Philip St. Romain on Enlightenment
and Christian Spirituality

For information on how to buy the latest edition of Philip St. Romain’s book, Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality, go to

The following essay and the discussion it provoked can be found at Shalom Place discussion thread.

I have a problem with statements like "no one exists" and quibbled with Bernadette Roberts many times over her, "God is everything that exists . . . except the self." What I would like to suggest is that enlightenment is only a perspective on reality, but it is not the whole truth. Because the created human soul is spiritual and interfaces with God cosmically, enlightened people (who are very few, by the way) are given to experience -- generally for a brief period of time -- a perspective on reality from the vantage point of this cosmic interface. Because this perspective is not mediated through the mind, a profound non-duality becomes manifest, and a moral perspective from the vantage point of unity begins to inform one's actions. In many ways, Christian contemplative experience is similar, but it is also significantly different.

What I would like to opine, here, is that enlightenment, though a wonderful experience, is not the real goal of Christian spirituality. I would also suggest that the kind of practice one embraces moves one toward enlightenment or, in the case of Christian spiritual practice, toward a relational union with God. So one must ask oneself what one is really seeking, and why? Do you want enlightenment? If, yes, then you will need to deconstruct your human consciousness so you can eventually perceive reality without the inconvenient mediation of the mind and will. That's possible, as the Buddhists and advaitan Hindus give witness to, but you're doing to have to pay a huge price. You're going to have to sustain an intense spiritual practice to keep your "illusion-bound" human consciousness deconstructed--counting breaths, repeating mantras, doing yogic postures, and all sorts of other exercises intended to frustrate the re-integration of the mind with the body and spirit. If that's what you want, go for it.

Christian spirituality is not about all that, however. We are about renewing the human person in Christ, and of finding the divine in our ordinary human experiences. The essence of Christian spirituality, even in its most apophatic contemplative manifestations, is relationship: with God, other human beings, creation. Relationship implies duality--a very ugly word, I know, but we take it for granted that creation is real, that I am real, that my wife and children are real, that I am not them, that they are not me, that we are not God, and in the end, that this is all very good, for it makes possible relationships. Even the God we worship is essentially relationship, as are all things in the universe in relationship. Goodness is not unity, but quality of relationship. When this quality is unimpeded by selfishness and infused with active willingness, unity emerges on its own. This unity is not of the sort where existents lose their identity in "The One," but where they are more themselves than when they are isolating in selfishness. Unity in love differentiates. Duality is real, but it is duality in God, who is also duality, or Trinity, even while Being One.

What this all means is that one must be careful about the kind of faith/beliefs one brings to spiritual practice, for these set up a kind of a-priori receptivity that disposes us to receive from reality what we're really asking for. You want to lose yourself and be one with the universe? That's what will probably happen, then, with lots of hard work at repressing some basic human inclinations. You want to relate with God? OK, but you'll have to watch out for all kinds of crazy beliefs that dispose you to see God as naught but an extension of your ego. In other words, in Christian spirituality a proper theological formation is indispensable, and that's hard work. Healthy Christian spirituality and theology go hand-in-hand; you can't have one without the other. Sorry, it just won't work, which is why I've spent so much time writing about that in my life. This is the last thing people seeking enlightenment really want to do, however, as that's all b.s. going on at the level of mind. And that seems to be the impasse between East and West, in my opinion. It's a pretty big one!

What we need to ask is if we want to know what Jesus Christ came to reveal to us? If the answer is yes, then you're on the Christian pathway, and you'll have to embrace those "ugly realities" like Christian community, learning the Bible, etc. If no, or if you think Jesus is saying the same thing as Sri Ramana Maharishi, Buddha, Krishna, etc., so it really doesn't matter which one you pick--they're all the same, just using different language--you're going somewhere else and I can't be of assistance with regard to kundalini or anything else on those other pathways, because I don't know them and am not traveling them.

Perhaps this all helps to clarify some of the limitations I have concerning advice to those on advaitan pathways. I don't really understand what kundalini is doing in that context, as I'm not of those traditions and have only experienced it in the context of Christian spirituality. In some ways, I guess, kundalini is kundalini and is always doing the same kind of work. So I can speak of that, but not much more.