December 03, 2009

Nondualism and materialism share the commonality of being monistic

Gastrocosmology and Theophagy: Eat, Drink, and be Mary
from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
New topic: Robert Bolton's very important The One and the Many, which I read a couple of months ago, but only now have time (I hope -- it's going to be a busy month) to review. This book made a huge impression on me at the time, and the least I can do is try to remember why. [...]

The subtitle of Bolton's book is A Defense of Theistic Religion. Why "theistic religion?" Isn't that a pleonasm, a redundancy? No, not at all. For Bolton is a dissenter within the Traditionalist camp, which, as we have noted in the past, sees a "transcendent unity of religion," but at the cost of essentially downgrading the personal God to a secondary principle (if you're not yet familiar with Schuon's metaphysics, don't worry -- everything will become clear as we proceed).

That is, the Guenon-Schuon school of Traditionalism reconciles the major orthodox revelations by essentially situating them within a closet nondual (advaita) Vedanta. Therefore, their first principle is the "beyond being" of the nirguna brahman, in which personal identity is completely swallowed up and obliterated. If you dine with the Brahman, bring a long spoon!

Indeed, there's no way of getting around it: not only are you on the side of maya -- or cosmic illusion -- but so is the personal God. Both you and God are ultimately absorbed in the One; which, to extend our little gastrointestinal metaphor, is a little like eating the pizza and becoming the pizza instead of vice versa. For this is the ultimate goal of traditional yogic practice: to throw oneself under the cosmic bus, and merge with the Infinite. No self, no problem.

Now, I've greatly simplified the nondual position, but nevertheless, there is no way to reconcile it with a metaphysic that places the personal God at the top of the cosmic hierarchy. Only one approach can be the absolutely correct one. It is in this context that Bolton's book is "a defense of theistic religion." However, as we shall see, the arguments he puts forth cut both ways, into nondualism on the one hand, and materialism on the other.

In fact, one of Bolton's most provocative insights is that nondualism is ironically a kind of approach to religion that is intellectually acceptable to the soul who has been so shaped by modern materialism that it can no longer accept traditional religion. For nondualism and materialism share the underlying commonality of being intrinsically monistic, whereas Christianity is intrinsically dualistic (and actually trinitarian, but we'll get to that later). In a way, nondualism is a mirror image of materialism, for neither has a place for the individual human soul as a truly real reality.

Another important point raised by Bolton is that nondualism isn't actually the only interpretation of the Vedas, let alone the predominant one. That is, there are dualistic interpretations of the Vedas that are compatible with Western religion, most notably, in Ramanuja, who came a couple hundred years after Shankara, and disagreed with the latter's radical nondualism. I used to think that Ramanuja was a kind of degeneration from Shankara, whereas now I would consider him an evolution to a higher and deeper understanding.

No comments:

Post a Comment