianity teaches union with God this is a union of love in which oneness and duality or the Universal and the Individual are both important. The latter is not wholly renounced nor seen as illusionary for the sake of the former. Its separative element is discarded but not its ontological reality. That is just not the case with non-dual metaphysics. As far as the Vedanta is concerned, Christianity is closer to the qualified non-dualism of Ramanuja in that both accept the integrity of the person and the reality of the personal God. 

Perhaps the principal source of the idea that advaita describes the essence of reality and all other religions are saying the same thing as it does (though presumably not so well) is the group known as the Traditionalists who were centred around Rene Guenon and Frithjof Schuon. I don't deny that these men opened up metaphysics more than most in the 20th century but they were intellectuals and suffered from the fault of all intellectuals. They privileged knowledge over love. Consequently, in line with Sankara, from whose selective interpretation of the Vedanta they took their metaphysics, they put the personal at a lower level of reality than the Impersonal, not seeing that the latter is fundamentally meaningless and incomprehensible without the former. They reduced love to bhakti which is a common but fundamental mistake. Bhakti is a kind of love but it is not love in the full Christian sense. It is more like intense devotion to an ideal, so directed from below upwards, and a highly refined emotional state rather than the state of being that Christian love, as in the idea that God is Love, is. Christianity is not a bhakti religion even if some of its saints have followed that path. It is the religion of love and there is a profound difference between the devotion of a saint for Jesus and the love demonstrated by Jesus himself. One is a means of attaining spiritual uplift while the other is the reality of the spiritual world. One is feeling, the other is being. If I may make a point based on personal experience, I could not compare the devotion I felt for my teachers with the love that they manifested due to their realised oneness with God. 

This post was prompted by some comments I made on another blog a while ago that was speculating on a possible way of finding advaita and Christianity compatible. I shall set forth my comments in the next post as an addendum to this one but first I should express my basic position which is that advaita is a misinterpretation of what reality is so there's no need to find it compatible with anything. It's just wrong, albeit only by a whisker. But then that little error makes a huge difference when we're talking about the essence of being. At that level to be a little wrong is to be completely wrong. I can see why Sankara took the position he did but it is fundamentally an intellectual position, though possibly backed up with some experience of non-dualistic states of consciousness, and it confuses the so called ground of being with God. We are saved from that error by the revelation in Christianity of the Trinity which explains how reality can be at the same time one and many with both true. For the Trinity is not a step down from Unity but exists at the highest level of reality. Which means that the non-duality of advaita, far from being the highest metaphysical concept there can be, is actually a considerably lower understanding of how things are than the Christian idea that within the basic oneness of God there are three persons and this gives room for the consequent reality in creation of a multiplicity of individuals.

This leads to another irreconcilable difference between advaita and Christianity. In Christianity, following on from Judaism, God creates the world. It is a deliberate act that results from the expression of his love. What is more, what God creates is real. Maybe not real in the absolute ultimate sense of self-existing - only God is real in that sense - but real in the sense that it has its own true God given reality.  Non-duality does not accept the reality in creation because it does not see creation as real. It happens as a result of ignorance being super-imposed on reality. This all comes down to a failure to understand that the roots of existence are personal not impersonal. God is the supreme I AM when considered from the angle of life itself and he is Father when considered from the angle of created beings. We have both aspects within us and it is a gross error to think that one (the created aspect) can ever be dispensed with. It is a fundamental part of what we are and the very reason for there being something rather than nothing in the first place.

The error of advaita is that it thinks that reality is the absolute alone when it is the absolute and the relative together with eternal interaction between them. This is the Trinity.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Liberalism - So Good It's Bad

I've been asked why I've been so critical of modern liberalism in recent posts since, my questioner said, it seems to be the most reasonable political approach to the human condition, treating everybody with equal fairness to the good of all. But that's the point really. It may seem to be the fairest and most reasonable system - but only if you are denying the reality and purpose of God and the rather essential matter of what a human being actually is. So in a sense it is almost worse than a patently unfair and unreasonable system which everyone knows is unfair and unreasonable.

Liberalism might seem the best approach to the rational mind but then you have to assume that the rational mind knows best which is actually quite irrational. Why should it? Since it cannot explain itself, and any attempts it makes which have no reference to something higher than itself are clearly inadequate, it cannot be taken seriously as a final arbiter of the human state and condition. Liberalism may be the best current philosophical position of atheistic materialism based on reason but atheistic materialism is a system only kept in place by ignorance on the one hand and wishful thinking on the other. I submit that honest analysis, never mind intuition, religious teaching or revelation, shows it to be empty of any real substance. It only continues to hold sway in people's minds because it is not subjected to hard thinking. That may sound surprising but I believe it's true since free objective thinking is prevented by profound prejudice. Materialism is accepted by most people nowadays because science seems to confirm it but it does so because of the preconceived ideas of scientists themselves who transgress their limits when they seek to explain spirit in terms of matter or life in terms of the forms it takes. There is also the problem of the decline of religion due in part to its own shortcomings and in part to weak leadership. The fact we live in a more or less completely artificial environment also has a lot to do with our lack of awareness of spiritual reality. If we were more in touch with the natural world we would find it harder to think there was nothing behind it.

I condemn liberalism because it is the system under which we live today whether ostensibly left or right, for the secular right is liberal now in most social and cultural matters. If we lived under the Nazi yoke a dose of liberalism would be a very good thing. If we lived under the tyranny of any dictator then liberal movements would be right and necessary. Similarly if we lived with cruel persecutions of certain minorities. But we just don't nowadays. The pendulum has swung and it's swung too far. Now liberalism is used to deny the spiritual and the fact that there is a God who exists and has a plan for us. It's true that a certain sort of spirituality can be made to conform to liberal ideas but it is a humancentric sort which eventually breaks down because it sees the higher in terms of the lower and reinterprets God in terms of man. It eventually always leads to a dead end where God and truth are no longer present even if some kind of pseudo-spiritual reality might seem to be to the deluded subject.

It is just because liberalism makes large chunks of humanity satisfied with themselves morally and gives them the feeling that they are good people where they are now that it is so dangerous and so useful for leading people into spiritual darkness. Ostensibly to be a liberal is to be a good person and to care about humanity. What could be wrong with that? Everything if the humanity you (theoretically) care about is fallen humanity. God does not love fallen humanity, not as it is. He loves the souls that exist within fallen humanity and it is precisely because he does that he wants to bring them out of their servitude to sin. Liberalism is an excellent means of keeping those souls firmly locked in their sinful state. And that is why I condemn it so. 

There is also the question of whether liberals really do care about humanity or whether they care about thinking of themselves as the sort of person who cares. This is not a cynical comment. It doesn't apply to all liberals by any means but it applies to many. It's a phenomenon that seems to go back at least as far as Rousseau and Marx, both of whom seemed to motivated by an antipathy to God as much as anything else. Even the ordinary liberal who doesn't fall into this category is usually confusing nice with good.

It's long been recognised that liberalism is a kind of suicide cult or death wish from a culture that has lost its vision and any sense of real purpose or mission.
 Liberal ideas are a valuable corrective when an established order based on religion becomes corrupt or decadent but they should not become a replacement for that kind of order as they will inevitably result in the sort of society we have now when the relative takes precedent over the absolute and the immanent over the transcendent, both of which are pushed into the background or ignored altogether.Ideas of equality and freedom are good when there is rank inequality and suppression of individual freedom but they must always be seen in the light of higher truths and the fact that man as he is in terms of this world is not an end in himself. He has a spiritual end in God. 

In conclusion I condemn liberalism because it is a means to separate Man from God.The liberal order is currently trying to reprogramme humanity according to its materialistic/humanistic ideology but you can't go against nature unless it is towards spirit, so this will not end well.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Left, Right and Paradox

Left and right are currently further apart than ever. I don't think they will ever understand each other and, more importantly, the truth until they see that equality must always exist in the context of fundamental hierarchy and hierarchy must exist in the context of a fundamental equality. This goes across the board and can be applied in almost any context where there is disagreement.

There is a connection here to the dual reality of unity and multiplicity, and failure to understand it is the cause of so many problems. A basic spiritual truth is that paradox (or apparent paradox) exists but we find it hard to comes to terms with this because we look at the world intellectually. Understanding paradox, or what seems to be such to the intellectual mind, requires a more flexible intuitive response which doesn't need to force things into ideological strait jackets in order to be able to deal with them. Until we develop this we simply won't see a way forward out of our current impasse.

Monday, 6 February 2017

By Their Seeds You Will Know Them

I had a thought the other day which surely won't be original but had not occurred to me before. It was this. If you can judge teachers or teachings by their fruits (Matthew 7:16) surely you can also judge them by their seeds as well which in the case of a religion or philosophy means their founders. By this criterion Christianity comes out best, by some distance I would say, then Buddhism then various branches of Hinduism and Judaism (Abraham and Moses were great men but not perfect) and lastly, in the matter of religion, Islam. And communism, which is the modern religion for many people even though they don't call it by that name, comes out very badly indeed.

Just a thought.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Wellesley Tudor Pole

I've put a post on Albion Awakening about an interesting character of the last century who represents the best aspects of New Age spirituality with none of its sillinesses.