Advaita Christianity

Advaita is Sanskrit for “non-dual.” A + dvaita is a + dual.

Christianity is non-dual. This is not to say that it agrees with Shankara’s monism; indeed, it is not to say that Christianity is monist at all. Christianity is not monist; it is pluralist.

It is non-dual in that, as it insists, there is no being whatsoever that is not sourced and ended in God. God is the being of all beings.

It might help for me to flesh this out by means of some metaphors – some exactly true metaphors, some perfect metaphors.

Just as there really are finite numbers, so really are there creatures. There are other things than God, that are definite, and that are definitely not God.

And just as the difference between five and Infinity is infinite, so the difference between finite creature and Infinite Creator is infinite.

But there is no finity apart from the Infinite; no solute apart from the Absolute; no power apart from Omnipotence; no time apart from Eternity; no creature apart from the Creator.

Five is implicit in Infinity, and vice versa; so that five and Infinity come along together, as a package deal. Likewise this instant is implicit in Eternity, and vice versa. So then also likewise is the Creator implicit in the creature, and vice versa.

Yet there is no question as to the logical and ontological priority and superiority in these pairs: Eternity is prior and superior to yesterday morning, and its forecondition; likewise is Infinity to five, and Creator to creature.

Five is not Infinity; they are quite different sorts of things – inasmuch, e.g., as infinity is not a number at all, but a quantity. But five has its being in Infinity, and there is no part or aspect of five that has its being in any other way.

As every finite number implies the Infinite, so is it a sign thereof. Creatures then likewise are signs of their Creator. The signs and meta-signs are all there, right in front of us. Indeed, we are made of them. There is nothing else, but them. Everything is made of signs of God. It’s just that they look to us like ordinary dumb stuff. But in fact, they are all singing, all the time, as they shine.

God is ubiquitous, the Source and End of all things. So everything is a sign of his presence, even Lucifer. How, pray, could it possibly be otherwise, for Omnipotence? But we mistake the meanings of his signs to us, and so usually miss them altogether, because we construe them under the signs of our own devices and desires. We are idolaters. We err, and stray.

He has us already on his shoulders, the whole time.

So, just wait. The sign and the meta-sign have already been given to us, as the very matrix of our life.

Wait, knock, ask. Which is to say, repent, do penance, and pray. Soon enough, you will see that you had already arrived at your true Home, long since, and it will then be opened to you, and you will be answered.

13 thoughts on “Advaita Christianity

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  3. Kristor,

    Which school of Vedanta do you think is the closest to Christian theism?

    I would say a good argument can be made that it would be Advaita, but I am not sure if it succeeds. Sankara says, I think in the Viveka Chudemani, that Maya is most strange, neither sat nor asat, being nor non-being. Sara Grant and I believe Alfonso Levee as well, contend that is directly in line with Aquinas’s understanding of contingent being: all creation and God have no more being than God alone; all created being is only participatory. Which leads Martin D’Arcy (who corresponded with Ananda Coomaraswamy, I think) to say in his book on Aquinas that “So close is the connection of God and ourselves that the very word ‘and’ exaggerates it, and yet there is nothing in common.” It seems plausible that that’s precisely what Advaitans are getting at in their metaphysics of identity. And a significant amount of Christian saints, mystics, and metaphysicians have espoused just that view- Catherine of Genoa says that “My God is God; I do not know other outside my very God.”

    But then again, under no circumstance could the Christian theist accept the identification of Atman and Brahman. A metaphysical knot, eh?

    • I think that the closest Vedanta comes to Christian metaphysics is in the Dvaitadvaita (“Dual-Not-Dual”) school of Nimbarka:

      The categories of existence, according to him, are three, i.e., cit, acit, and Isvara. Cit and acit are different from Isvara, in the sense that they have attributes (guna) and capacities (swabhaava), which are different from those of Isvara. Isvara is independent and exists by Himself, while cit and acit have existence dependent upon Him. So, at the same time cit and acit are not different from Isvara, because they cannot exist independently of Him. Here, difference means a kind of existence which is separate but dependent, (para-tantra-satta-bhava) while non-difference means impossibility of separate existence (svatantra-satta-bhava).

      Brahman

      The Highest Reality, according to Nimbarka, is Brahman, Krishna or Hari, a personal God. There is nothing that is equal to Him, nothing that is superior. He is the Lord of all, and Controller of all. He is called Brahman because of the unsurpassed greatness of His nature and qualities, because He is beyond any limit of any kind of space, time or thing.

      Brahman is the sole cause of creation, maintenance and destruction of the Universe. All beings arise from Him, nothing is superior to Him. The Lord alone is the first cause, the manifestor of all names and forms, and none else.

      This Brahman is both the upadana (material cause) and the nimitta (efficient cause). It is the material cause in the sense that it enables its natural saktis, viz., the cit and the acit in their subtle forms, to be manifested in gross forms; and it is the efficient cause in the sense that it unites the individual souls with their respective fruits of actions and means of enjoyments.

      Nimbarka discusses two aspects of Brahman. On one hand, Brahman is eternal and great, the greatest of the great, the highest of the high, the creator, etc. of the Universe, high above the individual soul, of which He is the Lord and the ruler. But, on the other aspect He is the abode of infinite beauty, bliss and tenderness, and in intimate connection with the soul. He is the abode of supreme peace, supreme grace, and the ocean of all sweetness and charms.

      Thus, Brahman possessed of attributes and adorable by all, has four forms or vyuhas (i.e., Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha) and appears under various incarnation as Matsya, Kurma etc.

      Jiva (cit)

      The cit or individual soul is of the nature of knowledge (jnana-svarupa); it is able to know without the help of the sense-organs, and it is in this sense that words like prajnana-ghanah, svayamjyotih jnanamayah, etc., as applied to jiva are to be understood. The jiva is the knower also; and he can be both knowledge and the possessor of knowledge at the same time, just as the sun is both light and the source of light. Thus the soul, who is knowledge, and his attribute, knowledge, though they are both identical as knowledge, can be at the same time different and related as the qualified (dharmin) and the quality (dharma), just as the sun and his light, though identical as light (taijasa), are still different from each other. Thus there is both a difference and a non-difference between the dharmin and dharma; and the extreme similarity between them implies, not necessarily their absolute identity, but only a non-perception of their difference.

      The jiva is also ego (ahamarthah). This ego continues to persist not only in the state of deep sleep, (because our consciousness immediately after getting up from sleep has the form slept happily or knew nothing) but also in the state of liberation. It even belongs to the Parabrahman. Hence it is that Krishna refers to Himself so frequently in the first person in the Gita, of which the chief object is thus Purusottama, who is omniscient and at the same time non-different from the ego or asmadartha.

      The jiva is also essentially active (kartr). This quality belongs to it in all its conditions, even after release. But the kartrtva is not independent. The jiva is also enjoyer (bhoktr) essentially in all its conditions.

      For his knowledge and activity, however, the jiva depends on Hari; thus, though resembling Him in being intelligent and knower, he is at the same time distinguished from him by his dependence. This quality of dependence or of being controlled (niyamyatva) is the very nature of jiva even in the state of release, just as niyamyatva or the quality of being the controller, forms the eternal nature of Isvara.

      The jiva is atomic in size; at the same time his attribute, knowledge, is omnipresent, which makes it possible that he can experience pleasure and pain in any part of the body, just as, for instance, the light of a lamp can spread far and wide and illumine objects away from the lamp. The jivas are different and in different bodies, and so are infinite in number.

      Acit (the jagat)

      The acit is of three different kinds: viz. prakrta, aprakrta, and kala. Prakrta, or what is derived from Prakrti, the primal matter, aprakrta is defined negatively as that which is not the product of prakrti, but its real nature is not clearly brought out. These three categories in their subtle forms are as eternal as the cit or the individual souls.

      [Nimbarka does not explain what exactly the aprakrta is, nor does he define kala more precisely, beyond noticing, as pointed out above, that the aprakrta and the kala are species of the acit. But, Purusottamacarya of the Nimbarka school has, in his Vedantaratna-manjusa, described acit aprakrta as the material cause of the dhama (celestial abode) of Brahman and the bodies and ornaments, etc., of Brahman and his associates.]

      Prakrti, or the primal matter-the stuff of the entire universe, is real and eternal like the individual souls, and like them, though eternal and unborn, has yet Brahman for its cause. It consists of the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas, such as prakrit, mahat, ahankara etc. (just similar to 24 principles of the Sankhyas).

      Bondage

      The jiva has his true form distorted and obscured owing to his contact with karma resulting from ignorance, which is beginningless, but which can come to an end, by the grace of God, when its true nature is fully manifested. It is a part of God.

  4. Hmmmm It almost seems like you’re saying that the non-contingent is contingent upon the contingent, if infinity is implied by 5.

    Where am I going wrong?

    • Implication is not the same as contingency.

      Notice first that 5 is not contingent. It is an eternal form, just like infinity. It does not continge upon infinity, but is an aspect or feature of infinity. Infinity and 5 are mutually implicit. You can’t get infinity without 5, and you can’t get 5 without infinity.

      So 5 and infinity imply each other, but neither of them is contingent upon the other. Infinity is not the cause of 5, nor is 5 the cause of infinity.

      The relation between creature and Creator is a subtly different case. They imply each other – you can’t characterize a being as a Creator unless there is some creature it creates, and you can’t obtain a creature without a Creator. Likewise, there is no such thing as a father who has never fathered. But the creature is contingent upon the Creator. The Creator causes the creature, and not vice versa.

      The analogy of the relations of 5 to infinity and of creature to Creator is perfect, then, in respect of the identical character of mutual implication present in each relation, but not in respect of the character of contingency present in each relation. It is in respect of the former character that Creator and creature are advaita; it is in respect of the latter that they are dvaita.

      • So then is it safe to say that eternal forms are contingent upon God? Or that they’re contained in Him as properties, which we experience?

        I suspect the latter since God is the only necessary being.

      • The latter is closer to being accurate. As 5 is not contingent, neither are any of the other forms; all of them are eternal. And, because it is impossible that there should be more than one eternal thing, the eternal forms must somehow or other be aspects of God, rather than concrete eternals in themselves, and disparate from God.

      • Would they be dependent on God’s Will then or something else?

        In other words, could God declare 2+2 makes 5? Or is how numbers (and other things) are a direct experience of God? Or something else?

      • Well, according to classical Christian metaphysics, it’s both much simpler than that, and also much harder for us to comprehend!

        God is simple. He has no parts, and there is in him therefore no sequence. He happens all at once. So there are no causal dependencies in him. So, God didn’t run along for a while without having decided yet about the logical structure of the Forms (e.g., about whether he should make 2 + 2 = 4), and then one day make up his mind and exert his will to make it so. Rather, the logical structure of the Forms is somehow an aspect of God’s own eternal Nature, and given in it – or as it, or something.

        The Forms are indeed a direct experience of God, but again, because he is simple, there is no point in his life at which he has not yet experienced them, or anything else for that matter. Nor is it as though he experiences anything by looking outside himself. Ex hypothesi, all his omniscient knowledge is of himself.

      • Hah! Yeah, me too: not much! It seems to be impossible for us to really *get* divine simplicity, just as it is impossible for finite minds to *get* infinity. We can do the math, but we have a really hard time seeing what the math means.

        We can’t encompass him. He encompasses us. Our comprehension of him is like the fish’s comprehension of Ocean.

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