In my previous post, A Misty Morning Musing, I raised the topic of the difference between occupying a dualistic perspective on the world verses occupying a nondual perspective, known in Eastern mystical traditions (originally in the philosophy of Vedanta) as advaita (dvaita = “two or three (or more)”; a-dvaita = “not two or three (or more)”). In sum, advaita, or the nondual perspective, is the perspective in which one experiences oneself as an aspect within the unity of being, being, as it were, “unified in a seamless whole, as in that Eden like state wherein Adam and Eve walked in union with God...”
Now, this can quickly become an overwhelming philosophical concept for the uninitiated, as I also indicated in my previous post. At the same time, it is a very important concept to understand from at least two perspectives: the mystical and the ethical. So, stay with me as I lead you to the ethical import of this philosophy. I think you will find advaita key to understanding not only mysticism in general but the ethical implications of mysticism as well (to wit, Jesus – yes, Jesus was, in my reading of him, an advaitist, as his ethics clearly indicate). Indeed, there are significant ethical implications that arise from mystical states, a subject not given nearly enough due - most people merely seeking the “mystical high” without regard for the demands that follow from such experience.
One of the best and simplest descriptions of advaita that I have encountered is in J. D. Salinger’s short story, “Teddy.” Teddy is a ten year old boy who is the reincarnation of an advanced soul. As such, Teddy fascinates as a type of “mystic-savant” (to steal an apt phrase from Kenneth Slawenski). He possesses exceptional intelligence and an apparent ability to know what ought not to be knowable (for instance, there are several places in the story where Teddy correctly anticipates the day and manner of his death).
Regarding Teddy and advaita, there is a point in the story where Teddy relates his first mystical experience:
"I was six when I saw that everything was God and my hair stood up," said Teddy. "It was on a Sunday. My sister was only a tiny child then. She was drinking her milk and all of a sudden, I saw that she was God and the milk was God. I mean, all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean."
In sum, it’s all God.
Now, advaita can be understood on two levels. First, it can be understood as an abstract idea. This is to understand advaita as a philosophical principle. Second, it can be understood as subjective reality. This is to understand advaita as a mystical perception. This latter understanding of advaita is what interests us, especially in regard to its ethical implications. For this we invoke Jesus...
In The Gospel of Matthew we find a story of Jesus meting out judgement:
To some, he says:
“Come, you who are blessed. Take your place in the kingdom, for I was hungry - and you fed me... I was a stranger - and you welcomed me... I was sick – and you cared for me... I was in prison - and you visited me.”
These blessed ones questioned Jesus, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or as a stranger, or sick, or in prison, and helped you?” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these, you did unto me.”
To others, he says,
“Depart from me, you who are cursed, for I was hungry - and you did not feed me. I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me... I was sick – and you did not care for me... I was in prison - and you did not visit me.”
These cursed ones questioned Jesus, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or as a stranger, or sick, or in prison, and did not help you?” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do unto me.”
Now, if we approach this scripture from the dualistic perspective, it will read as an ethical charge to care for “the least of these,” meaning all people in need. This is no mean ethical charge. Indeed, it is quite profound! At the same time, from the dualistic perspective other people – including “the least of these” - remain as objects; ultimately separate from us. Hence the protest, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or as a stranger, or sick, or in prison...”
Read from the advaitist perspective, however, this scripture has an even more profound meaning and makes even more sense in the context of Jesus life and ministry. No one, including “the least of these,” is separate from anyone. People are not objects to which one applies ethical principles. Rather, all of us are aspects within the unity of being, being, as it were, “unified in a seamless whole, as in that Eden like state wherein Adam and Eve walked in union with God...” Hence, Jesus was the hungry, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner... not in an abstract, philosophical, thought experiment sense but in actuality. Indeed, we, too, are the hungry, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner... there simply is no separation of being(s).
It is this advaitist perspective that the mystical Jesus held and it is from this perspective that his ethics originate. It is only when we understand this that we truly understand Jesus’ words: “...whatever you did for the least of these, you did unto me.” Sit and absorb that for a moment!
In sum, when we consider Jesus’ life and ministry from the perspective of advaita, we discover a much richer, more compelling, and truer sense of who Jesus was (a Jewish mystic) and how he exhorted us to live our lives. From a mystical perspective we are to realize that we already exist in a sacred reality: “The kingdom of heaven is spread out about you.” From an ethical perspective, we are to act in the world as though our every action ripples through the entirety of creation, from the smallest single celled organism to the Divine itself: “you did unto me.”
"I am he
As you are he
As you are me
And we are all together...
goo goo g'joob..."
- The Beatles
tat vam asi (“thou are THAT”) my friends,
Splash! Godot wasn’t taking in the scene but becoming part of it, already cresting the once still water. Elbow deep, he turned to me with that particular stare he has that communicates, “Well, I’m waiting? Isn’t this why we are here?!” Before doing my duty I had to take an extra moment to absorb it all. Godot traipsed impatiently while I watched this thought cross my mind: “It would be so awesome, actually to be in that scene myself, maybe standing in the midst of that angelic mist on the far shore, like Adam surely did innumerable mornings in Eden...” [No. I am not a creationist. It’s literary license… ;-)]
Then, with a few whirls to gain momentum, I let the bumper fly. I love that moment of silence as the bumper arcs through the air, the magic of physics keeping it aloft just long enough to create a brief, meditative vision, until - another splash! Off swims Godot and while he retrieves said bumper, my mind returns to that Eden like scene. And, just as quickly, I realize the absurdity of that vision. I already am standing in the midst of that angelic mist on the far shore, like Adam surely did innumerable mornings in Eden! I had simply failed to see it because of my perspective. And what perspective was that, pray tell? It was the dualistic perspective we all inhabit when we are ego identified.
It is natural to be identified with our egos but when we are, we are also trapped in a false, dualistic perspective. That is, when ego identified I experience myself as subject and everything that is “not me” as object. Hence, I, the subject, did not experience myself as being part of this morning’s exquisite scene - the object. Such dualistic perspective is the cause of our perceived alienation from life, which in turn is the cause of a great deal of our suffering - on which more in some future post.
However, once I realized the absurdity of my Eden like vision I was able to become free of the false, dualistic vision of the world I was experiencing. With a simple shift of attention I became unified in a seamless whole, as in that Eden like state wherein Adam and Eve walked in union with God - until someone told them they were naked (yet another post for another time, or, if you wish, you can catch me sermonizing on that topic here on YouTube.)
What I am speaking about here is what is called "advaita" in the Eastern mystical traditions; the unity of Being beneath appearances. This is a vitally important theme, both for the mystical experience and for the ethics that it entails.
If this is all starting to wax too philosophical, consider Hafez’s simpler, more humorous take on the same theme:
“I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.”