Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Absolute and the Personal

A while ago someone commented on my post The Non-Duality Trap recommending a particular teacher who (in his words) "has a miraculous way of moving far beyond an intellectual understanding of non-duality, with a deep Presence of direct experience with Oneness".  I responded thus:

'I don't know the person you mention but I know of similar people. I see their teaching as more psychological than spiritual.  At their best they are showing a way to bypass the mentally constructed ego and identify with a kind of universal consciousness but consciousness is not God and should not be mistaken for him. God is the author of consciousness and to confuse the depths of one’s own soul with God is a spiritual error made by many seekers today who shy away from fully acknowledging the reality of the Creator because they are still influenced by the illusions of materialism.

If reality was pure impersonal being they would be correct but in fact there is no such thing as pure being in the abstract. Being needs an instantiation to be real and that is the Personal God with whom we, as spiritual seekers, should seek a union in love. This is the duality that goes beyond non-duality.

There are many people teaching half truths today. By all means learn from them but know that the best they can offer is a sort of clearing of the decks before true spirituality can arise.'

This brings up something which I think is perhaps the single most important question in spirituality. Is the absolute beyond the personal or is the personal present at the deepest, highest level of the absolute?  I would give an unequivocal yes to the second option even though this would be to disagree with Advaita Vedanta, supposedly the most advanced form of Indian metaphysics, with Buddhism as conventionally understood, with Platonism, as far as I grasp its implications, and with the Traditionalist school of thought of Rene Guenon and Frithjof Schuon. But it is in complete agreement with Christianity. 

I should make clear that I don't believe this because I am a Christian and therefore must believe it as a matter of my particular religion. I believe it because Christianity seems to me to express the deepest truth. That the personal is the base of everything makes sense intuitively but also rationally. Because how could absolute oneness with no differentiation within it practically be any different to nothing? How could anything ever arise? How could anything ever be other than pure unmanifested being if pure unmanifested being was at the root of everything?

If oneness really is undifferentiated how does anything come about? But if God is love then everything becomes clear. This world makes sense and has a purpose as do our lives in it, lives that enable us to grow spiritually.

An impersonal absolute is not that different to materialism. In the one case there is only matter. In the other only spirit. In both cases there is a blank oneness. But if there is differentiation, even in fundamental oneness, the fact of our existence as individuals is explained and justified.

What the non-dualists forget is that God is not limited even by his absoluteness or oneness. 

That the absolute is impersonal rather than personal appeals to those whose path is knowledge and whose grasp of the importance of humility is a little lacking. I'm now going to say what might seem a shocking or absurd thing. It is a way nowadays encouraged by the dark powers. Don't think that once you turn to spirituality the devil gives up on you. In fact he attacks you all the more relentlessly and tries to lead you astray all the more thoroughly. You are now a threat to him and he wants to nullify that threat and bring you back to his camp. A false spirituality suits him just as much, if not more, as materialism. The reason that an impersonal absolute is false is that fundamentally it denies love. Of course, it will acknowledge it theoretically because it must but actually it relegates love to a secondary position and that means that in practise it negates it. Nothing is more spiritually dangerous than this. The devil doesn't mind how spiritually knowledgeable we are (he is very spiritually knowledgeable himself) but he can do nothing against love.


ted said...

I just blogged about this topic myself. What spurred it on was a recent interview that Jim Carrey gave which caused a lot of social media chatter. "Is he nuts?" was the thought by many, but realized he was trapped in the Advaita shuffle.

William Wildblood said...

Very good post, ted (yours not mine!). Advaita can be such an easy labyrinth to get into and such a hard one to get out of.

ted said...

Thank you!

I recommend Robert Bolton's books also. He's quite adept at both Advaita and Christianity, and tends to offer some great correctives to non-dual perspectives.

William Wildblood said...

I've read a couple of Robert Bolton's books and one I even did a post about.

I agree that he should be much better known.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever come across John Rowan? I had not until a therapist friend and I were discussing therapy and its aims. I argued that therapy was based in the material and that most of its practitioners were atheists, and had bought into the materialist concept of the universe. My friend argued that this was not the case, that, in fact, humanistic/integrative therapists were open to the spiritual, and helped their clients to explore the spiritual. She said that she was impressed by Rowan. Apparently, he is famous amongst therapists, and they look to him as someone to be respected for his insights int the spiritual. I wondered what you would think of his ideas, and his work. Does this man really tap into the spiritual in any way, or is he really talking about some touchy-feely emotions that he thinks are of the spirit, but which are firmly based in the material? If you have time, or the inclination, it might be interesting to look at his website.

William Wildblood said...

I’ve not heard of him but I would tend to go along with your assessment that therapy, of any description, is a materialistic thing, not useless but not that useful either compared to a proper religious understanding which would basically comprise anything good that therapy has to offer and a lot more.

Many people nowadays call themselves spiritual and say that their work is grounded in spiritual principles, but I would see a litmus test of authentic spirituality, especially for Westerners, in the attitude to God. Does the individual believe in him and, if so, is he primary? Therapy is more about man’s relationship with himself than man’s relationship with God. Get the second right and you really don’t need the first at all. And the first can never lead to the second.

The word humanistic puts me off unless it is coupled with Christian and that comes first.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - It is a different kind of argument; but one problem with impersonal monism is how we could ever know it was true.

I can see that a personal god who loved each of us individually; would make it possible that each of us could know about the nature of reality.

But I can't see why or how we would each be able to understand an impersonal reality that had no meaning or purpose or relation to us, personally.

I personally find this kind of consideration a compelling reason to assume that there is a 'personal god', and indeed a god who loves each of us individually; and indeed it suggests that we each have an intended-role in this god's creation.

William Wildblood said...

Bruce - precisely! Advocates of monism would probably say it's a matter of experience but there still has to be a mind that interprets the experience.