Part III. Chapter 5
The Necessity of Non-Dualism Today.
In this chapter, we will first consider the belief in the living liberated being (jivan mukta) as a possible link, even a hinge between ualism and non-dualism
The question of jivanmukta, the living liberated being, enables us to summarize both the proximity and the disagreement of dualist and non-dualist conceptions. Vedanta says that man can liberate himself in this very life fully and that his consciousness becomes one with the Absolute, dualists refuse this possibility.
To contextualize the question of the jivan-mukta
We can say that Christianity recognizes a single case of liberated living being, that of Jesus himself. I have detailed this question in the second part of this very book.. One the other hand, there are a few devotional schools in India like that of Madhva which categorically refuse the possibility of jivan-mikta; it is interesting to note that the logic of this refusal leads them to claim the existence of three different substances at the basis of God, the soul and the world respectively, and to also believe in eternal paradise and hell. Madhya’s followers are the only ones to strictly believe in that, apart from Jains. (2) They basically fall back on the ordinary Christian conception. On the contrary Vivekananda describes the jivan-mukta thus : ‘All time is in him, but he is not in time. All the paradises are in him, but he is not these paradises.’ (3) If we accept that suffering comes from ignorance and not from sin, it seems pretty natural to admit that a complete knowledge can liberate from bondage. An ancient Indian text says :‘Although consciousness is unknowable, one can nevertheless realize it.’ (4)
This leads us to establish an essential disctinction which is constant in India, but which is not so clear in Christianity : the difference between what can not be said and what can not be experienced. Indeed, we could make two lists of equally important quotations : God is revealed completly, especially through Jesus Christ, he can be seen face to face, and, on the contrary, God is inaccessible, ‘hidden in the cloud’. This contradiction has made much ink flow among Christian thinkers. The non-dualist solution is simple : one has to distinguish in the interpretation of ‘inaccessible’ the field of language and of reason from that of direct experience. Divine essence or the Absolute is inaccessible to the first, but accessible to the second. What is important is not to make God an object of knowledge, but to become knowledge itself. We find non-dualist institutions in the Old Testment : there is for instance this strange passage in Deuteronomy where one does not know any longer if it is God or Moses who is speaking (Deut 29, 1-6). Moses starts affirming : ‘All of you have seen what Yahwe has made in front of your eyes.’ Then he continues without transition (v. 4) : ‘I have led you forty years through the desert’ what can be understood either of Yahwe, either of Moses, or of both together, then, without any transition : ‘in order for you to know that I, Yahwe, I am your God’. One usually translates the introductory sentence of Psalm 90 by : ‘From Moses, the man of God’ which means the man who is God according to the usual turn of the Hebrew sentence. If the author had really wanted to say ‘the man of God’, he would have written ‘shel elohim’. This phrase of ‘man-God’ comes pretty often in the Book of the Kings, especially regarding Elisha and the miracles he accomplishes. (K IV, 21 for instance.).
For the Fathers, the complete deification of man is only possible after death : this corresponds to the notion of liberation at the time of separation from the body (vi-deha mukti) which is accepted by Vednta (besides jivan-mukti) and devotional schools as well. In the Old Testament, the expression ‘You will be like Gods’ is ambiguous; it is used by the snake to tempt Eve (Gen III, 5), but Yahwe can say to Moses : ‘You are a god for Aaron’ (Fx 4-16).
Dualists reject the idea of the knowledge of Gods’s essence, because they fear excessiveness. However, jivan-muktas of India show the example of perfect simplicity in their behaviour. On the other hand, from the theoritical viewpoint, they do not have any basis for pride because they can not have any ego left.
Dualists say that man can not know the essence of God, because, should he do so, he would become almighty, omniscient and creator. But a great non-dualist sage like Ramana Maharshi answers back saying that our anthropomorphic projections only lend three qualities to God : ‘The greatness of somebody increases in proportion with his humility. The reason of the supreme state of God, by which the whole universe bends in front of him, is His sublime humility which does not know the least ego, even during moments of inattention.’ (5) Likewise, when Ramana Maharshi was asked if he was omniscient, he would simply answer :‘I know everything I need to know.’ As for the creative power, it is not considered as supreme in Hinduism. The creator god (Brahma) is helped by an organizer, a good handworker who is called ‘Vishwakarman’, 'he who makes the world'. He is the tutelary god of the caste of handworkers and engineers...Moreover, this power of creation is not completly excluded among jivan-muktas : materializations are part of miracles which are reported in the life of Indian saints even in our century. The most well known guru in this field is Sathya Sai Baba, who is said to have fifty million followers throughout the world. Before saying that man cannot know God’s essence because he has not His powers, we should revise our conceptions of those, to wonder if they are not heavily anthropomorphic, influenced by the archetype of a superman possibly loaded with a super-ego...
Signs of non-dual experience among Christian mystics
The non-dual experience is the characteristic of the living liberated being, the jivan-mukta : his realization gives him a complete stability. Christian authors can be divided into two groups : the first one is mostly made of theologians or bishops and preachers : they reject this possibility with curses, seeing in it the sign of a ‘Luciferian pride’ and implicitly the first symptoms of disobedience to the hierarchy, which needs devotees’ sin to firmly settle the grip of its power..The second group, mainly including mystics, monks and hermits, thinks that this perfection without possibility of relapse is possible and hints with some nostalgia at the full deification right in this life which the dualisic theolgy forbids.
We can quote a few reflections of the authors of the first group who do not believe in the possibility of liberation from evil in this very life, a doubt which corresponds to the opinion and experience of most people. John of the Ladder speaks of the ‘perfect and never perfect perfection of the perfects...’ (6) It seems that Arsen was ever afraid to be in a state of sin, even on his deathbed : to his brothers who were seeing him crying at that moment and who were asking him : ‘In truth, you too, are you afraid, Father?’ ‘In truth’, he answered them, ‘the awe which is mine at this time has been accompanying me since I became a monk.’ And thus he fell asleep. (7) The common opinion is that, ‘passions continue to live, they are simply enchained by the saints'. (8)
However, when we read the experiences of mystics attentively, we find many hints about experiences of non-duality and of stable perfection. Often, they try to correct their ‘blunder’ by saying that their union with God is only within the limits of the difference of natures, but this sounds like a secondary rationalization of the experience itself . In the very New Testament there is an avowal of Saint Peter which puts theologians in a quandary. He says in his Second Epistle (II P I, 4) ‘...in order for us to become ‘common’ to the divine nature’ (theias koinonoi phuseos). Koinonoi really means ‘common’, ‘sharing’ is a tampered translation. Symeon the New Theologian says : ‘For the perfects who are already in the divine Light, the day of the Lord (the day of Judgment) will not come’, (9) or again ‘0 divine Love, he who has known Thee or has been known by Thee cannot conceive doubts any longer.’ (10) It was the same Symeon who would affirm not only the possibility, but probably the necessity of the state of liberated living being when he was saying : ‘He who has not seen God in this life will not see him in the other.’ Seraphim of Sarov, in his famous talk with Molotov, does not fall short of this when he says : ‘One must reach to the perfect measure of Christ’s stature... Then, this joy we feel in this moment, which is partial and brief, will appear in all its fulness and fulfil our being of ineffable delights which nobody will be able to rob.’ (11) He clearly speaks of an experience which happens right in this life. Certain Fathers acknowledge that the war between vice and virtue ends, that one becomes all light and that grace ceaselessly acts. (12) Then, ‘the wax of the intellect fully becomes divine Light.’
John Bar Kaldun, from the Syrian monastic tradition, describes spiritual progress in way which reminds us of the Upanishads : ‘The body becomes mystically subtile and takes the place of the soul. The soul takes the place of the intelligence, the intelligence of the spirit and the spirit becomes God it is truly God and the body, the soul and the intelligence serve it. Leave me, brother, and do not oblige me to speak of this state any longer. He who has become worthy of it does not need to be instructed from outside any longer, he is his own master’. (13) As often, we find interwoven the notion of complete unity with the Divine and the notion of complete liberation from bondage right in this life. In the Katha Upanishad, the following progression is found (3, 6, 10-12) ‘Higher than the senses are the objects of sense, higher that the objects of sense is the mind (manas), higher the intellect (Buddhi), higher is the Great Self (Atma), higher the Unmanifest (avyakta), and higher the Person (Purusha). Higher than the Person there is nothing at all, that is the goal, that is the highest course. Although it is hidden in all things, that soul (atman) shines not forth. However, it is seen by subtle seers, with superior, subtle intellect.’
A simile which comes back often among dualist mystics is that of the soul as a pure mirror of the Divine : we find the same comparison among non-dualists where intellect itself is considered as a reflection of the Self. When one ponders over this, how can a mirror reflect the formless infinite if it is not itself infinite and formless, which means one with it by essence? There is no room for the veil of distinction in this complete transparence which is hinted at in this recent mystic of Mount Athos : ‘When we are completly divested, this looking of God on us will become vision of God for us.’ (14) When there is only looking left, this means that there is only one consciousness without any particular object of insight : this is the very definition of non-dual experience.
There exists a knowledge beyond the duality of human and divine substances. Is not this knowledge hinted at by Sain Nil of Sinai when he said : ‘Prayer is the prelude of transubstantial knowedge’ (15). John of the Ladder quotes the verse of Psalm 46 which was dear to Ramana Maharshi : ‘Be silent, and know that I am God,’ and he simply adds, ‘and I am the impassibility (apatheia)’. He does not say, ‘I reflect myself into the impassibility’, he says, ‘I am the impassibility’, when he makes God speak. This means that this stoppage of the mind which is apatheia is complete and undifferentiated union to the Divine : thus exactly falling back on the definition of Yoga at the beginning of Patanjali’s aphorisms : ‘Yoga (union) is the stoppage of mind movements.’ When this cessation of every movement occurs, ego disappears and the subject becomes one with the Absolute.
Can the essence of the incomprehensible God be revealed to the mystic?
To this question, non-dualists will answer ‘yes’ and dualists ‘no’. It is interesting to take again arguments which have been advanced by John Chrysostome supporting God’s incomprehensibility and to reconsider them from the non-dualist point of view.
John Chrysostome was opposing Anomeans who were affirming that one could know God. To clarify the discussion, we should distinguish as we did above intellectual knowlwdge from experiential knowledge. The first does not enable one to know God; it would come to discover ‘God’s equation’. The second, on the contrary, enables one to get identified to the pure divine consciousness if we follow non-dualism in that. Anomeans may have developed a real path of knowledge, at least for a few of them, in spite of the accusations of rationalism leveled by John Chrysostome. Nevertheless, we will only discuss at this higher level the relationship between the path of knowledge and incomprehensibility of God.
We cannot, though, completly neglect the context : their unpleasant atmosphere of polemics, of persecuting heretics; and when John was stopping for a while, it was only to attack the Jews.
John Chrysostome was not himself a silent person : he is the most prolific author of the Greek Patrology with 18 volumes to his credit. He needed to preach for his personal balance; he said, ‘My preaching heals me.’ (16) This is not a very good psycho-spiritual sign...
His style does not sound proper for true meditation on deeper truths. He speaks of Anomeans in these terms : ‘Believe me, a quiver of horror grasps me when I have to name their idea, for I am trembling to express though my mouth what they ceaselessly stir up in their mind. What is the root of all these evils? It came when somebody dared say : ‘I know God as God knows Himself.’ Does such a claim needs disproving?... There is in that an obvious madness, an unforgivable dementia, a quite new kind of impiety; nobody yet dared to put anything of this sort in his mind or to express it through his mouth.’ (17) However, this definition of Anomeans’ basic proposition corresponds well to a non-dualist path which is common in the East, and which is usually not suspected of dementia, at least in Hinduism and Buddhism.
Chrysostome’s fundamental argument is simple : we know only very little of the working of the universe, so how could we know God’s essence as an object, but to realize that we are that essence already. Besides, why should we try to know the functioning of the universe completly? At close scrutiny, this only represents problems of mechanics which are not the main thing. On the contrary, knowing God’s essence is a very intersting aim which deserves our spiritual endeavours.
To reconcile the prophets’ words, ‘I have seen God face to face,’ with Saint Paul’s 'At present, we only see God in part’, we can put forth two interpretations at least : first, Saint Paul may have said this ‘in part’ out of humility, in order not to shock the readers of his epistle. Or, a second interpretation which is less expected: he actually only knew God in part when he was writing his epistle : he was in his work phase, being quite busy to create communities in various areas of the Roman empire. Later, he may have seen God completly before his martyrdom, the proximity of physical death accelerating the death of the ego and of his identifications to a role of missionary or of preacher. He did not want, or was not able to speak of this experience. It is an hypothesis which cannot be proved, but which cannot be disproved either.
There would be other points to discuss, but let us come to the crux of the mater : John Chrysostome, as a bishop in charge of the discipline, actually does not like mystics : ‘If God forbids us this knowledge on the way by which souls happen to be in the body, it is in order to shut up our mouth and to contain us more easily, in order to teach us to remain in our humble condition, not to want to scrutinize what is beyond us and to renounce an indiscreet curiosity.’ (18) In more direct terms, it represents a condemnation of a genuine mysticism, and in exchange His Lordship John proposes for us a parochial-like limited pietism. It is a pity so many listended to and followed him.
Non-Dualism in the West : Theory and Practice
I have nothing technical to say about the practices of non-dualism in the West, I send everyone to the spiritual teacher he follows. But I can say I am convinced that a practice is necessary. In Indian tradition, the true teching of non-duality was mostly imparted from master to disciple, as in Zen as well; people like Vivekananda came and supported the idea of Vedanta possible for everyone. The risks of an ill-interpreted non-duality are obvious. First, there is the primary reasoning according to which ‘everything is in everything, so I can do anything.’ Here, we should understand a difference in the cultural context : the Hindu can rather easily dispense with a personal God because they consider the law of karma as well-evident. They firmly believe in a responsability of the individual which is ever extended to later births. I think there cannot be any serious teaching of non-duality, of the impermanence and of the unreality of the world if there is not an education of the sense of responsability at the same time.
Another risk of the non-dualist teaching and of the path of ‘spontaneous realization’ is laziness. The problem is not new. The Zen Master Myoe was already complaining of that in the XIIIth century : ‘The Law is without aspect; so, there will appear disciples who like to lie down easily’, Another risk is pride: the difficulty is not to repeat 'I 'I am God', 'I am realized', parrots could probably do this should they be so trained. The difficulty is to have a real awakening. Moreover, a minimum of common sense allows one to understand that one can hardly say ‘I am awakened’, since, if one is really so, who is there to say ‘I’? It is true that one has the impression, while reading traditional non-dualist texts, that awakening can occur like the stroke of a magic wand. But at the same time, magic is called ‘maya’ in Sanskrit, and this very maya must be brought to an end. Is someone who is still fascinated by the magic of the manifold world able, by an additional magic trick, to make Reality emerge ? After new philosophers and new poors, will we see new sophists trying to justify an absence of practice by intellectual jugglery? Non-duality means a loss of support, it is like being suspended in the void. Who dares jump?
A notion which should be well understood is that of ‘beyond the pairs of opposites’. The jnani (non-dualist sage) is certainly beyond good and bad, but rather on the good side all the same... He has no reason whatsoever to do a bad action, which would be anyhow inspired by an ego he does not have any longer. He is rather beyond the notion of pure and impure, he has also gone beyond the rituals. Sometimes, he may have questionable behaviors in the eyes of his disciples, but he does not have to justify humself by explanations or reasonings : the very intensityof his love is sufficent for them to understand that the sage acts for the longterm good of others. Spiritual masters may be dualist or non-dualist, they should be evaluated in the light of the words of the Gospel : ‘Judge the tree by its fruit.’ Is the one who hints he is liberated really liberated from the dependency on money, on the sexual force and on his social image of spiritual teacher ? How has he gone beyond the tendency to manipulate ? If one lives next to him for some time and keeps these criteria ever in mind, he must be able to realize quite well what is the level of the master and to know if the first attraction he has felt towards him is justified or not.
Another subject which could be pondered upon if one wishes to see the development of a credible non-dualism in the West is the law of supply and demand : up to which extent is the spiritual ‘market’ governed by this law, or can transcend it ? Shirdi Sai Baba, probably the most well known saint in XXth century India, would have liked to give Liberation to his visitors, but these were most often approaching him for material graces or miracles. He reluctantly accomplished them while saying : ‘I give them what they want, waiting for the time when they ask me what I want to give them.’ Many ‘seekers’ mostly want to listen to what pleases them. They go to meet a psychologist, or why not a spiritaual teacher, it is more prestigious, in order to have their wrongful doings approved and to buy ‘indulgences’ like in the Middle Ages; in their modern form, these indulgences can correspond to promises of the paradise of Realization without effort, the fatigue being left to primitive people who do not know either the ‘high speed trains’ or the spiritual elevators, but are content to walk on their two feet and to depend upon their own strength. The Indian proverb : ‘When the disciple is ready, the guru arrives,’ has its negative side, its shadow also : ‘When the disciple is ready to be cheated about himself, gurus teem around’...
A defect of present-day Westerners in comparison with the traditional mode of teaching is that they embark on the on the spiritual care of others, the opening of a center, etc...There is in that a mixture of new convert proselytism and also often of financial necessity. Even if by this activity of spiritual care, they can develop certain spiritual skills, their inner progress risks being barred, complicated by a problem of double personality, that of the teacher and that of the private person which are stuck together in the same body.
If we wish a credible practice of non-dualism, we should also seriously consider a reduction of mental pollution which comes from the excess of information, especially of violent or sensational images. Everything which penetrates in the mind leaves its trace on it, on this point psychology and yoga agrees. Spiritual experience does not need an intermediary, it is immediate, I would like to be able to say ‘im-media’, without medias, in order to condensate in a word the necessity of seriously putting at a distance this new form of pollution.
To conclude this section on the theory and practice of non-dualism in the West and on the necessity of discernment, I would like to come back once more to the wisdom of the ancients : this time, two Chinese sayings come to my mind :’ Attracting many people most often is not proof of wisdom, but of skillfulness,’ and ‘He who knows practices, he who does not know , he teaches...’
The Last Countrpoint of the Two and the One
If we wish a true dialogue between dualism and non-dualism, it is important to know what non-dualism thinks of dualism. This is what I have tried to show precisely throughtout this paper. Usually, the comparision between these two tendencies, dualism and non-dualism, is made by Christian theologians or by academicians who feel obliged to remain most often in a ‘desinfected neutrality’. Such is not my point of view. These questions are important for spiritual life, and it is good to speak of them from inside. As for me, having been residing for nine years in India, I follow a non-dualist path, that of Vendanta.
In a way, there is only a minute difference between the two paths at the top. Dualism tends towards its own limit, and non-dualism reaches it; however, from the viewpoint of the mystic, this minute difference can represent a great abyss, a real night of the mind : this occurs when he realizes that the deity with whom he could speak, of whom he could have visions, gets dissolved, and that his form may have been only a projection of his own mind. If he goes through this trial, he discovers the Deity beyond God, what we could also call the ‘metatheism’ beyond monotheism.
One cannot follow all the paths at the same time. However, it is often said in India that wihin a true bhakta, a jnani hides and within a true jnani, a bhakta hides. Love and knowledge are on a par. Vivekananda could say : ‘True atheism consists in not believing in oneself’. Spiritual masters of contemporary India like Ramakrishna, Ma Anandamayi and at present Ma Amritanandamayi show well that there is a state where one can come and go between love and knowledge with perfect ease.
One can find in the Gospels, especially in the discourse at the Last Supper in John, ‘great words’, analogous to the mahavakyas of the Upanishads like ‘You are That’, ‘I am Brahman’, etc. They can be used as objects of meditation by Christians who want to evolve towards non-dualism : ‘I am in my Father, you are in me and I in you,’ (Jn. XIV, 10) or else : ‘May all be one as Thou, Father, are in me and I am in Thee, may they also be one in us.’ (Jn. XVII, 20) Another ‘great word’ to meditate on for non-dualist Christians comes from Saint Paul : ‘I do not live any longer, but Christ lives in me’. (Gal, II, 20) In this affirmation, who is this ‘I’ who speaks?
Elsewhere, one can also find certain formulae which resound like mantras : for instance Spinoza’s famous expression : ‘The love by which the soul loves God is a part of the love by which God loves Himself.’ (20) Or these words of Ma Anandamayee which she used to repeat : ‘The eternal Self, the eternal pilgrim, they are He, He only’. Eugraph Kovalevsky, an Orthodox bishop, recommends a prayer whose experimental efficacity is absolute according to him: it may be due to the fact that it is a direct expression of a non-dualist Christianity; this prayer is very simple : ‘Love Thyself in me.’ (21)
Saint Paul would oppose philosopher’s wisdom preferring the craziness of devotion to Christ; but it seems that devotion has become too familial a wisdom : to the Father and the Son was added the Mother, all that looks like a good child’s conception; but the one who follows a real path of knowledge can be called a genuine mad for God, because he is in a state where there are neither mad nor God.
Non-dualism is especially interesting for a monk - this is especially known in India. For does the one whose name ‘alone’ ‘one’ (from monos), not long towards Unity? Why should he be sentenced to a life of duality by a theology which rests too much on the ordinary and common experience of duality?
The beggar who has only one coin clings to it desperately because he has nothing else. Is it not a sign of lack of mystical experience if certain theologians see differences where he who has the full richness of inner experience only sees unity? One may object that I have ‘pulled the blanket’ in the non-dualist sense during this article and that I have not taken the dualistic context in which most of my quotations have been uttered. But it is precisely because they have been spoken in this dualist context that we can be sure they sprang up from the experience itself rather than from any education cultural conditioning. After having been content during his youth, with dualism, a dualism which remains a metaphysics of dependence, the mystic longs, when maturity comes, to experience the metaphysics of the One, the Alone and the Independent. The path of knowledge leads to tolerance due to its apophatic method which consists in regularly rejecting set ideas, and not icentifying to a given name of the Absolute. It is a solace to see that at a time when Christianity had a rather passionate policy of expansion and conversion, a mystic like Pseudo-Denys could write : ‘Everything which is not according to this truth disappears before the undisputable stability of intrisnsic truth. Thus, having adopted this opinion which I consider good, I never look for controversies with Greeks or with others, because it is sufficent for me to know the truth; may God grant this me.’ (22)
There is an interesting comparison to make between the Christian Orient and this other Orient which is India regarding non-dual experience : the uncreated light which is so important in Orthodox mysticism, seems to be one with ‘svaprakasha’, the spontaneous light of the Self which is often spoken of in Vedanta. After all, why would two different lights take birth from this Orient where one sun rises?
There is not such a great difference between the path of devotion which says : ‘I am Thine’ and the path of knowledge which says ‘I am Thou’. In every path, the intensity of exprience is important. Through experience, one reaches Love, or the felicity of complete Knowledge (vijnanananda). In conclusion to this study, I would like to let Kabir speak, this great sage who was an illiterate weaver of Banaras :
‘If I say ‘One’, it is not that,
If I say ‘two’, it is calumny.
Kabir has much meditated on that :
It is as it is.’ (23)
(j'ai copie-colle seulemement cette page, la p.169 ne passe pas vers a la fin de Part 3 ch4 peut-etre parce qu'il n'y a pas de page supplementaire dans la numerotation)
1) Brosse Jacques ‘Le Zen et 1‘Occident’ Albin Michel, Spiritualites vivantes, 1992.
2) Crant Saru ‘Towards an Alternative Theology-Confessions of a Non-dualist Christian’ Asian Trding Corporation, Banglore, 500025, India 1991.
3) Pr-donys ‘In theologia mystiqan - Leteers’ Migix, 1994, p. 8.
4) Lossky Vkrollndr sur In thrologto myst izan de I Fg 1990. ch. 11.
5) Loowbe O. of Candet.. ‘L’ experience the Soi, desclee de brovwer for the number, 1981, second
6) Brosse op.clt. p. 250.
7) id. p. 249.
8) Camus Albert. ‘La Peste’ Gallimard, 1990. p. 276.
9) Pannikar Raimands ‘The Unknown Christ of Hindusim’ Durton, Longman et Todd, Lontres, 1990.
10) Cite par Staal ‘Neoplatunism and Vedonta’, p. 10.
11) ‘Sermons sur le Zen’ truchrists par M. ec M. Shibata, Albin Michel, Spiritualites Vivances. 1993. p. 138-139.
12) Clianent Olivier ‘Perdiacv’ Dective de 1990. p. 152.
13) Lossky, op. cit. p. 119.
14) Climent, op. cit. p. 152.
(Fin des notes du Ch IV, a copier coller a l'endroit correspondant) 15) Varela Francisco ‘L’inscription corporelle de I ‘esprit’ Seuil, 1993, section. ‘le sai au oceur de la tempete’ p. 97-130.
16) Nisargadatta Maharaj ‘Prior to consciousness’ Accn Press, USA, 1985, p. 121.
17) Maitre Eckhart ‘Sermons’ Seuil, Vol. II p. 147 (Sermon ‘Beati Pauperes in spiritu’)
18) Bader Jonathan ‘Meditation in Shankara Vedanta’ Aditya Prakashan, Delhi, 1990 ch. III.
19) Vigne Jacques ‘Le Maitre et le therapeute’ Albin Michel, Spiritualites vivantes, 1991.
20. Nisargadatta Maharaj, op. cit. p. 90.
21) Nisargadatta Maharaj : "Seed op Consciousness". Grove Press, Ncwlork, 19982, Edited by Dun.
22) Weidenfels Hans ‘La meditation en Orient et on Occident Seuil, 1975, 1981, p. 59.
23) Bloom Antony in ‘Etudes carmelitaines-Technique et contemplation’ DDB, 1949. p. 50.
24) Kadloubovsky E. and Palmer C.E. II. ‘Early Fathers from the Philokalia’ 1954, 1981, p. 140.
25) id. p. 141.
26) Guy Jean-Michel ‘Paroles des anciens - Apophtegmes des Peres du desert’ Seuil, Hints-Sgesse, 1976, p. 42.
27) Lossky op. cit. p. 197.
28) ‘The Mountain Path’ Ramanashram-Tiruvanaotalai-June 1994, p. 76.
29) Lassky op. cit. p. 128.
30) Maitre Eckhart ‘Sermons’ Vol. I Seuil, p. 65 (Omne Datum Optimum).
31) Sharma Chandradhar ‘A critical Survey of Indian Philosophy’ Motilal Banarsi Das , Delhi, 1987. p. 367-371.
1) Vigne Jacques 'The Indian Teaching tradition', on this very website, and BRPC, Delhi, 1996, part 1, section on vedanta.
2) Sharma op. cit, p. 372.
3) Vivekananda ‘Jñana-Yoga’ Advaita Astram, Calcutta, 1937, p. 320.
4) ‘Tripura Rahasya’ Ramanashram, Tiruvanamalai, 1989, p. 123.
5) Godman David in ‘The Mountain Path’ Dec. 93, Ramanashram, Tiruvanamalai, p. 182.
6) Saint Jean Climaque ‘L’ Echelle Sainte’ Abbaye de Belletontaine, 1987, p. 302.
7) Guy, op. cit. p. 30.
8) id. p. 40.
9) Lossky, op. cit. p. 234.
10) id. p. 209.
11) id. p. 227.
12) Deseille Placide ‘L’ evangile au desert’ O.E.I.L. 1985, p. 207
13) id. p. 318-319
14) ‘Le Mont Athos aujourd'hui' numero special du ‘Messager’ orthodoxe, 1985, p. 55
15) Kodloubovsky, op. cit. p. 137
16) Jean Chrysostome ‘Homelies sur l'incomprehensibilite de Dieu’ presentees par J.Y. Leloup, Albin Michel, Spiritualites Chretiennes, 1993, p. 15
17) id. p. 88
I hope that this attempt to show howa spiritually and intellectually cultured Hindu would understand Christianity and its mode of transmitting spiritual experience will be useful to the readers. At the end of this text, it seems important to me to again question the notions and ideas about comparative religions from a relative perspective Speaking from a strictly intellectual point of view, distinctions can be made ad infinitum, from a spiritual point of view, however, the experience of the Real comes when the mind, the ‘distinguishing machine’ stops. Then only, can be mysticism of different traditions blossom. Ramana Maharishi asks a question which helps to feel this: "What happens to all these ideas when one is deep asleep?" There lies the experience of knowledge of Gnosis, whether ancient or modern, as Raymond Abellio also explains in his "Manifesto of the new Gnosis". (1)
There is everything in Christianity to enable a seeker to reach the peak of spiritual life, if he can attain true tolerance, which is quite different from grudgingly accepting other religions as a neccessary evil. It means accepting their particular genius, and understanding the ways in which the mystics of each of these religions have succeeded in going beyond them. If I do not feel this acceptance and understanding, I distance myself and I have experienced that this distancing from groups which have closed in upon themselves always brought me closer to the goal of spiritual life as I envisage it. However, true tolerance is difficult, as the following story about the archimandrite of Jerusalem shows : being an Armenian, the archimandrite could not stand the Turks who had massacred his people : "I detest the Turks", he said, "I know Christ has taught us to love our eremies; but he said this before the Turks arrived...."
Thomas Merton narrated that his first real contact with spirituality was when he met a Hindu monk who advised him to read Saint Augustine’s "Confessions" and ‘The Imitation of Jesus Christ’. He followed his advice, and then entered the Cistercian order where he become the Master ot the novices; he wrote about fifty books on Christian spirituality. Thirty years later he had the opportunity of travelling to India, where he was advised by the Tibetans to become the disciple of a really experienced spiritual master. On the 16th of November 1968 he wrote in his diary : "It is a matter of finding a man who is right for me." (2) Three weeks later he died in an accident in Bangkok where he had been invited to attend an inter-religious conference. I do not think that, to Merton, becoming the disciple of a guru meant conversion. It would just have lent an added depth to his spiritual life. In the same way, Swami Abhishiktananda (Father Le Saux) was not converted to Hinduism when he wrote in his ‘Journal’ : "Christ should be studied not through ‘mythos’, but through the accessible reality of the ‘Jnani’ or the guru." (3) When a mystic treads the inner path, he speaks a language which every religion can recognize, for he is conscious of happiness and he dwells in the happiness of conciousness. This sort of experience is also perceptible through poetry. For example, Hindus and Christians alike will be able to appreciate these words written by Marie Noel :
"My Lord, infinite source of human kindness,
While going to sleep, I let my heart flow into you
Like a vase fallen in the water of the fountain
Which you fill with yourself-without us." (4)
The Church should rid itself of the dangerous dream of complete politico-metaphysical unity. In each century this drives people to martyrdom, and crushes genuine spiritual vocations, if these are too independent. Let us dream for a little while : if Christianity had developed in the Hindu manner, it would have been constituted of a confederation of schools, not of heresies. Each Christian would have been encouraged to study these different schools, which would have enhanced his intelligence and adviced to follow that school which most suited his temperament, without denigrating the others. This Hindu model of a confederation of religious groups with diverse ideas could serve as an inspiration for a religion of the 21st century : a confederation means there will neither be a mixing of ideas, nor competition between them. The institutions, of course, have their internal logic, and cannot change easily. They follow their paths, and as for me, I follow mine without worrying about all that.
It is interesting to see the actual evolution of Indian Christianity according to some recent articles. Christianity has made progress in the non-Hindu areas of animistic worship, but it is not widespread among Hindus. Within Christianity itself, there is the tendency towards a disaffection from big institutions and Churches which has benefited small, independent groups. This does not mean that all these small groups are centered around genuine spiritual masters far from it, but at least there is the tendency of religious practice within an independent, more humane and smaller structure. Among Catholics, perhaps because the conflict with the central authority cannot be expressed openly, the discussion becomes centered on other points: discussions have begun on how much Christianity should be Indianized, both in its mystical and philosophical vocabulary or in its liturgical practices. Globally the situation is changing: these are hard times for empires, whether ideological or religious.
The real mystic, the spiritual master, is ‘atopos’ or "place-less" like Socrates. He is everywhere and nowhere : if he seems to be at a place, it is to better communicate with his followers. He lives on two levels at one time : the one in which he is adapted to the slightest conditioning of his environment, and the other in which he is completely free, identified with the Absolute. Between the unwieldiness of the big institutions with their many constraints on the one hand, and the superficiality of the would-be-mystics born through spontaneous generation, on the other, the spiritual master represents the middle path: he is the tradition and he remains himself.
Just as this book comes to a close, I am getting ready to return to the silence of meditation in a room overlooking Ganges and the foothills of Himalayas. I remember my meeting, some months ago, with the Master of the novices of the Carthusian convent, the only member of the community with whom a visitor was allowed to talk. I had narrated the following story about the Fathers of the desert to him, and he told me that the Carthusians liked it so much that they included it in their Constitutions : "Just as he was leaving, a visitor who was about to leave told an Elder and his disciples that he was going to see the Pope and asked the Elder if he had any message for the Pope. ‘How could our words enlighten him, if our silence has not?’ replied the Elder."
References Last Reflections
1. R. Abellio, "La Nouvelle Gnose" (The New Gnosis), N.R.F. Essais, Gallimard, 1989. Abellio also inspired Bernard Besret: "Confiteor", Albin Michel Paroles Vives, 1991.
1.2 Gilles Farcet, "Thomas Merton", Albin Michel, 1990, p. 122.
1.3 H. Le Saux "La Montee an fond du coeur" (Rising from the Depth of the Herar) diary, Oeil, 1986, p. 420.
1.4 Marie Noël "Les Chansons et les heures" (Songs and Hours), Gallimard, 1935, 1983, p. 27.