The nondualist difficulty with theism (Loy)

The nondualist difficulty with theism (from Nonduality in the Bhagavad-Gita, in Nonduality, A Study in Comparative Philosophy, by David Loy, 1988, Amherst, New York, 1998, p.290-291, spelling slightly modified)

The nondualist difficulty with theism is not just that God is a person, but that this person is an ‘other’ to us – ‘Wholly Other’ as the early Karl Barth stressed and later repudiated. Of course, the two concepts are closely related. My awareness of being a person is dependent on there being other persons; a sense of self arises only in dialectical relation to other selves. Then is God a person only in relation to myself? If so, what will happen if I ‘merge’ with God – which is the goal of most theistic mystics, just as nondualists wish to realize their oneness with Brahman, and so on. In this union with God, I am of course transformed – but then won’t God be transformed too? Into what?

In samadhi the meditator seems to merge with the object of his concentration; my awareness of the object (physical or mental) is no longer distinguishable from the object. Usually this is only a temporary trance state, for the mind later becomes preoccupied with thoughts again. But the nondualist claims that this is not a delusion. On the contrary, it is a glimpse of the true nondual nature of phenomena: they are not other than ‘my’ mind. Because he was able to let his individual mind and body “drop away”, Dogen realized that “mind is nothing other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars” – the essential Mahayana claim that is equally crucial to Advaita. But unlike Buddhism, Advaita finds a role for God in Shankara’s distinction between Saguna (with attributes, i.e. Ishvara) and Nirguna (without attributes, i.e. completely empty of any phenomenal characteristics) Brahman. The transcendental latter, like Meister Eckhart’s Godhead, is inactive and immutable, whereas the former is not immanent ‘in‘ the world but ‘is’ the wold as the totality of Brahman’s self-luminous manifestations. Yet how is this description of Saguna Brahman equivalent to God? And, more generally, how can we understand the relation between these two Brahmans?

Shankara says that Brahman reflected in maya [illusion] is Ishvara (God), whereas Brahman reflected in avidya [delusion, ignorance] is the jiva (ego-self). Given that Shankara (unlike Gaudapada) generally seems to identify maya with avidya, this seminal statement must mean that the mystical experience of God as the true nature of the phenomenal world is still somewhat illusory (maya), the ‘other side’ of the delusion (avidya) of myself as still other than the world. A bit of maya persists if I perceive Brahman (Eckhart’s deitas) as God, but only because I experience him as other than myself. God is the Absolute viewed from outside, as it were: still a bit dualistically. Then the Impersonal Absolute is the true nature of God – nondual because completely incorporating ‘my’ consciousness as well. In other words, to experience God is to forget oneself to the extent that one becomes aware of a consciousness pervading everywhere and everything. To experience the Godhead/Absolute is to ‘let go’ completely and realize that consciousness is nothing other than ‘me’, fully becoming what I have always been. The sense of ‘holiness’ (Rudolf Otto’s ‘the numinous’) is not something added onto the phenomenal world in such mystical experiences but is an inherent characteristic of ‘my’ self-luminous mind, although realized only when its true nature is experienced.

Advayavada Study Plan – week 39

Dear friends,

The purpose of Advayavada Buddhism is to become a true part of the whole.

The purpose of the autonomous Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is that we study (and debate in a local group, the family circle or with good friends) the meaning and implications of the weekly subject, not as a formal and impersonal intellectual exercise, but in the context of whatever we ourselves are presently doing or are concerned with, or about, such as our health, relationships, work, study, our place in society, etc.

Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but how to make the very best of our own lives by indeed attuning as best as possible with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction. The ASP is repeated four times a year.

(As stated earlier, my personal specific objective this quarter is to further explain the tenets of the non-dual and life-affirming philosophy and way of life we call Advayavada Buddhism to my fellow Buddhists in my country and elsewhere – what’s yours?)

In Advayavada Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is fully personalized: it is firmly based on what we increasingly know about ourselves and our world, and trusting our own intentions, feelings and conscience. Adherence to the familiar five precepts (not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and refraining from alcohol and drugs) and a well-considered understanding of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs of being and the Buddha’s four noble truths suffice to start off on the Path at any time (see weeks 27 to 31).

To remind you, in week 32 we reviewed and took stock of our personal situation and circumstances, in week 33 we took an appropriate and timely decision to adjust our course, in week 34 we put our decision and objective in writing as precisely as possible, in week 35 we further developed our very best attitude to carry out our improved personal objective, in week 36 we implemented our improved modus operandi as best as possible, in week 37 we continued to muster our very best effort to fulfil our improved objective, and in week 38 we made our best possible evaluation of our efforts until then.

This week (39) we shall continue to develop our very best meditation towards samadhi.

This task is based on the 8th step on the Noble Eightfold Path: samma-samadhi (in Pali) or samyak-samadhi (in Sanskrit); in Advayavada Buddhism’s usage: our very best meditation or concentration towards Samadhi; in Dutch: onze beste bezinning.

Samadhi (Pali and Sanskrit): total or perfect concentration (of the mind, cf. enstasy); non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object; total absorption in the object of meditation; transcendence of the relationship between mind and object; merging of subject and object; to contemplate the world without any perception of objects; suspension of judgement; turiyatita; satori; bodhi; rigpa; realization of the sameness of the part and the whole, of the identity of form and emptiness, of samsara and nirvana, of the immediate and the ultimate; mystic oneness; perfect dynamic attunement with wondrous overall existence; oceanic feeling; wonder, awe, rapture; essential purity; deep love and compassion; awareness of our common ground and the innocence of sex.

Other translations of the 8th step are: right rapture (Arnold, Eliot, Malalasekera), right samadhi (Bahm, Dharmapala), right concentration (Bodhi, Burt, Ch’en, Conze, Dhammananda, Fernando, Gethin, Grimm, Guenther, Harvey, Horner, Karunadasa, Khemo, Narada, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Takakusu, Warder), appropriate concentration (Batchelor), right meditation (David-Neel, Humphreys, Keown, Stroup), right meditating (Melamed), right illumination (Dharmapala), right awareness (Kornfield), right tranquility (Narasu), right contemplation (Rhys Davids, Watts); absolute concentration of purpose (Edwardes); correct concentration (Kloppenborg, Scheepers)

The Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is repeated in full in the fourth quarter starting next week (40).

Kind regards,
John Willemsens,
Advayavada Foundation.
@advayavada

Advayavada Study Plan – weeks 25 and 26

Dear friends,

The purpose of Advayavada Buddhism is to become a true part of the whole.

The purpose of the autonomous Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is that we study (and hopefully debate in a local group, the family circle or with good friends) the meaning and implications of the weekly subject, not as a formal and impersonal intellectual exercise, but in the context of whatever we ourselves are presently doing or are concerned with, or about, such as our health, relationships, work, study, our place in society, etc.

Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but how to make the very best of our own lives by indeed attuning as best as possible with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction. The ASP is repeated four times a year.

In Advayavada Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is fully personalized: it is firmly based on what we increasingly know about ourselves and our world, and trusting our own intentions, feelings and conscience. Adherence to the familiar five precepts (not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and refraining from alcohol and drugs) and a well-considered understanding of the three (in Advayavada Buddhism, four) signs of being and the Buddha’s four noble truths suffice to start off on the Path at any time (see weeks 14 to 18).

As stated before, my own personal objective this quarter is to further develop my good relations with fellow Buddhists in my country. To remind you: in week 19 we again took stock, in week 20 we adjusted our course, in week 21 we put our decision in writing, in week 22 we worked on our attitude, in week 23 we implemented our improved modus operandi, in week 24 we mustered our very best effort.

This week (25) we again make our best possible evaluation of our efforts to date.

This task is based on the 7th step on the Noble Eightfold Path: samma-sati (in Pali) or samyak-smriti (in Sanskrit); in Advayavada Buddhism’s usage: our very best observation or reflection and self-correction.

Next week (26) we shall continue to develop our very best meditation towards samadhi.

This task is based on the 8th step on the Noble Eightfold Path: samma-samadhi (in Pali) or samyak-samadhi (in Sanskrit); in Advayavada Buddhism’s usage: our very best meditation or concentration towards samadhi.

Samadhi (Pali and Sanskrit): total or perfect concentration (of the mind, cf. enstasy); non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object; total absorption in the object of meditation; transcendence of the relationship between mind and object; merging of subject and object; to contemplate the world without any perception of objects; suspension of judgement; turiyatita; satori; bodhi; rigpa; realization of the sameness of the part and the whole, of the identity of form and emptiness, of samsara and nirvana, of the immediate and the ultimate; mystic oneness; perfect dynamic attunement with wondrous overall existence; oceanic feeling; wonder, awe, rapture; essential purity; deep love and compassion; awareness of our common ground and the innocence of sex.

The third quarter of the Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) commences in week 27.

Kind regards,
John Willemsens,
Advayavada Foundation.
@advayavada

Advayavada Study Plan – week 13

Dear friends,

The purpose of Advayavada Buddhism is to become a true part of the whole.

The purpose of the autonomous Advayavada Study Plan (ASP) is that we study (and debate in a local group, the family circle or with good friends) the meaning and implications of the weekly subject, not as a formal and impersonal intellectual exercise, but in the context of whatever we ourselves are presently doing or are concerned with, or about, such as our health, relationships, work, study, our place in society, etc.

Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but how to make the very best of our own lives by indeed attuning as best as possible with wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction. The ASP is repeated four times a year.

This week (13) we continue to develop our very best meditation towards samadhi.

This task is based on the 8th step on the Noble Eightfold Path: samma-samadhi (Pali) or samyak-samadhi (Sanskrit); in Advayavada Buddhism’s usage: our very best meditation or concentration towards samadhi.

Samadhi (Pali and Sanskrit): total or perfect concentration (of the mind, cf. enstasy); non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object; total absorption in the object of meditation; transcendence of the relationship between mind and object; merging of subject and object; to contemplate the world without any perception of objects; suspension of judgement; turiyatita; satori; bodhi; rigpa; realization of the sameness of the part and the whole, of the identity of form and emptiness, of samsara and nirvana, of the immediate and the ultimate; mystic oneness; perfect dynamic attunement with wondrous overall existence; oceanic feeling; wonder, awe, rapture; essential purity; deep love and compassion; awareness of our common ground and the innocence of sex.

Other translations of the 8th step are: right rapture (Arnold, Eliot, Malalasekera), right samadhi (Bahm, Dharmapala), right concentration (Bodhi, Burt, Ch’en, Conze, Dhammananda, Fernando, Gethin, Grimm, Guenther, Harvey, Horner, Karunadasa, Khemo, Narada, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Takakusu, Warder), appropriate concentration (Batchelor), right meditation (David-Neel, Humphreys, Keown, Stroup), right meditating (Melamed), right illumination (Dharmapala), right awareness (Kornfield), right tranquility (Narasu), right contemplation (Rhys Davids, Watts); absolute concentration of purpose (Edwardes); correct concentration (Kloppenborg, Scheepers)

Kind regards,
John Willemsens,
Advayavada Foundation.
@advayavada

The Ethics of Fundamental Consciousness (Blackstone)

The Ethics of Fundamental Consciousness (from The Enlightenment Process, by Judith Blackstone, Rockport, Mass. 1997)

Our true relationship with the universe contains an inherent ethical perspective. As we realize that our own essential being is a dimension of consciousness that is also the esssential being of all other life, we feel an underlying kinship with everyone we meet. We can use the metaphor of a musical instrument. If we are all basically pianos, even if we meet a piano playing a tune quite different than our own, we can feel in our being the potential to play his tune also. When we know our self as the pervasive ground of life, we have learned the basic language of all beings, including animals and plants. In this shared field of fundamental consciousness, we do not need to adopt a static attitude of goodwill that obscures the richness of our feelings and the directness of our contact with our self and others. To actually experience the heart of a bird, or the subtle awareness of a tree, or the complex emotions in another person, evokes a spontaneous response of empathy and compassion.

There is also a more subtle manifestation of ethics in fundamental consciousness. This is expressed in the Sanskrit word dharma. In Buddhist tradition, this word has several connotations. It means the Buddhist metaphysical understanding of the universe and enlightenment, the teaching of this understanding, and the living of this understanding. The direct translation of ‘dharma’ is ‘justice’. To live dharmically is to practice the justice of enlightenment. But this practice is not a preconceived set of behaviours. It is the alignment of oneself with the metaphysical laws of the universe and the great benevolence inherent in those laws. To the extent that we have realized fundamental consciousness, we are unified with the wisdom and love of the whole, and with the spontaneous unwinding towards enlightenment of all forms in creation. In this dimension, our own choices of action are the choices of the universe, and all our actions serve the progression towards enlightenment of all life, including our own. We do not have to shame ourselves into doing good works. Our own truth will benefit the truth of the life around us.

The idea that we can be aligned with the will of God also exists in Western religion. In Judaism, there is the concept of the mitzvah, which has a range of meaning from a good deed to a general attitude of justness and benevolence towards others. Jewish scholar Abraham J. Heschel writes: “Every act done in agreement with the will of God is a mitzvah”. Hassidic writer Reb Zalman Schachter defines mitzvah as “the divine will doing itself through the vehicle of the now egoless devotee”. Christian interpreter Maurice Nicoll writes: “When Good comes first, a man acts from mercy and grace. Then he is made Whole. When he is Whole, he no longer misses the mark”. In this quote we have the idea that the individual becomes whole by being good. And we have the more subtle idea, very similar to the Buddhist idea of dharma, that he is now right on target, that he does not ‘miss the mark’. That mark is the action that benefits everyone involved.

The Advayavada Study Plan

The revelation of Buddhism is in its practice: The Noble Eightfold Path, when interpreted dynamically as an ongoing and autonomous, non-prescriptive, investigative and creative process of progressive insight reflecting in human terms wondrous overall existence advancing over time, as Advayavada Buddhism does, is (1) that of our very best (samyak, samma) comprehension or insight followed by (2) our very best resolution or determination, (3) our very best enunciation or definition of our intention, (4) our very best disposition or attitude, (5) our very best implementation or realization, (6) our very best effort or commitment, (7) our very best observation, reflection or evaluation and self-correction, and (8) our very best meditation or concentration towards an increasingly real experience of samadhi, which brings us to a yet better comprehension or insight, and so forth.

By following the Noble Eightfold Path thus you get in tune with wondrous overall existence advancing over time, sorrow, doubt and remorse immediately start disappearing, and your life at once gathers new impetus. The Noble Eightfold Path in Advayavada Buddhism is fully personalized: it is firmly based on what we increasingly know about ourselves and our world, and trusting our own feelings and conscience. Adherence to the familiar Five Precepts and a well-considered understanding of the Four Signs of Being and the Four Noble Truths suffice to start off on the Path at any time. Nirvana is, in Advayavada Buddhism, the total extinction of existential suffering as a result of our complete reconciliation with reality as it truly is. The Path is, in other words, the sure road to enlightenment.

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samadhi = total concentration (of the mind, cf. enstasy); non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object; total absortion in the object of meditation; transcendence of the relationship between mind and object; merging of subject and object; to contemplate the world without any perception of objects; suspension of judgement; turiyatita; satori; bodhi; rigpa; realization of the sameness of the part and the whole, of the identity of form and emptiness, of samsara and nirvana, of the immediate and the ultimate; mystic oneness; perfect attunement with wondrous overall existence; oceanic feeling; wonder, awe, rapture; essential purity; deep love and compassion; awareness of our common ground and the innocence of sex.

The purpose of the autonomous Advayavada Study Plan ASP is that we study (and debate in a local group, the family circle or with good friends) the meaning and implications of the weekly subject, not as a formal and impersonal intellectual exercise, but in the context of whatever we ourselves are presently doing or are concerned with, or about, such as our health, relationships, work, study, our place in society, etc. Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but how to make the very best of our own lives by becoming as wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction.

Week of the current year and subject:

Preliminary subjects:
01 – 14 – 27 – 40 : The impermanence of all existents (First Sign of Being).
02 – 15 – 28 – 41 : The selflessness of all existents (Second Sign of Being).
03 – 16 – 29 – 42 : Existential suffering (Third Sign of Being and First Noble Truth).
04 – 17 – 30 – 43 : Craving and its elimination (Second and Third Noble Truths).
05 – 18 – 31 – 44 : Path and Progress (Fourth Noble Truth and Fourth Sign of Being).

The Noble Eightfold Path:
06 – 19 – 32 – 45 : Our very best comprehension (1st Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
07 – 20 – 33 – 46 : Our very best resolution (2nd Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
08 – 21 – 34 – 47 : Our very best enunciation (3rd Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
09 – 22 – 35 – 48 : Our very best disposition (4th Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
10 – 23 – 36 – 49 : Our very best implementation (5th Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
11 – 24 – 37 – 50 : Our very best effort (6th Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
12 – 25 – 38 – 51 : Our very best observation (7th Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
13 – 26 – 39 – 52 : Our very best meditation (8th Step on the Noble 8fold Path).

…and so forth!

Tip: Write down the weekly subject in your pocket diary!