Monday, January 9, 2012

Non-Duality, Magick and the Qabbalah

I recently read a book review that Allogenes wrote up on his blog, “The Magical Messiah,” which examined a book entitled “Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction” by Eliot Deutsch. I have some knowledge of the Indian mystical philosophy called Vendanta, but I couldn’t define what the specific sect of Advaita was and how it related to the essential tradition. In order to sensibly read over Allogenes article, I had to research what Advaita Vendanta was, and that research helped me to resolve a long term issue that I have been mulling over for many years. 
Since Advaita Vendanta is a “living” tradition, that is, it is still being taught and practiced in India, I found the whole concept of reconstructing it, or better yet, mutating it so that it better corresponds to a Western philosophic perspective, was problematic at best, or clearly misguided at worst. I am glad that Allogenes found this proposition to be somewhat dubious as well, since in order to master a tradition, one must become an adherent and be completely immersed in it. Attempting to de-construct a living tradition would be a formidable task even for a master of that tradition, not to mention a “fools” errand for one outside of it. Needless to say, I lost interest in Eliot Deutsch’s book due to its basic premise, but I found myself interested in knowing more about Advaita Vendanta. That interest led me to examining some webpages where I discovered something that completely amazed me. 

Prior to making this search, I had learned years ago that Vendanta was an Indian mystical philosophical system of some antiquity that sought to comprehend the nature of deity directly through the intellect. The intellectual basis of Vendanta is founded upon the holy scriptures of the Upanishads, Bhadavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras. Vendanta literally means in Sanscrit, the “goal of the Vedas.” Vendanta requires the assistance and discipline of a guru, and uses the mechanisms of mental discipline, ascetism, and the techniques of meditation and contemplation. The source of all wisdom and intellectual illumination are to be found in the proper interpretation and realization of specific passages in the above named sacred texts.

Vendanta is a very intellectual approach to realizing the Godhead, but it relies far more on an intuitive and a subjective understanding of the nature of that cosmic deity, known as Brahman. The methodology used to gain that understanding was to reduce what is known about the Godhead by a process of intellectual reductionism. Vendanta can be summed up as the mechanism of knowing and realizing God through the elimination of what it isn’t as opposed to what it is. This is exemplified through the “neti neti Brahman” (not this, not that, is Brahman) approach to the Godhead. In this manner, Vendanta is similar to Mahayana Buddhism and also Taoism. In fact, some have said that the inspiration for Vendanta came from the impact of Mahayana Buddhim on Indians who sought to propose a counter philosophy that was fully grounded in traditional Indian religious culture.

Advaita is a specific subsect of Vendanta, and probably the oldest and best known. It was founded by Shankara Bhagavadpada (Adi Shankara) sometime around the first half of the 9th century CE. Advaita means “non-duality,” so this form of Vendanta was concerned with a fundamental philosophical question, which is whether or not there is a difference between the Cosmic Godhead (Brahman) and the individual godhead (Atman). According to the tenets of Advaita Vendanta, there was no difference between Brahma and Atman. To state otherwise (that the cosmic and individual godhead are distinct) is to commit the error of duality. Therefore, the principle philosophical tenet can be stated simply as “Atman doesn’t dissolve into the unity of Brahman - it is always directly equivalent, since Brahman must be non-dual and without attributes.” Brahman is therefore the supreme cosmic spirit - the One, the whole and the only reality. It is the undefined source of everything spiritual, mental and material. It is the source of consciousness itself. Perhaps the most succinct and comprehensive article that I have found on this topic is in Wikkipedia. You can read that article for yourself, here.

What completely astonished me while I was reading this article is the statement “Atman doesn’t dissolve into the unity of Brahman.” I was so startled by this statement because it was clearly the opposite to a statement that I have made myself many times when talking about an individual’s Higher Self or God/dess Within and the Cosmic Godhead. I have said or implied that the Higher Self dissolves into the unity of the Godhead, or exists in a state of separation for the sake of the being of individualized incarnation. This, I suddenly realized, was questionable. If I were a proponent of non-duality as the ultimate state of being (and I suspect that am), then it would have to be true that there is no difference between the Higher Self and the ultimate Godhead. They are one and the same, thus making each and every one of us a direct participant in the nature and being of the Godhead.

This realization also makes a lot of sense in regards to the Qabbalah, since the highest attributes on the Tree of Life are the negative veils, representing that aspect of the Deity which is the unknowable and absolute Godhead from which all things have their origin, and I might say, their return. It is the One that is the None, and this would agree with Advaita Vendanta, as well as Taoism, Mahayana Buddhism, Qabbalah, and other mystical traditions which have sought to realize and teach the nature of non-duality.

The key to this conundrum is the statement that the Atman doesn’t dissolve into Brahman, or, the Higher Self doesn’t blend into the Absolute Godhead. There are no differences between them; but the Absolute Godhead functions as the absolute reality, where everything else is just a temporary illusion, or what the adherents of Vendanta call Maya. Since according to their philosophy, the absolute reality must, by definition, be non-dual and non-material, then the Godhead must, by definition, be the ground basis for all reality, whether spiritual, mental or material. The true nature of that non-dual source must be hidden and unintelligible to all conscious beings, which is analogous to what Plato said in his dialogues - that we only perceive the shadows and play of light on the walls of the cave (and not the true reality outside of the cave). This premise is also found in the Qabbalah as well. (You can look over my article about the mysteries of creation espoused in the Qabbalah, which is found here.)

Human beings derive and build up the attributes for the Deity, or perceive it grounded in mental models or divine images, even though it actually has no attributes whatsoever. This human propensity for creating illusions for spiritual phenomena becomes organized and intelligible to us as the domain of symbols, myths, spirits, deities and demigods; but it doesn’t have any reality beyond our own limited perceptions. It is a human creation that masks the real truth, yet it is also important, compelling and useful, too. Also, if we reside in a fashion within the Absolute Godhead, then all of our perceptions of that Being arises from within us as a manifestation of that individual godhead called the Higher Self or Atman. It is through that mechanism that such beliefs that “God is watching everything I do and judging me,” or that certain (or even all) “events in my life are caused by the hand of God” can be explained. This perspective is uniquely human, since it indicates that all of humanity is capable of sensing the Deity in a very intimate and direct manner. Yet such statements would otherwise be absurd without the stipulation that the Absolute Godhead is non-dual.

We are, therefore, a direct and dynamic part of the Deity, whether we can either mentally perceive that union, intuit it through our emotions in some manner, or else it remains to us wholly unrealized. If we loose the context that the deity that we are relating to is through our internal god aspect, then we can assume a kind of privileged association with what we believe is the Cosmic Godhead. Monotheism can foster the egoic illusion (through a misinterpretation of its own theology) that the immanent experience of the internal godhead is synonymous with the greater Godhead. This causes a kind reversal that amplifies the importance of the individual or the religious sect, and it has led to all sorts of terrible religious persecutions and conflicts. The actual truth is just the opposite, since we partake of the cosmic Godhead and interpret it through our own individual and internal connection.  We are the created illusion of this unified, singular and non-dual expression of Godhead, and not the other way around. Disengaging the ego from religious or mystical experiences is very important, and represents the first step to gaining any form of spiritual union. (All of the saints in every form or sect of monotheism have made this perspective abundantly clear by promoting humility and selfless devotion.)

What this means is that the Cosmic Godhead is the greatest and only magician, engaging in pure creation (and destruction) for its own sake; but the true reality is grounded completely into its own being, and is found nowhere else. This might seem a bit confusing or that it somehow negates the importance and priority of the spiritual, conscious and material universe of the individual, yet this is not true. What is created by the Cosmic Godhead is done through love (unity) and a corresponding reverence for all of the facets of that creation. We are, therefore, not a meaningless expression of an exalted Deity who is beyond our realization. Our destiny is to realize this Cosmic Godhead through our own internal godhead. The methodology of achieving this destiny plays an important part in the conceptual frame work of Theurgy, Ritual Magick and Mysticism, and rules how these elements work together to give meaning and significance to the world that we live in. If the Cosmic Godhead is the magician creating (and destroying) the universe, then we are (though our individual inner godhead) simultaneously creating and destroying the universe. When we practice ritual or ceremonial magick, we are emulating that process through our own microcosmic attribute of creation and dissolution - the natural cycle of everything.

Another concept that is fundamental to magick and non-duality is that the joining of polarities, the merging through the artifice of spiritual love of the archetypal masculine and feminine within ourselves, emulates the essential union of all being, and triggers, through ecstasy, the realization of our internal godhead, which is the Higher Self or Atman. We approach this ultimate resolution of selfhood in stages and in phases, but the final act is where we discover the One within ourselves. This is the foundation for working magick through a process of spiritual alignment that leads to spiritual union. Theurgic magick promotes this objective, and so do various forms of religious mysticism. They begin with the process of mastering the multiple layers of manifestation, and ultimately end with the perfect realization of union with the Godhead.

These concepts that I have attempted to explain in my own limited way appear to be somewhat contrary to the writings of Neoplatonism and of Western religious philosophy. Christian theology maintains a powerful distinction between the Absolute Godhead (as the trinity) and the individual souls of humanity, and this can also be found in Judaism and Islam as well. In my recent readings of the philosophical tenets of Iamblichus, it would seem that even he maintains a distinction between the classes of spiritual beings, stating that human souls cannot evolve or reach to the level of the Gods, but could only perhaps rarely ascend to the next level, that of angels. 
However, my own experiences within the context of magickal phenomena would seem to agree with the Indian masters, that within humanity appears to be an aspect of deity operating, and through which the spiritual domain, as well as divinity, can become realized. In assuming the Godhead in the practice and work of ritual magick, I am, over time, activating my own Atman or Higher Self, which causes direct and permanent spiritual transformations. That is how I define theurgic forms of magick, and that does appear to differ from how Iamblichus has defined theurgy. What was missing in my speculation (which is far from complete) was to define this process in a manner that would eliminate the duality of the Absolute Godhead, and the God/dess Within.   

So the key is that there is no difference between the internal godhead and the greater Cosmic Godhead. They are one and the same! That is a profound paradox, and one that can never be resolved so long as we live in a state of duality and multiplicity. Only by resolving everything into the One that is None will we truly realize the non-dual truth, that all is Godhead, and nothing else is either real or true. At that moment of realization, though, our individual selves will cease to exist, and the true reality will be finally revealed. Until that time, we are given the task of completing the Great Work, however long that takes.

Frater Barrabbas


  1. Check out the writings of Richard Rohr on a modern Catholic Ptriests thoughts on Non-Duality in the west. He would argue that the realization of Nonduality in the mind WAS the very point of Christianity.

  2. Great post, and very much in line with my philosophy. Even though I consider myself a neoplatonist, I never took the spiritual hierarchy as having any more *true* reality outside the mind of Godhead than, say, the physical world. Nonetheless, these hierarchies do have a reality of sorts, and it is true that most humans will fall far short of connecting the consciousness of which they are aware to what is truly inside them. This disconnect, or partial disconnect, imho, is the source of all perceived duality. Humans successful in their magical journey will do better, making a fuller connection that is perceived as union with entities representing "higher" levels of consciousness; however, I don't think a complete connection of our conscious awareness to Godhead is possible during our lives, even though Godhead is within us all along, and really *is* us. So, from a human standpoint, duality will always be something to reckon with, real or not.

  3. Excellent post Frater B. Much of what you write mirrors my own perceptions in regards to the essential truth of the Indian view of non-duality. After my own personal non-dual experiences of Deity the concept of Divine dualism, as it concerns Deity as ultimate Ground of Being, seems utterly alien to me. I cannot think in these terms any longer.

    I use dualistic concepts in my practice but realize that they are ultimately an artifice to help me to personalize the impersonal, giving name and face to the Infinite.

  4. Jason Miller makes a good point. Christians like Richard Rohr are bringing Christian non-dual thought to the foreground. This coincides with a modern re-awakening of Christian mysticism such as with the practices of Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer...both of which I, as a non-Christian, practice daily. I can't recommend these practices more highly.

  5. Thanks everyone for your comments. They are appreciated.

    As I stated in my article, forms of mysticism appear to contradict aspects of theology, or should I say, the popular misinterpretation of theology.

    Western religions in the modern era appear to emphasize the distinction between Deity and individual, and that there would seem to be little ability on the part of the individual to bridge that gap. This is especially true in forms of Protestant Christianity.

    That being said, the great Christian mystics from all ages have promoted a very non-dual perspective of Deity and individual. Catholicism has always lionized its saints, so it would therefore seem to be appropriate for Catholics to embrace their teachings as well. Other sects seem to emphasize the distance between Deity and individual to the point of greatly debasing the individual.

    Anyway, the combination of this article and comments has been an excellent review of this overall spiritual perspective, and I will certainly continue my studies and readings in this arena.


  6. The problem with monism (one view and one view only) is that those coming from a monistic viewpoint always try to demonize other views as dualism or dualistic, even when there is a multiplicity (more than two) views. Dualism refers to two and two alone, it does not refer to more than two despite how Monists portray it. However, what about those who are not monistic (seeing everything as one color) or dualistic (seeing everything as black and white?)? The dualism of monism and dualism completely neglects pluralism (seeing things in more than two colors but in a multiplicity of colors). Another problem with Monism is it's ultimate aim, a second death. Which is something many, including myself, find to be a fate worse than death. As one commentator put it, speaking of the differences between the Right-Hand and Left-Hand path, "For the RHP practitioner, their summum bonum would be to have their consciousnesses subsumed back into the godhead. This of course would result in the annihilation of their "egos." For the LHP practitioner, the one who goes against the grain, who exits contra naturum, nothing could be more abhorrent than to die a "second death." This is why the LHP practitioner trains their consciousnesses, while living, to survive their physical deaths."

    My point is, Monism is propagated like crazy as if it's some beautiful, wonderful thing. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Monism is totalitarian, it's spiritual and theological totalitarianism where one view is permitted and all other views are portrayed as dualism and the word pluralism is carefully avoided so as to make those of differing perspectives appear limited and as if viewing the world through a lens of two colors and two colors only, black and white or good and evil. Truth is in pluralism, which helps accommodate for the wide range of diversity found in the universe, far beyond just two categories and infinately beyond just one.

  7. Very interesting article and discussion, thanks.

    Another point about Pluralism is that it does not deny the possibility of Truth- more that it acknowledges that we have to find many approaches to Truth- something like the Indian story of the blind men and the elephant (see ).

    This means that what appears to be pluralism from our current perspective is nevertheless consistent with the idea of Absolute Godhead as outlined in the article. In this conception, Absolute Godhead is manifesting in all things- it is simply that which is: it is Reality.

  8. Another fascinating subject ! And strangely enough, I’ve been pondering on the subject days before I read this publication here. The concepts of Brahman and Atman, especially their relationship, brings the idea of the holon into mind. The definition of holon is something that is simultaneously a whole and a part. It was first introduced by Arthur Koestler and was popularised by Ken Wilber. A good definition can be found on Wiki, As to the duality or non duality, even this could end up being the same thing. I know it’s a bit difficult to fathom, but some contemplation on pure numbers made me suspect that this could be the case. The metaphysical notion that everything came out of nothing (0=1) and the formula popularized by Crowley (0=2) {probably signifying that one somehow “reflected” or “reproduced” itself but with opposite polarity came out of nothing 0=(+1)+(-1), and that eventually, on some different level, the absolute values of the whole and its “reflection” are what counts |+1|+|-1|=1+1=2}. I realize that there are quite a few logical and/or mathematical “discrepancies” on this train of thought, just a weak attempt to articulate it as much as I can. All I’m trying to convey is that probably there’s no difference between mono- and poly-, and it is just a matter of perspective.

  9. I think there is a difference and I think there's plenty of place and room in this universe for difference to exist. I also believe that there are more numbers than just 1 or 2 or even 3. Also, 0 is not technically a number or value at all. You are both trying to equate pluralism with monism and turn everything into monism yet again, which is exactly my point of dispute and departure. Quit trying to push monism on everything and everyone, quit trying to tell others of differing ideologies that ultimately they are monistic. Not everyone and everything is monistic. If I tell you I'm different because I defend pluralism and differentiation, and you retort that ultimately I'm monist anyway, that is no different than me telling a christian that I'm non-christian or even anti-christian and them saying that I'm ultimately christian in the end anyway. As if that argument wins any discussion. It's sickening.

  10. I was pointing out that pluralism need not exclude some ultimate absolute- I didn't say it necessarily entails it. To me a pluralistic perspective is the only way forward nowadays, *whether or not* there is some ultimate monism underneath it all.

    "If I tell you I'm different because I defend pluralism and differentiation, and you retort that ultimately I'm monist anyway"

    which I'm not, as you can see

    'It's sickening'

    hope you feel better now.

  11. Excellent posting on an essential subject. Is the ultimate reality an undifferentiated unity, or do differentiations remain? Is it best described as the One or the Many?

    I like the approach of the contemporary philosopher Ken Wilber, who has argued that only a state that transcends the duality of the One and the Many can truly be called the Absolute. He writes that “pure Oneness is most dualistic, excluding as it does its opposite of Manyness. The single One opposes the plural Many, while the Nondual embraces them both.”

    Wilber explains that “we mustn’t picture the Absolute as excluding diversity, as being an undifferentiated monistic mush,” for the Absolute “embraces both unity and multiplicity.” Ultimate reality must be totally unconditioned reality, and any state of being that does not include its opposite is conditioned by the fact that it excludes half the picture.

    It has been suggested (in the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition, for example) that ultimate reality is paradoxically both differentiated and undifferentiated at the same time. The Indian Theosophist writer I.K. Taimni gives us a clue as to how this could be the case. He asks us to consider the example of the clear light of the sun that gets differentiated into the separate and distinct colors of the rainbow when it passes through a prism. He writes that this is an example of the simultaneous co-existence of both a differentiated and an undifferentiated state. On one side of the prism the light is undifferentiated; on the other side it is differentiated.

    The clear light of the sun can be viewed as a particularly apt image for an absolute reality that is both differentiated and undifferentiated. In Tibetan Buddhism, the ultimate ground is defined as a spacious expanse of Clear Light. This clear light goes through a phase transition into five-colored light, and those five colors then condense into the five basic elements that compose all the worlds of manifestation.

  12. I am on the same wavelength, Ed. It has been my understanding that the Nondual is exactly what we are after, when making any attempt to describe the Absolute. It embodies what we, due to the local quality of our manifestation, consider to be paradox. The phenomenal world seems to operate best to us by differentiation (which is a fundamental discovery of linguistics via Derrida & co). When we approach the Ultimate Ground, though, the binary, on/off, either/or dynamic begins to fail, or fails utterly. This notion was introduced to me long ago by Buddhism (particularly Renzai and Soto), Taoism, and an acquaintance with quantum physics. I've wrestled on and off with it for most of life. Of course, once I stop wrestling, it sneaks in to give me an Aha! moment...and I promptly lose it again.

    I tend to think about it in this way: The linguistic realization that language is about differance (Derrida's spelling) hinges on the same realization that, once one has begun to talk about the Tao, one is no longer talking about the Tao. All languages are based upon some interrelation of Subject, Verb, and Object. The many (which is what language is built upon) precludes the All; the All precludes the many...within our frame of reference, as limited, local, differentiated intelligences. We are pattern-noticers by nature, so for us there can only ever be ground-vs-object, and the world in various states of action-in-relation. In the mystical state, when we have somehow suspended the normal operation of the mind and laid aside our tools, as it were, we sort of relax and release back into the All and have that moment of Satori which brightens our psychic sky like lightning, where object and subject cease to be separate. This is only "paradox" within our local frame of reference, unlike, say, the quantum level (which includes a principle of non-locality), where light can behave like a particle and a wave...because the ultimate reality of light is something we can't touch directly, but only model based upon the equipment (our body-mind) through which our consciousness experiences the world.

    I dunno, something like that.