James, Leon (2001) Hindu and Buddhist Non-Duality: Conflict in
the New Church Mind?
See also Extended Reply
Hindu and Buddhist Nonduality:
There are two types of religions distinguished in terms of how they define God and reality. Hindu and Buddhist traditions are generally based on nonduality while Islam and the Judaeo-Christian faith are based on duality.
In nonduality only God is permanent and real while the self is an illusion that vanishes when one reaches enlightenment, and the universe an impermanent state that is periodically dissolved and remade. That which changes and dissipates is not considered to be reality. Eastern religions teach that the purpose of life on earth is to learn to transcend the illusory self through raising one’s consciousness to the divine itself. This achievement is called enlightenment or God-realization. Individuals ought to live their daily lives by striving to detach all the qualities of self and life that adhere and create the illusion of struggles in life, culture, nature, and individuality. This total emptying of all morality and psychology is identified with enlightenment. The self has then transcended into God, the only reality, void and empty of all appearance and of changing qualities.
In strong contrast to this point of view, duality presents God and creation as distinct, permanent, and forever separate. Moslems, Jews, and Christians are taught that the purpose of life on earth is to prepare oneself for life in eternity. The individual self (or unique soul) is created immortal, and continues life after death in a spiritual body. The individual has freedom to choose to act in accordance with the revealed commandments of God or conscience, or to act against them. A spiritually good life leads to eternal heavenly happiness, an evil one, to infernal and unending misery. God is the Omnipotent Divine Person who creates the universe and maintains it in its order by intervening in its operation. God gives the individual the power to learn the Commandments and to follow them despite many inborn contrary desires. The individual receives this power through worship and love of God. Atheism and lawlessness constitute the refusal to worship and love God, an act of defiance that deprives the individual of the power to live a spiritually good life.
Can There Be Compatibility Between Nonduality and Duality?
Wilson Van Dusen is a recognized authority on both duality and nonduality. He recently wrote:
Hinduism's advaita vedanta or non-dual theology, probably represents the highest mystical insight possible. It is the insight that ultimately only God exists. My friends know that I regard Swedenborg's mystical revelations as the greatest ever. We can then ask the question, Can we also find non-dualism in Swedenborg? The answer is a resounding yes. The highest revelation of Hinduism is also in Swedenborg's revelations even though the two traditions had no contact.
("The Highest Insight in Hinduism and in Swedenborg." Published in the Messenger June 2001)
This point of view is based on the apparent similarity between "God rules all" (Swedenborg) and "Brahman is the all" (Hinduism). Since God rules all, the individual does not possess actual power but only the illusion of prudence leading to desired goals. And since God is the only life, human beings are merely receptors of God’s life, rather than self-existent beings that are alive. From these considerations Van Dusen draws this conclusion:
God alone is real (nonduality). … What we try to do God is doing through us. Our apparent duality is an aspect within a transcendent non-duality. The non-duality of God alone is super ordinate to all appearances of duality. … The non-dual position in Hinduism helped me to see it in Swedenborg's writings. … All our efforts to improve ourselves do not create an us-versus-God dualistic situation-but rather our efforts are a part of the working out of Divine Providence. (Van Dusen, ibid)
Van Dusen’s position of nonduality leads him to the notion that since God alone has power, "what we try to do" is actually "God doing through us." Duality on the other hand, maintains a distinct separation between the motive we have ("what we try to do") and God’s power that actually carries it out. The Writings reveal that God chooses which of our motives are carried out and which are unsuccessful or unfulfilled. God maintains us in freedom to persist or desist in any intention or choice, and looks at our motive behind the choice. The quality of this motive—good or evil, is attributed by God to each individual. The accumulation of all our choices is what makes up our character or spirit. This spiritual self is what lives after death and is either in heaven or hell depending on its accumulated character.
In view of this we cannot equate "what we try to do" (i.e., the character of the individual) with "God doing through us" (i.e., Divine Providence in managing all things). This duality remains forever distinct.
Examples of Clashing Concepts
God and Self
In nonduality, God is the only reality and the individual self is an illusion that vanishes upon enlightenment, leaving behind God alone. In duality, God and self have permanently distinct identity and existence, and the individual continues to evolve forever in the afterlife.
A Life of Prudence
In nonduality, our efforts at improving our character are ultimately and finally futile since everything about self is an illusion to be dissipated at enlightenment. In duality, our motives for the reformation and regeneration of character are empowered by God and brought to fruition and salvation. It is required that individual prudence be in the decisions we make, but what makes our decisions effective is the power of God operating in the background or from within. This required prudence is called in the Writings the "as-of-self" (DP 321). Nonduality sees this human prudence as illusory (maya), while duality sees it as that which ties each of us to God in a personal relationship by which we are saved. Nonduality replaces reformation and regeneration with detachment, meditation, and "mystical experience" as the path to salvation, liberation, bliss, and "cosmic divine consciousness."
Appearances Are Real
The duality in the Writings affirm that the individual self (or spirit) is a property of the unique and immortal soul created by God at birth and temporarily tied to a physical body that allows interaction between self and the material environment. The life we are conscious of is an outward appearance of inner things in that we are not given to see the work of God in its detailed operation in the background of events. However this external appearance is not illusory, but real—a part of the reality that God creates and maintains on our behalf. In duality, all that God creates is by definition real or part of reality. The self (or "as-of-self") is our individual unique identity or character; it is a real spiritual entity or "spirit." The physical body is a real natural entity. Duality asserts our birth into dual citizenship: the body in the natural world; the mind in the spiritual world. The two are tied to each other by the Divine Laws of Correspondences. Nonduality insists on defining all temporary or changing things as unreality to be dissipated—since it makes permanence or changelessness a condition for reality. But duality accepts change and development as a property of reality.
In duality God is creator of a real universe in a rational order and for a loving purpose. The creator of reality cannot be part of creation but must be outside of it. The Writings teach the permanent duality of create and uncreate (DLW 44). All that is infinite and without a beginning are part of God and uncreate (not part of created reality)—love, good, truth, wisdom, life, light, heat, endeavour. These are infinite in God and have no beginning. All else is created, cannot be infinite, and has a beginning—matter, spirit, consciousness, intelligence, affections. Nonduality in the New Church mind would be in conflict with these categorical absolutes. Nonduality is in opposition to all the basic rational concepts in the Writings that the New Church mind must contain in order to regenerate and become heavenly. The ideas of nonduality cannot receive admittance into the atmosphere of the New Heavens where everything is based on eternal dualities--the Lord vs. angels, husbands vs. wives, heavenly things vs. hellish, truths vs. falsities, inmost heaven vs. middle heaven, those who are governors or princes in heaven vs. those who are governed by them, and numerous others).
Morality and Conscience
Moral decisions we make as-of-self are real events powered by God alone. Only within duality can this make sense. Thinking within nonduality we are compelled to say that God is real while our moral decisions (or prudence) are not since they are works of illusion. In other words, God cannot power an individual’s conscience if it is not real, for only real things can be empowered.
Many types of thinking based on nonduality pose certain dangers to the New Church mind if ideas are admitted uncritically or unknowingly. The nondual and the dual in the mind strive to annihilate each other since they are inherently opposed. The Writings teach that certain ideas can become impediments to one’s regeneration (AC 806, NJHD 21). For instance the notion that both good and evil come from the same source can weaken our resolve for character reformation. The Writings show that without regeneration of character we remain infernal from heredity and cannot be saved for eternal heavenly life (NJHD 186). Weakening the absolute duality of heaven and hell in our mind also weakens our motivation for resisting our inherited evils and struggling to obey the commandments.
Nonduality as a system of thought strives to turn categorical discrete degrees into a continuum. The existence of discrete degrees is known only from the Writings (DLW. 173-281): God vs. creation, angel vs. devil, male vs. female, self vs. Divinity, natural vs. spiritual. These elements are created discrete and remain permanently distinct. Nonduality works to replace the "vs." with "and" while duality insists on absolute and permanent distinctions. Duality is made of categorical (non overlapping) distinctness while nonduality constantly pressures the mind towards similarity and commingling (as in universalism, pluralism, relativism). New Testament concepts of pure vs. impure, good vs. evil, truth vs. falsity, wolves vs. sheep, in the Church vs. outside, are systematically eroded or altogether transformed by nonduality into something else, less distinct, less permanent.
One of the most popular and influential promoter of nonduality in the American climate is Joseph Campbell whose books and audiotapes more than a decade after his passing on are still on the best seller charts. Here are thematic arguments from The Power of Myth. by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers (Anchor Books; Reissue edition July 1991). I quote from a review by Douglas Groothuis of the Christian Research Institute (Accessed on the Web April 2002: http://www.equip.org/free/DC092.htm):
If you confess your sins you make yourself a sinner; if you confess your greatness you make yourself great. The "idea of sin puts you in a servile position throughout your life" (p. 56). He later redefines sin as a lack of knowledge, not as an ethical transgression: "Sin is simply a limiting factor that limits your consciousness and fixes it in an inappropriate condition" (p. 57). … Campbell believes our challenge is to say, "I know the center, and I know that good and evil are simply temporal aberrations and that, in God's view, there is no difference" (p. 66). In fact, "in God's view," you are "God, not in your ego, but in your deepest being, where you are at one with the nondual transcendent" (p. 211).
The Writings reveal that "Father" refers to the substance of Divine Love (or Good), which is the Lord’s inmost or Esse, while "Son" refers to its outward form called Divine Wisdom or Truth (Existere). Love and Wisdom are united as one in the Lord and proceed as one to create and maintain the universe (DLW 99). But in the unregenerate human mind they are separated in reception (love into the will and truth into the understanding). Regeneration becomes the process of reuniting these two so that the will from love acts together with the the truth in the understanding. This unity of functioning is called the church within where this love/truth duality is retained forever. It is the permanent distinctness of the elements in a unity that maintains its perfection (DP 4). A striking example from the Writings is the conjugial unity of the angelic couple by which husband and wife function as one (CL 184). Another well known example is the unity of the distinct heavenly societies by which they are integrated into the human form, creating the ever increasing perfection of the Grand Human in the spiritual world (AC 5377).
Nonduality as a system of thinking acts in opposition to these permanent dualities and strives to establish a continuity between them, fudging the categorical and absolute distinction. The New Church idea of unity or oneness between distinct elements is metamorphosed into a dissolution of distinctness, either into sameness (nonduality) or else "Emptiness" (unbounded, unqualifiable). The meaning of "oneness" is entirely different in the two systems of thought. There is no overlap possible, even in the same words (oneness, God, reality, spirit, bliss, love, self, sin, etc.).
It is prudent therefore for the New Church mind to be clearly aware of the hidden opposition when exposed to concepts of nonduality.
Dr. Leon James is Professor of Psychology at the University of Hawaii. His articles on The Writings can be accessed on the Web at www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/swedenborg.html including an expanded version of this article.
I’d like to gratefully acknowledge the useful editorial help I received from Dr. Ian Thompson who maintains a Web site relating to Swedenborg at www.TheisticScience.org