Thursday, November 24, 2011

The One Reality


Many attempts have been made to describe the feeling of salvation which the Buddhists call Nirvana and the Hindus call Moksha. Where these descriptions are in the form of doctrines we notice that among such doctrines there is a wide variety of differences whereby students of religion are often misled. If the doctrines of Christianity are different from those of Hinduism, it does not necessarily follow that the religions are different, for more than one doctrine may describe a single state of mind, and without this state of mind the religion , as a mere collection of doctrines, has no meaning whatever; it is just as if it were a babble of unintelligent words. But doctrines differ because people have different mental backgrounds and traditions; an English person and a Chinese person may have the same feeling but they will speak of it in different ways because they are relating it to different mental contexts. It is therefore most unwise to study religion from the standpoint of doctrine as doctrine, for this is the purest superficiality. Doctrines and conceptual ideas vary as languages vary, but one and the same meaning may be conveyed by both English and French. Christians believe in a personal God and Buddhists do not, but as regards the true essentials of religion this difference is as superficial as the fact that in French every noun has a gender, whereas this is not so in English.

Therefore to extract the true meaning of a religious doctrine we must ask, "What does this doctrine mean in terms of a state of mind? What sort of feeling towards life and the universe would have caused a person to think in this way?" For religious experience is like the experience of beauty; indeed, it is akin to felling beauty in the whole of life instead of in a single picture, scene, image, or melody. Beethoven and Stravinsky may both arouse the sense of beauty, and they are quite as different in their own way as Christianity and Buddhism. The important thing, however, is that they arouse that sense; we may discuss and argue over their respective "merits" till we are blue without coming to any conclusion. It would be more profitable, however, if we could take one who feels beauty in Beethoven and one who feels beauty in Stravinsky, and then consider the varying degrees of profundity in their respective feelings. But here we should be dealing with intangible and imponderable factors that ordinary methods of criticism and discussion would be useless, and we could only judge by intuition. The same principle applies in religion, for the feeling of beauty in art or music is here the feeling of salvation. By this I do not mean freedom of moral conscience nor even the certainty of an everlasting life of bliss after death, although such things may be attained by any number of different religious systems. These elementary forms of "salvation" have much the same relation to the deeper forms as mere sensuous thrill has to the perception of beauty.

What, then, is a truly deep feeling of salvation? Insofar as this question can be answered at all, perhaps it is best to consider one of the greatest doctrines in all religion in terms of a state of mind. For this purpose the best choice is probably the Hindu or Vedanta conception of Brahman, because this is at once the simplest and the most subtle of doctrines -- subtle just because it is so simple. The same doctrine is found in other systems, but Vedanta gives it the best philosophical expression. It is that all possible things, events, thoughts, and qualities are aspects of a single Reality which is sometimes called the Self of the universe. In themselves these many aspects have no reality; they are real only in that each one of them is a manifestation of Brahman or the Self. To put it another way, the true self of any given thing is Brahman and not something that belongs exclusively to the thing in question. Each individual is therefore an aspect of Brahman, and no two aspects are the same. But man's self is much more than what he considers to be his ego, his personality called John Smith or William Jones. The ego is a device or trick (maya) employed so that Brahman may manifest itself, and man's innermost self is therefore identical with the Self of all things. Thus if anyone wants to know what Brahman is he just has to look around, to think, to act, to be aware, to live, for all that is known by the senses, thought in the mind or felt in the heart is Brahman.

In other systems of thought Brahman has many other names -- "Tao" in Chinese, and mystics the world over find similar meanings in the words "God", "Allah", "Infinite Life", "Elan Vital", "the Absolute", or whatever other term may be used. In fact, the intuition of the One Reality is the essence of all mystical religion, but few people understand clearly what it is to feel this intuition in oneself. We are perhaps more apt to think of this idea just as a metaphysical speculation, a more or less reasonable theory about the fundamental structure of life. Someday, we think, it might be possible for us to delve down into the deepest recesses of our soul, lay our fingers on this mysterious universal essence and avail ourselves of its tremendous powers. This, however, does not seem quite the right way to look at it. For one thing, it is not to be found only "in the deepest recesses of our souls", and for another, the word "essence" makes it sound as if it were a highly refined, somewhat gaseous or electric and wholly formless potency that somehow dwells "inside" things. But in relation to Brahman there is neither inside nor outside; sometimes it is called the principle of "nonduality" nothing else exists beside it and nothing is excluded from it. It is to be found on the surface as much as in the depths and in the finite as much as in the infinite, for it has been wisely said that "there is nothing infinite apart from finite things". Thus it can neither be lost nor found and you cannot avail yourself of its powers any more than you can dispense with them, for all these conceptions of having and not having, of gain and loss, finite and infinite, belong to the principle of duality. Every dualism is exclusive; it is this and not that, that and not this. But Brahman as the One Reality is all-inclusive, for the Upanishads say:

      "It is made of consciousness and mind: It is made of life and vision. It is made
       of the earth and the waters: It is made of air and space. It is made of light and 
       darkness: It is made of desire and peace. It is made of anger and love: It is
       made of virtue and vice. It is made of all that is near: It is made of all that is
       far. It is made of all."

What, then, is nonduality in terms of a state of mind? How does the mystic who has realized his identity with the One Reality think and feel? Does his consciousness expand from out of his body and enter into all all other things, so that he sees with others' eyes, and thinks with others' brains? Only figuratively, for the Self which is in him and in all others does not necessarily communicate to the physical brain of John Smith, mystic, what is seen by the eyes of Pei-wang, construction worker, on the other side of the earth. I do not believe that spiritual illumination needs to be understood in quite this sensational way. We shall answer the question sufficiently if we can discover what is a nondualistic state of mind. Does it mean a mind in so intense a state of concentration that it contains only one thought? Strictly speaking, the mind never contains more than one thought at a time; such is the nature of thinking. But if spirituality means thinking only and always of one particular thing, then other things are excluded and this is still duality. Does it mean, then, a mind which is thinking of everything at once? Even if this were possible, it would exclude the convenient faculty of thinking of one thing at a time and would still be dualistic. Clearly these two interpretations are absurd, but there is another way of approach.

Spiritual illumination is often described as absolute freedom of the soul, and we have seen that the One Reality is all-inclusive. Is the mind of the mystic singularly free and all-inclusive? If so, it would seem that his spirituality does not depend on thinking any special kinds of thoughts, on having a particular feeling ever in the background of his soul. He is free to think of anything and nothing, to love and to fear, to be joyful or sad, to set his mind on philosophy or on the trivial concerns of the world; he is free to be both a sage and a fool, to feel both compassion and anger, to experience both bliss and agony.

And in all this he never breaks his identity with the One Reality -- God, "whose service is perfect freedom".

From ~ Become What You Are, pgs. 64-69
By ~ Alan Watts

"You are something the whole Universe is doing in the same way that a wave is something that the whole Ocean is doing."   ~ Alan Watts ~