|I am writing in response to your invitation to
contribute to the dialogue I just read. (Dialogues on
Nonduality) Thank you for addressing a topic
that seems important to me. I have had several similar discussions with a friend. I tend
toward the view that nondual reality is reality. This seems more philosophically
satisfying, more coherent, and more consistent with whatever experience I've had that
seems like "reality." This is where I turn, rightly or wrongly, to address
unresolved issues. However, the relational aspect addressed in your dialogue seems very
valid, and an indispensible aspect of life. I was very thankful that you addressed this
with such lucidity. It must be very important to work out relational matters that affect
emotion, thought, and perception. I perceive that for some people, the "nondual
approach" can be a way to "write off" the quality of relationship as
irrelevant (as Truth is nonrelational being Nondual) or to avoid dealing with personal
unresolved issues (because personal history is viewed as illusory and something to be
dropped). Perhaps the relational is included within the nondual, and the relational must
be worked through and not avoided for full nondual awareness to flower. My thoughts on
nondual reality related to your dialogue are this: if God, as you say, has no other and is
not other than oneself, this is really the end of discussion. There is no such thing as
approaching such a God, or getting closer and closer to such a God. There is no question
about having a greater or deeper realization of such a God. There can be no statement such
as "I had an experience of this once." Such a God is fully Present, is infinite,
has no dualities, cannot be observed from a separated position - Such a God is Realization
Itself, therefore subsuming all of time and space, all experience, all apparent beings. It
seems that to make such a God the subject of a discussion creates a duality, to make
points for and against such a God makes It into something it isn't, to talk about who has
had "nondual experience" itself inserts a duality. Thus, it would seem that God
might not be such a good word for nondual reality, even "now" might not be a
great word, that just as any word can be seen to include the idea "word," any
moment, any experience, any statement equally contains such a nondual "God."
This is the dilemma I come to whenever thinking about how to express, state, reveal,
characterize, or embody "nondual truth." But then it's not such a dilemma, since
it's already the case. Right? So then, all this discussion must just be for the enjoyment
of discussion, not to bring anyone closer to "the nondual truth." And we don't
need to think we're getting anywhere since everywhere and when is "there."
Everything is already in total relationship to everything, nothing is out of place, so
discussing relational issues is just itself part of an infinite process of relatedness,
yes? Thank you and peace be with you ever. Dan Berkow, email@example.com
Thanks for your thoughtful response. Is it possible we can make a distinction between an ontological nonduality and an intentional one? In an ontological nonduality there is no distinction in nature between me and God so that I can say that I am God. As you indicate, where do we go from here? What can we really say after this? What possibility is there for development? This kind of ontological nonduality doesn't seem to match my personal reality with all my needs and wants.
In an intentional nonduality, I don't have the same nature as God, but I can become like God through knowledge and love. Therefore, the way is open for me to try to know and love as much as possible.
Do Buddhists believe in an ontological nonduality? I don't see how Christians can, and so I would prefer to say that they are intentional nondualists rather than dualists. Sincerely, Jim Arraj
Nice to hear back from you, Jim - you wrote:
"Is it possible we can make a distinction between an ontological nonduality and an intentional one? In an ontological nonduality there is no distinction in nature between me and God so that I can say that I am God."
Wow. You raise some philosophically complex issues. Regardless of ontological assertions, it seems false to say that I am God unless my awareness isn't centered at all on partialized (ego driven) concerns. That is, the statement I am God implies a living Realization, which is falsified if it is simply a philosophical assertion. To arrive at the philosophical conclusion that "I am God," if I am not able to embody Totality awareness, becomes contradictory in the process of living. Thus, most people who might claim this would be better off letting go of their attachment to the concept (usually an ego-driven attachment). Nonetheless, you're correct that ontological nonduality means no separation between who I am and God if God is taken to mean ultimate Reality. Again and again, I come to the conclusion that ultimately there can be no separation. If there is an ultimate qualitative separation, then God has a limit and reality is duality and multiplicity. This leads to unresolvable problems philosophically, and in terms of living one's awareness. If God is dualistic, then there must be (as far as my sense of reality goes) a God beyond God, a Totality that includes God and whatever is not-God.
As you indicate, where do we go from here? We can only go into not-going not-doing. Pure being as such, speaking ontologically. The mind goes into silence into non-clinging.
"What can we really say after this?"
Exactly. Our speech at best can be metaphorical and poetic, "play with words."
"What possibility is there for development?"
The only possibility is development which includes the end in the beginning - timeless and hence different than our concepts of development within time and space. "I am the Alpha and the Omega" is not developmental in nature.
"This kind of ontological nonduality doesn't seem to match my personal reality with all my needs and wants."
Again, I agree. This ontological nonduality implies a dropping away of any fixation of awareness on "personal reality," "personal needs and wants." This seems extremely demanding to our usual way of thinking about ourselves and reality, and seems to require a total dropping of our conceptual system and ideas of who we are.
"In an intentional nonduality, I don't have the same nature as God, but I can become like God through knowledge and love. Therefore, the way is open for me to try to know and love as much as possible."
This seems like a useful approach, although it doesn't attempt to resolve the underlying duality. I think it is fine to know and love as much as possible, although the Buddha might be correct that hidden within such approach is an underlying dissatisfaction, a craving that might never be fulfilled. Yet if one accepted such dissatisfaction, perhaps one could go on this way and feel okay about it. Addressing the underlying duality with the intent to resolve it seems extremely demanding, close to impossible, but possibly worth looking at.
"Do Buddhists believe in an ontological nonduality?"
Definitely Hindu Advaita Vedantists do (with their belief in a nondual Self). With Buddhism, this is probably a more complicated question. Probably the direct teaching of the Buddha, and those who follow these, can be considered to frame their approach as epistemological (how and what we can know) and non-ontological (not addressing the meaning of "being" as such). That is, their approach doesn't support the concept of "being as such," as being is considered a relative and illusory concept based on transitory moments of perception. Everything is considered impermanent, everything has a noncontinuous aspect, allowing no concept of an ultimate or universal quality of being as such. This is especially true of Theravadin Buddhists, an approach that focuses on ending false ideas of self and extinguishing the craving for existence. I think Mahayana Buddhism, which is a later development, and which includes Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, most Chinese sects, as well as other Southeast Asian sects, speaks more to nondualism and is more ontological in nature. Compassion becomes more central of a concept here. Some Mahayana Buddhists, particularly those who support the idea of "Buddha Consciousness" or "Mind," seem particularly concerned with an ontological nonduality.
"I don't see how Christians can, and so I would prefer to say that they are intentional nondualists rather than dualists."
I see how someone could interpret the teachings of Jesus as pointing to ultimate nonduality. This would be where epistemology equals ontology, knowing = being.
This would be the pearl of great price. If Satan were interpreted as duality, this would be the meaning of "Get thee behind me Satan." This would explain statements such as "I am in you as you are in me and I am in the Father," or "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and without the Word was not made anything that was made." It gives a different meaning to the use of the word Father. This becomes especially valid if looking at the Hebrew letters in the word ABBA and the meaning of the letters. At any rate, one could love Jesus and feel that one was following the teaching of Jesus, although I am not sure whether one would conceive of this as "being a Christian" although one might conceive of it as "I am in Jesus and Jesus is in me." By the way, "Christ" is a Greek word with no Hebrew equivalent and almost certainly is not a word that Jesus used in his teaching (which occurred in Aramaic and was spoken mostly to Jews, who formed almost all of his early disciples and followers). To me, there is a big question whether the duality of Christianity didn't come later, didn't include Greek and Persian ideas, and wasn't inherent in the essential teaching of Jesus. This question, however, is not the most essential, as I am concerned more with the nature of Reality than historical questions about how the teachings incorporated into the New Testament were gathered and expounded.
I thank you very much for your input on these very important ideas.
Peace and shalom - Dan
There certainly can't be a separation between who I am and who God is because even in a Christian context we are wholly dependent on God for our existence. At the same time, I think there can be a distinction, and I don't think a distinction leads to the conclusion that God has a limit and reality is dual. To oversimplify, the rainbow of colors that exists doesn't denigrate the unity of the sunlight. In the metaphysics of St. Thomas God is existence, itself. And all creatures lack inherent self-existence if we can adapt this Tibetan way of speaking. But that doesn't mean that creatures don't exist. It simply means that they have limited existence that is wholly dependent upon existence itself.
Certainly my limited ego awareness has to be transcended in the sense of being put in relationship to a deeper center, but could we not imagine that center as both the existence of the soul and existence, itself, that is moment by moment giving existence to the soul? If I look at it this way, then it matches my ego experience which tells me I am not existence itself, for if I were, I could not cease to be. At the same time, my very limited and fragile existence is permeated through and through by the energy of existence itself.
If I were to fail to make a distinction between the existence of my soul and existence, itself, could I be led to a position much like that of the Advaita Vedantists? Sincerely, Jim
Dear Jim -
Nice to hear from you. You made several intriguing points.
"There certainly can't be a separation between who I am and who God is because even in a Christian context we are wholly dependent on God for our existence. At the same time, I think there can be a distinction, and I don't think a distinction leads to the conclusion that God has a limit and reality is dual."
I agree that distinctions don't make God dual. It's how the distinctions are understood and experienced that might make God dual in our perception, that is, which might create a dualistic perspective for us as we experience life. Your discourse raised the question for me:
If God makes all distinctions, who or what can place a distinction on God? At best, we can say God is "not this, not that" (the "neti neti") philosophy first expounded in ancient India, I believe in the Upanishads, and very important to the Advaita Vedantist Ramana Maharshi). Of course, the Upanishads would identify God and the self as "not two." By neti, neti, we would say God is not me, Dan Berkow, the identifiable separable being. But then, what of That which is aware of Dan Berkow (which I consider my essential awareness, beyond the changing body and perceptions - or in the terms you used, perhaps, "soul.") Any ultimate reality to who I am, whether it be considered awareness or something less definable, must not be separate from the nondual truth that is "not this, not this." Furthermore, in terms of the question, what is really "real," it must be That, which does not have distinctions placed upon It, but which makes all the distinctions. How are these distinctions made? It could only be that That, which is All, creates these distinctions within Itself (or just "Self") - I think this is where the Vedantins get the idea that Thou art That -- there is only That - seeing "other" than That is illusion --
"To oversimplify, the rainbow of colors that exists doesn't denigrate the unity of the sunlight. An excellent metaphor, from my perspective. There are different colors of light - this doesn't affect the reality of Light - by which each color exists and which truly is what is - the Light isn't separate from the colors and yet isn't defined by the colors.
"In the metaphysics of St. Thomas God is existence, itself. And all creatures lack inherent self-existence if we can adapt this Tibetan way of speaking. But that doesn't mean that creatures don't exist. It simply means that they have limited existence that is wholly dependent upon existence itself."
I agree with what you're saying here. So the question then becomes, what is existence apart from nonexistence? If to exist implies the possibility and eventuality of nonexistence, then God must be beyond either of these categories (neti, neti) the Unconditional One. If we conceive of ourselves as existing, then we will not exist - so then what is it that is here, now, supporting our existence and eventual nonexistence, which neither exists nor not exists? That seems like the big question to me, as well as in what way is That not our deepest or truest Self.
"Certainly my limited ego awareness has to be transcended in the sense of being put in relationship to a deeper center, but could we not imagine that center as both the existence of the soul and existence, itself, that is moment by moment giving existence to the soul?"
Yes, we could. I would imagine it as beyond distinctions and responsible for all distinctions. This would mean beyond time, as distinctions create time. I would imagine It as able to create all distinctions simultaneously, including relating all distinctions to all other distinctions - as any distinction creates a relationship, and all relationships end up being interconnected. Thus, I would imagine all of space-time instantaneously existing/nonexisting in inconceivable relatedness, with God neither apart from, nor contained by any of the distinctions formed.
"If I look at it this way, then it matches my ego experience which tells me I am not existence itself, for if I were, I could not cease to be."
You raise an intriguing point. If the ego experience is not existence itself (not beyond existing/nonexisting in my terms), then the ego-self must be illusory relative to the self or being of God, which Buddhists would call "emptiness" as not within any dualistic category. Then the question for me is, is there a "point" at which ego experience, as relative and transitory as it is, "touches" the Divine energy, the point you imply occurs moment to moment? At that point, what is it like? Am I me or God, relative or timeless?
"At the same time, my very limited and fragile existence is permeated through and through by the energy of existence itself."
Yes, this is what I would like to open up to - Reality beyond experience or time, yet somehow not separate from transitory experience and time.
"If I were to fail to make a distinction between the existence of my soul and existence, itself, could I be led to a position much like that of the Advaita Vedantists?"
Yes, I would think so. A position like the Buddhist idea of nirvana also, the ending of the separate existence based only on the desire to exist separately and the belief that such could be possible or real. To me, it is a question of boundary. It seems that boundary (self-other) occurs and is necessary to life in time. So to say I am boundless is to deny my life in time, and I think Advaita Vedantists tend in that direction. In some sense is regarding time as an illusion itself an illusory idea? Perhaps in some sense time as time is necessary and its illusory nature fulfills an aspect of Divine Reality that must be fulfilled. Some Vedantists might agree with this, that it is the perception of ultimate separation as real that is the illusion, not temporal-spatial experience. The position I am coming to about this is that Reality is within illusion and illusion within Reality. My life in time is, in some sense, of use or value to the Timeless One, which isn't apart from who I am, my being-time. This raises a question: is my consciousness of God somehow as important as God's consciousness of me? Perhaps these are "not two." William Blake claimed that eternity was in love with the productions of time. I'm reminded of Meister Eckhardt's statement, "the eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me." Perhaps our incarnation(s) in time are means to develop sufficient strength of self to be without "selfhood" completely - to have the strength to sustain God being in me as I am in God - certainly this is consistent with Jesus's message that I am in you as you are in me...
As I express these concepts, I'm aware that concepts can never give us a "true picture" of nondual truth -- there will always be, in conceptualizations, the duality between the thinker and the thoughts, the description and That which is described -- dualities occur anytime a position is established of any kind, for example the Christian perspective versus the Vedantaist perspective...yet this makes for interesting dialogues, which would never occur unless we had perspectives and positions - so thanks! and shalom - Dan
I sometimes get the feeling there is a real similarity between what the Buddhists are talking about when they talk about emptiness, and what St. Thomas is talking about when he is talking about esse, or the very act if existence, itself. St. Thomas has a whole very well articulated way of talking about the attributes of God - a sort of metaphysical kind of neti, neti.
But what we are up against here is the fact that he is talking as a metaphysician, and so we could say in an ontological mode where concepts still bear the weight of our knowledge even though they are pushed to their limit. No matter how "metaphysical" much of Buddhist and Hindu literature appears to be, I don't think they are talking in the same ontological way. The whole of their energy is directed towards liberation and in the service of that, transcending all concepts. Why should we be surprised that at the end of such a process there is no way to make a distinction between the existence of the soul and God as the author of existence? Why can't we say that they experience the existence of God in the very existence of their souls in such a way, that is, in a night of all concepts, that does not allow them to make a distinction between the two? Sincerely, Jim
Dear Jim -
How to contribute to this discussion