What is Christian nonduality?

This term, usually emerging out of interspiritual dialogue, refers to the perspective of the awakened state that perceives the ultimate oneness of creation of which we are already a part.

From Meister Eckhart to Nicholas of Cusa and down to modern times, several Christian mystics attest to this reality.

The distinction between the persons does not impair the oneness of nature, nor does the shared unity of essence lead to a confusion between the distinctive characteristics of the persons. Do not be surprised that we should speak of the Godhead as being at the same time both unified and differentiated. Using riddles, as it were, we envisage a strange and paradoxical diversity-in-unity and unity-in-diversity.
— Gregory of Nyssa

The Benedictine monk Bede Griffiths used the image of the hand and the five fingers as a symbol of oneness. The different religions, for example, are clearly distinct, as distinct as the thumb and the index finger. But ultimately, they are rooted in the same experiential truth of insight, awareness, and union with the divine. They then grow within particular cultural contexts and accrue distinct teachings, doctrines, rituals, divisions, and subdivisions over time.

One shift the mystics make in their discussion of Christianity is that it is not a body of knowledge to learn or a set of doctrines to memorize and abide by, at least at the more mature levels of spirituality. Instead, it is a path of the transformation of the whole person.

Doctrines may help that process or they may hinder that process. The point is not to lose sight of the ultimate goal, humiliation of the false self, and awakening into divine union.

One key characteristic to the understanding of nondual awareness is that the self is always already in God.

The Western model of spirituality, filtered through Greek and modernist lenses, suggests God is distant from us and our task is to submit to the person of Jesus who bridges the gap to God. In this view, the self is apart from or outside of God.

The mystics share the insight that the self is in fact in God.

The contemplative practices or disciplines temporarily relax our mental faculties that maintain the distractions and illusions from the ultimate reality that we are always in God and can attend to the movement of the Holy Spirit within.

Nondual awareness moves away from the understanding of God as a divine authority figure who approves or disapproves of our efforts.

Before Abraham was, I AM.
— Jesus of Nazareth

As we continue on the contemplative path we wake up more and more to God’s (and our) fundamental goodness and the transformation process brought about by divine grace. This is the Christian understanding of the divine indwelling.

This reality of which we are a part is timeless and transcends our small self or limited understanding of our self given our body, our mind, and our cultural conditioning.

Jesus articulates this same understanding and even gets into trouble with the religious authorities of his day when he says “Before Abraham was, I Am.” John 8

The Christian mystic is the one who awakens to the fact that becoming Christlike is more than obedience to the figure, teachings, and person of Jesus, or even accepting Him into our heart to determine where we spend the afterlife.

Instead, the Christian mystic realizes we, too, are invited to wake up to the same reality of Being that Jesus understood, lived, and manifested at the very core of His being. On this path, we shed the limitations of our minds and our egos and open up to the divine grace of inmost transformation and wholeness. “Be whole as your heavenly Father is whole.” Matthew 5

In this state, we begin to see through our faults, through the faults of others, down to their essence. God is in them. And we act spontaneously out of compassion or agape-love to help them share this insight, or experience a measure of healing and transformation.

One key to this process is looking deeply at our own wounds and unskillful behavior without labeling it or judging it. Through this we learn to practice grace, which we are then able to extend to others.

Challenges and problems or our inner suffering is part of the process. It invites us to move into the next stage of awareness, the next level of consciousness in which those apparent distinctions or tensions dissolve. We're invited to a higher or divine perspective that transcends rational consciousness in which the union of opposites occurs.

In this state, we abide in joy as a constant, regardless of what problems come up.

No one can walk this path for you. All a teacher can do is describe, point the way. It's not a doctrine, an abstract truth to obey. It can only be discovered. It can only be experienced. 

Silence is the infinite boundless presence of the ultimate reality in everything and in us in which the nondual functions begin to unfold.
— Fr. Thomas Keating

 

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