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8/2/11

A Christian Experience of Nonduality

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Years ago I read The Path To No-Self, and The Experience of No-Self, both by Bernadette Roberts, a former nun who  later raised four children. Although she left the cloister after ten years, the cloister never left her, as evinced by her books. Through a "circuitous" route, she came to realization also offered by a more "direct" route--Buddhism, advaita--but she did it within Christianity, and this was perhaps a great consolation to her.

Our modern world needs something, and consolation is a good word to help describe what is missing, although Roberts is on to something far more profound than that. Some people, though, go the opposite direction.
Physicist Stephen Weinberg tries to put an end to profundity when he famously says, "All the explanatory arrows point downward, from societies to people, to organs, to cells, to biochemistry, and ultimately to physics."  Unsurprisingly, this perspective leads him to say "The more we know of the universe, the more meaningless it appears."

Weinberg seeks the object, the ever-receding object, from societies to up- and down-quarks as well as the Higgs Boson. Curiously, in the physical quest, these "objects" increasingly become "things" that the mind produces, unverifiable as "out there" except as perhaps obedient to physical laws ("habits," according to Rupert Sheldrake).

Roberts came to see that objects arise out of what philosophers call "subjectivity," an unacceptable word for scientific research.  Roberts simply became clear that objects arise from an "unknowing" (as in the Christian The Cloud of Unknowing)--to use a quantum physics term, from an "entangled" space, entangling seer and seen. ("Form is emptiness; emptiness is form," says The Heart Sutra.)

She found meaning, deep meaning, something Weinberg lost. In her meaning, there is no birth, no death. As a physicist must, Weinberg still looks for it in objects, be they mental or physical.

Here are comments at the end of her book, The Experience of No-Self.

" In closing this account, I feel a beginning has been made by clearing the ground for much more that remains to be said. As stated initially, this writing stems from the failure to find this movement beyond self in the classical contemplative literature . . . Having made this journey I now see, and see clearly, that a dimension unmistakably exists beyond anything that could be described as the self's union with God . . . For the contemplative to regard such a union as the final or ultimate consummation of his spiritual life is a grave mistake. He is setting his sight at a midway point which, I now see, is too low, too close-in, and too narrow. . . . For as long as there is any feeling, knowledge, or inkling that a self remains, he has not gone far enough.

Of our own accord, we cannot cross the line into the unknown. Only God knows if we are ready for such a step; only he can take us and see us through. Nevertheless, it is vitally important to realize that such a step exists, that others have taken it, and to be prepared so there will be no illusions about what lies beyond the self. For us to give our self to God is, as Eckhart says, to give Him absolutely nothing, but for God to take away the self, is for Him to take absolutely everything. (Bernadette Roberts, The Experience of No-Self: A Contemplative Journey) Bookmark and Share

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