Monday, 9 June 2014

Beyond Oneness

The spiritual path is a path of transformation in that it must change us from what we are now into something completely other. Different traditions, looking at the same thing from different angles, express this in various ways, ranging from becoming what you already are by removing veils of ignorance to becoming something completely new, and much ink can be pointlessly spilt on arguing which of these is the more accurate description of the process. Having said that, I now consider that the non-dualistic philosophies that teach awakening to pure consciousness, the consciousness that is always ever-present behind the sense of 'I' and the coverings of form, are limited in that they don't embrace the whole of reality. They express a very important part of it, but reality is stranger and subtler and more wonderful than their rather one-dimensional (pun intended) view of it, and their denial of the individual, and the potential for individual spiritual growth, as well as the validity and purpose of the created world and the fact of a God who is infinitely greater than His manifestation within us as consciousness, make them incomplete assessments of spiritual truth. They grasp one aspect of it but, in so doing, fail to see that there is more. For complete understanding only arises when you realise that duality and non-duality are not mutually exclusive but two equally important parts of the whole.

Despite its current adoption by the West non-duality originally stemmed from Hindu and Buddhist philosophies and practices. Traditional Western approaches to spirituality, however, certainly since the time of Christ and probably going further back to Greek and Egyptian times, do not deny the reality of the individual. Indeed they regard that as central to the whole business of spiritual perfection. God is not reduced to a near abstraction, as is the case with most non-dualistic approaches, but is a living reality. He is not just 'life' but is actually alive. And what He creates is real, a truth that is effectively denied in non-duality. There is, therefore, a higher destiny for humanity than simple reabsorption into the One. It is the uniting of spirit and matter, God and Man, the Universal and the Individual, but in such a way that the latter, though transformed and its limitations transcended, is not swallowed up in non-existence. The self is not destroyed or seen as illusion (the ego may be but that's a different matter) but sanctified and made divine through grace, though a grace that is only possible to receive because of the efforts of that self towards its own purification and transcendence. For while you cannot merit grace (or become spiritual) through your own efforts, it is only through supreme efforts that the obstacles to grace (or spirituality) can be removed.

What I am saying here is that spiritual truth in some mysterious way actually goes beyond unity (or non-duality, if you prefer). The non-dualistic philosophies of the East that reduce everything to pure consciousness are completely logical and make perfect sense. And they are not wrong. They correctly perceive that duality is but a mask of unity, a mask that must be seen through if one would see and be what is. But they stop there. However there is more, and that more is the reason for and the gift of creation. Spiritual truth goes beyond the simple logic of oneness, enunciated to perfection by the Buddha, to something higher that is only made possible by the fact of manifestation in form. That something is the relationship between God and Man or, in other words, love. Love is the reason for all that is and it can only exist in duality. This is why I think that the union of the sanctified soul with its Maker goes beyond the enlightenment of the non-dualist. The latter discards the world of becoming to seek truth only in being but the former unites being and becoming to bring about something higher than either of them on its own. It combines the two to produce a new truth and a state of being beyond either of them. And this is why Christ, both in his teachings and in his person, presented a higher form of spiritual truth than did the Buddha. I mean this in no sense disrespectfully for I have always loved and revered the Buddha. But for him the highest truth was in pure consciousness, the ground of being, whereas for Christ it is in relationship. Christ unites in his person the two worlds of being and becoming, giving meaning to both, but Nirvana is the end of becoming which means it is the end of relationship and the end of qualitative growth. Essentially it discards the beautiful and the good in favour of the true alone. In Christ, however, all three co-exist equally and eternally.

This does not mean I think that the Buddha's enlightenment was in any way invalid. His achievement was unparalleled in that it penetrated to the very heart of being. He had purified himself of all desire and attachment and gone beyond identification with the mind as we all must. However I do suggest that it is not the final answer to the question posed by life in this world. Perhaps it was the final answer at that time but Christ brought something new, something that reconciled being and becoming in a way that might not even have been possible in Buddha's day.

When I look back at the teachings I received from the Masters who spoke to me I see that they support the interpretation of spiritual truth that I have outlined here. Of course, these Masters never went into theoretical details, being only concerned with the practicalities of spiritual instruction in the here and now. Matters of duality and non-duality would have been irrelevant to them as signifying no more than mental constructs. But the corner-stone of their teaching was the absolute necessity for love and humility, and these are virtues that are directly concerned with the self and its sanctification. They point to going beyond but including the individual. They are not qualities required for awakening or the dispelling of illusion so much as preparing the soul to become receptive for union with God, a union that takes one beyond the non-dualistic state of pure consciousness (in some senses analogous to that of Adam before the Fall) to one in which the self is transformed by grace into true divine being.  And this is not the transcendence of self but its sanctification. 

An image may help here. The non-dualistic enlightenment entailing the realisation of pure consciousness is like a clear blue sky, but the higher state of spiritual beatification introduces the radiance of a blazing sun into that sky. Is this duality? Of course, and that is the glory of creation!

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