Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue


Chapter 7: A Dialogue With Nonduality?


We have just seen how a dialogue between Islamic and Christian metaphysics could be a very fruitful one, but such a metaphysical dialogue could be extended to embrace Buddhism and Hinduism, as well. Here the initial difficulties would be more daunting given the lack of a common history and vocabulary, but if these obstacles could be overcome, the different traditions would have much to say to each other.

There is, however, one methodological issue that would have to be dealt with at the onset, and that is the difference between a speculative metaphysics and a practical one, or one that wishes most of all to contemplate the mystery of being and express it in concepts, and the other, that wants to go on an interior spiritual quest to realize the ultimate ground of things beyond all words. These two different kinds of metaphysics use words in different ways towards different ends. And if we keep in mind this fundamental difference, Christians can read Eastern "metaphysical" texts with profit and delight. A fitting symbol of the treasures that exist in the East can be seen in the Dalai Lama’s description of the libraries of the Portola Palace: "Here were rooms full of thousands of priceless scrolls, some a thousand years old… In the libraries were all the records of Tibetan culture and religion, 7,000 enormous volumes, some of which were said to weigh 80 pounds. Some were written on palm leaves imported from India a thousand years ago.1

Ippolito Desideri

Let’s take the example of Tibetan Buddhism which has a wonderful scholastic tradition of study and debate that has many parallels with Western medieval Christian scholasticism. These two great scholastic traditions have yet to really engage each other, but they could, and the life of Ippolito Desideri is a good symbol of that promise. Desideri was a Jesuit priest who spent years in Tibet in the early 18th century, but he was no mere traveler. He immersed himself in the Tibetan language, and even its philosophical vocabulary, and studied some of the major Tibetan religious treatises at a Gelugpa monastery in order to engage the lamas in debate on the relative merits of Christianity and their own religion. In this way he became perhaps the first European to study Gelugpa philosophy.2 In the course of this debate he touched on many of the topics that were to be taken up in later Buddhist-Christian dialogues, like the existence of God and the transmigration of souls. He tells us that, above all, he strove to understand the doctrine of emptiness which, in his mind, did away with the existence of an uncreated and independent God.3 After much personal effort and prayer, and consultation with the learned lamas, he finally felt he understood emptiness. It would certainly be interesting to see the results of modern studies in progress on Desideri’s works, especially his Essence of Christian Doctrine, written in Tibetan, where we find "the first historical engagement of the Summa with the Great Stages, the interaction of scholastic method of Thomas Aquinas with the scholastic method of Tsong Kha pa. Desideri opposes Thomas’ philosophy of being (esse) against Tsong Kha pa’s philosophy of emptiness (S: sunyata, T: stong pa nyid)."4

Desideri summarizes the Tibetan view of emptiness in his Essence as one in which "there is not even one substance established as inherently existent. They understand that all existing substances are viewed as empty, the emptiness of inherent existence itself."5 Elsewhere he writes: "Nothing exists because nothing has any essence by itself, and therefore, nothing exists which is not dependently originated or unconnected, unfettered, and without correlativity."6 As I said, it would be interesting to examine Desideri’s Essence further, and later we will take a look at this question of the existence of a self in more detail. But for the moment it is enough to look briefly at this issue.

Geshe Rabten

"All things instinctively appear to us as though they did exist independently, as though they were endowed with their own autonomous self-existence," writes the Tibetan monk Geshe Rabten in his Echoes of Voidness. One night, for example, a violent storm partially destroyed his hut near Dharamsala, and he repaired the roof by using a tree trunk as a pillar to support it. This pillar then became the object of his meditations. There was the tree trunk before him, but his reasoning led him to question its existence. That reasoning went like this: every phenomenon has the quality of a dependently arising event; it depends on a whole web of causes and conditions. The tree trunk, for example, depends on the living tree, which in turn depends on the sun and rain and soil. Each of the apparently existing things in front of us is a dependently arising event, and thus does not have its own autonomous self-existence. Each existing thing could therefore be said to be void, and indeed, voidness could be called "the ultimate mode of being of every phenomenon."7 With this kind of analysis, "not the slightest trace remains of anything being established autonomously, independent of its parts."8

From a Christian perspective, we accept the existence of the things around us as real. The pillar will still be supporting Geshe Rabten’s hut after he leaves. What common sense tells us is not to be disregarded, but to be reflected upon in order to come to a deeper philosophical perspective. Nor would we think to deny the fact that the things around us depend on a variety of conditions and causes. The pillar is in some real way connected not only with the tree, but with a web of causes that spread out to embrace the whole universe. There is even a way in which we could say that things lack their own autonomous self-existence because if we mean by this an independence of conditions and causes, then this quality cannot be applied to any creatures, but only to God. Then to say that things are void, or that voidness is the ultimate mode of being of phenomena is to begin to develop a notion of emptiness which is close to what the followers of Thomas Aquinas would call existence. Existence is the ultimate mode of things, and things, while they truly exist, exist in a limited way without possessing autonomous self-existence, but receive existence from Existence Itself, which is the proper metaphysical name of God. Then emptiness is not really about the non-existence of things, but the absence of inherent existence in the sense of autonomous self-existence. Therefore, the nothingness of Buddhism is not nihilism. It is not simply the absence of svabhava, or "self-existence" in ourselves and the things around us.

The thrust of the metaphysics of St. Thomas is to go beyond essence – without denying it – and to see essence in relationship to existence. The transcendence of being (essence) is not only negative, that is, non-being, non-essence, but eminently positive, indeed, the most eminently positive reality in terms of no-thing-ness, which is what Thomas calls existence, and which in Buddhism is called emptiness. This is not to say that Thomas’ existence and Buddhism’s nothing-ness are identical. They are not. But they are much closer than one might first imagine.


The nothingness of Buddhism has a long history of being expressed in positive terms, however illusive and mysterious these terms might be. The Dzogchen tradition in Tibetan Buddhism provides us with some wonderfully metaphysically rich texts and commentaries that the Christian metaphysician could enjoy pondering.

"The true nature or condition of all things is the great shunyata which is not just a vacuum, a void, an empty; but it is luminous emptiness. It has a quality of "isness," of suchness, the tathagatagarbha. It is the emptiness endowed with the heart of compassion or wisdom. It is called the natural Great Perfection, the innate Great Perfection, Dzogpa Chenpo; this great emptiness endowed with the core of luminosity, the inseparability of cognizance and emptiness, of awareness and compassion. Where truth and unconditional love are not different."9

This luminous emptiness, or isness, the followers of St. Thomas could easily apply to God as existence, itself, who is beyond all concepts, essences or forms. The same is true when Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche and Lama Surya Das write, "After his great awakening beneath the bodhi-tree in Bodhgaya, Lord Buddha said that the ultimate nature of the mind is perfectly pure, profound, quiescent, luminous, uncompounded, unconditioned, unborn and undying, and free since the beginningless beginning."10 And Christians could say with them that this is "the very heart of our original existential being."11 Here we are drawing close to our central question of the relationship between these kinds of experiences of emptiness and Christian metaphysics.

John Myrdhin Reynolds, commenting on The Golden Letters of Garab Dorje writes: "Shunyata, the state of emptiness itself, is the source of this primordial energy that brings all possible forms, even the universe itself, into manifestation… Thus, the Base, the Primordial State, is not just emptiness in the negative sense of void or nothingness, a mere absence of something. Rather, the state of shunyata, this vast empty space where emptiness and luminosity are inseparable (gsal stong dbyer-med), represents the state of pure potentiality. It is the space of dimension or matrix of all existence out of which all possible forms or manifestations (snangba) arise, like clouds appearing spontaneously in the empty open sky. It is not just that forms lack an inherent nature (rang-bzhin med-pa) or substance, but equally inherent in shunyata is the potentiality for the arising of forms; this is the meaning of luminosity (gsal-ba)… If shunyata were a mere nothing, then nothing would arise at all. But this pure nonexistence or nothingness contradicts our experience. Thoughts and appearances are arising all the time, arising continuously, and this is only natural. But equally, if forms were not empty, then there would exist no possibility for change because all things would be locked up in a static unchanging state of their own self-identical essence or inherent nature (rang-bzhin, Skt. svabhava)."12

This is an extremely powerful and moving statement of great metaphysical insight. Forms are empty of their own self-existence, and in some way are related to the matrix of all existence. Here it is called a pure potentiality, but it does not seem it would change the sense of the passage if it were to be called a pure actuality as long as this act were to transcend all essence, or as Christian metaphysicians would say, this act were existence, itself. Unfortunately, Christians have scarcely begun to explore the riches to be found in Tibetan Buddhism, with some exceptions like Bernard de Give.13

A Dialogue with Nonduality

In the last chapter we saw Toshihiko Izutsu suggesting the possibility of a dialogue between Islamic and Christian metaphysics. But he was convinced that the same core experience of nonduality could be found not only in Islam, but in Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. If that is true, then despite their differences, they shares the possibility of creating a nondual philosophy, or philosophical reflection on this core experience. And if that is true, then the way opens up for this nondual philosophy, now strengthened by seeing itself emerge from its concrete eastern forms, to enter into dialogue with Christian metaphysics. It is worth exploring this possibility by looking at Izutsu’s work further, and then at David Loy’s, which later and independently, made a similar case for the existence of a common core experience of nonduality in various Eastern religions.

Toshihiko Izutsu

Toshihiko Izutsu’s deep insight into Islamic metaphysics was part of a wider vision of what he called "a new type of Oriental philosophy," or following Henry Corbin, a meta-historical dialogue which would try to grasp not only what was at the heart of Islamic philosophy, but other major Eastern religions, as well, and allow them with a renewed sense of their own distinctive nature and energy to enter into dialogue with the West. His first attempt to do this was to become his masterful Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Survey of Key Philosophical Concepts. There his description of what he is going to attempt to do in his analysis of the work of Ibn ‘Arabi can be applied to his wider project. He wants to look at the central concepts of being and existence in Ibn ‘Arabi "to penetrate the "life-breath" itself, the vivifying spirit and the very source of the existence of the philosophizing drive of this great thinker, and to pursue from that depth the formation of the whole ontological system step by step…"14

Then he will go on to do the same thing in regard to the Taoism of Lao-tsu and Chuang-tsu. Later he will complete the same process in regard to Zen Buddhism in his Towards a Philosophy of Zen Buddhism and the reader of these studies is led to the conclusion that Izutsu found at the heart of each tradition what could be called an existential metaphysics centered on the relationship between essence and existence which had, at its heart, an intuition into being that, for him, was no different from what we are calling Eastern enlightenment. Clearly, he was keenly aware of the very different ways in which this enlightenment expressed itself in each tradition. But he was convinced that they shared a central vision in common, and therefore it would be possible to have a dialogue between this experience of non-duality and Western philosophy. We could go further and say with a Western philosophy that was truly an existential metaphysics.

Ibn ‘Arabi

It is worth looking briefly at Izutsu’s Sufism and Taoism to gain a concrete sense of the being and existence that he is finding in these different traditions. He is going to focus his attention on Ibn ‘Arabi’s (1165-1240) Fusus al-Hikam, or Bezels of Wisdom, and the commentary on it by Abd al-Razzaq al-Qashani (d. 1330)

Being in its highest sense in Ibn ‘Arabi means "Being qua Being", or "Something beyond all existents that exist in a limited way, Something lying at the very source of all such existents existentiating them. It is Existence as the ultimate ground of everything."15 Al-Qashani comments that in such a Being qua Being, "its existence is its own essence."16

What we are faced with here is once again with a deep metaphysical insight that is close to the one that lies at the heart of the Christian metaphysical tradition. But we are immediately also confronted with an issue that surfaced before. What is the relationship between the Absolute and the things around us? The Absolute, according to Izutsu’s reading of Ibn ‘Arabi, would remain unknowable if it were impossible for it to express itself in forms. But the forms, as long as they are in the Absolute, are in potency, and only become actualized in creation. There are various stages of the manifestation of the Absolute. The first is the archetype. Ibn ‘Arabi writes: "… the world is nothing but a self-manifestation of the Absolute in the forms of the permanent archetypes of the things of the world."17

The highest and most comprehensive name of God is Rahman, the merciful, to which Ibn ‘Arabi gives an ontological meaning. It "is primarily the act of making things exist, giving existence to them."18 "God is by essence ‘overflowing with bounteousness’ (fayyad bi-al-jud), that is, God is giving out existence limitlessly and endlessly to everything. As al-Qashani says, ‘existence (wujud) is the first overflowing of the Mercy which is said to extend to everything’."19 For Ibn ‘Arabi every archetype or essence asks for existence from God, and al-Qashani comments: "The permanent archetypes in their state of latency have only an intelligible existence (as objects of God’s Knowledge); by themselves they have no actual existence. They are desirous of actual existence, and are asking for it from God. When the archetypes are in such a state, God’s essential Mercy extends to every archetype by giving it a capacity to receive an ontological Divine self-manifestation. This receptivity, or the essential ‘preparedness’ for receiving existence, is exactly the archetype’s desire for actual existence."20

The many in the plane of oneness are "pure intelligibles and not real concrete existents. They are nothing more than ‘recipients’ (qawabil) for existence."21 They have, in Ibn ‘Arabi’s words, "not even smelt the fragrance of existence."22 Yet the names hidden in the Absolute seek expression in the world of external existence. Bali Efendi likens the Absolute to a man holding his breath and feeling the torment of not being able to expel it. When the breath bursts forth, it "is the same as God uttering the word "Be!" (kun) to the world."23 The notion of self-manifestation (tajalli) is central to Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought, and in its first and most intense stage the Absolute manifests itself to itself in self-consciousness, and this self-manifestation has occurred from eternity.

Izutsu has left us again with a keen appreciation of his depth of metaphysical insight, especially by signaling the importance of essence as "nothing more than recipients for existence," but he also leaves us with the same question we saw before of whether the Absolute is ontologically distinct from creation, or whether creation necessarily emanates from it.


If Islamic metaphysics can serve as a bridge between the East and the West, and therefore a way that the experience of enlightenment can be brought into relationship with an existential metaphysics like that of Thomas Aquinas, so can other Eastern traditions, as well, like Taoism, that philosophically articulate the same enlightenment experience. Izutsu looks at Chuang-tzu to see how he embodies "metaphysical concepts designed to explain the very structure of Being."24 Chuang-tzu wants us to see things in their essenceless state by means of an illumination (ming). This requires a loss of ego. "There no longer remains the consciousness of the inner ‘ego’ as the center and all-unifying principle of man’s mental activity."25 There is a certain oblivion we must achieve. In ordinary experience we are pushed and pulled by our pursuit of the things around us which constantly change. We reach a measure of freedom when we become like a mirror inside, which is still while the things outside continue to change. At a higher or deeper stage of oblivion things still exist, but they show themselves without limits or boundaries, and we become one with the ten thousand things. But at a still higher stage, we become united with " ‘the Mystery of Mysteries,’ the ultimate metaphysical state of the Absolute"26 before it begins to differentiate. Our egos fall away, and as a result the world inside and out disappears. We become identified with the way, or absolute reality. This is the stage of the void, or nothingness.

But as we descend out of this nothingness we begin to see that the way potentially contains the ten thousand things, but without boundaries among them. Further into the descent we reach the stage of pure essences by which each thing marks its own boundaries, and the absolute reality has become graspable in them. But if we descend yet further, the essences lose their living contact with their source, and we fall into an essentialism. So for Izutsu, Chuang-tzu’s metaphysics is an existentialism in the same sense that is to be found in Ibn ‘Arabi. It is not that the level of essence is being denied, but rather, when it is separated from its source which is existence, itself, then essences "in the sense of hard and solid ontological cores of things" are set up against each other in a fashion that goes against the way, or ultimate ground of things.

But even if essences seduce us into seeing things incorrectly, that does not mean that essences are mere illusions, and here we return again to Izutsu’s view of the relationship between essence and existence. Essences "are not ontologically groundless." They are not "sheer nothing."27 And he finds that his view is confirmed in Chuang-tzu’s beautiful description of the cosmic wind:

"Listen! Do you not hear the trailing sound of the wind as it comes blowing from afar? The trees in the mountain forests begin to rustle, stir, and sway, and then all the hollows and holes of huge trees measuring a hundred arms’ lengths around begin to give forth different sounds.


"There are holes like noses, like mouths, like ears; some are (square) like crosspieces upon pillars; some are (round) as cups, some are like mortars. Some are like deep ponds; some are like shallow basins…

"However, once the raging gale has passed on, all these hollows and holes are empty and soundless. You see only the boughs swaying silently, and the tender twigs gentle moving."28

Izutsu comments that when the hollows imagine that they are independently existing, and therefore making those sounds, they are wrong. "Not that the "hollows" do not exist at all. They are surely there. But they are actualized only by the positive activity of the Wind."29 Both for Chuang-tzu and Ibn ‘Arabi, existence is moving. It is not a thing. It is an actus. "No one can see the Absolute itself as ‘something’ existent, but no one can deny, either, the presence of its actus. And that actus is philosophically nothing other than Existence."30 For Chuang-tzu the Absolute has two faces. "In its cosmic aspect the Absolute is Nature, a vital energy of Being which pervades all and makes them exist, grow, decay, and ultimately brings them back to the original source, while in its personal aspect it is God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Lord of all things and events."31

David Loy

David Loy is both a Buddhist practitioner and student of Yamada Roshi, as well as Buddhist philosopher and social critic, and we met him before with his informal survey of Yamada’s Christian students. And it is from this perspective that he launches a vigorous criticism of the problems of our Western culture, a culture which is fast becoming a global one. He incisively analyses in "Trying to Become Real: a Buddhist critique of some secular heresies," our obsessive pursuit of meaning by way of money, fame, romantic love and technological power, and in "The Religion of the Market," he extends his analysis to capitalism and consumerism, or economics without a sense of the human values it is meant to serve. He fortifies this Buddhist critique by similar insights coming from psychoanalysis and existentialism, which themes he develops in his Lack and Transcendence.

What makes this a Buddhist critique is the solution he proposes for these ills. Our modern sense of ego-consciousness gives rise in us to a sense of lack which we try to fill by these various means like money, fame, etc. Why not strike at the root of the problem, which is the ego, itself? Why not bring to an end the duality between the ego and the things it pursues? "If a sense-of-lack is the inescapable "shadow" of our sense-of-self, then the only way lack can be ended is by ending the sense-of-self – that is, by transforming the sense of myself as a Cartesian-like, self-sufficient self-consciousness separate from the objective world, into a more relational awareness that is nondual with the world."32

Loy, in his masterful book Nonduality, shows that such a solution is solidly based not only on Mahayana Buddhism, but on the advaitan Vedanta and Taoism, as well. They all share a common nondual experience which they articulate in various ways which, on the surface might appear contradictory, but which, in fact, express different aspects of the same core experience. Therefore, Loy’s social criticism and the solution that he proposes takes on a new depth when we see it against this panoramic exposition of Eastern thought. Modern Western philosophy, he argues, has been enmeshed in duality from the time of Descartes, so it can hardly be expected to heal our afflictions that come precisely from duality. Why not seriously consider the philosophy of nonduality as a genuine alternative to modern Western philosophy and the social ills of Western society?

But just what is this nondual philosophy? It is not a philosophy in the modern Western sense of the term, or a philosophy which proceeds by way of concepts. Rather, it demands that we travel the narrow road of practice to our own experience of nonduality, which is called in the East enlightenment or liberation, and which we arrive at by meditation:

"Since the sense-of-self is a process of consciousness attempting to reflect back upon itself in order to grasp/ground itself, such meditation practice is an exercise in de-reflection. Consciousness unlearns trying to grasp itself, realize itself, objectify itself. Enlightenment or liberation occurs when the usually-automatized reflexivity of consciousness ceases, which is experienced as a letting-go and falling into the void and being wiped out of existence. "Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma.""33

Philosophy can never grasp nonduality because its attempts will always be "inherently dualistic and thus self-defeating."34 And thus, if the remedy of our ills demands transcending dualism, philosophy will remain impotent. Nondual experience, therefore, "must transcend philosophy, itself, and all its ontological claims."35

Let’s summarize the major points so far. Western society is afflicted by a craving for meaning that it tries to assuage in ways that will never succeed. A solution is to be found in transforming the ego by way of an experience of nonduality, an experience that can be found in various ways in Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. This experience, while it gives rise to various philosophical articulations, is not in itself or in its expressions, a philosophy in the Western sense of the word, but rather, it is attained by means of meditation.

This is a powerful argument that Loy has developed in detail. But what does it look like from the point of view of Christian metaphysics and mysticism? The Western philosophy that he has in mind is modern post-Cartesian philosophy bedeviled by a subject-object dichotomy, but this dichotomy does not exist in the same way in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Thomas would never imagine that the concept is known first, and then the thing itself. In the act of knowledge the knower and the known are one in an intentional existence, a super-existence in knowledge, and the concept is a purely formal means of reaching that new existence. In the same way, in mystical experience the human person becomes one with God through a gratuitous super-existence of love. Is this duality or nonduality? It certainly is not an ontological nonduality in the sense that the distinctions between things and between creatures and God is destroyed or discovered to have been faulty all along. But it is not the modern Western duality that Loy rightly takes to task.

It could be argued that philosophy, by the very fact that it uses concepts, will never be able to resolve the problem of the separation of the subject and object. But from a Thomist point of view there is nothing inherently wrong in the use of concepts or the use of reason, which is a genuine way of knowing despite its limitations. Further, the philosophy of St. Thomas is rooted in common-sense experience available to everyone. It is founded on experiences like the fact that trees exist and I exist, and I am not the tree, as we saw before. In short, it is a realism, and it looks at modern science as being implicitly realistic, as well. There are real things that we can know and which exercise causality on each other. While Thomism has to strive to be a truly "critical realism," it is a realism nonetheless, and while it can admit the existence and the importance of nondual experiences, it does not feel compelled by them to imagine that reality, itself, is nondual. It would be wrong to imagine that while Zen has a view of the intellect that transcends concepts and culminates in wisdom, or prajna paramita, Thomism rests on nothing but concepts. It, too, has a vision of wisdom, and understands that concepts must be vivified by intellectus, or intuitive insight.

Working from a nondual perspective, Christian mysticism, as well, will appear to Loy to be dualistic, and in need of going the final step to the realm of nonduality:

"…before we become completely enlightened, we shall experience the operation of the Absolute upon us as God. God is the Absolute seen from "outside," but that is the only way the Absolute can be seen, since in itself it is so devoid of characteristics that it is literally a nothing. God is God only in relation to me, but when there is no longer a "me" then the spiritual quest is over."36

"…theistic mystical experience might be understood as an "incomplete" nondual one. In it, there is the awareness of consciousness pervading everywhere, but insofar as the experience is an awareness of…, it is still tainted with some delusion; whereas complete union – as in Advaita’s Nirguna and Eckhart’s godhead – is to become that ground which is literally nothing in itself, but from which all issues forth."37 Here we have rejoined themes we have seen before.

This fundamental outlook remains basically unchanged in Loy’s "Comparing Zen Koan Practice with the Cloud of Unknowing." Here, too, from a Thomist point of view, Christian contemplation is not just a matter of love, while Buddhism uses the intellect. Rather it, too, is a form of wisdom, or a knowledge coming through love and not through conceptual means. It is understandable why Buddhists would focus on those aspects of the Christian mystical tradition that are most like Buddhism, for example, Meister Eckhart, or attach special importance to the Buddhist-sounding remarks of modern Christian practitioners of Buddhism, but in final analysis, it might be more fruitful for the Buddhist-Christian dialogue to concentrate on what appears most radically dissimilar between the two traditions, for example, the mysticism of John of the Cross.

When Loy writes in his article on The Cloud of Unknowing, "Can we then understand the difference in goals as due to the difference in paths..."38 perhaps he has come closer to building a bridge between the two traditions than he realizes. Is it possible that nondual means or paths will give rise to nondual experiences or goals which, in turn, give birth to nondual "philosophies" while Christian metaphysics, which makes use of concepts, arrives at a similar insight but expressible in conceptual terms, and Christian mysticism which goes by way of unknowing, but not the unknowing of Buddhism, arrives at another goal? This is not to say that all these different goals are not somehow intimately related to each other, and perhaps this is the primary subject matter for a deep Buddhist-Christian dialogue.

What is the nature of the ego that undergoes this process of de-reflection? If it is a Cartesian-style ego that is identical to self-consciousness, then we could say that the ego ontologically disappears. If the ego was always a construct, then it would, indeed, evaporate in the sense that it ceases to recur.39 But what if ego-consciousness is a reflection of the soul on its acts, as Thomas Aquinas would have it, or in more modern terms, the soul is much more than ego-consciousness and embraces the unconscious, as well? Then the experience of the loss of the ego is still a painful death-like experience, but it is not an ontological loss of the soul. Rather, it is a manifestation that the true nature of the soul is very different than we imagined it to be.

In final analysis, what we see emerging is the possibility of a metaphysical dialogue between nonduality, perhaps discovering itself in a new way, and Christian metaphysics. The real question is why hasn’t it been taking place. Here we return to the reasons that we saw earlier. For the most part the Catholic participants in East-West dialogue find it difficult to imagine that Christian metaphysics really has anything to say. And we have rejoined the attempts brought forth by Christians in Chapters 1 and 2 to explain Christianity in terms of nondual experience.

But it is one thing to point to the common core of nonduality that can be found in the East, and which we have just been seeing from a Buddhist perspective in the works of Izutsu and Loy, and which we could look at from an Islamic perspective in the work of Frithjof Schuon40 and Seyyed Hossein Nasr,41or from the point of view of transpersonal psychology in the work of people like Ken Wilber,42 or Michael Washburn,43 but it is quite another thing, and a much more problematical one, to try to fit Christianity into this nondual pattern.44



  1. Dalai Lama. My Land, My People, p. 54.
  2. Goss, Robert E. "Catholic and Dge Lugs Pa Scholasticism" p. 76.
  3. Desideri, Ippolito, SJ. An Account of Tibet. p. 105.
  4. Goss, Robert. E. "Catholic and Dge Lugs Pa Scholasticism, p. 79.
  5. Ibid., p. 80.
  6. Ibid., p. 86, note 10.
  7. Rabten, Geshé. Echoes of Voidness, p. 30.
  8. Rabten, Geshé. Song of the Profound View, p. 62.
  9. Khenpo Rinpoche, Nyoshul and Lama Surya Das. Natural Great Perfection: Dzogchen Teachings and Vajra Songs, p. 106-107.
  10. Ibid., p. 78.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Reynolds, John Myrdhin, Self-Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness, p. 281.
  13. de Give, Bernard.
  14. Izutsu, Toshihiko. Sufism and Taoism, p. 3.
  15. Ibid., p. 25.
  16. Ibid., p. 26.
  17. Ibid., p. 42.
  18. Ibid., p. 116.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid., p. 118.
  21. Ibid., p. 155.
  22. Ibid., p. 161.
  23. Ibid., p. 132.
  24. Ibid., p. 301.
  25. Ibid., p. 340.
  26. Ibid., p. 346.
  27. Ibid., p. 367.
  28. Ibid., p. 368-369.
  29. Ibid., p. 369.
  30. Ibid., p. 372.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Loy, David. "Trying to Become Real," p. 424.
  33. Ibid., p. 424-425.
  34. Loy, David. Nonduality, p. 5.
  35. Ibid., p. 4.
  36. Ibid., p. 291.
  37. Ibid., p. 295.
  38. Loy, David. "A Zen Cloud?" p. 51.
  39. Loy, David. The Nonduality of Life and Death, p. 166.
  40. Schuon, Frithjof. The Transcendent Unity of Religions.
  41. Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. Knowledge and the Sacred.
  42. Wilber, Ken, Jack Engler, and Daniel P. Brown. Transformations of Consciousness.
  43. Washburn, Michael. The Ego and the Dynamic Ground
  44. For three examples of this kind of dialogue, see the dialogue I had with Judith Blackstone and Philip St. Romain at, another with Dan Berkow at, and a third at the 2000 Tacoma meeting of the Society of Buddhist-Christian Studies with David Loy in the video: Questions at the Heart of the Buddhist-Christian Dialogue: David Loy and James Arraj. See also the video: David Loy: Zen Philosopher & Social Critic, and A Zen-Christian Interior Dialogue at




Chapter 8