|The following dialogues are part of an edited
exchange between Judith Blackstone, Philip St. Romain, and Jim and Tyra Arraj.
Judith Blackstone is a psychotherapist and student of Eastern contemplative traditions, and a meditation practitioner for 25 years. She is the author of The Enlightenment Process and other works. You can contact her at http://realizationcenter.com
Philip St. Romain is active in retreat and internet ministry work, and the author of Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality. You can contact him at http://www.shalomplace.com
Jim and Tyra Arraj are your hosts here at Inner Explorations.
Dialogues on Nonduality
This dialogue began with a reading of an article of Judith Blackstones that contained the following passages:
Enlightenment is the realization, the lived experience, that we are made of pure consciousness; that pure consciousness is our fundamental nature and our ultimate reality; and that everything else in the universe is also made of pure consciousness, so that our own being is fundamentally unified with all of nature. As one fourth-century Chinese sage put it, "Everything in the universe is one and the same root as my own self." In enlightenment, we experience life from the vantage point of that root. We experience our own self as unbroken consciousness, pervading our body and our environment. This means that there is a continuity between our inner and outer perception. We have a sense of vast space, as if all our perceptions were one single tapestry of reflections in a single mirror. We feel that we are made of clear, empty space, finer than air, unbounded and motionless. Within this vast space moves the changing progression of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions. I call this unbroken, pervasive dimension "fundamental consciousness." Before we realize fundamental consciousness, we identify ourselves as our sensations, feelings, perceptions, ideas, memories. But when we realize fundamental consciousness, we recognize that these discrete, transitory experiences come and go within the fundamental ground that is our true identity.
Philip St. Romain responds: I've just read your article on "Defining Enlightenment" and found it excellent. I came upon this experience over a decade ago and it's been deepening since. My book, Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality describes some of the early struggles with it (the energy part is still a mess, at times!). I've also got a web page that describes something of the experience and its relation to the Christian journey.
Jim and Tyra Arraj respond: Phil St. Romain was kind enough to send us a copy of your article defining enlightenment because we work with him, trying to clarify the relationship between enlightenment and the Christian mystical and metaphysical traditions. We found it very interesting, and clearly seems to be flowing from your own experience, and there are any number of points that we would love to talk to you about.
Judith Blackstone responds: Dear Jim and Tyra, Thank you for your email, I very much appreciate the opportunity to dialogue with you on my favorite subject. As I wrote to Philip, in my own spiritual practice I combine prayer with non-dual meditation. Although my cultural background is Jewish, I was brought up in a non-religious home and I am entirely unschooled in Western religious disciplines (my background in Eastern religion is fairly extensive, beginning in 1974, and includes Zen and Tibetan Buddhism and Hindu bhakti, as well as non-dual Vedanta). I have, since childhood, developed a sense of communion with a spiritual presence, and I am very interested in the relationship between this experience and the experience of non-dual realization: enlightenment. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on this subject, and of course discussing any questions you have about my article. My last book, The Enlighenment Process, begins with that article and goes more deeply into the subject-discussing how the I-thou relationship with the cosmos, other people and nature deepens as we realize the all-pervasive, unified realm of our most subtle consciousness. I do have several long-time students who are devoted to the Christian path, and so have been able to explore some of the problems and questions that occur in the process of combining Subtle Self Work (the non-dual techniques that I teach) with Christian life. Peace, Judith
Judith Blackstone responds: Dear Phil, I am very glad to include Jim and Tyra in our dialogue. I am curious about what you mean by the mystical graces that come and go, although in my life too, the peak moments now are times when the communication between myself and the spiritual presence makes itself felt in some unmistakable way. But some experiences seem to be moments of deepening in my realization of non-dual consciousness. The deep love that I associate with mystical experience I know to be part of the intrinsic nature of this subtle dimension that is both my own consciousness and the consciousness of the cosmos. Sankara himself advises the worship of Krishna and includes hymns of praise along with his profound analysis of non-duality. I also believe that all this is very important, and that we are on a terrific frontier, helping to discover a more usable, more subtle and experiential path of religious experience. I certainly believe you when you say that you've tried almost everything, and so perhaps you know that is important that the breath and energy become more and more refined as you stabilize in non-dual consciousness. In my experience, this is done most effectively by accessing the subtle channel that runs through the vertical core of the body and initiating the breath from that channel. (It feels as the subtle channel breathes a combination of consciousness and breath, a kind of "mind-breath"). The subtle core of the body is our entranceway into non-dual consciousness and also the pathway of our most subtle level of energy. This will gradually unravel the knots. Sincerely, Judy
Judith Blackstone responds: Dear Jim and Tyra, In an attempt to answer your question: how clear should non-dual consciousness be? My experience is of my own consciousness pervading or expanding out past, for example, the walls of the room, pervading the sky, the earth, and also, at the same time, pervading my own body, so that it is difficult to determine whether this is really just my own consciousness or, as the Vedantists maintain, the one, unified consciousness of the cosmos. This consciousness is a unifying element in all of my experience, making everything I see (furniture, trees, etc.,) empty and transparent at the same time as it is full of its own nature. You also asked if you could be hindering your realization through your attitudes or way of meditating. Yes, of course there are meditation techniques more helpful than others for attuning directly to non-dual consciousness. The biggest problem I've found is that meditation can deepen the fragmentation in our being because we tend to meditate in the part of ourselves that is most open. This is not something that most spiritual teachers seem to address but it is very important. It is also important to penetrate inward to the core of the body. Zen does not mention the core of the body, but koan practice can achieve this penetration indirectly through exercising the mental level of the body. Shikan-taza may eventually lead to this inward penetration, or it may not. Shikan-taza can lead one to focus only on the space outside of one's body and thus deepen the fragmentation between inner and outer experience. In terms of attitudes, there is a tendency in the West to try to transform oneself through reason alone. (I did get to read some of your website, and I will return for more when I have more time.) Even intuition is not really the basis of transformation. The realization of non-dual consciousness is a transformation of consciousness itself, or to put it another way, it is an attunement to or realization of our most subtle consciousness. This consciousness pervades our whole body, so it is a transformation of our whole being. It is not an "aha" experience, but a change in the very texture of life itself. Thanks for writing. And thanks to you too, Phil, I enjoyed your letter. Do you get to California at all? I am there several times a year; perhaps we can discuss all this in person some day. I will have a website up soon and will let you know my URL. Sincerely, Judith
Philip: Yes, I know this experience well: have had it many times. Why could it not be considered the spiritual consciousness of the soul, which has a cosmic dimension as well as a personal one? Christian metaphysics would maintain that the spiritual soul "contains" the lower levels of being, which includes animal, vegetable, and physical.
Judith: The biggest problem I've found is that meditation can deepen the fragmentation in our being because we tend to meditate in the part of ourselves that is most open. This is not something that most spiritual teachers seem to address but it is very important.
Philip: I know what you mean. I seems to me that this problem is more acute among those who do concentrative forms of meditations (zazen, mantra, vipassana, etc.). It's not as accentuated in the receptive modes (discursive prayer, centering prayer), for the intention is more engaged, and transformation takes place through the transformation of the intentional level and then to the rest of consciousness.
Judith: In terms of attitudes, there is a tendency in the West to try to transform oneself through reason alone.
Philip: Maybe among Western philosophers, but in the Christian tradition, it is the transformation of intention that is primary. Reason ought to work to encourage, guide, and support this transformation. When it takes the lead, however, all kinds of problems emerge.
Judith: (I did get to read some of your website, and I will return for more when I have more time.) Even intuition is not really the basis of transformation. The realization of non-dual consciousness is a transformation of consciousness itself, or to put it another way, it is an attunement to or realization of our most subtle consciousness. This consciousness pervades our whole body, so it is a transformation of our whole being. It is not an "aha" experience, but a change in the very texture of life itself.
Philip: I'm still not sure that this is the same thing as the experience of God, however. As mentioned above, I think it's a very deep experience of the soul, perhaps where the soul is receiving its existence from God. If I can attune to it, then it must, in a sense, be "mine." If God is an-other, then I cannot really attune to God's consciousness, since that belongs to God, and not to me. If God cares to share it (grace), then I can experience it. My experience confirms this distinction between cosmic states and mystical contemplation.
Even in a cosmic state, one cannot access the inner processes of another being. There are boundaries in the universe, which indicate the reality of created forms. I can feel the life of a bird inside me, and know something of what it feels like to be a bird. But I am not the bird, nor can I tell you what it will do next. This is even more obvious with another person. See what I mean? Same, too, with God. If there is a God who is "not-me", then I can enter deeply within myself to rest in my inner connection with God, but this does not mean that I am God, nor that I have necessarily accessed the inner nature of God. This, it seems to me, is a crucial point in the dialogue between Eastern and Christian mysticism.
Judith: Thanks for writing. And thanks to you too, Phil, I enjoyed your letter. Do you get to California at all? I am there several times a year; perhaps we can discuss all this in person some day. I will have a website up soon and will let you know my URL.
Philip: Thanks, Judy. I don't get to CA very often. If you ever want to stop by in Wichita en route, feel free. Looking forward to reading your book, and visiting your future web site. Peace, Phil
Judith: Dear Phil, I also think that the crucial difference between the Eastern and Western paths involves whether or not there is a deity separate from ourselves in the same way that other people or animals are separate from ourselves. This actually seems to me to be a point of irreconcilable difference, and I find something curiously satisfying in that. One seems to either believe in God as deity or not. Personally, I do not feel that there is such a God, acting on its own initiative, separate from myself. Even though I can feel God's presence in nature, and I actively practice cultivating relationship with that presence, and even though I have experienced moments of dialogue with that presence, my deep belief is that basically this presence is my own, as yet unrealized, consciousness. I also do not make any distinction between my true self and my soul. The teaching that has made most sense to me, that is most aligned with the beliefs that I probably brought to my search for explanation, is the Hindu non-dual teaching that my true self is basically one and the same as the one true self of the cosmos. Along with this is the belief that the more attuned to my true nature I become, the more my own will is one with the will of this fundamental, all-pervasive intelligence and love. I also believe that grace, the reception of all that I need in each moment, is a basic reality in nature. So again, the more subtle, whole, spontaneous, and so forth that I become, the more grace I receive. And I also believe that this most subtle consciousness does encompass, or is the basis of, all levels of being.
The Eastern and Western views of non-duality and duality, or deism, cannot truly be integrated, as far as I can see. We can use the techniques of both to deepen our spiritual experience, but that experience will probably always be somewhat conditioned by our belief. I think that it would be interesting to compare spiritual experience, having acknowledged from the beginning this irreconcilable difference. I would also like to hear more about what you mean by the transformation of intention. Sincerely, Judy
Jim and Tyra Respond: Dear Judy, The relationship between contemplation and enlightenment is certainly a tough one to talk about, yet it does seem to be a critical issue and a perennial one. It is not simply that Buddhists and Hindus are nondualists, and Christians are dualists. There certainly appear to be Hindus who are theistic, and perhaps Buddhists, as well, and it is not really accurate to call Christians dualists without a lot of qualifications. It seems that when we just listen to the kinds of experiences people are having, there are two broad categories of them. There are experiences of God in the form of some kind of interpersonal relationship, and then there are experiences of nonduality. It would be hard to write off the differences between as due to only differences in language and culture. This, I think, is the crux of the problem, and it is only accentuated today as there begin to be a small group of people who seem to have had both kinds of experience.
In your own case simply as experiences, are they the same? Of course, as soon as you try to talk about them, then it is difficult to avoid coming down on one side or the other. But that is a different matter. Let me put it this way. Christians are nondualists in terms of knowledge and love, but they make certain distinctions on the level of being. I can be God through the transformation of love, but I am not God in an ontological sense. This kind of distinction seems harder to make coming from the Eastern side of things. It is as if the very way or method by which the nondual experience is reached makes it very difficult to reflect on the experience in a properly philosophical way.
Do tell us some more about yourself and the work you do, and where you hang your hat. We do travel through California most years, and we are not that far away from San Francisco, at least by Western standards - 367 miles! Sincerely, Jim and Tyra
Judith: Dear Jim and Tyra, I agree with you that the difference between contemplation and enlightenment is not a simple matter of cultural distinctions. However, the ontological oneness of the individual self and God is more emphasized in the East than in the West. It is this question of ontological oneness that produces what seems to be a difference in attitude, between the supplicant/ celebrant/ devotee of dualistic religion and the embodied wholeness and in some sense existential aloneness of the nondual practitioner. I am aware of both attitudes in myself and I give expression to both in my spiritual practice. However, as I wrote in my last note to Phil, I do not think that what we believe to be true is necessarily a matter of choice. Whether it be from my upbringing or sensibility I cannot believe in a God that is ontologically separate from nature, while I know many people who cannot believe otherwise.
The experiences of contemplation (I would use the word communion to describe my own experience) and enlightenment are different, somewhat like the difference between having a feeling and expressing a feeling to someone else. My practice of cultivating non-dual consciousness involves an inward penetration to the subtle core of my body, while my cultivation of my relationship with God involves a focus of my own heart and mind on a point distant from myself, either in front of me or above my head. The flow of love and also dialogue between myself and this distant point is also different than the insight that might arise in my non-dual awareness.
I do not know what you mean by "properly philosophical". Could you elaborate on that? If you email me your mailing address I will send you some material about my work. I will be in Marin County, right near San Francisco, during the second week of September (I don't know the exact dates yet). I will also give a workshop in Subtle Self Work (that's what my work is called) at Esalen September 11-13. I teach at Esalen about twice a year. When not in California I hang my hat in Woodstock, NY where I live with my husband. Thanks for keeping in touch, Judy
Jim and Tyra: Dear Judy, Let us try to sum up our sense of where this discussion is at. It appears to us that at the level of experience it is possible to distinguish between a nondual experience and some sort of relational experience. But as soon as post-experience reflection enters in, then the difficulties start. For example, if I have on my head my nondual cap, and then try to reflect on the nature of the relational experience I have been having, it is going to come out in a nondual way.
Is it possible that there is something about the very way that nondual experience is achieved that makes any post-experience reflection nondual? Therefore, when working out of that nondual context, any reflection on the relational experience ends up making it sound nondual, or making it sound like relational experiences are somehow incomplete nondual experiences.
A simpler way to say all this, though it is an oversimplification, is that we are dealing with nondual experiences by way of the mind, and relational experiences by way of the heart. Therefore, when it comes to understanding the relational experience, the mind takes over and in one way or another puts it into a nondual context. The real question is how can we reflect on relational experiences without doing this? This seems to call for another mode of reflection, which for want of a better word I called philosophical, but that is really not a good word. It would be better to say that in the midst of our love relationships and our relational kinds of meditations, we can get a sense of a transcendent dimension to love. In some way we participate in a love that is greater than ourselves. We need to find some way to talk about this very mysterious kind of transcendence that does not immediately put it into either nondual categories or overly dualistic Christian ones.
We would love to hear more about your work. If you ever get up here - we are near Crater Lake in southern Oregon - we would love to have you come see us in the middle of the wilderness here. We are the only people in 100 square miles. Sincerely, Jim and Tyra
Judith: Dear Jim and Tyra, I hope that I have not implied that the relational mode of experience is less complete than non-dualism. My perspective is only that it is a different belief system than non-dualism, and that it is not my belief system. I do not at all agree, though, that non-dualism is of the mind, and dualism of the heart. Non-dual realization is an attunement to a dimension of consciousness that pervades every bit of our being. It contains inherently within itself the qualities of love and intelligence. Although it can be realized in various ways, the subtle core of the body is the entranceway into non-dual consciousness. So we cannot have much non-dual realization without entering deeply within the heart chakra. To realize non-dual consciousness is to have a felt experience of love pervading one's whole body and one's whole environment simultaneously.
In my book The Enlightenment Process I do write about relational spiritual experience as an enduring aspect of the spiritual path because we never completely realize the whole of non-dual consciousness pervading our entire being and cosmos. So there is always something beyond ourselves that is mystery in the sense of being beyond our ongoing reach, that we can tap into through prayer. But I know that this is still looking at relational experience from a non-dual point of view. So I am saying that the I-thou experience is incomplete non-duality, but I am saying that this incompleteness is the enduring condition of human consciousness. However, from my point of view, we progress, very gradually, in the direction of non-duality. I'm not sure that we can reconcile the two different belief systems, but only respect and acknowledge the differences. There are so few people in the world who know of the spiritual dimension altogether, that the difference in belief of whether the mind and heart of God are ontologically separate from our own seems, although interesting, fairly trivial. I am always very glad, even relieved, to meet someone who lives there life with the knowledge of and love for the spiritual dimension. I would like to hear about your spiritual experiences. I would love to visit with you one day. I also live in the country, but not in the kind of wilderness that you describe. I will send you some material on my work. Sincerely, Judy
Jim and Tyra: Dear Judy, I read your book The Enlightenment Process and that has helped me better understand what you are doing in your work, and the vocabulary you have developed to do it with. And it has also clarified some of the e-mail exchanges we have had. It is fascinating to see you try to bring people to enlightenment outside of a formal Eastern context, and by making more use of the body and psychotherapy.
I think that all of us - Phil included - are in basic agreement on the experience of enlightenment and its importance. Where we begin to diverge is about the question of how mystical or relational experiences of God relate to it. Let me go back to some things that you have said. "I have, since childhood, deveoped a sense of communion with a spiritual presence, and I am very interested in the relationship between this experience and the experience of non-dual realization: enlightenment."
"My practice of cultivating non-dual consciousness involves an inward penetration to the subtle core of my body, while my cultivation of my relationship with God involves a focus of my own heart and mind on a point distant from myself, either in front of me or above my head. The flow of love and also dialogue between myself and this distant point is also different than the insight that might arise in my non-dual awareness." Both of these statements seem to point to the same kind of experience that we are talking about, but when you comment, that is when we begin to diverge.
"Even though I can feel God's presence in nature, and I actively practice cultivating relationship with that presence, and even though I have experienced moments of dialogue with that presence, my deep belief is that basically this presence is my own, as yet unrealized, consciousness."
There are two questions. First, do we agree that on the level of experience these two experiences do not appear identical? The other question is, if we agree, can we find some mutually agreeable way to describe the relationship between enlightenment to this communion type of experience? We will stop here and wait for your response. Sincerely, Jim and Tyra
Judith: Dear Jim and Tyra, Yes, I think that we do agree that the two experiences, enlightenment and relational, are not identical. I don't know if we can agree on the relationship between these two experiences, although I think that the differences are so beyond our certainty that they are simply a matter of differences in subjective belief, or in attitude. I do not believe that the God that I pray to is fundamentally different from my own self. "To know God is to become God", as the Hindu text asserts. This means that I do not believe that the God that I pray to is watching me, judging me, approving or disapproving of me, or will intervene in my life on his own initiative. I do believe in the phenomenon of grace, but see it as a principle in nature, as part of an inherent growing/healing mechanism in nature. For example, Phil has said that we cannot know the mind of God anymore than we can truly know the mind of any person in our lives. In practice, I also believe this is true, for the totality of consciousness is beyond us, but in principle I believe that eventually we can know the mind of God as we continue to realize ourselves. I believe even that whenever we truly know our own mind we know something of the mind of God. What is your view? Sincerely, Judy
Judith: Yes, I think that we do agree that the two experiences, enlightenment and relational, are not identical. I don't know if we can agree on the relationship between these two experiences, although I think that the differences are so beyond our certainty that they are simply a matter of differences in subjective belief, or in attitude.
Philip: I think that somewhere in all this, philosophy has a role to play in helping to articulate the differences and similarities. Of course, philosophy cannot do this perfectly, nor can it validate all experiences. But it can help. Don't you think?
Judith: I do not believe that the God that I pray to is fundamentally different from my own self. "To know God is to become God", as the Hindu text asserts. This means that I do not believe that the God that I pray to is watching me, judging me, approving or disapproving of me, or will intervene in my life on his own initiative.
Philip: What I hear you saying is that you don't believe in a God who is a being transcendent to your own self. I don't believe God is separated from myself either. The self is in God in a manner similar to the body being in the soul. But I would say that God is also transcendent to the self, in that my being is contingent and the mystery beyond seems not to be. This is philosophy, I know, but it's also a pretty basic fact of my experience -- contingency, that is.
Judith: I do believe in the phenomenon of grace, but see it as a principle in nature, as part of an inherent growing/healing mechanism in nature.
Philip: Yes. I know what you mean. Again, however, Western philosophy/theology would speak of different kinds of grace. Natural grace enables us to know God through natural means--e.g., the immersion of self in God and cosmos, the order of the universe, etc. It is within the grasp of all human beings to know God in that manner. The grace of revelation is knowledge of God which cannot be obtained through natural means, however. As you know, revelation is a cornerstone of Christian theology. It's also a pretty complicated topic, but one which cannot be dismissed in East-West dialogue.
Judith: For example, Phil has said that we cannot know the mind of God anymore than we can truly know the mind of any person in our lives. In practice, I also believe this is true, for the totality of consciousness is beyond us, but in principle I believe that eventually we can know the mind of God as we continue to realize ourselves. I believe even that whenever we truly know our own mind we know something of the mind of God. What is your view?
Philip: Yes, the important phrase is "something of the mind of God." There surely is knowlege of something of the mind of God which comes through growth in self-knowledge. To put it in a spousal metaphor, however, might help. I can know something of my wife as I grow in knowledge of my self. Truly. The more I realize my own defensiveness, and weaken the force of projection in our relationship, the more truly I can see her as she is instead of as I imagine her to be. Our interaction becomes more authentic, enalbling deeper self-knowledge and deeper knowledge of her. Hence, detachment is very important in relationships, and the East has much to teach us concerning a spirituality of detachment. There are things about my wife that I will just never know as a consequence of my self-knowledge, however. There are aspects of her own inner life which are inaccessible to me until she reveals them. This revelation of her self to me is a kind of grace, or gift, which I cannot obtain through the exercise of my spiritual faculties.
While I can certainly affirm the experience of God known through contact with the mystery that is within and beyond self, I've never understood why so many working from an Eastern paradigm find it difficult to accept the possibility that God is also a transcendent Being capable of Self-revelation. It seems that one is thereby confining knowledge of God to one's experience (I don't mean that to sound like a criticism.) Can you help me understand this a little better? Gratefully, Phil
P.S. I'm in agreement with you that enlightenment is not simply of the mind and relational mysticism of the heart. I think that's been clarified nicely by you and the Arraj's in subsequent posts.
Judith: Dear Phil, First, I have nothing against philosophy. I think that Eastern religion offers several very eloquent philosophies within Buddhism and non-dual Vedanta, and certainly Shankara and Nagarjuna, among many others were great philosophers. I only feel that philosophy, both East and West sometimes seems to elaborate upon itself, rather than upon human experience.
I also feel that God is transcendent to the self in that most people never entirely realize God. But you are again comparing the knowledge of God to the knowledge of another person, and here is where I differ from you. I understand your puzzlement that people adhering to an Eastern paradigm find God as an ontologically separate deity hard to accept. I often wonder, of course, just the reverse. Why do people working from a dualistic paradigm find it so difficult to accept that God may be, ultimately, entirely knowable-- that is, God may be nothing more (or less) than our own consciousness. But this true difference is belief seems to exist. Of course, I'm not insisting that I know for certain any of this. So when you say, can I accept the possibility: yes, I can. I just don't think or feel that it is so.
Please explain to me what you mean by the grace of revelation that cannot be obtained through natural means? What is it that is not natural? Sincerely, Judy
Judith: Dear Phil, First, I have nothing against philosophy. I think that Eastern religion offers several very eloquent philosophies within Buddhism and non-dual Vedanta, and certainly Shankara and Nagarjuna, among many others were great philosophers. I only feel that philosophy, both East and West sometimes seems to elaborate upon itself, rather than upon human experience.
Phil: Quite so. In fact, it seems that the secular philosophies pretty much cancel each other out. Apart from the facts of human spiritual experience, it can become reason reflecting upon concepts and building skyscrapers of words. I have no use for that kind of knowledge. I recognize the contribution of Eastern philosophy, and believe it complements Christian theology in many areas. . . that Christian theology can only be enriched by its encounter with Eastern philosophy, much as it has been in its encounter with other traditions. I was only trying to say that philosophy can help us to relate different experiences to one another.
Judith: I also feel that God is transcendent to the self in that most people never entirely realize God. But you are again comparing the knowledge of God to the knowledge of another person, and here is where I differ from you. I understand your puzzlement that people adhering to an Eastern paradigm find God as an ontologically separate deity hard to accept. I often wonder, of course, just the reverse. Why do people working from a dualistic paradigm find it so difficult to accept that God may be, ultimately, entirely knowable-- that is, God may be nothing more (or less) than our own consciousness.
Philip: I know what you're saying, and I see your point. I suppose the most obvious answer to your question why dualists believe God is ontologically separate is not for philosophical reasons only, but experiential ones as well. There are, as you know, innumerable reports of religious experiences that people have of "God breaking in," as it were, interrupting their lives. I've had these, and have been privy to hear many describe this in spiritual direction and e-mail discussion lists. Their experience is that this encounter is with a being radically different and "other" than themselves and that, henceforth, the spiritual life unfolds in a relationship between self and God. I'm sure a non-dual tradition could interpret this in a number of ways, but would this honor the basic facts of experience?
Judith: But this true difference is belief seems to exist.
Philip: Yes, and a mighty force belief is (for evil and for good). But what I'm suggesting is that one's belief in God as dual partner is not merely a matter of belief, but a conclusion based on experience as well. To tell someone who's encountered God that they just believe it was so--that it was really another level of themselves they encountered--would be incongruent with the basic intuitions flowing from the experience itself. We'd just as soon tell them that the sun is another level of themselves, or a bird. See what I mean?
Moving from such an encounter into an ongoing relationship with God can also bring understanding of one's inner connection with God, and also a variety of unitive experiences (volitional, intellectual, affective, awareness). And yet, even amidst all these, there remains the recognition that one is involved with an-Other Being.
Judith: Of course, I'm not insisting that I know for certain any of this. So when you say, can I accept the possibility: yes, I can. I just don't think or feel that it is so.
Philip: Well, with you, I must humbly bow before the mystery of all this.
Judith: Please explain to me what you mean by the grace of revelation that cannot be obtained through natural means? What is it that is not natural? Sincerely, Judy
Philip: What I was bringing up is the distinction between natural and supernatural. This distinction has falllen on hard times in certain theological circles, but I think it's still quite valid. It is to say that, in the West, it is believed that God has disclosed to us information that was quite out of reach of human consciousness. Perhaps my more theologically astute friends from the forest could pick up the thread here since the matter of revelation is one about which I myself have many questions. Thanks for taking the time to dialogue! Peace to you this day, Phil
Judith: Dear Phil, Jim and Tyra, I do know that people have had spiritual experiences that felt strongly that God was other than themselves. While I respect their experience, and certainly would never try to convince them that they are mistaken, their experience does not convince me that God is other. That is because my own experience is that I began as a child and young adult in relation with a God that felt like a presence other than my own, and as I grew in my attunement to that presence I realized that it was not different or separate than my own. Thus my belief is based on my experience, as well as on the accounts of experience by people who are far more realized than myself. However, I do not intend this description to in any way persuade someone else to believe as I do. I believe that there can be many different kinds of experience, and many different interpretations of the same experience. I would hope for some consensus on the idea that we cannot truly know what is ultimately true, but can only follow the path as it unfolds before us, and teach what we learn on that path to people who are interested.
I am in complete agreement with Jim and Tyra's description of fundamental consciousness manifesting as a loving person that is both the source of our being and the goal of our journey. As I say in my book, I feel that fundamental consciousness contains all of the essential qualities of our existence, including love. I would be interested to hear the specifics of your experiences with God, and how, if at all, you go about cultivating that experience. Thank you for continuing to write. Sincerely, Judy
For a further discussion, go to More Dialogues on Nonduality.
Now it is your turn to contribute to this discussion. Send us your questions and comments: firstname.lastname@example.org