Monday, 10 March 2014

The Individual and the Non-Dual

Continuing with the theme of the last two posts I would like to consider here where individuality might fit into a non-dual scheme of things. For after all, if non-duality, as it is usually taught, is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth there can be no such thing as the individual. That is just an illusion caused by the faulty identification of consciousness with the processes of life, specifically with thought. It can be no more than an artificial construct created by consciousness mistakenly identifying with the material world, the world of form, movement, change etc. That is what a lot of people maintain, but to me this spiritual denial of the reality of the individual is almost as mistaken as the materialistic notion that life arose accidentally and has no meaning or purpose. In fact these beliefs are almost reflections of each other because they reach opposite, albeit you could say similar, conclusions through denying some part of the totality of life. What the materialist denies, of course, is spirit which is life. Materialism is the doctrine of death.

In the case of the absolutist non-dualist what is denied is the reality and purpose of the created world, and specifically the individual soul. To all intents and purposes non-duality concerns itself solely with a return to the source. Surely, though, we were not created just to sink back to where we came from into unexpressed being but, as Jesus said, to have life and life more abundantly. This is the meaning of creation and the glory of manifested existence. Why is there something rather than nothing? What I mean is why does unmanifest life manifest? Why are individual souls sent forth into the world of experience, into form, merely to return to formlessness and pure awareness? There must be a reason, a purpose for this. And there is. God created to become more, more love, more beauty, more creative joy, and it is the duality of life and form, spirit and matter, that brings this about and even renders such things possible in the first place.

I am quite prepared to be told that I have not understood non-duality, but I think that it is the non-dualists attached to their non-duality who have not understood life. Or at least they have not understood it in its completeness. Form is emptiness, true, but emptiness is also form and, what's more, form is form as well. As it says, God looked at the world and saw that it was good. Unless your philosophy can embrace all of these then it lacks something. If your non-duality makes you turn your back on the truths inherent in duality the chances are that you hold it in the mind, not as a living reality perceived in and by the heart. For life is both form and formlessness, and to deny it form is to deny God and the soul, and therefore, in a real sense, to deny life itself along with love, beauty and creativity.

It goes without saying that we must abandon the sense of a separate self, which is an illusionary construct existing only as a thought form and the root cause of our spiritual alienation. But not with the idea of returning to a oneness without distinction or quality. The illusionary nature of the separate self does not mean that the individual soul behind it has no reality. Only that, when that soul descends to the material level in order to further its development, it mistakenly identifies with the 'bodies' it assumes (mental, emotional, physical) in the process. But it, the soul, was created by God and has a true existence, as anything created by God must do. Of course, this existence is not independent of God and subsists entirely on God who has given it His own being, but it is authentic and should not be denied. As the Masters said in Towards The Mysteries, God made man Individual. Krishna was Individual. Christ was Individual, and these same Masters when asked "Do you believe in being Individual?" replied, "Yes, in being Individual, not a personality". The Masters who spoke to me were not personalities but they were the most fully individual beings, in the sense of being completely themselves, that I have ever encountered. 

This should not be misunderstood for the essence of spirituality is to go beyond the sense of oneself as an individual and to connect or reconnect with God as pure spirit. How are we to reconcile these two things? It is a matter of where we see the centre of our being. This must necessarily be God not our own individuality but that remains as the unique quality through which we express God. You might put things this way. Enlightenment doesn’t mean that you have become God and no longer have individuality, but that you are now identified with God in you instead of you in you. Your individuality remains but it is no longer at the centre. As St Paul put it, 'It is not I who lives but Christ who lives in me'.

The root of our being is in spirit which is the one reality that underlies everything, and the spiritual path has as its sole purpose the realisation of that. My disagreement with non-duality is not on the ultimate goal and the realisation of oneself as pure being, but with its tendency to dismiss the value and reality of the individual. Really it makes no sense to talk about love if you don't allow any validity to individual souls. The fact that non-dualists do talk about love shows that, on one level, they recognise a lack in their philosophy. Love was the purpose for creation, but this was not fully revealed until the time of  Christ who integrated in his person both Heaven and Earth in a way that had never been done before. That is the meaning of Christ being both Man and God, individual and universal. It is our goal too. Not the rejection or denial of matter/form but its conscious integration with spirit.

I mention God frequently in these posts. That's because God exists. But for many modern Western non-dualists, if He is allowed at all, He is reduced to the sidelines, dismissed as part of duality, the last thought. But that is obviously not the reality of God. It is just the concept of Him, and the notion of Him and us as separate. The fact is that God exists, and you cannot detach the personal God from the impersonal absolute. They are simply two ways of describing the same thing, relating respectively to being and non-being. You must acknowledge both if you wish to walk in the light of truth. I realise that Buddhism denies a Creator (as it does the individual soul, of course), but that is because of the Buddha's attempt to bypass the hidebound religious and priestly dogmas and doctrines of his day in order to get at the essential truth in its purity and simplicity. He was concerned only with the absolute but, rather as Krishnamurti did more recently, he threw the baby out with the bathwater. So the Buddhist denial of God is almost an historical accident. The reforms of the Mahayana several hundred years later were an attempt to correct some of the consequences of that, but still the lack of an awareness of God in Buddhism is a weakness of that religion. Buddhism has evolved to compensate for this in part, but for Westerners, not brought up in that tradition, to reject God in the name of a so called higher truth is unfortunate at best, and will not lead to any kind of true enlightenment. 

I have quoted the Masters' injunction to "Remember the Creator" often in these articles. They said this because they were aware of the the tendency of the more intellectual type of disciple, common today, to seek a form of spirituality that does not require acknowledging responsibility to and dependence on a higher power. In other words, to reject God as part of duality. But God is not part of duality. He, personal as well as impersonal, is the essence of reality, and without Him you would not exist. You may seek to remove ignorance and the sense of separation through self-enquiry and so, theoretically, awaken to the ever-present reality of the Self.  But this, without submission and surrender to the divine power that is without as well as within, can easily become yet another mental activity which can never (quite evidently) take you beyond the mind. And even if you do succeed in bypassing thought through this means how can you assume that what you find is on the same ontological level as God? Yet this is just what non-dualists do assume because they have insufficient understanding of the hierarchical levels of being, seeing only the relative (what we are now) and the absolute, pure being.

 I mean no criticism of the ancient scriptures or realised teachers of the past when I say that many contemporary followers of non-duality approach it too much on the level of mind and the intellect. In so doing they reduce spirituality to the psychological level, forgetting that, above all, it is of the heart. This is the risk when the esoteric is made public and taken up by teachers who have not yet fully realised its innermost truths. ‘Live simply in the heart and all mysteries will in time become known to you’, said the Masters. The instructions to have faith in God (Remember the Creator) and live simply in the heart might seem rather basic compared to discovering that you are the Self, and yet I must tell you that they are more likely to lead to the awakening of a genuine love and humility, and a true spirituality, than just meditation and self-enquiry on their own. Not that these should be neglected. I am certainly not saying that. I am only pleading for balance and wholeness in spiritual practice which should be based on an acknowledgment of God as both personal and impersonal equally, and Man as both individual and universal. Seek your source in pure being and see the world as the expression by love of that being. Eventually you will come to the point where questions of duality and non-duality are irrelevant because you will know that you are in God and God is in you so oneness and duality are not mutually exclusive, but both equally part of the whole.


Paul Hillman said...

Excellent stuff, William. You have comprehensively and emphatically tackled this issue over your last few posts. Judging by the result from the non duality site which picked up on one of your earliest blogs, or a small section thereof, it would be interesting to hear how some of the leading lights in non dualism , such as Rupert Spira and Jeff Foster,would respond to the posts and the points you raise.

William Wildblood said...

It’s all to do with whether the world has a purpose or whether it is just ‘play’ as those who don’t see the purpose are obliged to say. The fact is God wants to grow (life wants to increase), and He does so by multiplying Himself, by making self-conscious beings that grow up to become gods themselves. Individuality is an essential part of that process. Of course, you must go beyond the limited sense of yourself as an individual but that does not annul the fact of your individuality because the universal can only be known through the individual.

Another point to consider is whether the spiritual path just requires awakening to oneself as pure consciousness or has a creative side to it too, which involves active participation in the dance of life. You add your note to the universal divine harmony. I see non-duality as tending to focus too much on the pole of the absolute whereas a more balanced approach would integrate the two poles of life, being and becoming, life and form, spirit and matter, and that's what I have described earlier as the sanctification of the soul. It's what this whole world process is all about, and is why I think those who talk about evolving human consciousness are closer to the truth than those who say it is all here now, and you only have to realise that fact. In a certain sense they are right but from any practical perspective they are mistaken.

Because non-duality is a doctrine that can't be boiled down any further it can assume the aura of ultimate truth, but since it treats as non-existent or illusion things that do have their proper, albeit not absolute, degree of reality (and true place in the overall scheme of things) I would say it lacks a certain completeness.

Nevertheless the nature of this journey is such that at different times you focus on different aspects of the path so you might necessarily emphasise one aspect more than another at certain points on your journey. Eventually though you must weave them all into a whole.

ando said...

Mr Wildblood,

Is is too simple to say that the dance of life is a manifestation of the Absolute? It is the old wave to ocean analogy. Reading the post I was reminded of what we tell newcomers in AA. "You are unique just like everyone else."

William Wildblood said...

The dance of life is the manifestation of the Absolute, certainly, and an important part of that manifestation is through us as individual (and yes, unique) souls. The waves and ocean analogy can be misleading, I feel, because we are more to life than waves are to the ocean. We’re more than just ripples on the surface with no real substance to us. We’re not separate but we are individual and that’s the miracle of creation which I think is not given due significance in traditional (and modern) non-dualistic teachings. Waves are just disturbances on the water that come and go. We, as unique individuals, are more than that though, of course, ultimately there is only the ocean. But becoming one with the ocean does not mean that we disappear into the depths or, indeed, that we now are the ocean. Words are difficult here because we are dealing with levels of formlessness but you could say that we are the ocean in essence but not in totality. That is, we are God as Man but we are not God as God.

ando said...

That really puts it into perspective and is appreciated, sir.


Neerav said...

God is both form and formless.......both duality and non-duality.......both the Absolute level and the Relative level.......etc... why try to put limits on THAT which is limitless and infinite? That is the criticism that I have on a lot of these "non-dual" mystical and spiritual traditions.

Moonlight lady said...

This article and those of Paul brunter association should indeed be forwarded on to fundamental nondualists indeed, eg Rupert spira, Jeff foster, Roger castillano etc and perhaps then a more broad view of the whole mystery of the paradox within the totality can be acknowledged instead of blind adherence to the idea of nihilism which according to Paul brunter accounts of the ancient masters would simply be an insult to both God and man.
I'm so glad to have somewhere to go with all of this that fits with the paradox of duality with nonduality and the humbling realisation that nobodu having a human individual experience can ever no the absolute whole truth which is both in and of itself relative. Thank you for this refreshing take on the subject.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks for your comment Moonlight lady. You' re right that there is something nihilistic about non-duality.

What a lot of non duality fundamentalists don't realise is that their philosophy, in that it is basically a version of advaita Vedanta, comes from Sankara's cherry picking of the Upanishads. That is, he just took what suited his thesis (probably derived from a Buddhist influence) and ignored the rest. The fact is non dualists fail to see that the integration of being and becoming is a far greater thing than being alone. In a funny sort of way, since Creation and the world of nature represent the feminine side of existence, they are misogynists though I bet they haven't thought of it like that!

They would possibly counter that they don't deny the world of multiplicity, they just see it as unreal in terms of absolute reality but then they would claim that only the absolute is real so in effect they do deny it. I'm afraid that in this instance the inconsistency of their philosophy makes them talk out of both sides of their mouth at the same time.