Friends, I am opening a new thread, here, to treat of matters we have discussed piecemeal through the years -- e.g., nonduality, enlightenment, etc.
The dialogue between Christianity and other world religions has been a welcome development, as we all have gifts to enrich one another. When it comes to the dialogue concerning Buddhism and Christian contemplation, however, I think the Buddhist influence has come to skew our understanding of our own tradition.
Consider the terms "enlightenment" and "nonduality," for example. They are not completely foreign to traditional Christian writers, but never would they have been put forth as the proper goal of Christian spirituality. We have parsed the meanings of these terms as described by various Christian writers enough on this forum to know that they are not simply synonyms for "conversion," "infused contemplation," or the "unitive state." Rather, they seem to convey the kinds of experiences Buddhism aims for.
Consider, too, the shift in meaning of other terms, like "meditation," for example. I no longer know what is meant when a spiritual directee tells me that he or she "meditates" regularly. Most often, it means something like TM, or zazen. Rarely does it mean "meditatio" in the traditional sense, as in the context of lectio divina, where one ruminates on the scriptures to form the mind and will in the Word. Indeed, Buddhist meditation means quite the opposite!
Consider the enormous emphasis given to "compassion" by Christian writers today. Of course, there's nothing wrong with compassion; Jesus spoke of it and practiced it as well. Nevertheless, it is "love" that has been traditionally emphasized in Christianity, with compassion being one way love is shown. Compassion, in other words, is not a synonym for love, but one's empathic response to suffering. Love, on the other hand, includes compassion and goes beyond it to cherish the worth of all people, including the rich and powerful, who were some of Jesus' closest friends. I would rather be loved than compassioned, as I know the latter will happen should the need arise. Love draws people into relationships of equality; compassion implies one who suffers and one who brings relief. Christianity speaks of a God who IS Love, not a God who IS compassion; God's compassion is an aspect of God's loving. Buddhism, on the other hand, true to its concern with alleviating suffering, emphasizes compassion, but says nothing about God, let alone a personal, loving deity. Jesus might be regarded as a Jewish boddhisattva, but he is a great deal more than that to Christians.
See what I mean? I think we have lost our focus in some of these matters . . that many of our writers sound more like Buddhists than they do Christians . . . that they are now interpreting the Gospel through Buddhist lenses moreso than Christian ones. I also suspect that Buddhists have not been as influenced by Christianity as vice versa. In reading people like Thich Nhat Hanh, for example, I find that he hones in on those apsects of the Gospel that resonate with Buddhism, but ignores the rest. He misses the part about a personal God who is in love with creation, including each individual . . . who became Incarnate to reveal this love, and to re-connect the human race with God in the Holy Spirit. Hanh's is a gospel of compassion rather than love. It's that way with many of our own Christian writers as well.
What do you think? Has Christian conemplative spirituality become too "Buddhified?"
I am torn on this issue, because I have recently discovered the profound truth/wisdom in some of these Eastern approaches to life. I think they teach human beings how to be happy naturally, in this world, as opposed to in the future. Our saints taught us the same things but they tend to be somehow less accessible to majority of people. You read them, admire them, wish to be like them, but often they seem to belong to a tiny class of Christians, possibly less than 1% from just my general impression of things (I may be totally off, of course). This makes me wonder if their methods are the standard for all of us.
The Eastern methods seem to be made for the bumbling Christian or human like me, seriously entangled in all manner of concupiscence and delusion, helping them practice or begin to practice what Jesus asked in a practical and more accessible way. I have found that the loving-kindness they teach works better with helping me be patient with my weaker parts, and this in turn helps me be a bit more patient with others failings. When I tried to do it using the advice of the saints, I was relying on the strength of the ego or volition, even though the saints said not to rely on self. Its one thing to know what you are supposed to do, doing it is something else.
I think much of their advice, these Eastern interiorists, makes Christianity more easy to do (not just believe) for a particular type of person, like me, as long as one realizes where the limits are. The how of being compassionate, patient, dealing with the self and the world around us that we cannot control, it just seems easier that way for some reason.
It is the "why" they give for why their methods work that gives me pause. I don't accept them. I think that their focus on the present has given them invaluable insight into human life lived on this earth, how to be happy now--not tomorrow. They have helped me accept that this is God's will for me everyday, not just in heaven. That God made deliberately to exist here for a certain number of years, this world is good, embraceable, even home in a sense since God put me here to live here even if shortly. All truths of our faith, of course. I read what I consider true in their wisdom through Christian eyes.
I take it the same way I take psychology. Where it tells me something contrary to Catholicism (that an active homosexual or adulterous or promiscuous lifestyle is good or healthy, for example)I simply disregard it. Where it teaches me about my addictions and unconscious psychological issues, I embrace it wholeheartedly. I do this because it works and if it works, that means it is true. Like science, if it is true, then it is of God. Just because non-Christians or scientists discovered it ahead of Christians or have specialized in it in ways that Christians have not is not alone a reason to discount its very real practical benefit to me.
For example, a few Buddhist articles have helped me cease to look for happiness in a change of circumstances (not completely). This is part of Christianity but for some reason, the Buddhist way has helped me see it for myself as a fact/truth of life. I don't know why this is, perhaps it depends on the type of psychological personality one has.
Phil, I agree completely. My little campaign here against the "false self" notion was against that exactly!
However, I'd like to add that it is a special version of Buddhism that is active here. the Western teachers extract and distill the experience of enlightenment and apophatic practices leading to that out of Buddhism as a great world religion in order to "sell" it (sometimes with good intentions) to the Westerners. There are many Buddhists who do not know about that or if they do, are very critical of this. Ken Wilber actually showed in a very clear and adequate way how Buddhism was distorted in the West - he uses a term "boomeritis", in order to describe the narcissistic or the "me generation" distortion of Buddhism in the sixties and seventies.
In Buddhism as in yoga and other great mystical traditions the first necessary step to any spiritual growth is the moral purification. You were not given any meditative practices, if you're life wasn't well ordered. Nowadays, anyone can meditate and sometimes people do this, who commit all sorts of "sins" (of course, sins in Buddhist tradition). Take a look at famous Zen "blasphemies". Zen masters used to say things like "if you meet a Buddha, kill him" or they openly did things that were considered immoral or profane. The Westerners adore this and say: "we should be more liberal about Christianity". What they seem to not understand, is that those Zen masters were people who for decades pray to Buddha, worshipped him, respected and were devout to him. Only in such a context it has any meaning at all. I want to see those Christians first getting up at 5 to go to early mass or to do the liturgy of the hours, fasting on Fridays, praying daily on their kness and meditating on the Scripture for two decades. Then they can try to be "shocking" in this way.
So we are talking about "Buddhism" which is actually a very narrow aspect of this Asian religion (which in itself is deeply diversified, in a way unimaginable to Judaism, Christianity and Islam).
But this version of Buddhism has its language. This language, again, is not always the traditional language of Chinese, Japanese of Tibetan Buddhism, but a contemporary translation into English. Ultimately, we have all those concepts attached to Buddhism which seem to be rather loosely connected with their original sources (I'm not a Buddhist scholar, so I may be wrong in that).
Christianity is permeated by a language that comes from the spiritual ideology which is rooted in Buddhism (an excellent example is Wilber: Buddhist or not?) and has its power from this religious tradition, but now lives a separate life. Maybe in the future Buddhism scholars will see in this the fourth great school of Buddhism, after Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana?
When I was a non-dualist myself I used to give such an argument in defense of all this: Christianity does not have a philosophy of its own, because there is no philosophy or theology in the Bible. In the first ages Christianity had to use Greek philosophy in order to express its truths. Some tried Stoicism (like Tertullian, who, as the Stoics, believed that God and soul were material beings), the majority, however, used Platonism, because Platonism, being extremely influential in late antiquity, talked about the purely spiritual, personal God and spiritual, individual, immortal souls, which seemed to be in accord with the Gospel. In 13th century Thomas Aquinas used Aristotle instead of Plato and Plotinus. Nowadays we use Buddhism or Hinduism in the same way, to express the Gospel.
It is all true. Actually, Karl Rahner used Martin Heidegger existentialism and Kant's philosophy to talk about the Gospel. It is true that Christianity is not confined to any set of philosophical concepts. I heard that missionaries in China, when they translated the Prologue to John's Gospel, they rendered the Greek "Logos" (Reason/Word) as "Dao". I get it. But I have problem with one thing. The fact that Christianity is not identical to any philosophy, does not mean that it can be expressed in any philosophy. That is a fallacy in this reasoning. Buddhism is not just as good philosophy as Platonism and Aristotelianism. Actually, what Christian theologians did, was to reject whatever they found unChristian in ancient philosophical systems.
An example of this. The notion of the soul in Platonism was very attractive to ancient Christians, but they were very clear that Plato was wrong believing that the soul is created as spiritual being and then joins the body. They also rejected the Platonic belief that the highest level of life must be the purely spiritual life, without the body, because it contradicted the meaning of resurrection. Thomas Aquinas loved Aristotle very much, but Aristotle probably did not believe that the soul can exist without the body, so Thomas in this invoke Platonism, since he was convinced that there is individual immortality. Aristotle also did not believe in the act of creation and Thomas had to reject this as well. So tell me why non-dual Christians just don't reject whatever is wrong in Buddhism from the Christian point of view? No, they try to correct whatever is "wrong" in Christianity from Buddhist point of view. Buddhism says there is no absolute, personal Being the Creator. Ok, let's reject this Buddhist view. Buddhism says that individual identity is an illusion - let's reject this. Buddhism says that enlightenment is the ultimate human experience - let's just reject this. But the problem is that there is SO MUCH MORE in Buddhism that is incompatible with Christianity than in Platonism or Aristotelianism. The biggest problem seems to be that Buddhism does not value conceptual reasoning so much (even though, when I encountered other Buddhist schools than Zen, they are very rational, analytical etc., so it is a myth that Buddhism is anti-rational, Zen sometimes is). Plato and Aristotle would allow the existence of higher levels of knowledge than discursive reason - they both believed that God and spiritual reality can be known only through intuitive intellectual seeing, not through ordinary thinking. But it does not mean that there is something wrong with reason, that concepts create "illusion". Buddhism is much more close to this view.
In fact, Hinduism is much more close to Platonism and Western metaphysics than Buddhism. But Christian non-duals are not in love with Hindu philosophy. They are in love with the religion and philosophy which is the most remote to Christianity of all.
It is true that Hinduism is much closer to Christianity. Buddhism is only close in the practical, way-of-life bit or moral maxims: basically practicing kindness and detachment (or diminishing pride), but its theory of reality is completely off. There is very little of its theory one can accept. I think a Christian should extract the practical advice on kindness and good-will towards all, and no part of the theory.
Hinduism theory believes in love and relationship, a real divine being. The writings of its saints are shockingly very Christian-sounding. But their theories are also wrong when it comes to Atman. Either they are wrong in claiming that the atman is divine or they are wrong in claiming that it is their own real self. I know there are dualist schools of Hinduism but I don't know how they explain their reality: If they are truly distinct, are they God?
I think Buddhism is more attractive for its limited theories, in my view. To me, it is like psychology. I simply do not care for the theories on ultimate reality, only the insights on detachment, getting rid of addictions, and practicing patience and good will towards all. The practical tips. The whole background for me is the Christian catholic view of reality.
Hinduism is threatening if one is weak in his Christian faith. I was drawn to Catholicism through the lives of the saints, their supernatural love, just like I was drawn to Christianity itself through the powerfully compelling goodness of Christ. When I encountered Hindu saints like Anandayi ma, they had the same attraction for me. If I kept reading them, I felt sure I would end up convinced of the truth of what they taught and end up reading Christ as a great Hindu Avatar than the Jewish messiah or the Christian incarnate Logos! The greater similarities makes it more "risky" for me, than Buddhism.
St. Rubia, I totally agree that there is much wisdom to be found in other world religions, Buddhism in particular. Although Christianity, too, recognizes the problem of selfish craving, and encourages non-attachment from harmful actions and attitudes, the Buddhists have taken all this to another level, as this is at the core of their pathway to liberation. But you also note that you are discerning of what is helpful and what conflicts with Christian teaching. I think it was Thomas Merton who advised people to stay away from other world religions unless they really know what they're doing. In other words, one must first be firmly grounded in one's own faith tradition to be able to sort out what is helpful in others.
Right, Mt. However, as you noted in sentences prior to this:
Of course, we are speaking in generalities here, and naming no names. But that's the extreme outcome of the "Buddhification" of Christianity. I think the way it happens is that those who are "guilty" of these tendencies had received heaping doses of Christian doctrines and intellectual formation, with little contemplative experience to show for it. Buddhist and other Eastern practices opened them up to spiritual experiences, and so they re-interpreted some core Christian convictions in the light of those experiences. E.g., enlightenment = contemplation; meditation = "contemplative practice;" God = emptiness; Holy Spirit = chi, and perhaps even Buddha nature = The Word.
So there are obviously core faith convictions that are a-priori to theological and philosophical formulations, and which illuminate how these formulations are expressed. That's been the case all along in Christian history, though it's sometimes taken decades to clarify what the convictions of the faithful are in complicated matters (e.g., Arianism).
- topic moved to Christian Spirituality Issues forum, which is where I thought I'd opened it.
Glad to see you chiming in, Mary Sue.
I'm going to have another round with Mt's question:
It's often seemed to me that some Eastern practices and teachings discourage critical thinking and minimize the importance of the intellect on the spiritual journey. I've even wondered if some meditative practices actually cripple the intellect! Truth becomes more a matter of experiential knowledge than anything that philosophy or theology can arrive at. We've seen some of this attitude among different forum contributors, at times.
I'm not suggesting for a second that experiential knowledge is unimportant, only that it ought to somehow connect with truth as it is understood in other levels of intelligence. After all, truth is truth, and Christ even proclaimed that it is the truth that will set us free (Jn 8:32). If people just simply said, "I've had experiences that I can't quite articulate," or "my experiences are too deep for words," that would be fine. But when they begin to use words to say something about their experience, then there is the possibility for communicating with others about it. Then the "fun" begins, as it really is hard work sometimes to come to clarity concerning the meaning of the words we are using -- what they sign-i-fy. Words point to something, and if we use them to truly communicate, then we can invite others to see what we are pointing to. That's where the communication seems to break down with some writers on Buddhism. They use Christian words to point to experiences and understandings we're familiar with, only there is some kind of disconnect -- like "the way I use those words doesn't connect with the way you use them." This problem could be explored by both parties with great benefit, but the breakdown comes when one says something like, "well, they're only words," or "those who know don't say, so why did I even bother?"
Words are very important! If one has to explain to another why that is so, then there is already little hope of coming to authentic communication.
I think that there may be two causes of this aversion to the intellect.
1. There are some experiences which seem to contain something like "the words and concepts distort reality". At least, that is my EXPERIENCE
There are some types of metaphysical insight that makes one reluctant to use conceptual thinking, because it seems deeply inadequate or cannot nourish the soul. But also in the Christian tradition there are such cases - some mystics were deeply reluctant to express God in a kataphatic way, they seemed to suffer (like St. Angela of Foligno, XIV century mystic) when she had to talk about God. St. Augustine: we cannot speak, but we cannot be silent about God either.
2. In Zen especially there are some techniques which seem to intentionally weaken our ability to think conceptually. At a certain advance stage of training you have to actively practice not using what they call "discrimination", that is, perceiving differences between things. Actually, I stopped my training for Zen master somewhere at this point. I had a confirmed enlightenment experience, but that is not a big deal in Zen - the real deal is to make this experience constant in every life situation. In order to do that you have to actively let go of any thoughts about differences. Koans are designed to weaken "discriminating intellect", but simple letting go of thoughts can also do that. I think that this training my lead to a state when there is a habit in the soul not to use "discrimination". This is what Phil senses to be the "crippling" of conceptual thinking. But I think it may vary in different practitioners. On the basis of an interesting book "The Good Heart", which is a dialogue between Laurence Freeman and Dalai Lama, I have an impression that Dalai Lama's conceptual thinking is perfectly fine. In fact Dalai Lama insisted on differences between Christian metaphysics and Buddhism (the notion of Creator and creation) as well as rejected those currents in Buddhism which claim that material reality is somehow a projection or creation of the mind. He even insisted that there is some reality to individual identity. I'll try to find the quotation later.
An example from "The Good Heart". The Dalai Lama says:
"the Buddha's own standpoint on the nature of the mind-body relationship versus the identity of the person is the anatman doctrine. That principle states that, apart from the psychophysical aggregates or the skandhas that constitute the being, there is no separate, autonomous, eternally abiding soul-principle. That is a doctrine that is common and universal to all schools of Buddhism. Although this is a universal teaching, there are such diverse philosophical viewpoints even among Buddhists that we find there are again divergences of opinion as to what exactly is the nature of the self or the person. Some Buddhist schools identify the person among the psychophysical aggregates, either as the consciousness or the totality of aggregates and so on, whereas other schools of thought adopt a more nominalist position, maintaining that person or self is a mere designation."
Buddha was asked: "is there such a thing as a personal essence or self?"
"Buddha did not reply to this either positively or negatively. The question came from a person who had a very strong belief in the identification of the self with an eternally abiding soul=principle. Consequently, the Buddha sensed that denying the selfhood of person would lead that individual to experience discomfort and also lead to a nihilism - a total denial of the existence of persons or agents. On the other hand, to affirm the self would again be damaging to that person because it would reinforce his or her clinging to an egoistic, isolated notion of self."
First of all, note how Dalai Lama doesn't say that there is no self or person in Buddhist philosophy. What is denied is the Hindu concept of atman, that is "eternally abiding soul". For Buddha nothing is eternal, everything is born and dies in an endless chain of causes and effects. It is of course inreconcilable with the Christian/Platonic notion of the immortal, spiritual soul as the essence of the person. But it does not mean that the person is an illusion, delusion, some kind of ghost that disappears after you have THE EXPERIENCE. Dalai Lama seems to be sympathetic to those schools of Buddhism who rather emphasize that the person is ultimately impermanent and that it is a whole made from different elements (like body, emotions, perceptions, consciousness). Those who sell the idea that the separate self is some kind of epistemic mistake we make, seem to be what the Dalai Lama describes as the "nominalist" position: in reality there is no person, our names are only labels put on ever-changing aggregates, but do not refer to anything real. But it is but one interpretation of enlightenment.
Secondly, note how the Dalai Lama emphasizes the practical context of Buddhas answer to the question. Buddha was not interested in the truth at all, if by truth we understand classically representing reality by the mind in the form of conceptual statement. Buddha was interested in leading the questioning person to certain experience - he wanted to liberate him from egoism and isolation, and he believed that this is the idea of atman that makes one egoistic and isolated. But he also was very careful not to suggest that there is no self, no person, no soul etc. In fact, from that story we don't know what Buddha thinks about the self and Buddha doesn't care.
But we Christians (Westerners) want Buddha to tell us what he really thinks: is there an eternal soul or not. And the Dalai Lama says that there are Buddhist answers to such questions, even though given reluctantly. But when I take a closer look at the answer, I have an impression that even those metaphysical answers are colored by practical issues. Buddhists are convinced that the belief in the soul is an impediment to freedom, detachment, compassion etc. But what if they were persuaded otherwise? The Dalai Lama knows that there are people who do believe in the "eternally abiding soul" and they are not egoistical and isolated. He is fine with that and doesn't want to cure Christians from their "dualist" positions. Unlike some other Buddhists or quasi-Buddhists.
So my impression is that the Buddhist philosophy doesn't deny the person or the agent per se, just eternal existence of it and the kind of autonomy that Hinduism and Platonism give to the spiritual soul. In Christianity however, this autonomy is nuanced, since the soul is deeply connected to the body and the material dimension.
The last thing is a remark that I found in a book by a Dzogchen master, an Englishman, James Low. He is not only authoritative Buddhist master, but also educated in the Western philosophy and psychology. He emphasizes that what we can liberate ourselves is a objectification or reification of our mind. Our mind has a tendency to experience itself as an object, as a "something" in the world of objects, while its true nature is just pure, open cognitive ability, pure awareness that cannot be seen or perceived. This is an understanding of the mind that we find clearly expressed and conceptualized in ancient philosophy - Plotinus, for example, but St. Augustine in the 10th book of "On the Trinity" carefully emphasizes that the mind cannot know itself, so we cannot know ourselves, because our minds are already pure, cognitive presence that is transparent to itself. Of course, now comes the moment when Buddhists say: But you Christians says there are many such self-transparent minds, while we say that there is only one such mind. But James Low:
"Is there only one mind with many different entries, or rather there are numerous distinct, totally enlightened minds, which just brilliantly dance together? A very interesting question and at the same time a complete nonsense. If you want truly practice Dzogchen, you have to be look out for such nonsensical questions."
Again, James Low clearly states that his purpose is to lead us to the experience of our mind as empty luminosity and we don't need to determine whether there is only one such mind or many. Moreover, thinking about this problem doesn't get us closer to enlightenment, so it is "nonsensical". But according to Low it would be possible for Buddhist philosophy to acknowledge the existence of billions of enlightened minds. I take it as a proof that Buddhism does not necessarily denies the multiplicity of the spirits. It is agnostical about this, but there is a strong tendency for the "one mind" type of Zen view.
By the way, in Hinduism there is advaita, where there is only one mind/soul/spirit. But there are schools in which there are numerous souls which individually achieve enlightenment and liberation (classical yoga, for example).
So perhaps the strong non-dual, unifying ideology that is in dialogue with Christian contemplatives is just one version of the Eastern religions. Again - why such emphasis on this ontological monism? I sense some psychological issues here...
Yes, that sort of thing, and there are other meditative methods that do something similar. Jim Arraj was convinced that zen experiences of oneness could be explained, in part, by this diminishment of what you are calling discrimination, here. If one weakens the mind's ability to make distinctions, then duality seemingly fades away, leaving only this non-reflecting awareness. Is one more in touch with reality in the latter state, however? More human? Is this a good thing?
I think that such experiences can indeed loosen the hold of the mind on its incessant preoccupation with self-definition, accomplishments, judgments, etc. But it almost seems to be a kind of attachment to want to live that way all the time, not to mention an implied rejection of some very basic mental capacities. Still, if it gets one out of suffering, I guess . . .
Thanks for sharing the Dalai Lama's thoughts on some of these matters, and your own reflections, Mt. A book I read on Buddhism years ago indicated this vast plurality of ideas about self and individuality, and also emphasized that discussions about this were discouraged as it seems to distort practice. I'm not getting that part, as, to me, straightforward teaching that sets out what's what and who's who enables one to more fully embrace spiritual practice. I am content, for example, to be a self that really exists without defining myself conceptually or trying to perpetuate some idea of myself. One is more present to oneself and life for having done so, and there is no question whatsoever about whether one actually exists, is an individual, etc.
I had a dialogue on this forum sometime back with a Tibetan Buddhist woman (Tara Springett - aka KundaliniTherapist) who seemed very well established in that tradition. Her thoughts on reincarnation were such that it was difficult to find anything resembling the Christian idea of the soul. I'm not sure the Dalai Lama would agree with some of what she wrote about reincarnation and karma, however.
- see https://shalomplace.org/eve/for...765/m/1504063338/p/1 beginning about page 3 onward.
Mt, that's so interesting. Thanks for that piece of education! I like Dalai Lama: he comes across so sincere/agenda-less. Its nice to listen to nice sincere people, even if we disagree.
Your posts give me all sorts of thoughts.
I have a question: Is the Hindu Atman same as our soul or spirit? I had the impression it is divine, but somehow distinct from Brahman or God. The way you explain it, eternally abiding principle, seems kinda like how we explain our own spirits, though not quite. We believe they actually begin to exist out of nothingness and do not cease to exist thereafter, but only because God so wills. Therefore when you say Buddhism rejects atman-the eternally abiding principle--I am wondering which kind of permanence they are rejecting? Ours or the Hindu one?
Because we Christians in a way reject the idea of permanence of the soul too. We believe we are in our real self, not just our consciousness of ourselves, wholly contingent beings: we do not have to exist. We are brought into existence by a somewhat arbitrary act of God's will. We believe that God is the only truly permanent thing, in the sense of the only necessary thing. Were it not for his sustaining will, we disappear out of existence as we cannot in our own selves continue to be.
So, is it at all possible that it is this kind of thing the Buddhists are intuiting about the impermanence of the self but articulating in a way that sounds confusing to our Christian ears? Might they be trying to say what our saints say when they say we are nothing?
If the atman is divine, the self, then there is something about it that is very different from Christian soul which is not at all eternal in any absolute sense, but comes from nothingness and begins only at a certain point. If what I think of the Hindu atman is correct, then we Christians, like Buddhists, believe in non-atman. I think our own saints sometimes can sound rather Buddhist when describing in humility their own nothingness because to us, the self/existence is total gift. In ourselves, we are "no-self".
I guess what I am asking is if Buddhists may be speaking some truth about the self with their denial of true permanence, IF what they mean by "permanence" is something like what we mean by "self-existence". But they cannot be right about God (who doesn't feature in their philosophy at all) who of course has, uniquely, this permanence lacking in ourselves and all other beings around us. Like them, we believe in non-atman, but in addition we know of a wholly other being who is indeed permanent. Mt, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this.
I am unsure if my understanding of atman or the true self in Hinduism as something self-existent is correct. My thoughts only make sense if that is true.
I suppose you might be right. The problem with the atman is that the concept comes from the Upanishads which are poetic, mystical texts and not philosophy, somewhat like our Bible. Thus all Hindu schools refer to the Upanishads, even though they interpret them differently. The most popular in the West is advaita, Shankaracharya's monism, which understands the famous saying "this atman is brahman" and "you are that" as the identity of the individual spirit with the ground of being. However, there are also pluralistic interpretations of those sayings.There are less known statements from the Upanishads which speak about God's grace as the source of enlightenment or about the distinction between the soul and the Ground. As far as I know, the atman refers to the "I" as the subject - the Up. say it sees but cannot be seem, hears but cannot be heard, thinks but cannot be an object of thought etc. So we come back to the problem of Phil's book - is this I God's I or the I of the universe or just individual I that is united with other beings? Advaita is a radical answer to that. I remember Bede Griffiths explored the less popular aspects of the Upanishads, congruent with St. Thomas or with Christian Platonism.
But the atman has this quality of self-existence, without beginning, without end, a kind of absolute quality to it. I guess Buddha was critical about this, since this was the intellectual environment he lived in.
I like very much your thought that Christianity presents a middle between two extremes. It denies the kind of self-existence and eternal nature of the spirit, which is found in Platonism and Hinduism and Gnosticism, but it asserts the immortality of the intellect. Note that it is not the personality that survives death, according to St. Thomas. It is only the spiritual essence, intellect and will, but in heaven we do not possess our memories, affectivity and the most of what we usually think of as our self. In that sense death is a total loss of the self as we know it. God provides us with knowledge after death, but without his help, we would be just pure awareness without psyche and body, of course.
The insistence on the fact that the human person is not like angels, because it needs the body and the psyche, is against Platonism/Hinduism, but closer to the Buddhist emphasis on the person as a whole.
I'm sure that the Buddhist notion of emptiness is an exaggerated interpretation of what we call contingency of existence. As you pointed out, only God possesses existence necessarily. All the rest, including most sublime angels, receive it as a gift moment to moment. If God didnt support us in existence, we would simply vanish. So perhaps this contingency is what Buddha saw deeply, but he didnt accept the Subsisting Existence. Thus we have the contingent creation without the Creator. By the way, Buddhist philosophy claims the so called infinite regress of causes. Everything comes out of something else, but there is no first cause which would be the cause of itself. For Aristotoe that was intellectually unacceptable. But Budddhists are fine with the infinite regress, since they do not attempt at a coherent metaphysical outlook. Yes, the experience of some Christian mystics, of their nothingness and "wretchedness" seems to be a similar experience, differently interpreted.
Phil, KundaliniTherapist when she says that ego is an illusion she merely says that we are mistaken believing that the essence of our spirit is the flow of objects of consciousness, that we are the body, emotions, mental images constantly changing. We are the space in which they exist. But the Buddhist do not take into consideration that our personhood may be rooted NOT in the representations that arise in the sensible part of the soul, but in this open, luminous space. Since we know only our mind, we have to use intellect in order to conclude that others are similar minds and that there is the absolute Mind like this as well. They, however, stop when they arrive at their own luminous nature and mistakenly conclude that this is all that exists. Since it is tempting to leave conceptual thinkin after the recognition of our luminous nature, what we need is a solid conceptual view and faith before that. We can come back to this after we are struck with those powerful emptiness experiences.
Indeed. It may be, as you put it, that Buddhism and Hinduism are extremes of some truths, while our position, informed as it is by God's own self-revelation, presents truth more completely. Hindus are uninformed of the impermanence/total contingency of the self, while Buddhists remain uninfluenced by the truths of the transcendent necessary (permanent) being, whose being, nature is wholly beyond the intuiting or experiential "science" of the Buddhist, (unlike the self and other beings into which the Buddhist can have insight naturally). God must give himself to this kind of direct experiential knowledge, however, since he is wholly other. Without his self-revelation, publicly (Bible, Prophets, Jesus) or privately (experientially), we can only know of him logically, which both you and Phil say Buddhists do not care that much for. With a philosophy based only on the directly experiential, then without the grace of contemplation, God cannot be known by us.
We Christians affirm both permanence and impermanence but assign them to their proper subjects. (Buddhists and Hindus will totally object to this, I imagine )
For example, I read this Chinese statement on the Wikipedia entry on atman in Buddhism (not the most reliable source, I know)
It seems to me this "self" is not very different from YHWH (I am that I am), because it is sovereign/autonomous (which I read as non-contingent), true/real, eternal and unchanging. However, since they refer to "any phenomenon" with these qualities, I may be totally misreading them (Divinity is not phenomena, is it?)
Either way, If the Buddhist says that we are not YHWH, we whole-heartedly agree. But if he says there IS no YHWH, we whole-heartedly disagree. Similarly, if the Hindu says we are YHWH, we disagree, but agree with him against the Buddhist in affirming that there is in fact, YHWH. The difference from our view is that we have the benefit of God's own self-revelation, and not just our own direct insight into reality/phenomena, something which neither of these two wise traditions have. Hindus believe we come from divinity, we believe we come from nothingness like Buddhists, but unlike Buddhists we believe in a truly permanent being that is responsible for our movement from nothingness to this dependent/conditioned some-thingness, and for the continuation of this conditioned something-ness that we are.
I also agree with the way you put it: that Buddhists have the contingent being without the creator, thus they end up with the endless causes. Our philosophy shows us we must "choose" between infinite regression and the necessary first cause and we have good reasons, both logical and experiential (including God's public self-revelation) to choose the first cause option. Buddha, relying wholly on his insight and not God's revelation like Moses, chose the other road. But its nice to know, regardless, that we both, Christians and Buddhists, start from affirmation of contingency, not just of the "gross level" but of our whole selves, entirely. Thus, we have this in common with Buddhists over Hinduism while we have belief in Divinity (permanence) in common with Hindus over Buddhists.This message has been edited. Last edited by: St. Rubia,
St.Rubia, your wikiquotation is very interesting, because it shows Buddhist assumptions and prejudices about the self. E.g. why the self must be unchanging? Why cant we envisage something that is a real, distinct substance, and yet is changing? Or from the beginning the matter is about dharmas, that is elements, objects of awareness, phenomena. You rightly point out that there may be beings which are not phenomena. I believe that spirits are not, since they are not the knowers of phenomena, not phenomena. It seems that Buddhist analysis begins from some unquestioned assumptions, doesnt it?
That's well-put, Mt, and if you read along you'll see that Tara and I agree on many things. It seems that what I call Self and what you call "luminous space" and what she called "buddha nature" are all pointing to the same kind of experience, which we might describe as our witnessing, observational awareness. "Behind" this there seems to be nothing; it arises moment-to-moment. Within it are the contents of consciousness, including self-image and all manner of ideas, concepts, feelings, desires, etc., which coalesce to for a kind of structure for the Ego.
This connects with some aspects of the wiki description of self shared by St. Rubia, and it seems to be what Wilber means by the Witness. But there can be no doubting its contingent nature, and so I would never associate this with YHWH. Inquiry into its nature and origin cannot help but enlist the intellect, which can come to no definitive answer other than affirm the fact that "it is," or, experientially, "I am," and that's that. Still, as noted above, the experience is completely contingent in that it cannot account for itself and so is obviously not self-subsistent.
I suspect this kind of experience is an indication of the immortality of the human spirit -- that something about who/what we are abides in a realm beyond space and time. It's understandable that some like Jim Marion, Wilber, the Hindus, and others would use the term "divine" or "eternal" in reference to this, but that only attests to their monistic bias, I believe.
Phil, I agree associating it with YHWH maybe dangerous but I just read it as something close to our description of God: ultimate reality, eternal/timeless, unchanging. I guess when they say "sovereign" they may mean only an agent/person that is free? I think of sovereign as not admitting of another authority beyond itself, which I can only associate with Divinity itself. YHWH is all these things. My point in bringing up the quote was to probe whether Buddhists are actually talking about Divinity when they talk of self and permanence so that no-self might only be their way of saying, contingent/dependent/changing being. I do not know much Buddhist "theory" so mine is only speculation, a hobby!
Mt, I think they are only giving their description of what they mean by self, so that it is clear what they are denying in Hinduism. But like I've said to Phil, I don't know enough Buddhist theory to hazard anything but my speculations.
Re. "sovereign". I suppose the Buddhists mean something like "independence", especially, ability to exist without the help of anything else or some kind of resistence to influences. The soul in a Platonic/Hindu scheme of things cannot be touched, destroyed, moved by anything, it doesn't need the body at all. Actually in both Platonic and Hindu theories sensible, material things do not affect the soul - it is the soul that reaches out to them, but the soul doesn't accept any influence from the outside. In Aristotle/St. Thomas on the other hand, the soul is very much influenced and "formed" by sense perceptions and intellectual cognitions, as well as its existence is very intimately linked to the body and the matter. So I guess sovereign would be about that aspect. Again - such absolute sovereignty doesn't exist in Christian, at least, in Thomistic philosophy.
Re. "divine". When I think about the use of this term by Wilber et al., it reminds me of the meaning of that term in ancient Greece and Rome. In fact, the ancient Greeks used the word "theos", "god" to anything that seemed to them to be above the ordinary human nature, e.g. something immortal. The Greek gods, obviously, do not seem divine in the sense that they are eternal, have not origin or cannot be harmed. Achilles or Hercules could fight with the gods and even win. It was quite common also to call human beings "gods" or "divine" in many contexts - kings or emperors where called "divine", but great poets or philosophers also were called "godlike" from time to time. It seems to be similar in ancient India. Thus it seems that outside the Jewish/Christian/Muslim context "god" and "divine" are used more loosely to describe anything that goes beyond ordinary human. In that sense I understand why people after experiencing the extraordinary beauty and dignity of the human spirit cry out loud in amazement: "This must be divine!" But in Christian context "divine" means something else - self-substiting existence, utterly transcendent, utterly "other" than anything we know and can know. Perhaps this clarification would help in this total semantic mess... But we cannot demand that people stop using "divine" in this wider sense, since it is embedded in mythical traditions. We can, however, that Christians, like Keating or Rohr, or people who call themselves Christians, like Marion, use this term according to the Christian tradition and not in some non-Christian fashion, since it creates unnecessary confusion. By the way, it is sad that we think of ourselves so little, that when we discover the amazing nature of our souls, we cannot but say it is "divine". Well, our nature is an image of the Divine, so perhaps this is somewhat acceptable. The sun reflected in a clear water is dazzling to our sight in the same way the real sun when we look into it. Somehow the water itself is shining. But without the sun reflecting itself, it would be just dark water, without any light of its own (of course, old Eastern Christian metaphor for the soul as the image of God).
One more thing about the way that Buddhism sneaks into Christian contemplation. And here non-dualists are not to blame. I remember talking to a Christian monk who became a Zen master. He said to me that he chose monastic life after having a contemplative experience of God as a young man. It was the early sixties, I guess. When he went there, he used to kneel before the Most Holy Sacrament for hours. His knees used to be sore and bleed. During his prayer he started to feel powerful currents of energy, as if shock of electricity piercing through his body, giving a sense of "spiritual orgasm". He also had other kundalini-related experiences. His novice master or any other monk in the monastery couldn't help him in understanding this. When he met a priest engaged in Zen practice, he got his answers. But this path led him ultimately to identifying contemplation with enlightenment. I understand why it happened, even though I don't say it must have happened that way. Despite all the work that James Arraj and Phil did for finding room in Christianity for kundalini and enlightenment (as forms of contemplative experiences distinct from relational contemplation), still people who experience any of that will naturally incline to Buddhism and non-dualism, since there are teachers there who are more than eager to explain everything in a coherent fashion (although a non-Christian one).
What to do about that? I honestly don't know. I have an utmost respect for Joseph Ratzinger Benedict XVI, but his document about Christian prayer vs Eastern meditation sounds like the metaphysical experience of "union with the ocean of being", as he called it there, is treated very much like something alien to Christianity or even somehow dangerous. Of course, his goal was to criticize the "Buddhification" of Christian contemplative spirituality, that is why he downplays metaphysical contemplation, but I'm afraid we need a more nuanced document, if the Church is to help people who experience enlightenment in the Christian context. Well, maybe this is so small a number of people that we shouldn't bother, but, on the other hand, every soul is important...
What do you think of discussing briefly this document?
For a start.
The two dangers the letter mentions, Gnosticism and Messalianism, have been many times and deeply discussed here. On this thread they inevitably appeared: 1. experience as something higher than dogmas, sacraments and human intellect, 2. experience as the only proof of being united to God.
#12. Some use eastern methods solely as a psycho-physical preparation for a truly Christian contemplation; others go further and, using different techniques, try to generate spiritual experiences similar to those described in the writings of certain Catholic mystics.13 Still others do not hesitate to place that absolute without image or concepts, which is proper to Buddhist theory,14 on the same level as the MAJESTY of God revealed in Christ, which towers above finite reality. To this end, they make use of a "negative theology," which transcends every affirmation seeking to express what God is and denies that the things of this world can offer traces of the infinity of God. Thus they propose abandoning not only meditation on the salvific works accomplished in history by the God of the Old and New Covenant, but also the very idea of the One and Triune God, who is Love, in favor of an immersion "in the indeterminate abyss of the divinity."15 These and similar proposals to harmonize Christian meditation with eastern techniques need to have their contents and methods ever subjected to a thorough-going examination so as to avoid the danger of falling into syncretism.
This passage is reasonable and points only to the need of examination in order to avoid dangers.
#16. The majority of the great religions which have sought union with God in prayer have also pointed out ways to achieve it. Just as "the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions,"18 neither should these ways be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured.
This sounds even more encouraging, acknowledging the human ways to God present in the religions.
In #24 and #30 there is also an interesting remark on the meaning of the supernatural contemplation. It cannot be imitated through efforts (what comes of it Arraj described in his book on acquired contemplation) and it is God, and not contemplation, that should be the object of our love and desire.
In general, when I'm re-reading the letter, it seems like an excellent basis for discussion and evaluation of any metaphysical and apophatic methods of meditation. But what is missed here - perhaps just because it wasn't the purpose of the letter - is the path to natural enlightenment, which wouldn't tend to replace Christian prayer or even try to imitate Eastern experiences, but be an expression of a deeply Christian contemplation of the wonder of the existence as a mirror in which God is dimly reflected.
(I'm a little behind in my replies, as it's been very busy here the past few days.)
It's difficult to see how anyone could assert having an experience that is "eternal" or "sovereign." These attributes of God are affirmed on the basis of revelation and/or attributing to God "ultimacies" that would be proper to a self-subsistent being. In addition to the above, we would also say that YHWH is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. The "witness" experience does not meet these criteria, which is one reson I've never understood why people like Wilber consider it divine.
- - -
Mt, I read and re-read that document on Christian meditation years ago and thought it was very good, on the whole, balancing kataphatic and apophatic approaches. There's a lot of good teaching there, and I agree that it doesn't touch on some of the possible positive outcomes of Eastern approaches. It affirms these as means of preparing for Christian prayer, as you noted, but that's about as far as it goes. I don't think the intent was to show how we might understand the unitive experiences of other traditions in comparison with the Christian, though it does sound the alarm concerning claims that it goes "beyond," as you also have noted.
Jim Arraj, taking his cues from Jacques Maritain, tried to demonstrate how we might understand some of these Eastern non-dual experiences in a Thomistic framework. His God, Zen, and the Intuition of Being is one of my favorite books. As you all know, there is a reluctancy these days to speak of "natural" versus "supernatural," especially concerning grace, so this approach has never really caught on. But if we don't make these kinds of distinctions, we can end up conflating radically different experiences -- e.g., Willigis Jaeger.
Mt, exactly what is the enlightenment experience? I have experienced "spiritual stuff" before, which I felt was not like that described by Christian spiritual writers. One felt like a very small/minor awakening: I mean literally, the sense of "waking up" to another reality, and the world no longer looking the same. I lost the experience but I still remember it well enough to describe some of it. I was no longer attached to what I called the "paper" me, or what I regarded as a very shallow aspect of myself and its desires. I was joyful. I never experienced "oneness" that people describe, or the sense that I and the universe were one thing. I just experienced the universe as lovely and full of God (especially trees and mountains) and I lost my depression. I think it healed some issues because I literally "forgot" the stuff that was making me sad, remembering the details but not the feelings, then after a while of not thinking even of the details, forgot some of the events themselves, only recalling them through the diary. Would this fall under what Pope Benedict was criticizing in that document?
What exactly is the enlightenment experience? Well, a good question...
I'm using here this term in the possibly widest sense, to denote all kinds of natural, metaphysical, intuitive experiences that have something to do with the existence of the world, of the soul and of God. It does not mean a self-revealing of God through love, where God shows his inner life as a person to a person.
But the enlightenment as such is defined differently in different spiritual traditions and religions. I'd practiced Zen meditation for several years and had some little experience of enlightenment in that tradition, but I stopped and I'd not dare to say that from that time my metaphysical experiences are "Zen experiences" in the strict sense.
I would say that experientially, phenomenologically, what I call "enlightenment experiences" are those experiences which have a prevailing character of awareness, consciousness, knowledge through unknowing, but a sense of God being present through love is not there or is given somehow through awareness (I had many "mixed" experiences, which were quite confusing for me over the years - I even came up in my journals with terms like "warm enlightenment" and "cold enlightenment" to distinguish between those experiences in which there was a sense of Jesus Christ being present and those in which there was not any such sense). In relational, love experiences, awareness is not at the central stage, so to speak. Of course, we are aware, acutely, but we are aware OF LOVE. In enlightenment there is a sort of insight into awareness as such, into what it means to be aware (which seems to be the same as to simply exist - to be means to be aware and to be aware means to be aware of existence). Of course, there are hoards of metaphors that seem appropriate to describe what I call enlightenment or metaphysical experiences: infinite openness, luminous space, shining nothingness, fertile emptiness, bright darkness, state of unknowing, peaceful energy, simple looking, looking through things, clarity, there is no thing in the whole world, there is only the present moment etc. Sometimes it's like you are driving your car with a dirty window ahead of you. But you get used to it, so you don't actually notice. But when you clean the window and it is so clean that you don't notice the glass, only what is behind it, you realize how dirty it was a while ago. Sometimes I have this realization - when there is this clarity, I'm amazed how "dirty" and "opaque" the ordinary awareness is. But when I come back to this opaqueness, I have no memory or way to bring about this clarity again.
Of course, there are different degress of oneness, too. But I'd not say that "oneness" must be always experiences. I think you might have experienced some kind of insight into the existence of the world. For me, too, being in nature on a sunny day used to give this sense of almost "sacredness" of nature and immense beauty of it. Yes, beauty, great beauty.
I benefited greatly from conceptual distinctions between enlightenment and love experiences of God, but in my case, it is mostly that they come somehow together and mixed, so that, amazingly, I sense his loving presence through the luminous awareness of my soul and when he draws me through love there is a sense of enlightenment too. I can't describe it precisely, I'm afraid. I know only one thing - loving presence experience is infinitely better than thousands of enlightenments! In years I also realized that only ordinary dry Christian faith, without any devout feelings is what I would prefer to enlightenment.
Excellent response, Mt. I'd concur that "enlightenment" usually signifies a predominance of awareness over reflective consciousness and loving union (which is effected through the will). This awareness can be of varying degrees of depth and clarity. After one "sees how it works," one can "tune in" to this non-reflecting awareness to some degree at almost any time.
Your post also highlights something I've noticed as well -- namely, that Christian faith configures our consciousness and receptivity so that we remain sensitive to God's presence in the experience, even though the mind and will are still. I suppose it's possible for a Christian to eventually have their faith "squeezed out" if they abandon all Christian practices and go over completely to another religion, however. Some, indeed, seem to have done so -- or what's left of their Christian faith is so deeply influenced by another tradition as to be hardly recognizable to other Christians.
Derek has written a fine booklet on a non-dual experience he had and has accounted for it from the perspective of developmental psychology.
- see https://shalomplace.org/eve/for...3110765/m/3004041828 for a discussion of his work.
also: http://shalomplace.com/res/xianenli.html for a description I wrote many years ago.
Non duality isn't just about odd or occasional experiences it's about existence in it's entirety.
You could spend days awake straining and being relentless focused on achieving a dual state or oneness then fall into deep asleep every night which is in itself a non dual state.
The trick of course is to not fall asleep when the body falls asleep and not fall asleep when the mind falls asleep. This is not easy!
Far better to come back into awareness once asleep. This like being in a dark place all alone with absolutely no input from the senses and no body awareness and no mind function. Some might have waking experience of this and been dismayed by it immediately jolting back into 'normality'. Some find that not being aware of the breathing function frightens them back into normal awareness.
Be dismayed or frightened for that first occasion but you're still here are you not and don't be either afraid or dismayed when it happens again.
Of course all that is felt when being and remaining for a duration in such a state is the sense of self and it is at this point that the feeling of being a self is at it's strongest and not a mental or social construct.
Such experiences may well be the origin of the idea of people having a soul and a separate one at that.
There is purpose to this and that is to take this state back into 'normal'(with the lights on as it were) consciousness with you where you might find that there are bodies around you talking to you as if they were you.
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