Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death!
One must here come to a transformed knowing, and this unknowing must not come from ignorance; rather, from knowing one must come into an unknowing. Then, we will become knowing with divine knowing and then our unknowing will be ennobled and clothed with supernatural knowing. And here, in that we are in a state of receiving, we are more perfect than if we were active.
Bolton makes a lot of fine points in Self and Spirit, but it seems to me that the ultimate one is the somewhat paradoxical idea that twoness, or dualism, is higher than oneness, or monism; or perhaps that One is intrinsically two and therefore three, the latter of which is "higher" than both, since, to put it mythematically, the infinite + the finite must (in a manner of speaking, of course) = more than the pure infinite alone. (As I said, I'm just going to be thinking out loud here, so don't mind me.)
We could also say that love is higher than union; or, that true union is a unity in which differences are preserved and bound together by love -- which becomes, or reveals, their inner unity. I mean, if I have to completely obliterate myself in order to be in union with God, what kind of union is that? Isn't that a little like being married to Alec Baldwin?
Bolton falls within the traditionalist camp, but he is clearly deviating from Schuon and most of his clones in hewing to a dualistic metaphysic.
Bolton feels that Schuon, in order to harmonize all of the diverse revelations -- and one of our commenters has made this point in the past -- basically assumed the truth of the pure nondualist metaphysics of Advaita Vedanta, and then crammed the rest of the religions into that framework, even if it occasionally involved some tendentious reasoning, and gave short shrift to the actual beliefs of this or that religion. In short, both Guenon and Schuon "assume that the Hindu wisdom as interpreted by Shankara is the medium in which the different traditions are [to be] reconciled."
This obviously has a certain superficial appeal, for there is no question that on some level "all is one." But the question is, what kind of One? For when you say "all is one," you might just as well say "all is none." Not only is it a meaningless statement, it is unmeaningable -- no different than saying "all is all" or "one is one."
Furthermore, what is the ontological status of the entity that knows "all is one?" As Bolton says, "Any such answer must include some proof that the self is a reality in its own right, and not just a collective name for a succession of more or less related phenomena with no integrating principle." For if the self is not in some sense real, then there is nothing it can objectively say about anything, let alone, God.
This is a critical question, because on it hinges not just the reality and the dignity of the personal self, but the entire possibility of any intrinsic meaning at all, since meaning can only exist in reference to something else. If all is simply one, it is another way of saying that life is completely meaningless -- which some Vedantins and Buddhists come close to saying, i.e., that the world is maya (illusion) and nothing else.
Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Sri Aurobindo was completely opposed to this idea. You could even say that he was the polar opposite of Schuon, in the sense that he attempted to "Christianize" Vedanta, as opposed to Vedanta-izing Christianity. He regarded the realm of maya as a conscious power that can be easily reconciled with a Christian logo-centric conception of reality. He felt that the world was worthy of our being in it, and vice versa. The cosmos is not just one big freaking mistake.
If the personal self (we are speaking of the soul, or psychic being, not the ego) is a pure illusion, then so too is the personal God (which Schuon ultimately conceded, placing God on the side of cosmic maya). Again, as Bolton emphasizes, "the importance of this is far from being merely of personal interest, because all metaphysics and religion would be reduced to nothing if the self were not an objective reality."
Here we can see that "extremes meet," in that the implications of strictly nondual monism would be identical to those of gross materialism: that you are nothing in a world of absolute meaninglessness -- a double nothing. One could hardly regard life as a "gift," but a kind of curse, or a nuisance at best -- "a cancer on the body of nothingness."
Now, interestingly, both Buddhism and Vedanta speak of "liberation," whereas Christianity speaks of salvation, something very different. I think this goes to the heart of the matter, not just for the individual, but for all of creation, for Christianity also speaks of somehow salvaging the whole existentialada. What did Paul say? The creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage and corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Rom 8:21). Can't get more clear than that.
Here we cannot avoid a discussion of eschatology, for eschatology is none other than the study of the last end of things, i.e., their ultimate meaning -- again, for both self and cosmos. As Bolton writes, "the true nature of a being cannot be understood without a knowledge of its last ends. The very question as to whether or not salvation is a possibility for the self makes a fundamental difference to what we think the self is." To put it another way, "misunderstandings of the self lead to misunderstandings of everything else."
So, what is the personal self, the individual as such? Here again, the materialistic and nondual conceptions converge and agree that it is squat. But What about Bob?! What difference does it make to Bob if Bob ultimately reduces either to matter or to God, and disappears in the process? I say, give me immortality or give me death! (in the immortal words of Firesign Theatre).
Now, here is another irony: it is the monistic conception of the world that leaves us with an irreconcilable dualism, in that one side or the other of the dualism must go -- for the materialist, spirit; for the Vedantin, matter. The result is "an almost exact parallel of the Cartesian conception of soul and body where neither has anything in common with the other." The Cartesian says, "I think, therefore I am." The Vedantin says "I am, therefore I think." But the Raccoon says, "God is, therefore I am. And that's why I can fruitfully and objectively think, to boot."
In other words, to say "I am one with God," is a kind of truism, but with important implications, for as Bolton says, "union in this context must mean what it says, and not simply the elimination of one side of the relation." Otherwise, we are simply avoiding a serious inquiry into the exceedingly strange situation of the Incarnation, both His and ours.
[R]ealizing the birth of the Word in the [soul's] ground is inseparable from the Incarnation of the Divine Word: the ground that we seek to attain is nothing other than the ground of Christ. --Bernard McGinn