By Peter Holleran
"There is some kind of a distinction between his higher individuality and the Universal Infinite out of which he is rayed, whatever the Vedantins may say. And this distinction remains in his highest mystical state, which is not one of total absorption and utter destruction of this individuality but the mergence of its own will in the universal will, the closest intimacy of its own being with the universal being."
(1)   Paul Brunton
The following material is difficult and may require more than one pot of coffee to get through and yet still leave one with a headache. It represents a brief summary of the thinking of those much wise than I. Yet study of the sources referred to herein will yield the reader a rich reward. The main argument is that the spiritual aspirant who realizes the sublime state of sahaj samadhi has achieved union with his divine soul, or Overself, and not Brahman per se, with the fallacy being that of mystics who exclaim in their ecstasy, "I am God!" This view of Paul Brunton seems to stand in stark contrast with the ajatavada advaitists who speak of enlightenment to Brahman or the One itself. PB did not disagree with this view, but felt that an intermediary, what he called the Overself, was necessary, for both experiencial reasons as well as pedagogical ones. [For those unfamiliar with PB's unique terminology (Mind, World-Mind, World-Idea, Overself), please click here
for a more precise explanation]. Nevertheless, many unanswerable questions about life and the ego see new light through this way of thinking. Therefore let us begin. This will not be a fully extrapolated argument but a sketch for fresh lines of spiritual thought, initiated by the works of Paul Brunton and Anthony Damiani. The title of this article is borrowed from that of some transcribed classes by Anthony in March, 1984. Many thanks to students at Wisdom's Goldenrod Center for Philosophic Studies for useful comments and editorial help; however, all mistakes and points of view are my own.
An initial conciliatory position to intellectually satisfy both East and West might be to say that, according to the teachings of Plotinus and PB, the Soul is transcendental and infinite from the point of view of the ego, while ontologically distinct yet non-separate from the Absolute. Christian mystics tend to forget the first part of that statement, Vedantic philosophers the second. (In all this, however, we are tredding on dangerous ground: it has been said that when we say there is "not one iota" of difference between this and that, we are recalling the debate at the Council of Nicea in 325 as to whether Christ was the selfsame substance as God (homoousious) or distinct substance (homoi
ousios), where the difference between orthodoxy and heresy was only one letter (i) or iota!)
argued that these problems can be reconciled by the Three Primal Hypostases doctrine of Plotinus: The One, the Intellectual Principle (Nous), and Soul. Soul, the third Primal, is divided into a first emanation from the Intellectual Principle, the Absolute Soul, which in turn emanates an infinite number of individual Souls. In PB’s terminology the Absolute Soul in the Intellectual principle would be the World-Mind, and the individual Soul or Overself would be a point in that World-Mind, or a ray emanated from that Divine Sun. As Plotinus points out, all of the Primals are "beyond the Heavens," and thus transcendental; therefore, the Soul is also transcendental and not manifest (noumenon and not phenomenon). Damiani (and Brunton) held that Self or God-realization as commonly described in the scriptures and by most mystics, while most profound, is not really God-realization as such, but rather reunion or re-identification with man's transcendental, Divine Soul. This might first be realized as the Witness position, or as the individual soul in itself, as the innermost level of absorptive trance, the ultimate subject, also known as nirvikalpa
or jnana nirvikalpa samadhi
On the philosophic path, in order to become a sage one must then come out of this state and realize the Soul under all conditions, both within and without, realizing the source of the World or World-Image to be the same as that of one's own self. This leads to non-dualism, or sahaj samadhi
, the natural state, which is experienced as neither oneness or duality, but the "not-two", as it is often described in Zen. This full realization is what PB called the Overself (which some mystics in the ecstasy of their union interpret as God), where the Soul now begins to realizes itself as a part of the All-Soul, or "Absolute Soul" . From this point, the Soul, through deeper levels of silent absorption into the Void Mind, becomes "rapt in robes of glory," and may receive emanations or intuit something of the "Intellectual Principle" (Nous or Divine Mind) and the "One" from which it derives its being - but not before. As these are all non-conceptual, beyond ego (ahamkara
), they may for many purposes be collectively considered as God, yet such further distinctions become meaningful from the point of view of the sage. In the Judeo-Christian Bible we find that "man was made in the image of God".
Plotinus gives due credit to his predecessors, showing that his thought was not entirely new:
" [Plato teaches that] the author of the causing principle, of the divine mind, is to him the Good, that which transcends the Intellectual-Principle and transcends Being: often too he uses the term 'The Idea' to indicate Being and the Divine Mind. Thus Plato knows the order of generation- from the Good
[or the One], the Intellectual Principle; from the Intellectual Principle, the Soul. These teachings are, therefore, no novelties, no inventions of today, but long since stated, if not stressed; our doctrine here is the explanation of an earlier and can show the antiquity of these opinions on the testimony of Plato himself."
"The Platonic Parmenides is more exact; the distinction is made between the Primal One, a strictly pure Unity, and a secondary One which is a One-Many
[a unity in duality, the Intellectual Principle in all Divine Ideas] and a third which is a One-and-Many
[Absolute Soul and individual Souls]; thus he too is in accordance with our thesis of Three Kinds."
Plotinus, following Plato and some other of the ancient philosopher-sages, taught that the Soul:
"is an image of its source: that source is the brilliant, the authentic, the primarily existent, the thing self-sprung and self-intent; but its image, Soul, is a thing which can have no permanence except by attachment, by living in that other; the very nature of an image is that as a dependent it shall have its being in something else, if at all it exist apart from the original."
Thus, the One engenders eternally an eternal being (the Intellectual Principle, or the Divine Mind) which itself (through the Absolute Soul, or the Soul-essence integral to the Intellectual Principle) emanates Individual Souls which themselves, although eternal, are, however, but the image of their prior. In order for man, then to know anything of the Intellectual Principle he must first achieve union with his own individual divine Soul. Plotinus says:
"If the Soul is questioned as to the nature of that Intellectual principle - the perfect and all-embracing, the primal self-knower - it has but to enter into that Principle, or to sink all its activity into that, and at once it shows itself to be in effective possession of those priors whose memory it has never lost; thus, as an image of the Intellectual principle, it can make itself the medium, by which to attain some vision of it; it draws upon that within itself which is most closely resemblant, as far as resemblance is possible between divine Intellect and any phase of the Soul...In order, then, to know what the Divine Mind is we must observe Soul and especially its most God-like phase....Those divinely possessed and inspired have at least the knowledge that they hold some greater thing within them though they cannot tell what it is."
Meister Eckhart seemed to be pointing towards this glimpse of the Nous by the Soul in the following passage:
"   “When the soul enters the light that is pure, she falls so far from her own created somethingness into her nothingness that in this nothingness she can no longer return to that created somethingness by her own power.
Blessedness consists primarily in the fact that the soul sees God in herself . Only in God’s knowledge does she become wholly still. There she knows nothing but essence and God. Between that person and God there is no distinction, and they are one. . . Their knowing is one with God’s knowing, their activity with God’s activity and their understanding with God’s understanding.”
I have occasionally spoken of a light in the soul which is uncreated and uncreatable. . . . This light is not satisfied with the simple, still and divine being which neither gives nor takes, but rather it desires to know from where this being comes. It wants to penetrate to the simple ground, to the still desert, into which distinction never peeped, neither Father, Son nor Holy Spirit. There, in that most inward place, where everyone is a stranger, the light is satisfied, and there it is more inward than it is in itself, for this ground is a simple stillness which is immovable in itself. But all things are moved by this immovability and all the forms of life are conceived by it which, possessing the light of reason, live of themselves.”
Impressive thought indeed for the thirteenth century, but, then, so was Plotinus in the first! Have we since improved on these greats?
"The sage unites with his soul and he's permanently soul. He can get a glimpse of the Intellectual Principle but he cannot become the Intellectual Principle. He must return and be soul. He will always be soul. You, I, and everyone else. So the higher glimpse is not your glimpse of your soul
[which may be what many 'experiences' of non-duality and satori
are], but the soul's experience of the Intellectual Principle. When you achieve identity with the soul, you can get a glimpse of that Void. You can call it the Intellectual Principle or you can call it the Absolute Soul in the Intellectual Principle. It doesn't matter what you call it, because the One, the Intellectual Principle, and the Absolute Soul of Plotinus - those three Primal Hypostases together - can be considered as the Void Mind. But this higher glimpse is distinct from the unity with the soul, the identity with your soul. It is a different kind of experience. You could know many things when you have achieved identity with your soul, but when you have the glimpse of the Intellectual Principle, the only thing you could know is that it is. Nothing else. So, in other words, you could know that God is after you have achieved union with the soul. Before that all you could know are the contents of the soul, and the soul itself."
"They don't have texts available on these things. When PB speaks about what a philosopher sage is, he points out that the philosopher sage is a person who has achieved permanent union with his soul. He doesn't say that the philosopher sage is one who has achieved permanent union with the Intellectual Principle or with the Absolute Soul, but one who has achieved permanent identity with his soul. This soul that he speaks about, this is what he refers to as made in the image of God - in other words, the image of the Intellectual Principle. And this is what the philosopher or the jnani is, he's the soul. He knows that his essence comes from the Intellectual Principle. He knows it, not intellectually, he knows it because his soul is a direct emanation from that, and the soul's self-cognition autmatically includes the recognition of its principle - where it comes from."
"So it's true that the glimpse into your soul is of the nature of the Void. It's true. But it's also true that the essence of your soul, even though it is void, and the essence of the Intellectual principle, which is also void, are distinct.
[important point]. Now what is the distinction between these two? When the philosopher sage says to you, "God is," he's not saying that my soul, even though it is cosmic and infinite, is God. He's speaking about the Intellectual Principle, and that's the experience that comes to the philosopher sage. PB even says that if that's all they can comunicate, it is enough. When the individual soul or individual mind has that experience of the Intellectual Principle, that is the announcement he makes, by referring that experience to God. He says that's God. Plotinus goes further and says that in that identity he even achieved mystic identity with the One itself, Mind itself, Absolute Mind, that which is beyond the Intellectual Principle. And he goes on and describes it, but I don't want to get into that because it's too complicated (!)"
It becomes clear that "in that identity" refers to the sage's identity (union) with his individual soul, and that "mystic identity with the One itself" refers to the deepening of the individual soul's experience into the One, not union with It. There is no annihilation involved. If there is an actual union with the One then the individual self gets dissolved in the One, and PB says that doesn't happen.
The 'contents of the soul' here would include the gross, subtle, and causal aspects of the being. The soul would be consciousness itself, or Being. Compared to the former the soul itself is experienced as void, or empty of all content. That is not, however, identical with the higher experience of the Void Mind described by Damiani and Brunton or of the Primal Hypostases by Plotinus. That is possible, it is suggested, only after permanent union with the soul in sahaj has been achieved. That is not a matter of a further union, but of a deeper penetration into the void-mind, a deepening of the noumenal identity with the Intellectual Principle and the One. Plotinus claims to have achieved these higher stages. But it is important to point this out, about the union with soul being the final and only true union, because so many mystics have felt themselves to be one with God or identical to God when reaching this state. And these higher stages (i.e., realization of the being of the Intellectual principle or the One), is beyond the concept of merger, or union; there is no merger or union with
the One, because the One is always and already the case. The Soul remains itself, as it abides within the Nous or Intellectual Principle, which abides in the One. It is paradoxical, for sure. On this point the non-dualists appear to be correct: there is no merger or union in realization of the One. Damiani points out that here is where much confusion has arisen in the Zen tradition, specifically because the terms "void" and "satori" have often been used to describe quite different levels of experience and insight. Only the greatest among the sages have penetrated deeply into the Void Mind, he says, while practitioners at varying stages of the path have had 'non-dua'l glimpses of the soul.
PB concurs with this line of thinking:
“Union with the Overself is not the ultimate end but a penultimate one. What we look up to as the Overself looks up in its own turn to another and higher entity.”
[i.e., the Nous or Intellectual Principle] (5)
The word “entity” must not be misunderstood here. There is no entity in the strict sense at this transcendental, infinite level. This also must not be misunderstood to imply that the Overself is a Witness self or Witness position. It is not. It is what is realized in sahaj samadhi, the natural state. Thus, it is the ultimate end of mysticism, and further, essentially the end of the philosophical discipline as well. It is
the 'no-self' position and the non-dual understanding. From this state one may sink ever further into the Void-Mind to experience the unknowable and ineffable, of which it has been said in varying traditions that there are three degrees. Among current non-dual teachers Adyashanti is one whose teaching has moved past a reductionistic advaita to acknowledged this infinite deepening:
"The realization of your true nature is the end of not-knowing who and what you are. The belief that you are simply the body-mind mechanism comes to an end, but this is not the end in any absolute sense. It's the beginning of another mysterious unfolding. It's the beginning of something without end. When you awaken, you realize that around that body-mind is presence and space, and you know that you are this infinite presence. This presence is inconceivable, even to those who realize it. You can't say what it is; you just know that it is what you are. It could be called emptiness, consciousness, God, or spirit, but still there's a certain mystery to it all...In the infinite, you have great, ever-deepening realizations, and yet there is simultaneously the sense that nothing is going anywhere. Everything is an unfolding of stillness within stillness."
(Summer/Fall 2008 Retreat brochure).
Madame Guyon may possibly been referring to this deepening into the Primals when she said:
“The life of the believer is like a torrent making its way out of the high mountains down into the canyons and chasms of life, passing through many experiences until finally coming to the spiritual experience of death. From there, the torrent experiences resurrection and a life lived in concert with the will of God while still going through many stages of refinement. At last the torrent finds its way into the vast, unlimited sea. Even here the torrent does not totally come to be one with the vast ocean until it has once more passed through final dealings by the Lord...."
Herein humility is protected, for even the simplest creature knows that he is not the almighty, although he is forever linked in an indissolvable relationship with it. Again, only the most complete among sages have gone past the point of realizing their unity with the soul. Being beyond human perception and conception, at this stage the pen breaks and one can say no more on what has been termed 'divine darkness'.
That there still exists an individuality, a sense of self, however, was humorously pointed out by Anthony in the class from which these notes were taken. One student recounts:
"At the time I heard it I thought the following anecdote was humorous, but I don't know how many got the joke: There was some kind of discussion going on about the Tibetan Buddhist notion of emptiness between a student with Buddhist leanings and Anthony. The student was asking something to the effect that since he (the student) was a dependent arising and empty of inherent existence, who is asking the question and who would be getting an answer? Anthony replied something like -- Well, if it's not you then tell the other one to write me a letter."
The permanent union with the Soul or Spirit in sahaj is a great achievement and not just a glimpse. Damiani readily admits it will feel like union with God, without a doubt, which is why Al Hallaj, who in his ecstasy proclaimed, “I am God”, was martyred for Islamic heresy. In Sufism this might be equated with the station called subsistence or union (baqa
), or proximity (qurb), still only the twenty-first or thirtieth of forty stations, in the classification of Abu Sa'id. The later stations are considered as belonging to the journey in
God as opposed to the journey to
God. Thus, in Sufism, man as a tripartite being of body, soul (or anima), and Spirit, must undergo the spiritual work to transmute lead into gold, or slay the dragon to reach the treasure. In other words,
"Man in his unregenerated and 'fallen' state..identifies himself with the soul that has not as yet experienced the liberating contact with the Spirit and..lives imprisoned in a world of sense impressions deriving from the body, along with the logical inferences drawn from that world, and in an unilluminated subjective labyrinth that is filled with passionate impulses. The spiritual path..means a radical transformation of the soul, made possible through the gift of revelation and initiation, until the soul becomes worthy of becoming the bride of the Spirit and entering into union with it...The Spirit is like the sky, shining and immutable above the horizons of the soul. It is a world which, although not yet God, is inseparable from Him so that to reach it is already to be in the front courtyard of paradise and the proximity of the Divine..To reach God, the soul must become God-like. Hence the significance of the spiritual stations and states that the soul must experience and the spiritual virtues which it must acquire and which mark the degrees of ascent of the soul to God. In fact, each virtue is a station through which the soul must pass and which it must experience in a permanent way."
For Sufism, the final station (maqam
) or permanent non-dual state (tahwid
) will be one's own, and not just in the nature of glimpses (ahwal
), only after this transformation, which is not only of the intellect or knowing faculty but also of the will. The higher teachings of non-duality exist in Sufism, particularly in Ibn 'Al ‘Arabi, only they are generally veiled until one earns his way into the "courtyard". ‘Al ‘Arabi states:
"If you know yourself as nothing, then you truly know your Lord. Otherwise, you know him not. [But] you cannot know your Lord by making yourself nothing. Many a wise man claims that in order to know one's Lord one must denude oneself of the signs of one's existence, efface one's identity, finally rid oneself of one's self. This is a mistake. How could a thing that does not exist try to get rid of its existence? ...If you think that to know Allah depends on your ridding yourself of yourself, then you are guilty of attributing partners to Him - the only unforgivable sin -because you are claiming that there is another existence besides Him, the All-Existent: that there is a you and He."
Plotinus, as well as the Sufis, in this view, can be seen as unique in reconciling the seeming opposition of emanationism, mysticism, and gnosticism with "non-duality" (Zen, ch'an, or advaita). (Non-duality is in quotes to emphasize that it is only posed to counter a belief in either oneness or duality, while, once again, the non-conceptual truth is neither, and, of course, forever a paradox. There is just no getting around that).
The above would thus explain how a sage such as Ramana Maharshi
could remain a devotee and ecstatically proclaim, "Father, Father," and weep in front of the images of 321 Tamil saints praying for devotion ["I used to go and weep before those images and before Nataraja that God should grant me the same grace He gave to those saints. But this was after the 'death' experience. Before that, the bhakti for the sixty-three saints lay dormant.."
(Day By Day with Bhagavan
, Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 2002, p. 323), while at the same time he, as a jnani, poked fun at those wishing to see the light of a million suns spoken of by saints and mystics. Maharshi maintained, in fact, that only the sage was a perfect devotee. Vaishnava Acharya Vallabacharya likewise said: "No one is superior to a Jnani who chants the name of the Divine." The great metaphysician Sankara wrote both non-dual metaphysics but also devotional literature. Ramakrishna Paramahansa likewise taught advaita vedanta but also how one must weep for God and how God will work in the soul of the devotee. Ramana spoke of a stage in both inquiry (jnana) or meditation (bhakti) where the ripe ego becomes helpless and the divine must take over; Damiani says that the "Higher Will comes down" after
the moral effort, or the great battle. This talk is similar in nature to that of the infused contemplation spoken of by St. John. In The Dark Night of the Soul
he wrote of a stage when individual effort takes a back seat to the direct action of the divine within the human soul. Such infused contemplation at first appears as darkness to the soul, inasmuch as it transcends its capacity to feel and to know. This divine grace takes one from the stage of a beginner on the way to that of the proficient, from active meditation to passive and effortless contemplation. St. John describes:
"This dark contemplation as secret, since...it is mystical theology, which theologians call secret wisdom, and which, as Saint Thomas says, is comunicated and infused into the soul through love. This happens secretly and in darkness, so as to be hidden from the work of the understanding and of other faculties. Wherefore, inasmuch as the faculties aforementioned attains not to it, but the Holy Spirit infuses and orders it into the soul, as says the Bride in the Songs, without either its knowledge or its understanding, it is called secret. And, in truth, not only does the soul not understand it, but there is none other that does so, not even the devil; inasmuch as the Master Who teaches the soul is within it in its substance, to which the devil may not attain, neither may natural sense nor understanding.”
“And it is not for this reason alone that it may be called secret, but likewise because of the effects which it produces in the soul. For it is secret not only in the darknesses and afflictions of purgation, when this wisdom of love purges the soul, and the soul is unable to speak of it, but equally so afterwards in illumination, when this wisdom is communicated to it most clearly. Even then it is still so secret that the soul cannot speak of it and give it a name whereby it may be called; for, apart from the fact that the soul has no desire to speak of it, it can find no suitable way or manner or similitude by which it may be able to describe such lofty understanding and such delicate spiritual feeling. And thus, even though the soul might have a great desire to express it and might find many ways in which to describe it, it would still be secret and remain undescribed. For, as that inward wisdom is so simple. so general and so spiritual that it has not entered into the understanding enwrapped or cloaked in any form or image subject to sense, it follows that sense and imagination...cannot account for it or imagine it, so as to say anything concerning it, although the soul be clearly aware that it is experiencing and partaking of that rare and delectable wisdom. It is like one who sees something never seen before, whereof he has not even seen the like; although he might understand its nature and have experience of it, he would be unable to give it a name, or say what it is, however much he tried to do so, and this in spite of its being a thing which he had perceived with the senses. How much less, then, could he describe a thing that has not entered through the senses! For the language of God has this characteristic that, since it is very intimate and spiritual in its relations with the soul, it transcends every sense and at once makes all harmony and capacity of the outward and inward senses to cease and be dumb.”
So teachings of transformation by divine love in mystical Christianity and non-dual teachings such as advaita need not be seen in conflict, although prior to actual realization or significant spiritual maturity such a truth may largely remain conceptual. The path, however, is essentially a practical one. That is why Maharshi, for instance, demurred on questions of the absolute, saying first realize the Self (Divine Soul), the source of the "I", then
see what further questions arise. Ramana was of the view that while bodies and jivas appear as many, the Self to be realized is One. Brunton and Plotinus appear at times to differ from Ramana and other advaitists, making distinctions between Individual Souls and an Absolute Soul from which the former are emanated, or perhaps more accurately said in which they are rooted
"We must not believe that the plurality of Souls comes from the plurality of bodies. Particular Souls subsist as well as the universal Soul, independently of bodies, without the unity of the universal Soul absorbing the multiplicity of the particular Souls, or of the multiplicity of particular Souls splitting up the unity of the universal."- (Porphyry)...The World-Soul is not divided, nor does it split itself up in order to give life to each individual thing. All things live by the Soul in its entirety; it is all-present everywhere like the Father Who begot it, both in its unity and in its universality " (v. I, 3)...The Soul cannot be divided quantitatively, nor can it have heterogeneous parts or limbs like a body. Individual Souls are not functions of the Universal Soul (iv. 3, 5)...It is the body, and not the Soul, which makes the illusory divisions. The Soul, even in its relations with the body, is only in appearance divided (iv. 2, I)....
"All souls are one " (vi. 5, 9)."
(from "The System of Plotinus"
on the Wisdom's Goldenrod
It is suggested by all of this that Souls are distinct, but not separate, in the way bodies appear separate. That is, one distinct Overself oversees multiple incarnations via the concept of the sutra atma, with separate bodies and mental vehicles, but it is distinct from the Overself of another such thread of life. One having a glimpse of the Nous, however, says Damiani, can speak of "Soul in the Nous", but not of a
Soul in the Nous. It is paradoxical, no doubt.
The incomparable Sufi Ibn 'Arabi seemed to argue at the highest level against any such division, even provisional, as theorized by Plotinus at all:
"If one believes that things exist in Allah - from Him or with Him - and that these things depend upon Allah for their existence, even so, such things are appearing to one as lords. Though their lord-ship may depend on Allah, still one who believes in them is guilty of recognizing some other lord as a partner of our Lord. It would be a grave error to consider any other existence as valid alongside of Allah the Self-Existent, even if the thing is seen as dependent on Allah for its existence...He will be guilty of the unforgivable sin of attributing partners to Allah..."
The differences between Plotinus and Ibn 'Arabi may be semantical; after all, Ibn 'Arabi was influenced by classical philosophy as well as Islamic tradition. From the point of view of the One, Plotinus does not admit of discreet or different levels of Reality much the same as Ibn 'Arabi.
The basic point of this argument is that there may be considered to be distinctions in the unmanifest, transcendental domain that are realities. Plotinus stated:
”The gradation of the One, the One-Many [Nous], and the One and Many [Soul] is eternally fixed, and is an expression of reality."
Damiani likewise affirms the view of Plotinus:
“For Plotinus the One-and-its-Power stands first and foremost above all and simultaneously sustains and includes lesser levels of reality which are neither self-sufficient or illusory. Through an understanding of this principle of Power, we can make available to our minds what we refer to as the double truth - that is, the non-dual reality does not exclude the dualistic but includes and supports it...In order to understand such descriptions of the ultimate, it is essential for our minds to become acclimated to a logic of paradox...The Intellectual Principle and its emanation, Soul, are not illusory in any sense; they are also eternal...we have to consider them as distinct realities of different degrees....Even if we view the three primal Hypostases - the One, the Intellectual Principle and the Soul - as forming an integral whole (which is often referred to as the Absolute when considered from the side of manifestation), the distinctions cannot be dissolved in such a way that the Nous and Soul, so carefully defined, become illusory principles. In our understanding of the metaphysical Infinite, we retain the view of the One as the pure and only perfect reality, as well as the view of real and distinct emanations from it. We do not violate the One’s sovereignty by granting to each of the other levels of reality their proper status; they do not become null and void in the face of the One which they eternally contemplate.”
It may be helpful to round out our study by reading the comparison of Plotinus with Vedanta
as given by Swami Krishnananda, disciple of the well-respected Swami Sivananda, founder of The Divine Life Society. He considers Plotinus the closest of the Greek philosophers to advaitic thought. One might alternately consider advaitic thought the closest school to that of Plotinus - but only
, perhaps, when seen from the viewpoint of the One. The Plotinian vision, when viewed as that of a multi-ensouled universe, with the Soul being an eternal existant, appears far from the common position of advaita, and potentially embracing more spiritual possibility and understanding of the cosmos as well.
Most would probably be in agreement that a mysterious infinitude abounds at this level in any case.
The irreducable paradoxes of love/insight, one/many, identity/relatedness, duality/non-duality are perhaps not easily discerned within either Buddhist or Christian teachings, the former due to an emphasis on metaphysics and the non-conceptual nature of reality or Mind, and the latter due to its emphasis on divine love, faith, and emotional purgation. From this, however, there arises an unnecessary argument
between those among the Buddhists who, seeing the transient nature of all phenomena, argue that there is no soul, and Christians who feel their tradition is superior because Buddhism teaches a life-denying Nirvana. Even Pope John Paul II made this error, inspite of the fact that a major text, the Lankavatara Sutra, says that "all things are in Nirvana from the beginning," which is hardly life denying. The Dalai Lama himself said that "he who denies his own existence is a fool." While Zen itself may be somewhat obscure, the higher Mahayana teachings are much closer to those of Christianity in matters of selfless service, compassion, and even philosophy. Of course, we are here talking about the esoteric, gnostic, and mystical
Christian traditions, where Wisdom or Sophia is recognized, not modern evangelicalism, fundamentalism, or official Church doctrine, which do indeed believe in a "heaven for the perpetuated ego", as PB once expressed it. As Kathleen Granville Damiani wrote in Gnostic Images of the Feminine
"In 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul writes, "We are preaching a crucified Christ . . . a Christ who is the power and the Sophia of God." A few verses later (1:30) he continues, "By God's action Jesus Christ has become our Sophia." In 2:6-8, he continues: "But still we have a Sophia to offer those who have reached maturity: not a philosophy of our age, it is true, still less of the masters of our age, which are coming to their end. The hidden Sophia of God which we teach in our mysteries is the Sophia that God predestined to be for our glory before the ages began. She is a Sophia that none of the masters of this age have ever known." (S. Cady, M. Ronan, and H. Taussig, Sophia, 51)
"Paul is the New Testament author who most explicitly proclaims Jesus to be Sophia but he is also one of the writers for whom the Gnostic movement is a real problem. Since Gnosticism downplayed Christ's historicity and resurrection and proclaimed that Christ as Wisdom could be realized individually, it was declared a heresy. Gnosticism was thus a major factor inhibiting the New Testament proclamation of Jesus as Sophia. So Paul's portrayal of Jesus as Sophia is explicit at times but generally downplayed."
The Buddha's unique contribution, which Jesus in his brief time did not explain except we might speculate to perhaps no more than a few, was that metaphysical or ultra-mystical insight
, was a step even beyond universal compassion, and necessary for advancing to Nirvana. For the benefit of the yogis, Buddha made clear that such insight was also beyond concentrative absorption and mystic bliss as well. He never, however, in his half-century of teaching, taught a doctrine of annihilation or the non-existence of the soul. Such teachings were product of schools which arose after him. Brunton writes:
"Nirvana is not a state of mind which is to be produced but what is realized when the long cherished notion of "I" is given up. Nirvana, in short, is the miracle of egoless being. The Buddha's doctrine of the soul was stated in negative terms because he was controverting current misconceptions. He explained this in Alagadupama Majjhima, 1, 135: "Even in this present life, my brethren, I say that the soul is indefinable. Though I say and teach thus, there are those who accuse me falsely of being a nihilist, of teaching the non-existence and annihilation of the soul. That is what I am not and do not teach.""
Brunton further states:
"There is some kind of a distinction between his higher individuality and the Universal Infinite out of which he is rayed, whatever the Vedantins may say. And this distinction remains in his highest mystical state, which is not one of total absorption and utter destruction of this individuality but the mergence of its own will in the universal will, the closest intimacy of its own being with the universal being."
The Soul remains even after the mystic realization of the One; it does not forever dissolve into it. It is an eternal existant, according to Plotinus.Yet it is known as non-separate from other Souls, and themselves inseparable from its divine parent, the Intellectual Principle and/or the One.
I.K. Taimni concurs:
"..the separate individuality of each Purusa means merely that He is a separate center of consciousness in the Supreme Reality
[i.e., in PB’s terminology a point in the World-Mind, or a ray of that “Sun’] and not that his consciousness is separated from that of other Purusas and pursues its separate individual ends as in the case of ordinary individuals blinded by the illusion of a separate life."
PB further writes:
“It is a fallacy to think that this displacement of the lower self brings about its complete substitution by the infinite and absolute Deity. This fallacy is an ancient and common one in mystical circles and leads to fantastic declarations of self-deification. If the lower self is displaced, it is not destroyed. It lives on but in strict subordination to the higher one, the Overself, the divine soul in man; and it is the latter, not the divine world-principle, which is the true displacing element.”
Remember, however, that PB said the Soul, in turn, looks up to its 'priors', and these are realizable, but there is no 'union' with them:
“The Overself is one with the World-Mind without however being lost in it.”
“There is no final absorption, the individual continues to exist somehow in the Supreme. The fact that he can pass away into it at will and yet return again, proves this.”
“It would be shere arrogance were it not mere ignorance to believe that because we can go beynd the limited ego, therefore we can go beyond the divine soul and encompass the World-Mind itself in all its entirety.”
“No mortal may penetrate the mystery of the ultimate mind in its own nature - which means in its static inactive being. The Godhead
[The Primordial Ground of Meister Eckhart, The One of Plotinus, or the Mind of PB] is not only beyond human conception but also beyond mystic conception. But Mind in its active dynamic state, that is, the World-Mind, and rather its ray in us called the Overself, is within range of human perception, communion, and even union. It is this that the mystic really finds when he believes that he has found God.”
“God, the World-Mind, knows all things in an eternal present at once. No mystic has ever claimed, no mystic has ever dared to claim, such total knowledge. Most mystics have, however, claimed union with God. If this be true, then quite clearly they can have had only a fragmentary, not a full union. Philosophy, being more precise in its sstatements, avers that they have really achieved union not with God, but with something Godlike - the soul.”
“When consciousness is successfully turned in on its own deepest state, which is serene, impersonal, and unchanging, it receives the experience of the divine Soul, not of the Godhead. It brings us nearer to the Godhead, but does not transform us into it. We discover the divine ray within, we do not become the sun itself.”
“No one overwhelmed by the experience of Enlightenment has yet said the last word about Absolute Truth, for no words can either exhaust it or even touch it.”
“If a man claims to know what God is in the same way that God knows it, he is talking nonsense, and falling into the sin of spiritual pride. No one can penetrate this irreducable mystery except in his own imagination, speculation, or psychic fantasy. No human effort can plumb the depth of the ultimate power. No human being has found the truth in all its angles, nor uttered the last word upon it.”
“It is humbly truer to admit, with Muhammed, “I am the servant of God, I am but a man like you,”
[a favorite expression of Sant Kirpal Singh] than arrogantly assert with the Advaitin, “I am the infinite Brahman!” It is better to say modestly with Jesus, “The father is greater than I,” than to announce with the Sufi Mansur: “I am God.”
“Jami, the Sufi, very beautifully distinguishes the doctrine of annihilation in God from that of identification with God in the following verse:
So tread this path that duality may disappear,
For if there be duality in the path, falsity will arise:
Thou wilt not become He; but, if thou strivest,
Thou wilt reach a place where thou-ness shall depart from thee.”
These latter two lines wonderfully express the non-dual position. It can only be expressed or pointed to negatively, or through the via negativa, “neti, neti”, etc. We can call it the “not-two”, but not One. Some call it the One, but inasmuch as that is a concept, there is a difficulty with such language, wherefore the "not-two" is preferable. "If I say he is one, the question of two arises,” said Kabir. We can, according to Jami, say that “thou-ness has departed from thee,” but not that he has attained the One. How does one know it is the One that he has realized by transcending ego? We can also say one has realized the not-self, but not that there is only one soul or Self. There may be, but we cannot say it, for how do not know it? We can only rest in our ignorance and its sufficient profundity, and allow it to deepen. PB’s phrasing that the individual souls or Overselves are “rooted” in the World-Mind is closer to the non-dual vision, and give the feel that souls are distinct but not separate. As Plotinus might say the Individual Souls abide in and are inseparable from the Absolute Soul, or the Absolute-Soul-in-the-Intellectual-Principle. Both of these men expressed paradoxes of realization through the best limitations of our language and knowledge.
There is no doubt, therefore, that as an answer to satisfy the mind, the “fallacy of divine identity” must fall short. It is not so easily proclaimed or understood as some might wish. The "fallacy", from one point of view, is itself a fallacy. To borrow an analogy, if Newtonian physics represents the traditional spiritual teachings, then from the point of view of quantum physics - or non-duality - the fallacy is incorrect: in the absence of self or ego, there is only God, and Al Hallaj is exonerated. On the other hand, if we consider we are seeking that which is beyond both duality and
non-duality, (and hence, beyond even the domain of 'quantum physics'), then the fallacy may still be appropriate: for in the absence of ego there is not only no self, but also no God, and what remains is simply that which mysteriously IS, and the ever deepening realization of that.
The seeker who has a spiritual glimpse may realize the Nous and the One - but, then again, he might not. It is a fallacy, according to PB and Plotinus, to think realization of the Soul is realization of the One, yet, even so, Soul, being eternal, survives even in realization of the One. It knows itself in the Intellectual Principle, or the Absolute Soul in the Intellectual Principle, or the One. And for those who wake up without accessing the deep mystical states, but simply become realized ‘in place’, their situation may in some cases be described, as one student has suggested, the "waking paradox of the Nous." In that realization there is the insight into "no-self", and the "not-two." It is, no doubt, once again, best understood as paradox, both true and untrue and both views not contradictory. As the Mahayana logician Nagarjuna might say, ”It’s this, it’s that, it’s neither, and it’s both.” From this point of view, then, we cannot truly say that Al Hallaj was wrong, although it would also not be quite correct to say that he was right either. We are necessarily struck dumb on approaching the courtyard, what to speak of entering the portals of, the Void-Mind.
These expressions would hopefully satisfy the Christian mystic apologist, whose doctrinal roots reject merger, seeing the soul and God as ontologically distinct, yet demands fidelity and surrender of the soul to the divine, particularly in regards to the transformation of the will. What he may find surprising is that this and the above thoughts of Brunton are very similar to those brilliantly expressed in this hyperlinked excerpt from the Lankavatara Sutra
Soul remains Soul, according to the above creative interpretation, no matter the cultural or historical tradition. It is just that the confusion of ego (jiva) with Soul, and Soul with the God, must be thoroughly understood, which is a stumbling block for religious believers and mystics alike. East or West, the heart must open and Reason (Buddhi) be purified, for the ultimate nature of Mind in sahaj samadhi to be realized.
Damiani, further elaborating on the writings of Brunton and Plotinus, gives his understanding of the esoteric reasoning why earth life and the waking state have always
been considered essential for achieving enlightenment, and also why realization and even clear knowledge
of the soul can not be achieved by trance alone, even in the highest state of such inversion, nirvikalpa samadhi (which, by his reasoning, would have to include even anami lok
of the Radhasoami or Sant Mat tradition (described as the final inner realm but the first or only one beyond all light and sound):
"In nirvikalpa there is no thought. There's nothing to understand. Without the fullness of the understanding that comes from penetrating into the World-Idea - in other words, the full development of the faculty of understanding which comes to a soul through the World-Idea - in the trance state one would be utterly unprepared to understand the mysterious Void...Or we can put it this way: It will take all the teaching that the World-Mind [God as manifesting the universe] can bring to bear upon the soul, in order for the soul to understand its origins, its own priors...that's what is necessary to become the sort of philosopher that not only understands the nature of the soul but also something about the prior principles that are, let's say, eternally generating it."
In short, "But in order to realize that eternal life and become a conscious and active participant in It, it is requisite for the Immortal Soul to be associated first with that which is mortal, finite and transient ere it can learn to recognize Eternity, the Infinite and the Spirit which will unite it to the Supreme."
("The System of Plotinus").
To humble us even further before the fathomless depths of the Divine Mystery, we can say that even this grand realization and permanent union with the Soul in sahaj samadhi is not yet the perfection of a human being:
: Would you say that the being that gets enlightened has become a perfect vehicle for the revelation of the soul?
: "I don't think so. I think it's just starting. And you know, from what we've heard of people like the Buddha, it's a long, long development. It goes on for many, many millenia."
"So-named absorption in God, regarded as the goal of the Sufi seeker, is in fact only the beginning,"
warned Al Ghazzali. (28)
The following two passages, one by Ramana and the other by PB, illustrate the problem or difficulty we have to deal with. First, Ramana, like many advaitic sages, said:
"Reincarnation exists only so long as there is ignorance. There is really no reincarnation, either now or before. Nor will there ever be any hereafter. This is the truth."
And now PB, who, while agreeing with that statement from the ultimate point of view, also wrote:
"The true teaching about reincarnation is not that the divine soul enters into captivity and ignorance of the flesh again and again but that something emanated from the soul, that is a unit of life that eventually develops into the personal ego, does so. The Overself contains this reincarnating ego within itself but does not itself reincarnate. It is the parent; the go is only its offspring. The long and tremendous evolution through which the unit of life passes from the primitive cellular existence to its mature human one is a genuine evolution of its consciousness. Whoever believes that the process first plunges a soul down from the heights into a body or forces Spirit to lose itself in Matter, and then leaves it no alternative but to climb all the way back to the lost summit again, believes wrongly. The Overself never descends or climbs, never loses its own sublime conscousness. What really does this is something that emanates from it and consequently holds its capacity and power in latency, something which is finited out of out of the Overself's infinitude and becomes first, the simple unit of life and later, the complex human ego. It is not the Overself that suffers and struggles during this long enfoldment but its child, the ego. it is not the Overself that slowly expands its intelligence and consciousness, but the ego. It is not the Overself that gets deluded by ignorance and passion, by selfishness and extroversion, but the ego."
"The belief in the merger of the ego held by some Hindu sects or in its annihilation held by some Buddhist ones, is unphilosophical. The "I" differentiated itself out of the infinite ocean of Mind into a distinct individuality after a long development through the diverse kingdoms of Nature. Having thus arrived at consciousness of what it is, having travelled the spiral of growth from germ to man, the result of all this effort is certainly not gained only to be thrown away..."
"The self-consciousness thus developed will not be dissolved, extinguished, or reabsorbed into the Whole again, leaving not a trace behind. Rather it will begin a new spiral of evolution towards higher altitudes of consciousness and diviner levels of being, in which it will co-operate as harmoniously with the universal existence as formerly it collided with against it. It will not separate its own good from the general good. What are the ultimate reasons for human wanderings through the world process? That life matters, that the universe possesses meaning, and that the evolutionary agonies are leading to something worthwhile - these are beliefs we are entitled to hold. If the cosmos is a wheel and which turns and turns endlessly, it does not turn aimlesssly. Evolution does not return us to the starting point as we were. The ascent is not a circle but a spiral."
"It is not the ego itself which ever was consciously divine, but its source, the Overself. The ego's divine character lies in its essential but hidden being, but it has never known that. The purpose of gathering experience (the evolutionary process) is precisely to bring it to such awareness. The ego comes to birth in finite consciousness out of utter unconsciousness and, later, to recognition and union with its infinite source. That source, whence it has emanated, remains untouched, unaffected, ever knowing and serenely witnessing. The purpose in this evolution is the ego's own advancement. When the Quest is reached, the Overself reveals its presence fitfully and brokenly at first but later the hide and seek game ends in loving union."
"The eventual trend of evolution is through and away from personality, as we now know it. We shall find ourselves afresh in a higher individuality, the soul. To achieve this, the lower characteristics have slowly to be shed. In this sense, we do die to the earthly self and are born again in the higher self. That is the only real death awaiting us."
[For more on PB's thoughts on the doctrine of mentalism, the ego's evolution, and the importance of going through the World Idea for awakening (or samsara being the doorway to nirvana), please see Elvis Was Not a Mentalist
on this website]
Of course, it must be admitted that the more radical advaitists of the present era, such as Ramana Maharshi, Sri Nisargadatta, Robert Adams, or Papaji, and other non-dualists of the more distant past, such as Zen Master Bankei, would consider much of the above as complete and total nonsense! This was warned of at the outset, for the position of such sages is that upon enlightenment or awakening it is realized that there is no body, mind, ego, world, creation, creator or God, but only Mind itself beyond all conception, knowable as pure Silence. Therefore one can see that this topic is difficult to clearly speak on. As Ch'an master Huang Po stated:
"Our original Buddha-Nature is, in highest truth, devoid of any trace of objectivity.... Even if you go through all the stages of a Bodhisattva's progress toward Buddhahood, one by one, when at last, in a single flash, you attain to full realization, you will only be realizing the Buddha-Nature that has been with you all the time; and by all the foregoing stages you will have added to it nothing at all. You will come to look upon those aeons of work and achievement as no better than unreal actions performed in a dream. That is why the Tathagata [the Buddha] said: I truly attained nothing from complete, unexcelled Enlightenment."
When one opens his mouth, it seems that even the sage is already courting trouble. Brunton, as portrayed in Annie Cahn Fung's excellent two
thesis on PB’s life and thought, appears to have been leaning in this direction. He declared:
“From the point of view of the Absolute, there are no questions, no Overself, nothing to transcend. IT IS - this is Advaita.”
Or, as Peter Dziuban wrote:
"Infinite Consciousness does not “see” a finite universe of time and space, because to Infinite Consciousness, there is only infinity. There is no point at which infinity ends and something non-Infinity begins—because the very definition of Infinity is end-less. Again, this is only clear when starting from Infinity. Infinity’s Endlessness is not locatable on a physical, spatial, or dimensional basis—because in infinity there is no such thing. Infinity is not locatable even mentally—for Infinity completely precludes all concept of location, or a mentality that would deal with such. Infinity’s Allness simply does not coexist with anything besides itself.”
Asked whether it is necessary to understand the three concepts of Mind, World-Mind and
Overself in order to understand the Absolute, PB responded:
“If you are trying to think things out in an intelligent way, you must do that. You can't leap there. You can take the Absolute Advaitic point of view if you like, but you can't get there until you've gone through them—because you don't understand; the instrument is lacking which can handle it....Why did Plotinus split it into three if it wasn't necessary for us? Eventually you rise to the point where there is only THE ONE. In studying, using the intellect; all three are necessary.”
Thus Brunton acknowledges, argues Cahn Fung, that
"the fragmentation of the non-dual Reality into three distinct
concepts has only an empirical value, the fruit of an intellectual operation which is only preliminary to the contemplative experience that alone allows attainment of the Real...The intellect can only produce thoughts, yet Reality is not a thought. Accumulating thought
after thought, reason is forever powerless to grasp the Real. But it can open the way for
metaphysical experience, and that is, moreover, its traditional function in Vedantic sadhana."
She further argues that PB had an evolving concept of the Overself, and used it to sweeten the pill of non-dualism for westerners. He started with the Overself as a form as realizable in savikalpa samadhi in the heart
as an expanse of light in The Search in Secret India. Later this became the experience of nirvikalpa samadhi in the heart
. Later still, the Overself was recognized as having no boundaries, becoming the identity of the sage in sahaj samadhi. As Ramana would say, even now, you are
the Heart or the Self. At this point the boundaries of the Overself’s distinctness as an entity of any kind becomes vague, and PB appeared almost strained in finding a further use for the concept. He called it a point in the World-Mind, but refused to admit of separate Overselves for each body. By saying this he was harkening to his advaitic inclinations over those of Sam 'khya which admits multiple Purushas. Yet he claimed distinct but not separate Overselves for each sutra-atma, or successon of apparent lifetimes. Still, the Overself as opposed to some other advaitic conception does seem to have been a pedagogical tool for PB, that is, a concession to the limited intellect and understanding of his readers. Cahn Fung writes:
“Reason proceeds by successive steps and not by sudden leaps—it cannot
apprehend the concept of the Absolute without intermediary concepts. However, the ultimate step will always be “trans-rational.” Brunton seemed to be aware of this paradox, for he confided to a student:
"Understanding the One is not a matter of discrimination, because it can only be risen to in the silent mind, the stillness. In having that experience he (Plotinus) could have only had it in the silent mind, the stilled, silent mind, the higher intellect, when he was not trying.”
As Anthony Damiani said, “you give up trying to achieve liberation.”
Ramana Maharshi affirmed the wisdom of this position:
"There is no creation and no dissolution. There is no bondage, no one doing spiritual practices, no one seeking spiritual liberation,and no one who is liberated. One who is established in the Self sees this by his knowledge of reality."
Thus, Cahn Fung concludes, “the World-Mind and the Overself are only intermediary concepts permitting the aspirant to construct a coherent mental representation of Reality.”
Is there, then, a fallacy or isn’t there? Certainly for the average mystic and yogi there is; but what about for the sage? That is not so clear. Is realizing the Atman to be the same essence as Brahman equivalent of its being
identical with Brahman?
What does Plotinus say about achieving this ? He writes:
“and that is the true end set before the Soul, to take that light, to see the Supreme by the Supreme and not by the light of any other principle - to see the Supreme which is also the means to this vision; for that which illuminates the Soul is that which it is to see, just as it is by the sun’s own light that we see the sun. But how is this accomplished? Cut away everything...”
What does Plotinus mean here? What is it to “cut away everything”? We submit it is to discard all concepts, opinions, beliefs, preconceptions, thoughts, points of view, etc.. This is much like what is advised by the non-dual teachers. So let us start where we began this article, and play devils’ advocate. What is it that becomes “united” with its own Soul, which Damiani suggested the sage does? Is there an entity that unites or merges into the Soul, or do we simply come to see that we are the Soul, after negating everything that it is not? Is the Soul a thing, a reality, or just a concept also, to be discarded when our contemplation is complete? Sri Nisargadatta seems to think so:
"Even to talk of re-uniting the person with the self is not right, because there is no person, only a mental picture given a false reality by conviction. Nothing was divided and there is nothing to unite."
Is the concept of union with or merger into the Soul then any more difficult than that of merger into the One? Is there a jivatmana, or ego-soul, or even Soul or Overself, as an entity? Can we know or perceive the three Primals as distinct? How would we do so? Are the Primals really real, or just empirical aids and not metaphysical verities; that is, are they only reflective of different modes of perceiving the truth? How, for that matter, did the ancient sages mentioned by Plotinus come by this threefold classification? Was it just by reasoning, or some kind of revelation? We are not putting away the three principles in a casual manner, for we have great respect for the ancients. But it must be asked, is there more than one ‘mystery’ (i.e., the three principles) to dissolve into or be, and, perhaps more importantly, is it something so foreign to our ordinary direct experience? Mark Scorelle writes:
“There is only one Awareness, this Awareness that's here right now. There is no other one in some hypothetical realm we can't get to or see. It's God, the Self, whatever you want to call it. It is a direct experience, not mental, not reflective. Formless, changeless livingness.
I always liked the idea that when you read philosphy, like ontology for instance, in order to understand this even in the most general way you must reflexively and automatically refer to something in your immediate being that is that way. So when you say God or the One you are referring to something in your immediate being that allows you to have access to that idea. And that is the life that you are already. In ontology you are referring to the beingness that you are already. For the Infinite you are referring to the consciousness that you are already just to get even a sense of what it means."
Ramana Maharshi stated:
"People seem to think that by practicing some elaborate sadhana the Self will some day descend upon them as something very big and with tremendous glory, giving them what is called sakshatkaram [direct experience]. The Self is sakshat [direct] all right, but there is no karam or kritam about it. The word karam implies doing something. But the self is realised not by doing something but by refraining from doing anything, by remaining still and being simply what one really is...When the non-Self is eliminated, that which remains is reality. It is not to be attained because it is not outside you."
Thus, it appears we come full circle into agreeing, tentatively, with many of the newer teachers. Only Parabrahman or Paramatman is the Reality. And every realized sage is that Truth. With Nirvikalpa there may be said to be a liability for a fallacy of divine identity, inasmuch as it is a passing state and not permanent reality, ( emptiness without fullness, the inner without the outer) but not in true sahaj, which is unchanging. And how has this supreme state been described by such sages? Meister Eckhart, a favorite of Adyashanti, referred to it as beyond being and non-being, the "primordial ground where distinction never gazed"; Sri Nisargadatta said it was “a solid block of reality.” No room for fine distinctions here. Nor room for a plurality of souls other than in appearance. Ramana Maharshi descrbes this stateless state thusly:
"Being himself the same as the supreme being, the ignorant man, thinking himself to be someone other than the supreme, tries to become one with him by various yogas. Since he himself is identical to the supreme being, what can be more absurd than this?"
"In that transcendental state the power of God, named maya, whose expanded form is the whole world, is wholly lost in that motionless supreme one, along with the whole of her creation."
"This state of being one's true Self, freed from all limiting superimpositions, is called the state of non-duality, because in that state, the supreme sole reality, the infinite Brahman, is not other than the Self."
Is there anything to be attained at all? Huang Po said no, the Buddha said no, Bankei said no, Ramana said no, even PB said no. If there is not, and the sages have adamantly said there isn’t, where is there room for a fallacy of divine identity? It seems it only makes sense from a lower point of view than the truth. That is, from the point of view of the One, there is no fallacy; from the point of view of the seeker, there is a fallacy.
Some of the reason for arguing that there is a fallacy may be on moral grounds: if one is permitted to exclaim he is the infinite Brahman, there is much room for an inflated grandiosity by the ego. But from the legitimate point of view of the Absolute, the One, there are no others to feel superior to, no higher or lower stand, so a natural humility is present, and the need for a moral argument is unnecessary.
We as jivas have a natural sense that we are not the almighty itself. As the Lord or 'Isvara' said to Job:
"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?… Who laid the cornerstone thereof, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors…. And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?…. Canst thou bind the sweet influence of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?…. Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts, or who hath given understanding to the heart?"
Yet it is this naive universal view that is, according to the ajatavadins, inconceivably and unbelievably swept away by the realization of Brahman or the advaitic One. When there is no ego or jiva, there is no 'God’, 'soul', or 'creation', either, for God, soul and creation are concepts and exist no more at this level. As Sivaprakasam Pillai, close devotee of Ramana Maharshi, wrote:
"Only one thing exists: Self-consciousness. The world, the soul, and God are mere imagination. Those who know this will not be baffled."
Being no one there to claim a divine identity, only what IS remains, as it always IS. Therefore, after ‘cutting everything away’, we also find, perhaps, that we can cut Al Hallaj some slack.
Shree Atmananda (Krishna Menon) said:
"Memory is the one thing that creates the whole world, and
memory is the last link that connects one with the phenomenal
world. If memory is understood to be nothing but a thought,
which in turn is nothing but pure Consciousness – the Self –
then memory, and the world with it, is merged into the Self."
Before concluding it must be pointed out that even the venerable Ramana Maharshi gave out seemingly contradictory thoughts at times on this subject. On the one hand he, like Atmananda, wrote affirming the ajatavada position:
"There is neither creation nor destruction, neither destiny or free-will, neither path nor achievement; this is the final truth."
"Drink of the nectar of Siva-Knowledge and conduct yourself as you please. You are the same as Siva in immortality and purity, but not in the power to create, etc."
"As human beings, we are all just doing our little part. It's the totality; it's the One itself that we are but expressions of. If any of us start to think we are playing a bigger part than we are - if we see ourselves as anything but a small part of an infinite mosaic - it seems to me we're starting to become inflated and deluding ourselves."
Thus, we are back to the position that an individual Soul (mind) is an emanation (ray) of, as well as, a point within the Infinite Mind of the world, and thus sharing in the qualities of the Infinite. But, if one accepts that the Soul presides over the continuity of my finite being while the Infinite presides over the continuity of the entirety of all Souls and world(s), from this "side of things" it is difficult to say that they are both equal - that is, that a Soul becomes or is identical with the One. By analogy it's like taking a teaspoon of water out of the ocean. They are both water but the teaspoon of water is not the entirety of the ocean. But it is also not quite correct to say they are not
the same, for the infinite ocean, being inconceivable and non-partable, cannot be said to be the sum of its drops, or 'teaspoons', of consciousness either. So we are as many sages have concluded, reduced to ultimate perplexity and wonder, beyond all hope of conceptualization.
If the poor reader is confused at this point, think of how this humble writer must feel!
"The Real is not a state of something else - it is not a state of mind or consciousness or psyche...It is itself, after the consciousness as such is no more. Then words 'I am man', or 'I am God' have no meaning. Only in silence and in darkness can it be heard and seen...The man who claims to be God and the man who doubts it - both are deluded. They talk in their dream."
- Sri Nisargadatta (45)
"There are mysteries in the world and we're not going to get rid of them, no how. And as a matter of fact when you finish your studies, and when you've penetrated the deepest mystery of all, it'll still be a mystery. You're not going to take the mystery away."
- Anthony Damiani 8/83
I'd prefer to stop there, but this article wouldn’t be complete without giving another model of what re-union with the divine Soul might be. I hesitate only because this is from a different tradition than that of the jnana paths or non-dual teachings, which a majority of this article has been concerned with. In the mystical path of Sant Mat it is taught that, at the time of death, both the motor currents in the body (pranas) and sensory currents (what could be considered to be the attention, the emanent or outward expression of the Soul) both leave the body, and one becomes a mystic faster than he might ever imagine. During meditation, however, it is possible to leave the pranas alone, and concentrate the attention at the seat of the soul at the ajna doorway, leaving body-consciousness and and progressively passing through the astral, mental, causal, supercausal, and 'spiritual' regions. This school would consider re-union with the Soul in its purity to take place when one had reached Sat Lok, where merger in the Absolute then takes place in three progressive stages. One could say that the ability to access Sat Lok at will and bring that realization back into the earth plane would be re-union with the Soul and its power of projection. The mystics of this school, furthermore, make the unique claim that the Brahman of the vedantists extends no further than the second Grand Division of the cosmos - up to the limits of the causal realm, and no further:
"In the Radhasoami faith, the ultimate reality is Radhasoami. In Hinduism and its branches the ultimate reality is Brahman and Isvara. Brahman is considered to be the highest reality in Vedanta. The founders of Radhasoami faith, however, came forward with a new concept. According to them, The Brahman of Vedanta is limited to the second grand division of the creation whom they call "spiritual-material region". They hold that the Brahman is not the true Supreme Being or the highest reality because he is not perfectly free from mind and matter. They assert that though spiritual components predominate in Brahman, there is Maya latent in the seed form and a Supreme Reality having the least admixture of Maya cannot be styled as the highest truth. They envisaged the highest and the first grand division of creation as the region of the true Supreme Being who is absolutely spiritual and totally free from mind and matter. Such a Supreme Being they have named as Radhasoami."
(website of Dadaji Maharaj)
This is certainly a novel interpretation of Brahman, with no support from any other tradition. But that is a story for another day. I'm beat!
(1) The Notebooks of Paul Brunton
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1988), Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.200
(2) Stephen MacKenna, Plotinus: The Enneads
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1992), p. 446 (V.3.8)
(3) Ibid, p. 447,454 (V.3.8,V.3.9, V.3.14)
(4) Anthony Damiani, Looking Into Mind
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1990), p. 201, 206-207
(5) The Notebooks of Paul Brunton
, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 1, 1.160
(6) Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Sufi Essays
(Chicago, Illinois:KAZI Publications, 1999), p. 68-83
(7) Jerry Katz, ed., Essential Writings on Nonduality
(Boulder, Colorado: Sentient Publications, 2007), p. 59
(8) The Dark Night of the Soul
, Book II, Chapter XVII
(9) Katz, op. cit., p. 60
(10) John Deck, Nature, Contemplation, and the One
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1991), p. 57
(11) Stephen MacKenna,Plotinus, The enneads
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1992), p. 714-716
(12) The Notebooks of Paul Brunton
, op. cit., Vol. 14, 3.406
(13) Ibid, Vol. 16, 2.200
(14) I.K. Taimni, The Science of Yoga
(Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1981 , p. 435
(15) The Notebooks of Paul Brunton
, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.198
(16) Ibid, 2.201
(17) Ibid, 2.202
(19) Ibid, 1.71
(20) Ibid, 1.74
(21) Ibid, 1.99
(22) Ibid, 1.35
(23) Ibid, 1.37
(24) Ibid, 1.64
(25) Ibid, 1.68)
(26) Anthony Damiani, Living Wisdom
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1996), p. 69
(27) Anthony Damiani, Standing In Your Own Way
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1993), p. 253
(28) The Notebooks of Paul Brunton
, op. cit., Vol. 10, 5.38
(29) Maharshi's Gospel
, p. 40
(30) The Notebooks of Paul Brunton
, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 2, 4.257, 4.256
(31) Ibid, Vol. 6, Part 2, 2.23
(32) John Blofeld, trans., The Zen Teachings of Huang Po
, New York: Grove Press, 1958, p131
(33) In a private interview with Alan Berkowitz.
(34) Peter Dziuban, Consciousness is All
(35) In conversations with Brunton in Mysore.
(36) Interview with Alan Berkowitz, Vevey 1975
(37) David Godman, The Power of the Presence
, Part. One (Boulder, CO: Avatdhuta Foundation, 2002), p. 240)
(38) Sri Nisargadatta, I AM THAT
(Durham, North Carolina: The Acorn Press, 2008), p. 143
(39) Ibid, Vol. Three, p. 131, 141-142
(40) Ibid, p. 183, 185, 188 (Lakshman Sarma's rendering of the teachings of Ramana)
(41) Godman, op. cit., p. 68
(42) Arthur Osborne, ed., The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi
(London: Rider & Company, 1969), p. 93
(43) Ibid, p. 110
(44) Adyashanti, The End of Your World
(Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc., 2008), p. 200
(45) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 78, 171