Posted by: aediculaantinoi | March 29, 2011

The Pros and Cons of “All-or-Nothing”…

As a result of a variety of ideas that have been swimming about in my mind, and of things that I’ve recently seen or read or heard about, I wanted to spend a few moments here reflecting upon some matters I’ve touched upon previously, but which I think can be usefully extended here in both contrast to and in comparison with each other.

Theological viewpoints, arising as they do from religious contexts, do not often easily deal in half-measures. If we think of religions as being rather all-embracing views of the universe (or the cosmos, or the world, or however large or small one wants to phrase it), what is in it, how it works, and how we are to best live in it and do our part within it, they are by nature rather comprehensive. And, I really don’t think this is a bad thing at all. Religious viewpoints do have relevance to things like politics and to sexuality, contrary to what a lot of the wider secular (but often only apparently so) overculture tries to tell us. Certainly, it sucks when our elected political officials attempt to impose their religious views on others through legislation, and when that occurs it should be opposed vehemently, and not just by those of us who are not of their religious views…But, contrary to what some atheists and others say, I don’t think this is a flaw that is inherent to the religious framework, but instead only to certain religious frameworks that look down upon diversity and which seek to enforce their viewpoints and insist upon their accuracy to the exclusion of all others.

If I may just take a slight tangent to illustrate how this can (and, in my opinion, should) work: one of the only good lines in the film The Matrix: Reloaded was when, at a back-rooms meeting of the council of Zion, someone criticized Morpheus for having a religious viewpoint and acting in accordance with it, and said “Not everyone believes as you do, Morpheus.” Morpheus responded, “My beliefs do not require that they do.” Unfortunately, most of the rest of the film (and the one that followed it) was not as good…

So, all of that to say: I think it is fully possible to be a politician, a business owner, or any number of other possible occupations or roles in society, have strong religious principles, and not seek to enforce them on all others around one. I think the mark of truly durable and powerful religious frameworks is the ability to have contradictions, confrontations, and serious and often contentious conversations within them without the need to silence one faction, or to throw out the entirety of the framework simply because one part of it does not have a consensus amongst those who subscribe to it. Being able to negotiate paradox, when it truly is paradoxical (as opposed to simply illogical or insistently ignorant), is the mark of a useful and productive religious viewpoint, in my opinion.

Not surprisingly, however, it is often particulars of belief that are the contentious matters, and not so much practice–though, one does influence the other in often very strong ways. Wiccans, for example, might be quite insistent on casting a circle at the beginning of a ritual because it is their belief that the energies raised during a ritual need to be contained, but also because outside influences that might negatively impact what is going on within also need to be defended against in the course of events. If one is not of that opinion, casting a circle isn’t going to be thought necessary nor useful, and thus arguments might arise between people of different viewpoints on this matter, particularly when more than one type of modern pagan practitioner is present at a ritual and either is giving it or is planning it…but that’s another matter…somewhat…

[It would be good, at some stage, to return to my own ideas of what belief is, and how it is best defined as a useful term; the way it is used in modern religious discussion generally is not one that I particularly like or find useful, and the way it is used in modern paganism is likewise not to my own tastes. However, lest I lead us down too many tangents at present and lose the thread of my overall points here today, let’s just assume that we’re using something along the lines of the usual definition of “belief” for the purposes of the arguments to follow here.]

There are some larger groups of beliefs, however, that are held within various forms of modern paganism that, I think, can be both usefully and unproductively applied when they are either held but aren’t fully embraced, or are universally applied. Let me start with one that I’m not a fan of, and that I think can often be used as a subtle theological bludgeon while appearing to be a bouquet of perfumed flowers, namely monism; and then let me proceed to one that often gets praised and claimed as a label and a positive form of belief in justification for all sorts of things, but then gets applied to an area the size of a postage stamp when in reality it applies to everything, namely animism.

I’ve been writing about monism on this blog from a very early time (the first days of the second month of this blog, in fact!), and it is a thing that I find is something of a problem a lot more in many forms of theology across religious boundaries than it is an illumination. It is, in other words, an issue of both interfaith and intrafaith relevance–it is often used as a justification for interfaith understanding (i.e. “we’re all really one”), but it is often thought to be the pinnacle of mysticism, and therefore the “goal” of many spiritual paths, even within various forms of modern paganism. I would argue that it is actually neither. And, of course, those who are of a monistic viewpoint will immediately say “Well, then you really don’t get it!” But, it’s ironic that they would do so, because then in that moment, they also really don’t get it, because if they are “right” about monism being in some sense “absolute truth,” then there is no difference nor distinction between myself and them, and any thought or inclination that would suggest otherwise–including that by me–that is taken as in any way anything other than an illusion by them is therefore “wrong”!

Monistic experiences of mysticism are something that pops up worldwide, across religious boundaries, to the point that even hardcore atheists like Sam Harris will admit that they are a scientific reality that looks remarkably similar across cultures and has a physiological and chemical reality in the human brain. (He would then prefer that we talk about that scientific thing, which would of necessity be “all the same,” rather than getting bogged down in different religious explanations or descriptions of such experiences, since those are different and thus, in his view, necessarily divisive. See the end of this video and the beginning of this one of him discussing it with Reza Aslan and Jonathan Kirsch for more details.) It is often assumed that these experiences of being “at one with the universe” are what the entire “point” of religious and spiritual activity happens to be. And, yet, from within one of those experiences, what is there that needs to be done? Nothing. What is there which can be done? Nothing. And, when those experiences end, what ends up happening? Often, sadly, nothing. If you are at one with the universe, and therefore know that the underlying reality of the universe is unity (note the shared roots in both words…a “oneness”–!), then you might not want to eat animals because they are also you, and you might not want to fight other humans because they are also you…but, you should also not mind being run over by a car, because it is also you, or being robbed blind by someone on the street who assaults you, because your stuff is also their stuff and your pain is also their pain, even though they may not realize it at the time. The fact is, these monistic experiences often happen to be “lower-level,” as it were, forms of mysticism or mystical realization, which must then be tempered over time and which change; and yet, for those caught up in them, that’s about all they can think about or talk about.

There’s a lovely story that Joseph Campbell told in The Power of Myth (or perhaps Transformations of Myth Through Time, which has been reincarnated in a series called Mythos) about a young Hindu who was told by his guru that his ultimate identity was divine, and he was very happy with himself because of this. Leaving his guru, he encountered an elephant being driven by an elephant-driver coming toward him on the road, with the cry of “Get out of the way!” The young man, however, hesitated, because in knowing that he himself was divine, and that the elephant itself was also divine and the ultimate symbol of divinity (at least in his understanding), what was he to do? As he hesitated, and the elephant driver repeated his warning several times, the young student did not move out of the way, and the elephant came up to him, picked him up by the trunk and tossed him aside easily. The student, once he regained his composure and was very confused, returned to his guru to ask what happened and why, and the guru said “Did the elephant driver say anything to you while you stood there?” The student said he was told to get out of the way, and the guru exclaimed “So, why didn’t you?” And while we might laugh at this story, I have seen a ton of people who think they’re one with the elephant either not realizing they’re about to be trampled, not caring that such is the case, or losing all “faith” and confidence in everything when they find out they can be, and have been, tossed aside very easily despite their oneness with the elephant.

I think there are better and worse ways of dealing with the matter of monism. For example, I think that the way T. Thorn Coyle has explained it, including recently, is fairly useful, and is in any case far more functional and ethical than I’ve seen it done in other situations: there is non-dualism (which I think is fairly synonymous with monism, though it goes one more than monism by positing dualism and then goes one-less by emphasizing emptiness as the actual reality…!?!), but there is also polytheism. There is a rather amusing (at least to me) occurrence of the possibly conflict between these viewpoints, of strict monism in contrast to non-dualism with polytheism, in this panel from PantheaCon ’09, when Thorn and Lon Milo DuQuette had an interesting exchange on the matter (which I joked about in the satyr-play of our Bakkhoí Antínoou sacred drama at PantheaCon last month!).

Those who appeal to “quantum physics” (without often understanding much about these things) as pointing toward the “reality” of monism that underlies all of these religious expressions of it in mystical thought, I think, are missing something. Sure, we all may be made up of matter and energy that is ultimately similar, or from the same source…and yet, one atom of carbon is not the same as the other, because some have neutrons which give it radioactivity whereas others do not…much less carbon atoms and silicon atoms, or any other possible elements and molecular formations. If indeed the big bang theory is true (and, note, that’s why it’s a theory), and not just a scientific theory created somewhat along the lines of the generally (though not exclusively) monistic single-source creation myths, and thus everything that now exists is, in essence, an emanation from an original unity, doesn’t mean that therefore everything is “the same” just because it comes from the same place. How many born-and-bred New Yorkers are exactly the same as one another? How many people do you know that are simply and forever the sperm or the egg of their mother or father? Change is the reality, adaptation, evolution, variation, to infinite degrees; and while some might lament the entropy inherent in such a phenomenology, it is the source of all diversity that there is, and I’d have it no other way, personally.

So, while I can to an extent buy “source monism” as a valid theological concept, continued monism doesn’t really fit my perceptions, even if some might want to argue that therefore my perceptions are invalid because they don’t see “beyond” to the “reality” of oneness behind the surface-level illusion. If that were the case, then there is no difference between me, the gods, and a speck of dust…and, I think there’s a great deal of difference between each of those things, which must be dealt with in a realistic manner in order for anything useful to occur. Because I’m a process theologian as well, that’s the end-all, be-all of spiritual activity and realization, in my view: the gods are evolving, and so am I, and being aware of those evolutions in them and trying to foster those evolutions in myself is really where the entire notion of spiritual progress and being on a “spiritual path” is all about. If monism is true, movement isn’t necessary, and in fact is more or less impossible. Even those who are unenlightened and complete dullards (as I most certainly must appear to the hardcore monists) are included in the overall picture, and are technically just as enlightened as the highest gurus and as the gods themselves…and if those who are such hardcore monists don’t admit this, then they’re really nowhere near as monistic as they might have thought, and perhaps ought to re-evaluate their notions on this matter…!?!

I have to say, one of the best means via which I’ve come to this understanding of mysticism and monism is through the writings of Louis DuPre, who wrote an article that I read back in 1996 called “Mysticism and Monism,” which was written from a primarily Christian viewpoint. He argues that in Christian mysticism, monism is impossible, because the eventual union that one achieves with the Christian god through mystical practice is not one of substance, but instead one of will and of love–it is a union that still makes a distinction between the state of being divine and being human. The only human who achieved a greater degree of union than this was, of course, Jesus, who was fully divine and fully human, and thus could rightly say “I and the Father are one.” (Whether or not one buys that is irrelevant for the moment.) How do monists in other religions explain why, once one has had this revelation and this understanding of being at one with everything, that one cannot suddenly transmute a pile of carpet samples into foil-wrapped chocolate oranges, or replace one’s left arm with four green and spike-lined tentacles to facilitate fishing, or any other thing that one might consider desirable at any given moment? (I prefer these examples to some of the more common ones, incidentally, simply to illustrate the point more vividly.) Perhaps ironically, here’s one area in which I think the Christian theological example is a lot more useful and realistic than that of many other religions and forms of mysticism, not because it thus “correctly” explains why Jesus could do miracles, but instead it explains why the rest of us, for the most part, can’t.

In terms of Antinous, and the practices of the Ekklesía Antínoou, this has some interesting implications. No, Antinous didn’t create the world, and isn’t the ultimate power in it–and, that’s not only okay, it’s fantastic and it’s beautiful. When one undergoes any mystical experience with Antinous (including the Antinoan Mysteries), one does not achieve union with him, so much as one moves closer to being like him. One is still oneself, and he is still himself, even though–with any luck–one’s own inherent divinity is given a chance to expand more in those moments, and hopefully afterwards as well. It is not the goal of the mystic and the gnostic and the practitioner within modern Antinoan devotion (and certainly in ancient Antinoan devotion) to become one with the god Antinous, in my opinion, and despite what many scholars on ancient mystery religions have tried to argue, as it is (at least for the modern situation, in my view) to become more divine in oneself through this devotion, and through practice of virtue. As wonderful as it might be in many respects to “be Antinous,” the reality of it is that none of us are, or ever will be…but that is not to our own detriment. In a polytheistic universe, one would have to ask, if one were to become Antinous, then who would be you? You have your own role to fulfill, so do it, and do it as well as you possibly can, because only you can. This is the goal of the working of the Serpent Path, to seek to have a likeness and identification with Antinous only to the extent that we are able to do some of the same things he has done, and then to seek our own greater divinization, rather than seeking unification or annihilation of our own identities within him.

And while we all might become like other gods through the means of “polycentric polytheism” that Edward Butler has discussed, just as Antinous did in his various syncretisms, that doesn’t erase our identities, nor those of the other deities and beings involved. It is this lack of distinction between one’s individual divinity and the divinity of larger beings that has lead to many abuses, not only in some forms of modern Antinoan devotion, but in many religious contexts worldwide.

So, perhaps these feelings of oneness and union with the universe are not really best interpreted in a monistic fashion, as experiences of truly being one with the universe, but instead of finding the harmony that is only possible with realizing one’s place in the universe, a universe that is varied and diverse and beautifully pluralistic, and in which every single thing, from the smallest quarks and muons to the largest galactic clusters, has a part to play and a function to execute. And, it is in the doing of those things that one is a part of the larger whole. Or, at least that’s how I’m seeing it at present…

As for animism, that’s another thing altogether, and a rather simpler one. Animism is the belief that all things possess a soul or a spirit (Latin anima is “soul,” whereas animus is “spirit/heart/mind,” but that’s another discussion to be had later!), and it is often a belief that underlies many nature-based religions, shamanism, and a variety of other systems (e.g. Shinto–though there are some interpretations of Shinto that make it polytheistic, monistic, or some combination of these as well…!?!). It is assumed, however, in many forms of supposed animism within modern pagan contexts that there is still such a thing as animate nature and inanimate things. I see people talking about being animists and saying that the spirits of trees, rocks, rivers, animals, and so forth are important to them; but what about houses, cars, computers, coffee mugs, shoes, and other things (apart from, of course, the magical tools and such employed by the individuals concerned)? For animism really to be animism, there is no “opting out,” and for it to be real, it has to be comprehensive. All of the things that we have are made from things that come from nature, and if encountered “in nature” would be considered to have spirits, from the rocks that form the metals that are refined and worked into any number of machines, to the trees that make up wooden objects and the paper in books, to the animals and plants that become leather, wool, cotton, and other materials that make up much of our clothing, and even to the dinosaurs and other long-dead organic life that over time became petroleum and in turn becomes various plastic and other polymer-based items. In an animist system, there is no such thing as an inanimate object, from the most giant and majestic redwood or blue whale down to the most miniscule prion, and from the smallest mass-produced plastic paperclip through to the largest city blocks, highways, cities, and even larger entities like power grids and even nation-states. What are the goddesses Roma, Britannia, and many others if not personifications of these larger political realities?

Though many pagans look at their various deities as if they are gods of nature–Zeus of the skies, Dionysos of growing things, Demeter of the grains and cereals–how many of the ancient gods are also, and are perhaps primarily, gods of human culture? Zeus is not only the thunderer and the father of gods and men, but also the giver of laws; Hephaistos might be a god of fire (and perhaps even of volcanoes!) to some extent, and yet his primary association is with metalwork and craftsmanship; Athena may be associated with olive trees, but to ignore her cultural and craftsmanship associations as even more important would be to commit a great disservice against her; Hermes’ association with communication may be far more comprehensive in nature than simply human communication, but a great deal of his further associations with this phenomenon, including magic and language, are largely human concerns; and Ares, though he may have to deal with a certain set of animalistic urges, is a god of war, and war is almost entirely and singly a human concern.

This is not to say that the natural world (and particularly our place in it and harmony with it) are not of major concern, now perhaps more than ever, nor are nature and natural things not worthy and wonderful and supremely important in themselves and for themselves. However, just because human dams are built in concrete and steel does not mean they are any less “natural” than beaver dams, all things considered, or that because human nests can be 5,000 square feet and cost millions of dollars that they are any different than a robin’s nest.

Nature doesn’t have to be found “out there” in the forests or the mountains or on the seashore, or even only acknowledged when it is a spider in one’s bathtub or the grass that shoots up in the cracks between the sidewalk; nature is never any further than one’s own heartbeat and breathing and continued cellular processes. Doing anything apart from recognizing this is the case is to simply further the Cartesian divide between “humans” and “nature” that has been at the root of so many of the difficulties of the past few millennia; and as many modern pagans have sought to do something about this and to heal that division as much as possible, I think a necessary first step that has generally not been taken in doing so is to no longer reify that division by acknowledging it at all. This does not mean that we must, therefore, become overly materialistic because we are humans and it is “human nature” to do so; it does not mean we have to seek to exert our “human nature’s” will over the rest of nature, because it is equally as good or important as ant nature or wolf nature or spotted owl nature. But, it does mean that we should take our stewardship of our particular human sections of nature much more seriously, and mindfully, in relation to other parts of Great Nature (if I may use the Shinto term), from the seasonal tides to the sources of our own nourishment and continued living.

And, to bring in the question of monism once again: simply “realizing” that one is “at-one” with the wider universe doesn’t mean that we and wider nature are “the same,” and that there are not reciprocal responsibilities between us that should be upheld in a spirit of respect and coexistence. These monistic experiences (interpreted in the way I suggested above) can be used for us to realize that we have a place in the wider scheme of things, but it does not then allow us to run roughshod over anything and everything else because we’re one with it…

I suspect, therefore, that much of the difficulty in understanding when it comes to monism is a terminological one. The idea of “union” and such that is posited in monistic mysticism is often understood as “oneness” rather than “being united.” Perhaps because I’m from the United States of America, I have a different view of this than many might, but nonetheless, here’s where nationality really does help to understand the situation a bit better. The United States, and its motto of E Pluribus Unum (“from the many, one”), does not mean that a Texan is the same as a Californian, but instead that the two share a larger political reality that means there are certain similarities between them, certain rights and responsibilities held in common, certain actions that can be lawfully undertaken by each of them. However, the Californians enjoy certain rights that perhaps Texans don’t, and vice versa…and on and on through all of the other states, individual municipalities, and so forth. So, there is a very large difference between being “united” and being “one”–and perhaps union with all-there-is is really more just like having the feeling of being united and connecting with that larger reality than it is an actual union or a “becoming one.” As Lon Milo DuQuette wrote about the Holy Guardian Angel, when one achieves “knowledge and conversation” with that being, one is transformed, but not into union with it, but instead the two become a larger and different reality together than they do apart from one another. The same is true of any relationship or partnership (from the most casual sexual encounter, where the experiences undergone are not possible without both [or more] people, to the most intense and solid and enduring marriage), any association with a group or organization, or any larger activity that involves the working together of many people, from friendships to households to occupations to towns, cities, counties, states, countries, and larger international alliances.

So, I think the “all-or-nothing” of animism is a good thing, and should be realized and enacted much more than it commonly is at present; and I think the “all-or-nothing” of monism is, under certain circumstances, prone to a better understanding than it has commonly received previously, which is far less “all-or-nothing” (or even “all-and-nothing”) than it has hitherto been thought.


  1. […] I had meant to write a further paragraph in my earlier post on “The Pros and Cons of ‘All-or-Nothing’” in relation to monism, and had considered going back and adding that paragraph. However, if I had done so, many blog […]

  2. You say,

    “[Monism] is often used as a justification for interfaith understanding (i.e. ‘we’re all really one’), but it is often thought to be the pinnacle of mysticism, and therefore the ‘goal’ of many spiritual paths, even within various forms of modern paganism. I would argue that it is actually neither.”

    A few months back I was reading Karen Armstrong’s _The Case for God_ and was interested to learn that before the Enlightenment, there was a strand of Christian thought that to seek this “pinnacle of mysticism” in the form of a sense of ecstatic oneness with everything was really to be thrill-seeking and was a distraction from more serious spiritual work. The idea that all these swooning starry-eyed mystics were fanboys/fangirls, missing the point and not really being properly diligently spiritual was pretty entertaining. . . .

    • That’s excellent! I wish I had seen some of those expressions…I’ve yet to encounter any teacher I’ve had on mysticism who has mentioned anything like that, which leads me to believe that many of the teachers of mysticism (academic and otherwise) I’ve had over the years don’t know about those, and have probably been among the vicarious as well as direct thrill-seekers themselves.

      There is a passage in one of Meister Eckhart’s sermons that we came back to quite a lot in my Mysticism and Ethics class, however (in which we did make a distinction between forms of mysticism that go for the “oneness” experience versus something more progressive and gradual, with the “oneness” being just an initial thing), which I quite like, that goes something along the lines of “It would be better for you to leave your ecstatic state if it were known that some sick person needed a drop of soup.”

  3. This is such a great explanation of the whole monism vs. closeness to a deity issue. Though a leaf and flower may both be part of the same plant and come from one little seed, the flower isn’t also a leaf or a berry or a root. Or something like that. Anyhow, thank you.

  4. I would fain speak with you on this matter. I ask your permission, as I have been unsuccessful speaking with a few others in the past, and I have no desire to talk about something you’d block me over. I also have no desire to change you. Only to share. And I don’t want to overshare.

    Also, I should say that it is not monism, specifically, that I would talk about. I find labels to be restrictive. I didn’t even know that was a term until someone derisively labeled me as such- or maybe I had read it in one of my religion courses and quickly dismissed it as unimportant. I don’t identify with monism- or any label, even if I call myself a wizard. Call me whatever you like and it won’t matter. But I would talk with you about oneness if you consent.

    • Say whatever you’d like, and bring up whatever point you wish to raise. As long as you do so respectfully, I have no objections.

      • Okay. This comment will act in response to multiple points in your post.

        First, you say, “those who are of a monistic viewpoint will”- will they? I think you are generalizing. I see that you do this again speaking of monism and what monists “believe”, but I also think you recognize this. (I bring this to your attention because- well, how would you feel if I said, “Pagans are lost in identification with form and the over-anthropomorphization of gods.”? I would be wrong and perhaps a bit rude to have generalized so. A few pagans may be as such, but I would not claim them all to be so with a sweeping statement.) You also create a strawman here, so I would ask that you be careful. In this example, you are first creating their argument for them and then claiming that they would all use it. I do not know why anyone who had realized oneness would consider “monism” to be the pinnacle of anything; it is a label and nothing more. I wonder whom you encountered who thought this, but do not let it speak for everyone! Just as you would not let Fred Phelps speak for all of Christendom.

        As for oneness- as for its being a goal… should one realize it? Yes. But is its focus that of a goal? I wonder if that’s the best word for it. See, one already has oneness; it is not something that needs to be found. Enlightenment, too, is not something to be sought. Anyone who is seeking enlightenment will never find it. We already have it. It does not matter whether one calls one’s path Monism or Polytheism or Hinduism or Glabblerfot; we all have it and all paths lead to the same place. As for absolute truth, well, that is something that can be found in any religion as well. That is actually one of the easiest things to realize. What is absolute truth except the truth? And what is true except what truly exists? Reality is objectively true. (And maybe also a hallucination and/or dream, but that’s a whole other tangent- either way, the present moment, reality, is still all that is true.) I don’t know why people are so averse to speaking on truth.

        Being at one with the universe is not the entire “point” of religion. Being at one with the universe is merely existence. Being. Religions point to it, but I feel they have other purposes such as celebrating reality, performing theatre, and so on. What is there to be done? You are right, nothing- if that is what you desire. Do what thou wilt.

        I know that everything “is me”, but that does not stop me from eating meat. Life lives on life, as Joseph Campbell reminds us. We shroud ourselves in the deaths of plants and animals with our very clothing.

        Monistic “experiences”, as you label them, are ultimately unimportant. I have had people tell me they are jealous of the amount and variety of “experiences” I have had, but one can have experiences out the ass and it won’t matter. They can be extremely interesting. I like them, sometimes, and sometimes I dislike them, assigning my own value judgments… but these experiences are just reality experienced on a different frequency. Either way, these experiences do not dictate who I am or my level of consciousness. My magic- my expression of will- how I deal with my life shows my level of consciousness, not, as Tolle says, “how long you can sit with your eyes closed or what visions you see.” When the maenads strip away all my identifications, I suppose it does help me to remember the source more quickly, but one does not need such an experience to do that. Experiencing oneness as one’s constant reality, in presence, is the only “goal” here, not some temporary vision. Experiencing one’s complete connection and union with the universe and acting accordingly with present-moment awareness and proper attention paid may be a better “goal”… if one so chooses… because oneness is a lovely way to be. Ek-stasis is not just temporarily standing outside oneself. In recognizing that by doing so one is all the space in the world, ek-stasis becomes one’s normal reality in standing outside oneself and feeling all of one’s body in total awakened awareness. (Also, some claim our species will become extinct if we do not learn to be. They say we must evolve, and soon, or Gaia will let us die. I guess if you were concerned about the same “goal” you could awaken for that reason too, but I don’t really see the point in discussing it here if you don’t share that sentiment.)

        As for quantum physics- you do not need them to be quantum. Oneness is only physical reality in its entirety (φύσις = nature). All matter is connected. All of nature is connected. It is all one fabric at different densities and energy levels. If this “source” monism you mention is all you can agree with, why not do so, for it sounds more correct than the strawman descriptions of “monists” you put up earlier. (I would advise ridding yourself of said ideas, but I can’t tell you what to think.) Matter can be neither created nor destroyed, but it can be transformed. Hydrogen is not the same as oxygen, and protons are not the same as neutrons, and my fingernails are not the same as my eyelashes, but we are all made up out of the same stardust, and to dust we shall return. We are constantly reforming and recycling our body. Oneness is knowing that I am not only a human body, but that I am all the space in the universe, the space in which all this stardust takes place through spacetime. The Cosmos. Mother Nature. The Uni-Verse- the One-Turn. As Bill Hicks says, we are all one vibration experiencing itself subjectively.

        Oneness is not about being “the same”. (I would ask that you please avail yourself of this terrible trap of an idea as well, but again, I can’t tell you what to do.) It is not about idem facere- to make the same- identification. In fact, when one realizes oneness, one also realizes that one must work to overcome identification, for identification with form- to think that a form is one’s own and therefore the same as oneself- is an egoic trap. All forms are ephemeral and they are not the real you. The real you is ineffable, and eternal, and beyond intellectual knowing by the mind, and beyond form- yet observing, using, and appreciating form. As for illusion/maya/original sin, that is only that one is feeling oneself to be separate from God/Goddess/The Universe. There is ultimately no such thing as separation. If you still feel separate, I do not think that makes you an unenlightened dullard. You, too, share the same source, and you, too, are a divine being. The universe does not judge you, so why should anyone?

        I think Louis DuPre, if denying that full union with God is advisable or possible, must have just been afraid to look at himself in the mirror, so to speak. Aleister Crowley says that union/marriage with the universe is our ultimate goal. Like I said, it is not really a goal, if that word perturbs you, so much as fate and reality. I highly recommend Crowley’s lectures on Yoga (which translates to Union). He discusses union, oneness, and the nature of reality and spacetime a great deal therein.

        I know this will make me sound like an utter cheeseball now, but I will say it anyway since you mention it- Father and I are One, and I am fully human and fully divine. And so are you. This does not mean you are the same thing as Antinous, and, despite my fanciful nighttime dreams to the contrary, I am not the same thing as Ganymede. Idem non facio. I am Kora- but not even Kora, because that is just a label, and not even the name on my birth certificate. Not that the name on my birth certificate is who I am either. Like I said, we are ineffable. “You” (your ego) say you are averse to the annihilation of identity- well. I could talk about that too. I could say that identity, ego, is not actually one’s self. That I use the name Kora means nothing. But ego transcendence is a whole other can of worms you can read entire books about. I will only say that one cannot ever permanently kill the ego. The ego cannot die, yet it is afraid of death. You just gotta learn to work with it. The ego is a useful tool.

        Incidentally, I also believe that there is no such thing as an inanimate object. All objects are a part of the One Life.

        You say, “I suspect, therefore, that much of the difficulty in understanding when it comes to monism is a terminological one.” I agree; it is miscommunication. And being allies in being united is not different than being one, although it is certainly different than those moments when one realizes one’s complete interconnectedness with all things. All colors come from white, but they are not the same color. It is not about being the same. It is that I am connected to every single particle in the universe because we share the same body of spacetime. And, if I open my third eye, I can very easily perceive Everything all at once. I rather don’t like to do that (ah, I am still plagued by judgment).

        Also, any sense of selfishness would be outside of presence. True love cannot exist outside of presence. Luckily, love is omni-present.

      • Re: the initial straw-man argument–that was a bit of a joke, and apparently it didn’t really work very well. 😦

        DuPre was not denying the possibility of full union with the Christian god, he was merely writing about the mystical process from a Christian theological viewpoint, which does maintain that there must be a difference and a separation between humans and that religion’s gods, at least during incarnate life. One shouldn’t make any value judgments about him as a person or a spiritual (or not) being, but instead of his own ideas as a scholar and a theologian within the tradition in which he was working–the ideas are sound and valid within that framework, and interesting to think without outside of it. If “The universe does not judge you, so why should anyone?” is something you’re advocating as a useful ideal to follow, I’d suggest following it yourself in that particular set of remarks.

        I do not think that these monistic experiences should be the “point” of religion at all, by any means; however, I’ve met more than one person who has said that the realization of the interconnectedness of all things, and similar statements (including much of what you’ve said here), are what religion and spirituality aim toward–whether calling it a “goal” or a “target” or a “direction” or even “fate/reality” (as you have) is right or wrong, inaccurate or accurate, depending on how one chooses to believe and to parse one’s interpretation of monism.

        To change directions slightly, I think the problem with people like Fred Phelps is not an inability to connect with reality or the interconnection of all things or truth (and he’s utterly convinced that his viewpoint IS TRUTH), I think it’s the simple inability to connect with anyone or anything outside of his own very narrow and hateful viewpoint. I would certainly never characterize his actions or his beliefs as those of Christians in general; as for monists, however, a great deal of what you’ve said here, which includes a good bit of pointing out why you think I’m “not getting it,” is the same sort of things I’ve encountered other monists saying–and, just like those other monists, you’ve pretty much said “Well, the universe doesn’t judge you, so why should I?” And, in attempting to explain how wrong I am at such great lengths, I think there’s more than a little big of judging going on…I’m not against judging in general, but I’m rather opposed to people invoking such statements when it is clear that they’re doing quite the opposite.

        While I appreciate various points that you’ve made here, and agree to some extent with several of them (e.g. the idea that over-identification with any particular form is probably not the best of ideas, and that to a very large extent identity doesn’t really exist), I cannot agree that “all paths lead to the same place,” nor that there is such a thing as “Absolute Truth,” whether that is just plain “truth” or something larger than it, outside of individual context. I do thank you, however, for writing and for giving your own viewpoint–I understand where you’re coming from, but I simply do not agree, nor is there any need for me to do so within either of our worldviews.

  5. The interesting thing about non-dualism (Advaita) to me is that inasmuch as the duality in question is that between the worshiper and the deity, Advaita can be regarded as at least agnostic on the question of the number of deities—or any other entities for that matter—that there are. Indeed, I see no evidence that the latter was a question of any concern to Advaitin.

    The question that divides different schools of Vedanta is whether at the pinnacle of worship there remains any difference, any distinction, between the worshiper and the deity. The significance of this problem is naturally more on the side of the worshiper, for it is a question of their substantiality. Analogous controversies existed in ancient Platonism.

    It is perhaps an index of the obsession in Christian circles for the number of deities, and the excessive, even morbid, Christian sensitivity in this respect, that accounts for the dominance in the Western mind of what would have to be regarded as a rather puerile interpretation of Vedanta’s central philosophical dispute.

    • Thank you, as always, for your comments, and for reading!

      That is a point I’ve never seen drawn out in anything I’ve read on Vedantic Hinduism–as the various sects within Hinduism all seem to express themselves (at least in what I’ve read, seen, and experienced) as “All is Shiva” (for Shaivites), “All is Vishnu” (for Vaishnavas), “All is Devi” (for Shaktites), etc., the monism/near-monotheism seems to have been clearly indicated and passed over…but, perhaps that’s more a modern development to facilitate easier interfaith understanding between the various forms of Hinduism and monotheistic religions? Hmm…

      • Vedanta is, strictly speaking, a philosophical school, albeit one that has its origin in Vedic commentary; hence the term “Vedantic Hinduism” is somewhat ambiguous, as though one said “Thomistic Christistianity”.

        For the issues with which Vedanta is concerned, it is indifferent which deity one worships. Indeed, even if the diverse affirmations that, e.g., “All is Shiva” or “All is Vishnu”, are to be attributed in some fashion to the influence of Vedanta upon Hinduism, rather than, as I would say, direct expressions of the polycentric polytheistic infrastructure of Hinduism, the very fact that their form is relatively invariant would indicate that the difference, whether prior or posterior to the philosophical inquiry (I would of course say prior, and the primacy of the Vedic text—always construed very broadly in India—I should think argues likewise) is evidently not philosophically relevant.

        Vedanta arises out of the effort to use reason to determine the proper way of applying the Vedic ritual injunctions; hence it is not itself a primary, unrestricted ontological discourse, but rather receives its ontology from the Vedas and Upanishads (the Upanishads themselves being a primary commentary on the Vedas), from which a Vedantic ontological discourse arises hermeneutically and so to speak differentially, i.e., from the reciprocal analysis of the terms initially given.

        My reading of the core texts at the root of the tradition is that the issue that gives rise to the distinction between “dualistic” and “non-dualistic” schools of Vedanta is the determination of the status of the self (atman) in relation to deity, where both terms have a generic significance. Whatever Vedanta has to say about what there is and how many things there are emerges out of this continuum and thus is dependent upon it; at any rate, so it seems to me.

        I discuss these matters somewhat, still in a very preliminary fashion, in my essay on the Ashwins and the Dioskouroi in the forthcoming devotional.

      • I look forward to reading that!

  6. Oh, I do not judge you at all, nor DuPre. All I meant by that also-not-working very-well-statement was that, since the universe is one’s reflection, and there is no such thing as separation from God, he must not be facing his reflection. Not that he is an awful person who can’t look at himself. Just logic. He could not fully observe himself and not realize that he is inseparate. We are all completely one with God and this would be seen if one looked at oneself. There is nothing good or bad about it.

    I do still have problems with judgment (assigning good/bad values) but the universe as a whole is without judgment. I do not judge you as good or bad, though. I only notice that you seem to be heavily identified with thinking, otherwise, you would not feel separate. So, I’m sharing, because I would want someone to share with me. And truth is only the universe as a whole/the present moment/reality. Whatever is true. Whatever truly exists. That’s what truth means. But I already said that, so, if you do not agree yet… no matter. Like I said, it is your destiny, goal or no. It does not mean you cannot still have human goals. If you do ever decide you want to realize what you already have (this is why it is fate and not a goal) just try to stop thinking and feel your body. But now I’m offering unsolicited advice, which is the worst kind🙂

    • Again, the issue isn’t DuPre and whether or not he is “facing his reflection” or not–he is a scholar, doing the job of a scholar, and doing it quite well within the forms of thought in which he is involved. Applying your own monistic views to the system in which he’s working, where monism doesn’t work (and cannot work) without heresy or heretical implications, doesn’t get anyone anywhere, and makes you sound even worse in terms of missing the point…

      Your entire tone in your second paragraph here is just as judgmental and smarmy as many of the Christian (and other monotheistic) proselytizers–“because I would want someone to share with me,” “you do not agree yet,” etc. Guess what? I’M NOT YOU. And how dare you assume that I don’t feel my body, when you have absolutely no knowledge of my own daily experience or my feelings of my body (about which I’m far more aware than many people I know), or that my whole problem is “thinking”–every decent system of monistic mysticism doesn’t have a bad view of thinking, because thinking is just as much a part of “the All/truth/the present moment/reality” as anything else. You have no idea what I most strongly identify with; just because I use the term “I think” a lot in my writing doesn’t mean I’m identified with thinking, it means that I do it a lot, and I’m using it in contrast to people saying “I believe” when they talk about religious matters. Thinking is prone to adaptation and change–if anything, an ideal medium via which to realize and actualize non-identification–whereas “belief” tends not to be. You’ve projected your own understanding of my use of language into the false apprehension of what that actually says about me…and, you’ve missed the mark entirely.

      But thank you for illustrating the very point I was trying to make with the monism section of this entry: monists, I was attempting to argue, do not see anything as outside of themselves, and you yourself have said that the universe is a reflection of you, etc. Which means, in essence, that the entire monistic project is one of “enlightened self-interest,” and others only have value insofar as they are either in agreement with your monistic viewpoint (and then there’s nothing to talk about), or they aren’t in agreement BUT it doesn’t matter because they’re therefore “not right” and they are part of “the All” and just aren’t realizing it to the degree that you happen to be (whereupon you get the satisfaction of “being right” in comparison to someone that you think is completely ignorant). This type of monistic thinking is such that even my continued vehement disagreement with your viewpoint on this doesn’t actually matter to you, which you’ve said several times! (That’s not too different from a Christian pitying the deluded pagans, to be honest…) If you are trying to win people over to your viewpoint, which I can only assume that you are, then you’ve failed pretty miserably at it, and I’ve anticipated all of your arguments and counter-arguments rather accurately.

      There is a profound lack of actual respect and understanding going on here, and I’d argue that it is on your part, not mine. You said in an earlier comment on this entry (paraphrasing) that all religions lead to the same goal (which I don’t buy for a moment), and in some sense are or can be “true,” and yet one of the truths of the religious viewpoint I’m presenting here is that “while all may come from one, all is not one now,” and your further responses to me have been that I’m essentially wrong about that and will realize the error of my ways in time. You’ve contradicted yourself, then…so, how do you explain that, outside of trying to suggest that these realities are beyond logic? If I am a reflection of you (which is what your viewpoint amounts to), and yet I don’t agree with your viewpoint, then what is the point of reading and commenting here at all?

      I say the following as categorically true (from my viewpoint): You’re certainly not a reflection of me, and I think the very notion that anyone or anything is a reflection (or, as is more often the insidious reality, a projection of oneself or some aspect of oneself) tends to be violent to the actuality of the person or thing involved, not to mention completely narcissistic and solipsistic, and if anything more an invitation to apathy and indifference rather than to compassion and engaged connection.

      And please understand, I’m not angry in what I’m saying above, nor am I in any way hateful toward you in expressing these things–though I am annoyed that in the course of these comments, you’ve actually sought to disagree with my views while actually affirming them completely (i.e. my views on what monists often think or say), and have not realized it. I value your interaction and appreciate your reading of this blog and commenting on it, but I do not and cannot agree with your viewpoint on these matters.

  7. You are right. I do not know what you identify with most. I do not want to assume anything about you.

    I do know, however, that when I hear a thunderclap, it means that air smacked together after having been separated by a bolt of lightning. I know that light travels faster than sound. I know that if I jump I will fall to Earth because of gravity. And I know, as Tolle says, “Ego arises when your sense of Beingness, of ‘I Am’, which is formless consciousness, gets mixed up with form. This is the meaning of identification. This is forgetfulness of Being, the primary error, the illusion of absolute separateness that turns reality into a nightmare.” I know that neither you nor DuPre would deny oneness if you were not identified with something- thinking/fear/suffering- and therefore, feeling separate. There is no separateness in oneness, the same as there is no love in fear.

    So why am I commenting? When I very much know that you are me, because we share the same body? I wondered at first why I would do so, and almost did not comment, because I didn’t think “you” would like it- but like I said, I would want someone to share with me, so I shared with you. The golden rule. I serve others as Ganymede wills it.

    I reiterate that I place no value judgment upon you. You are as divine as I. You are my reflection- and you’re right, projections can be very violent. I do try not to project negativity whenever I can help it. Then it would be reflected back at me through my own doing.

    I do not feel I have contradicted myself, but I will not say it is because of reality beyond illusion and that “you just don’t get it yet man”. It is not really an illusion; there is only reality. It is that you are thinking too much, and you are not currently paying attention to reality. Reality is the truth reachable by any religion, because reality exists irrespectively of whatever religion may do or say.

    I am sorry that the intellectual concept of monism makes you suffer in any way. Many suffer, and many are also even afraid to approach oneness. Luckily, realized oneness is the end of suffering, as the Buddha says.

    And I have not failed. I did not come in expecting to win anything. There is nothing I could win that would add anything to my Being, to Me. In the body of the universe, there is no such thing as failure. But it’s unimportant; I am not sure why you bring it up.

    • Okay, let me reiterate this again (and hopefully for the last time): DuPre is a scholar, not a practitioner or a mystic, and he has never (to my knowledge) claimed to be anything but a scholar. He has not set out to do anything other than to speak about mysticism within the Christian tradition in a way that is not heretical to certain understandings of it, and insofar as that was his brief, he’s accomplished it quite well and admirably. Why you don’t seem to get that is quite frankly beyond me at this stage, but your consistent failure to understand the terms of the discussion in which he was working makes me suspect that you have a lot of other notions within this present discussion (and outside of them) that are rather flawed.

      It seems to me that if the Ganymede you’re claiming to serve is anything like the Ganymede known from mythology (even though he seems to be more of an HGA for you than a god), his brief at this point is pretty clear–to look pretty and to pour drinks for the gods and to be Zeus’ lover. To put it in general terms, to be a hospitable and amiable servant, which are very good things, in my opinion. To try and lecture people on the “reality” of oneness, as far as I know, was never something that he did. You hiding behind what your gods have “willed” when pushed into a corner argues against your general veracity, not to mention your various claims about being one with the gods…unless you are one with Ganymede in terms of love and will in particular, which is exactly what DuPre was arguing was the result of Christian non-monistic mysticism, which would be a very interesting turn of events, indeed.

      I don’t think you’ve understood the point I was making about projections, either. It’s not just negative projections on other people that can be violent and unfounded, it’s also (what one might think are) positive ones. Try expecting to see your own divinity reflected back to you when you’re staring into a house on fire about to collapse on you, or a violent criminal who is about to slit your throat, or finding out you have HIV. I can guarantee you that if I were standing over you with a boiling pot of water and assuring you that it’s only your own divine reflection as I poured it on your head, you’d be rather vehemently disagreeing with me on the matter–and rightly so! “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has been used as divine justification for some of the most horrific and disgusting crimes ever seen by humanity, including rape, murder, forceful conversions, and any number of other basic human rights violations…the “golden rule” is anything but, in my opinion. The “silver rule,” on the other hand, at least avoids doing harm to others, because it suggests “don’t do to others as you would not have them do unto you.” So, if you don’t want to be robbed or beaten or raped, don’t rob or beat or rape others; and so forth. No, that doesn’t always work, because some people are going to rob and beat and rape you no matter what you do; but, in the meantime, at least one isn’t perpetuating harm–and, even worse, perpetuating harm while persisting in the delusion that one is doing good toward others.

      Because you’re not me, and I’m not you, your assumptions about what I would want based on what it is you would want (and your total dismissal of anything that I might actually want or even need outside of what you want or need because all of those things on my part, in your opinion, can or might speak of attachment/identification) are, by definition, violent to my integrity as a being that is part of “the All.” If there were no need for me to be as I am, and to be a part of “the All” in the way that I am currently doing so, then I would not be here, and your continued disrespect of me being as I happen to be at present shows, at least to me, how badly you really don’t understand what you’re doing, nor do you really get what it is you’re saying yourself.

      I am not a Buddhist, I am not a follower of Eckhart Tolle, and I hold neither of them in any special esteem for their teachings, and yet you’re expecting me to somehow be convinced of the rightness of your viewpoint by quoting them. I don’t know if you are familiar with Zen Master Lin Chi, but he had a rather famous saying about “If you see the Buddha on the side of the road, kill him.” I’d suggest that might be a very useful piece of advice for you to follow under the present circumstances, in the following manner: don’t see your reflection of yourself in me, kill that reflection of yourself that you’re projecting onto me (which is just as false and unreal as any other possible thing that removes us from connection with reality), so that you can actually see the reality which is that I’m different than you. Then you can actually authentically claim to not have any value judgments on me, because very clearly you do.

      You’ve said “You are as divine as I. You are my reflection- and you’re right, projections can be very violent. I do try not to project negativity whenever I can help it. Then it would be reflected back at me through my own doing.” So, ask yourself in terms of the present discussion, why have you been projecting so negatively toward me? Or, perhaps (more in line with my own viewpoint, not that you’d care about it), is the fact that whatever it is you seem to be expecting to be your reflection doesn’t line up with what is actually happening, or that the projection of positivity you’re trying to make is not resulting in positivity being reflected back to you, might in fact suggest that there is a lot more to the world than you and your perceptions of it, even if those perceptions are influenced by your own understanding of a “monistic reality” (whether or not that is reality at all, which I’m disputing).

      As you’re fond of quoting the Buddha, you might also be interested in knowing that he is said to have stated “Samsara as-it-is is nirvana; nirvana as-it-is is samsara.” I’m seeing a very real refusal on your part to adequately deal with samsara-as-it-is at this point…

      Beyond any of this philosophical discussion and wrangling over belief (about which I’m very happy to admit that I am probably not “right” about, but the same is by definition true of you as well, not because “you are me” but instead is because, at the moment, you are an incarnate human and no incarnate human’s knowledge is complete), this blog is my virtual front room, which I’m more than happy to make a refuge for guests and in which I can exhibit hospitality and be the host of good conversations, hopefully. You’re currently pushing the boundaries of that extension of hospitality, and you are due one warning on that matter in advance of further actions taking place. On the whole, I prefer not to restrict discussion (even if I find it potentially distasteful), which is why I allowed you permission to speak; but you’ve crossed the line from expressing a viewpoint to in essence declaring your viewpoint to be valid and correct, no matter what I nor anyone else might say, and thus being beyond the point of debate. You’ve made your point, and people can find it useful and reasonable, or not; I do not find it useful or reasonable nor does it resonate with my own experiences, and I’ve said that several times thus far, and yet you persist…because you assume that because I “share the same body” and you “very much know that [I] am [you]” (which sounds like identification in Tolle’s definition to me, which you’ve quoted in order to say that it is an error!), that I would therefore “want someone to share with me,” but I’ve been telling you I don’t want that…You are proselytizing, at very least, and I do not welcome proselytizers for any viewpoint in this forum. In other situations, what you’re doing could be called rape, and I find every type of rapist distasteful and disgusting, and not deserving of my hospitality. If you must think in your own terms, do yourself a favor and be a lot nicer to yourself (i.e. me!) on this matter in the immediate future.

      • I hear you. And I would speak longer with you, but I understand you do not wish it in this room. Besides, we could keep talking for days and write a whole book- you could just read one. Do not think I have felt any negativity from you; I am only enjoying our conversation as a child would curiously watch a flower unfold. But if you feel I am being violent (and I know why you think that; but I will not say why) I will cease so as to make you feel more comfortable.

        I will say, though, just because I like him so much, that while beauty is a big reason that Ganymede and I came together, and so is love, it would have happened anyway, as inevitably as waves crash onto sand. We belong together for a host of reasons which I could never limit to a simple paragraph’s description. I will say, though, that he is the god of service, service is the glory of God, and thus I serve others. I will also say, if you are unaware, that he is the god who pours the waters of enlightenment- into the Nile and into our cups.

        Do have a nice day! 😀

  8. […] This quote, in turn, reminded me of another paragraph I’d recently read, over on Aedicula Antinoi: […]

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