I had a comment on an old post recently that I think is
worth including here as it points to a common misconception. The misconception might only be slight but when it comes to spiritual truth a miss is often as good (or as bad) as a mile.
doing an objective critique on what is posed as argument... "I believe
advaitin mistakes identification*..." is itself an inconsistency. One
should go through Kant's Critiques, Hegel's Phenomenology to understand
Sankara's philosophy. Becoming is subsumed under Being. All identification is
about an apparent form that will subsist only till such time it is disproved
under a higher truth. The highest truth is the form of unity called as Absolute
because there is nothing beyond it, call it God and it is immediately given the
form (conceptual) of God.
To which I replied.
Or call it the Absolute and it is immediately given
the form of the Absolute.
I don't think you need Kant or Hegel to understand
Sankara. If you do then he failed to get his point across. I appreciate what
you mean about becoming being subsumed in being and perhaps that
is what happens insofar as the locus of identification or centre is concerned.
But I believe the mistake of advaita is then to ascribe to the relative world
no point or purpose at all. This is indicated by Sankara's inability to explain
why the world should have arisen in the first place and what its purpose might
Individuality is not the result of ignorance but a
real God-given thing without which we could never even know the Absolute or
God, call it what you will.
It's easy to get lost in intellectual abstractions
(a bit like Kant and Hegel) and advaita quite frankly is often guilty of that.
I'm not aware of one person who really demonstrates the truth of advaita in
themselves and I include such people as Ramana and Krishnamurti for whom I have great respect as well as a whole host of lesser luminaries. In each of
them, very obviously, the individual still remains and, in fact, must do as the
vehicle of their realisation. Are we really saying that the consciousness of a
Buddha or Ramana is the same as the consciousness of the Creator of the universe?
Really? If not then individuality must be a real thing, and a lasting one too
even if it is transformed.
That is why I regard the true goal of the spiritual life as the
integration of being and becoming, not the perception of the former as
fundamentally illusionary in the light of the latter. And this is why we need the experience of being born in this world. It gives us something we need and did not have before which is the knowledge of duality that, when resolved, gives us a deeper entry into reality than simple oneness or non-duality would allow.
This world is a far richer and more meaningful
thing than advaita allows. It is the expression of love which, if advaita
practiced what it preached, could have no real meaning. It’s no
good saying that love exists in the world of maya but not at the level of pure
non-duality because that leaves love as a manifestation of ignorance in which
case it is hollow.
Advaita fails to see that reality transcends a mere
logical interpretation of it, and that there is differentiation right at the
heart of unity. That is how a universe can arise. God cannot be limited to
oneness or non-duality. Advaita needs to be supplemented by the Christian concept
of the Trinity to give a living understanding of life and not a mere philosophy which doesn't stand up to examination when all aspects of reality are taken into consideration.
There is a state of consciousness that can be
described as non dualistic in that the perfect oneness of all things is known but
all things still have their own individual quality and integrity. To reduce life to one or the other is to limit it. This is because proper perception does not entail the sublation of all diversity to unity but the subordination. This allows for love and true understanding comes only through
Spiritual understanding does not reveal there is no individual self but there is something beyond the individual self. No mystic would dispute this but how would one even know it unless there was a self to know it? Are you saying it is God knowing God? In one sense it might be but then we are not God even though God has given us his being as our being and we can be aware of this uncreated part of us as the very essence of our being. It is at a deeper level than our self but it needs our self as a subject to know this. So there are always two even though they are one. * The full quote was "I believe the advaitin
mistakes identification with the ground of his own being for union with God but
that latter is a higher state and the reason we were brought into being and
sent out into this world. Non-dualistic realisation would not have required
that. We could have just rested in pure being, pure awareness, but God created
human souls in order for them to integrate being and becoming, not renounce
becoming, and that is a much greater state than passively resting in pure being
Atheists say that you can have morality without
religion and they are, of course, right. Any society that wishes to function in
a way that allows most of its members to lead a reasonable life must evolve a
morality of some kind or it will rapidly descend into chaos and self-destruct,
and the so-called Golden Rule is the obvious way to go. Basically it means that
if I respect you and your rights then you respect me and mine and we can all
That is fine as far as it goes, and it satisfies
our innate sense of fairness (which comes from where, we might ask ourselves),
but, at root, it is really just a pragmatic way of looking at things and
says nothing about the source of a true morality which would be based on an
understanding of spiritual truth on the one hand and love on the other.
Humanist atheists would maintain that their morality arises from a recognition
of the oneness of humanity and that is doubtless correct, but theirs is an
intellectual or ideological understanding of oneness not a spiritual one. In other
words, it is merely thought based not a fact of being. So it is devoid of love. But love only has any meaning
in the context of a spiritual reality and the recognition that we are all individual
manifestations of the One God in whom we are all united. Otherwise it is just based on what gives me
Another point to take into account for those who consider that secular morality can act as a substitute for religion is this. The primary
function of religion is not morality as such but salvation. Or, if not that, then as something which can take us beyond the limited state of body/mind restricted individuals to a more transcendent
state of being which is our true self.
From a religious perspective actions which are described as sinful, and therefore immoral, are those
which put you in disharmony with God and spiritual reality. This results in a
diminishment of the ability to resonate to and embody higher truths and it has
karmic consequences as well in that what you sow you will reap. Sin, whether of action or thought, locks you
more deeply into the lower earthly self and separates you from the higher spiritual self. It therefore affects the quality of consciousness and the depth of insight of the individual concerned. It is really a kind of self wounding.
Many spiritual people today have a moral system
that doesn't differ too much from that of the materialists, the standard
left/liberal model which actually originates from a denial of spiritual truth so is of dubious worth on that score alone. It is basically just an elaboration from the belief in equality, but while life may be one in essence it is very far from being all the same in expression. The oneness of
life must always be seen in conjunction with an understanding of its hierarchical
nature. If you don't see this and believe yourself to be a
spiritual person your spiritual understanding is flawed and your morality is limited.
The spiritual philosophy of non-duality is increasingly popular today but, while it claims to give an unvarnished description of reality, I believe it rests on a metaphysical mistake. It derives from India, where it is known as advaita, and it basically reduces everything to undifferentiated oneness, regarding anything other than that as, to all intents and purposes, illusion. Thus it is prepared to offer multiplicity a conditional reality for those in a state of ignorance but ultimately sees it as unreal. However a subtler grasp of how things are sees oneness and differentiation existing right down to the wire, being two parts of the one whole with the latter not in any way unreal, though still seen in the overall light of God. God is the source of everything, of course, but what he creates is real. It is important to get this right because our understanding of spiritual reality affects everything we think and do and feel and are.
Non-duality is a very easy philosophy to adopt and consequently think one has 'cracked the cosmic code'. It's also convenient in that it does away with God which suits the modern mentality very well. But if understood to mean that there is the One and nothing else has any reality at all, it rests on error. Certainly all serious religion acknowledges the unity of God and see all life as his but rather than using this to deny the reality in creation a more alert understanding sees that God gives his life to creatures and that they then have their own life, given by him but still theirs, and that this is perfectly real. The absolute oneness posited by non-dualists only exists in the realm of the complete unmanifest and unexpressed. Move one metaphorical (or metaphysical) inch away from that and this oneness, though underlying all, is immediately qualified by other expressions of truth which must always be considered if one is to understand the whole. In fact, for the created being, which we all are, they are in a certain sense primary.
I read an interview recently with a comedian who had been through
extensive drug use, multiple sexual relations and the rest of the celebrity
lifestyle but had now supposedly rejected all that, settled down, married and
found 'spirituality'. What did he mean by spirituality? He thought that
traditional religion had been meeting a human need but there was too much
bigotry in it, too much sexism, too much emphasis on sin and not enough on
fulfilling human potential. He thought we were right to reject it on those
scores but that our descent into secularism and materialism was not the answer.
We needed a new big idea and, of course, he was going to provide it. He now
believed in a higher power which we needed to get in touch with in order to
find true meaning and fulfilment in our lives.
This sounds like the old story of the hedonist
who no longer finds any pleasure in his previous satisfactions so needs to look elsewhere to
find pleasure. He's not interested in spirituality because of a love of God or
a desire for truth. He's not concerned with real goodness. He's not
willing to sacrifice or serve or really submit to a true higher power. He wants
that higher power on his own terms and he wants it while staying resolutely
faithful to the values of this world which can't possibly be questioned. Spirit
has to accommodate itself to this world in his eyes. The notion that it should be
the other way round does not occur to him.
For so many people nowadays 'spirituality'
is a lifestyle choice which they want to add to their other worldly
possessions. It's an addition to their self image, adopted for purely egotistic
reasons. Tell them that it means you have to 'take up the cross' and, like the
rich young man, they will walk away. Tell them it means you must sacrifice and
renounce and they will look at you blankly. They want heaven while staying
firmly in this world. In my view they are further away from true spiritual
understanding than an honest materialist. I know that some might say that this
is a start but I don't agree. Truth is unlikely to grow from such rotten roots. This is just worldliness disguised as spirituality.
Does this comedian acknowledge the wisdom
of the 'archaic' Ten Commandments? Does he renounce the sins of the sexual revolution? Does he accept
the reality of evil and see its power in the world? I may be coming across as a
bit of a Bible thumper here but just as some old fashioned Protestant
religion could focus too much on sin and not enough on love so the modern
'spiritual but not religious' person focuses far too much on love, horizontally
understood (i.e. not love of God which is the only real basis for the other
kind), and not at all on sin unless that is understood as sins against worldly
values or political correctness as it is known these days. He sees spirituality
as something waiting there for him to take and make him feel happier as he is
now and does not understand that it is something that requires a radical
transformation on his part. He might be willing to engage in some kind of
technique to get what he wants but he doesn't see that techniques belong to
this world and can never get you beyond it. They might work on a physical or
psychological level. They can never work on a spiritual one.
The fact is that modern 'spirituality' has
no place for God, not the living God who is a Person, who has a will and a purpose. It might give him a token acknowledgement but he is not absolutely central, and
he must be if spirituality is to be real and not dissipate into
self-centredness and triviality. Yes, I know about Buddhism but the situation
in the modern West is so totally different to that in the ancient East that I
don't think it is applicable here. Besides, traditionally proper Buddhists were monks
and lived a life of sacrifice and renunciation which the spiritual but not
religious of today certainly do not do.
We must ask why God ispersona non gratain so much spirituality of today, and the answer
clearly is that the acceptance of God would mean you had to acknowledge
something greater than yourself which was real, not vague like an unidentified
higher power. Something to which you had to incline yourself and give yourself up to, holding nothing back. You could not have spirituality as part of your own personality. You would have to sacrifice that personality in order to have spirituality. And this the narcissist of today is not prepared to do.
I was recently asked whether I thought anyone could
really be selfless or if there was always an ulterior motive behind any
apparent selfless action. For instance, the person does whatever it might be to
feel good about himself or herself or else to look good in the eyes of others.
You could say this is rather a cynical attitude but the sad thing is that my
questioner was only 15 years old and, if cynical, made so before her time by
the prevailing atheistic/materialistic culture in which she had grown up. For
after all if we are just the end result of a lot of random permutations of
material forces there is no room for genuine goodness. Any altruism must
ultimately have some survival motive at the bottom of it. True goodness
requires a real individual really putting someone else first without any
thought of recompense or accumulation of prestige or any kind of personal
advantage, material or psychological, whatsoever.
I replied that yes, of course, I thought there was
such a thing as real goodness or real selflessness even though much that passes
by that name does indeed belong to the categories cited above. I gave the example of a
young boy I knew who asked that his pocket money be given to a homeless person
whose plight had clearly touched his heart. He was far too young to be acting
from the self-conscious motives we have outlined. His gesture was spontaneous
and came from true compassion. And it is these words I think that give the clue
to the solution of our little problem. Compassion and the heart. I can't see
how either of these mean anything in a materialistic conception of the universe
other than as words inherited from a spiritual understanding that remain
through habit and custom but don't mean what they say at all. They would just
be prettifications of fundamentally base motivations, the putting of a fair
mask on an ugly face.
Human beings are fallen. We are spiritual beings in
animal bodies which partly explains our pull in two different directions, but
there is something else going on too which is the spiritual sickness to which
we are all heir. This egotism, for that is what it is, has the tendency to
corrupt all our thoughts, feelings and actions. But there is also the truth
within us by which I mean the memory of the word of God, a kind of whispering
of something good and true and pure which derives from a higher condition than
that of the self-centred material being we usually consider ourselves to be. I
can't dissociate this from the image of Christ which image I believe is in us
all, Christian or non-Christian alike, placed there or, perhaps better put, activated since the
I'm not saying that selflessness was not possible
before Christ's advent but I do think it became markedly more possible after
that. This is just an intuition but the highest selflessness is surely
self-sacrifice in love and this was not demonstrated by any spiritual teacher before
Christ even if there are hints of it in myth and some of the Jataka tales of
the previous lives on the Buddha. But the actual demonstration of the
sacrifice of self in the purest, most disinterested love was only fully given
by Christ and it was this that anchored the image (in the Platonic sense of a
living archetype) of selflessness in the world and made it accessible to all.
So I said to my interlocutor that most certainly
real selflessness, without any ulterior motive, is possible. Fakes and forgeries
only come about because the genuine article exists. The existence of these fakes and forgeries may lead
one to doubt that there is anything true beyond them but without a real goodness whose
virtue they can misappropriate they would not even have the illusion of
goodness to begin with.
And this young lady believed what I said because
she recognised the truth of it in her own heart, never mind what the clever
theoreticians had told her.