Subsequent to the exchange outlined in the previous post another voice appeared to argue the advaita case. This person put forward the view, common to Buddhism and advaita, that the sense of individual identity is an illusion and allowed it no reality at all while I took my customary position that individuality is a real thing even if identification with it must be transcended if one is to step outside the world of conditioned existence and limitation.
He began (again in italics).
"You said "Of course, God is not separate from us. Of course, we are God because there is nothing else but we are also ourselves. That is the wonder of life, that the One and the Many can and do both exist together without contradiction."
I say that statement is only true in the world of Maya. Otherwise there is only Self/God - nothing else. How can there be something independent of God? How does that imagined entity function without/independent from God? Where is the power/energy for that imagined entity = you, coming from?"
I replied as follows.
"I don't say there's anything independent of God but what you call the world of Maya is a real world because it is God's creation. That's my perspective. We as individuals are real because we are created so by God. When you refer to creation as maya you are starting from the assumption that it is not real so your argument is a circular one which I don't accept.
Liberation/enlightenment, whatever you want to call it, only has any meaning as an individual achievement even though it can only happen when an individual transcends identification with individuality. Yes, there is only Self/God but that Self/God expresses itself through countless individuals, and these endure even after they have realized their identity as the Universal Self. I know this view is rejected by some as it seems to put some duality back into the picture but without some kind of duality there's no room for love, and love is the reason for there being something rather than nothing.
Strict non-dualists can see no point to this world and so they have no explanation to offer for why existence exists other than to surmise that God/the Self got bored*, but a much more reasonable idea is that God creates real beings (who then, given freedom, have to realize their own 'godness') because in this way he multiplies himself. Non-duality plus duality or unity plus multiplicity is a more complete and more comprehensive doctrine than non-duality alone, and also accords more with logic and experience not to mention common sense. You are right to say that enlightenment cannot be an individual goal but what is left behind in enlightenment is not individuality but identification with individuality which is not the same thing. "
My partner in the debate responded.
"Okay, you are obviously rejecting non-duality and that brings you into the duality camp. You see, there is no rejection in non-duality. "Free will" cannot be rejected since you cannot reject something which does not exist in the first place. But it's clear to me now that this "POV" is eluding you. Of course there is no soul, it's a term used by many philosophers who did not understand non-duality and therefore insulted Self/God in conjuring up this soul which supposedly is "relating" to Self/God on a "divine" level."
To which I replied.
"I think that you are confusing the individual and the ego, but the ego comes into play when the soul (not the Divine Self but the individual soul) identifies with a body and mind and creates the separate self. This, I agree with you, has no true reality (though it must have existence of some kind or we wouldn't all fall victim to this illusion as a matter of course), but the soul behind it does and that's the origin of free will which is actually essential if you want a universe with any kind of creativity or love or even interest in it. So I'm not saying the body/mind is you, we're in complete agreement there, but the soul behind it is even if it is the destiny and duty of that soul to transcend its individuality and realize itself to be a manifestation of the Supreme Self. If there wasn't this soul there'd be nothing to realize the Self. You can't say it's the Self that realizes itself as the Self because that is always the case. In the matter of this realization it is the Buddha or Ramana Maharishi or Mr X or whoever who has realized. I think advaitins forget that we are multi-leveled beings and reduce existence to the most fundamental part of it, pure being, ignoring the rest. It's like reducing a tree to its roots (sort of, don't take that too literally). Do you really reject free will? That's your choice (not very subtle point intended) but then your philosophy is really just spiritual Skinnerism which is little different to materialism."
"The only reality is Non-Duality. Whatever happens in duality, on this and other worlds, is only to finally wake up from this dream in duality and realize Self=Non-Duality. So it is really Self "going back" to Self, that's very clear in Non-Duality, utterly illogical and preposterous in duality."
I felt myself to be confronted by an ideological inflexibility which I have frequently observed in non-dualists who become so attached to the admittedly very powerful idea of non-duality that they are blinded to what is really real. When pushed they may concede that advaita embraces duality as a relative truth (actually traditional advaita does not do this), but the fact is it is only allowed for dullards who haven't yet awoken to reality. It's the snake which is seen to be a rope when ignorance is removed, but it has no real existence. It is not seen as an integral and essential part of reality which is what I believe it to be, in conjunction, of course, with an overall inner oneness which is always the underlying essential truth.
I suggested that if my fellow debater could accept that unity and multiplicity co-exist, even though multiplicity derives from unity, then we would have no grounds for disagreement, but then that would have radical implications for how he approached the spiritual path and that's the reason I think a correct understanding of duality and non-duality, and how they relate to each other, is so important. But he was not tempted by this proposal leading another contributor to the discussion to make the point that what many non-dualists fail to grasp is that the drop of sea water is not the ocean. In his words, it may be consubstantial with it but it is not identical to it.
It was time for a summing up of my position and so, like a barrister in a trial, I sought to make my case for the judge and jury. Does the individual have real existence?
"You will not accept the reality of free will but only an individual can realize the Self though it can only do so by going beyond identification with its limited self. And yet individual identity remains even after the upadhis* have been dis-identified from because, unlike the ego or separate self, it does not depend on them. It remains as the vessel in which realization takes place and the means through which that realization expresses itself. It is a true and real thing.
Yes, of course, only God is, there cannot be any independent existence outside of God, that would be a nonsense, but real enlightenment as far as human beings are concerned is not just absorption into pure being. It is the perfect and complete integration of being and becoming, individual and universal. Otherwise you have no truth, no beauty, no goodness, no love, no anything really. You diminish the Self by not thinking it capable of creating real things. I repeat, of course, only God is real in the ultimate sense but though our individual existence is entirely dependent on Him, it is real and it endures, and it does so because there is something more than pure being when the Self manifests and that is relationship.
Non-dualists keep playing the neither real nor unreal card to describe this world and everything that is not absolute being but they tend to use this as a get out of jail free card whenever the deficiencies of a purely non-dualistic position are shown up. In truth, there is no such thing as neither real nor unreal. It is just a clever catchphrase designed to cover up the flaws of an argument. There is relatively real but even relative reality has its own proper and truly existing reality. You can't have your cake and eat it too but that's what many non-dualists seek to do when they conditionally accept duality while at the same time rejecting the consequences of that acceptance.
For advaita enlightenment means the dissolution of the individual (or the understanding that there never was an individual, if you prefer) but a more comprehensive view sees it as the integration of that individual into the real which is a kind of divinization, and actually only that makes sense as a reason for the Self to manifest at all. If there were nothing to be gained why bother? I will say this though. When the next Night of Brahma comes round and everything sinks back into mahapralaya* the advaita position will be the correct one (even though the seeds of individual selves will remain). But until then it is only a half truth because it allows no real existence to multiplicity, and the truth is that the One and the Many are both equally part of the fabric of existence."
Throughout this discussion I had made no reference to my experience with the Masters or to comments of theirs that confirmed the position I was taking (such as the instruction to merge with the Universal Self, which implies the existence of something that merges, or their references to higher Masters which indicate qualitative differences among realized souls and further progress after enlightenment) because that is not something that could be proved or substantiated in the context of an argument of this kind. Inadmissible evidence you might say! However there is no doubt that they demonstrated and taught the reality of the individual soul even if in their world and consciousness all souls are one, united in God. The Masters are the living proof of the dual reality of the Individual and the Universal. In their persons they demonstrate the love, the beauty, the wisdom and the truth of the soul that has gone beyond itself.
*(1) This had actually been suggested earlier on in the discussion!
*(2) A Sanskrit word that refers to the sheaths or bodies or energy fields (for instance, mind, feelings etc) that surround a being and with which it usually mistakenly identifies itself. Much of the spiritual path has to do with purifying these 'bodies' of misqualified energies be they those relating to ideas, attachments, desires, prejudices or whatever it might be. They can also be regarded as the locus of both sin and ignorance.
*(3) The dissolution of the universe on all its levels, both physical and spiritual, in Hindu cosmology. It takes place at the end of a cosmic cycle of manifestation.