This is Not a Post About Vedanta and Christianity
Before Abraham was, I AM. --John 8:58
NO, this is not a post, but my own attempt to assimilate some ideas I've been working with, a private logiary, if you will. Feel free to read along, but this is mainly an exercise for my own benefit. I don't intend to resume blogging anytime soon, but I do intend to continue thinking and writing in connection with my new project. I guess I've just become used to writing with a bunch of people staring at me. But these won't be polished, plus they may abruptly begin and end. And I probably won't take the time to pedantically explain obscure points that I already understand. Just think of this as a bootleg post that fell into your hands.
Just finished a serious and challenging book called Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism, by an anonymous French "Monk of the West" (although his identity is known). This is an area that is particularly dear to me, since I find myself equally drawn to Yoga and Christianity. Being that I am unable to choose between the two, perhaps it is my destiny to try to recooncile them.
Of course, that doesn't mean blending them, which would only reconsully both. Rather, it's more like "cross referencing." In so doing, one must proceed very cautiously, because it is possible to use words in a manner they were never intended just to achieve a superficial ecumenism. For example, the idea that Jesus was "just another guru" -- or an instance of the avatar principle (the descent of the divine in human form, or "Godman") -- would be a non-starter, doing violence to both Christianity and Yoga. One has to be willing to consider the idea that avatars exist, but that there is only one begotten son. Likewise, although "ascended masters" have surely passed this way, to restrict Jesus to the category of a mere fleshlight would be to miss the whole point.
In the end, the Monk makes only the claim that Orthodox Christianity and the classic Vedanta of Shankara are not incompatible, as opposed to being identical. For example, Meister Eckhart, according to no less an authority than Vladimir Lossky, expresses "a vision of the unity of being which is not pantheistic monism, but rather a Christian 'non-dualism,' appropriate to the idea of the world created ex nihilo by the all-powerful God of the Bible -- 'He who is.'" In other words, at the very least, Christianity is capacious enough to formulate a doctrine of non-dualism in its own terms.
As usual, I find that Orthodoxy and Catholicism are far more open-minded and accommodating to such an exploration, as many (not all, or course) Protestants are likely to say that "it's all in the book," and that what's not there isn't true. The Monk dismisses such facile arguments, citing, for example, the authority of St Thomas, who taught that "integral doctrine is not circumscribed within the limits of 'what is written,' but that by reason of its excellence, not only is Christ's teaching not totally contained in the written accounts, but cannot be so contained" (emphasis mine).
The Monk refers to the last verse of John, where it is said that there are countless "other things which Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." What a beautiful way to put it, for how could mere words ever contain the Word if the entire cosmos cannot? The very idea should be understood as blasphemy -- of turning scripture into a graven image -- but somehow it's not.
The Monk also cites a declaration from the Secretariat for Non-Christians, who wrote that Christians are to "refrain from a priori rejecting as necessarily and wholly monist and non-Christian, the ideal of identification with the Absolute which dominates Indian spirituality" (i.e., tat tvam asi, or "thou art That," which is to say, Atman and Brahman are not-two).
That statement by the Secretariat is a fascinating one to ponder. In fact, the Monk goes into considerable detail explaining how Indian mysticism has historically been confused with pantheism or simple monism in order to dismiss it, when it is anything but. To the contrary, there may be no metaphysical doctrine that is more explicit about avoiding the conflation of world and God.
Elsewhere he refers to an encyclical by John Paul II -- what a Man -- who wrote that "the strength of belief on the part of members of non-Christian religions -- this too, the effect of the Spirit of Truth operating beyond the visible frontiers of the visible Mystical Body -- should shame those Christians so often brought to doubt truths revealed by God and announced by the Church."
Once again we see the hubris in believing that the "Spirit of Truth" can somehow be tamed, domesticated, and made to serve man. I would agree with Bion that Truth itself is Messianic, in the sense that it perpetually shatters that which would limit and constrain it. Every time. In fact, the Monk says that a more accurate translation of the Word would actually be the Verb, which testifies to its intrinsically dynamic and active nature. Thus, it would appear that the Verb is not static, but has -- so to speak -- a truine capacity to create, preserve, and destroy (i.e., Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, not perhaps a hypostatic union, but still a "three-in-One" or "Whole in three").
Finally, the Monk again cites St. Thomas, who wrote that "the power of a Divine Person is infinite and cannot itself be limited by any created thing. Hence it may not be said that a Divine Person so assumed one human nature as to be unable to assume another." Naturally this cannot mean that there could be a "plurality of unique sons." But what can it mean then?
In the preface to the book, Alvin Moore describes Christianity at its core as "a bhaktic esoterism," while in common practice it is "an exoteric religion of love," thereby accessible to "a considerable sector or mankind." He goes on to say that since only God can truly know God, to know God is to "become him." Or, if that doesn't sound quite right, our knowledge of God "is God's knowledge of Himself through man as instrument," a formulation that might well have come from the pen of Meister Eckhart.
Now, exactly what is Vedanta? Unlike Christianity, there is no doctrinal unity in Hinduism, but Vedanta is essentially the experiential confirmation of "the mystery of the divine Absolute, the transcendent Self which constitutes the deepest stratum of our being." It is the highest sacred and esoteric wisdom of Hinduism, preserved in the Upanishads, which one might roughly say are to eternity as the Bible is to time.
That is, the Bible is primarily a linear account of the historical dealings of God and man, whereas the Upanishads are mainly timeless accounts of purely vertical encounters between the ancient "Vedic seers" and the Absolute. In turn, the Bhagavad Gita may be thought of as an attempt to "horizontalize" the vertical message of the Upanishads in a mythological form for a more popular audience. This is only superficially analogous to the Bible, because the Bible's theology is derived from the story, so to speak, whereas in the case of the Gita, the story is the instantiation of the theology (although there are purely philosophical/theological parts of the Bible, e.g., Proverbs, and purely metaphysical rants by Krishna, the god-man of the Gita).
I suppose it's no coincidence that my favorite Christian theologians (e.g., Dionysius, Eckhart, Nicholas of Cusa, John Scottus Eriugena) often sound like vedic seers. For example, I might well have cited Nicholas to support the Cosmogenesis section of my book:
The infinite is incompatible with otherness, for nothing can exist outside of it.... Thus the infinite is at once everything and nothing at all. No name is suitable for it, for every name can have a contrary, and nothing can be contrary to the unnameable infinite. It is not a whole opposed by parts, and it cannot be a part....