Experience is infinitely more important than conceptualization, as the great A J Heschel teaches us ;“Concepts are delicious snacks with which we try to alleviate our amazement.”. Awe, wonder, amazement, experience of the ineffable are what Heschel leads us back to. For him they are the reality of being human – concepts are delicious snacks but leave us still longing for the ‘real thing’
Experiencing oneness is simple – it’s the experience of no-self, as described e.g. by Ken Wilber in his early book No Boundaries.
Experiencing oneness is what you get when the boundaries through which you define your ‘self’ melt away – as in this poem;
“The birds have vanished from the sky,
and now the last clouds slip away.
We sit alone, the mountain and I,
until only the mountain remains.”
(8th Century) Chinese poet Li Po
Whilst concepts are vital to our development in this dualistic world we need to be relieved frequently of the burden of self via such experiences of Oneness – to gain a yin-yang balance.
The challenge is to die before we die. Experience of Oneness is also called the mystical. Everyone’s account of such experience is different. Fundamentalism is the attempt to eliminate this inevitably diversity. To do this is rather like one of the six blind men, who experienced an elephant, say the one who got the tail, imposing his experience on everyone else.
We can’t have that kind of certainty and uniformity. Karen Armstrong says fundamentalism is lust for certainty. Terry Eagleton puts fundamentalism as fear of annihilation. Tolle and others show us that it is only by identifying with something less that the Whole are we led into forms of exclusivity, the worst aspects of which lead to Sunnis murdering Shia and vice versa, Protestants murdering Catholics and vice versa.
Dieing before we die is as Tolle, and others, teach to stop identifying with forms and allow ourselves to ‘disappear’ into the formless Whole – at least until the laundry needs doing, or wood needs chopping and water carrying. If only all Moslems knew, really knew, what Rumi and Ibn al-Arabi, for example, say about these deeper aspects of spirituality, reality and what it is to be human. There are also Christian co-equivalents of course and of course they are largely peripheralised by the churches and the church power-mongers.
Awareness of that Whole stays with us as ‘presence’ via very simple practices such as those taught by the great and beloved Thich Nhat Hanh. He, and Buddhism as a whole, teaches mindfulness – as simple as breath consciousness. Happiness is mindfulness that enables concentration that engenders insights that allow us to let go negatives. Letting go negatives is largely the same as dieing before we die.
The true mysticism at the heart of the great world wisdom traditions shows us that in spite of cultural differences the essentials are the same – many paths; one summit, many gateways; one garden. The account of this is called perennial philosophy – a somewhat stupid name because its not philosophy per se. It’s really the practices that enable us to a) awaken, b) disolve the illusory ego and b) learn to better serve others. That is it’s not about conceptual snacks but primarily it’s about the awe, wonder and the ineffable.
Now for the concept. Now I/we are inevitably going to stumble over words!
Whether you see One as Gaia, the Whole, God etc is a matter of choice/accident/tradition/geography/education. For me they are all pointing to the same reality.
If you choose to see the ‘One’ as God, God doesn’t have to be some inane anthropormorphised version! God forbid!
Buddhists don’t talk about God because there is no point in talking about that which is beyond talk, concepts, language and mind. That’s why Zen masters ‘point’! And talking about ‘it’ is to not talk about it – because you can’t talk about that which is non ‘it-able’. By non-’it’able I mean you break any perception into subject and object. You can’t thingify the Whole/Oneness/God. You can’t turn the Whole/Oneness/God into an it, an object, a thing – therefore there can be no me and it, no subject and object. Why? Because it is then no longer the Whole – and in any case any one person’s take is finite and subjective!
The other reason I suspect that the Buddha avoided talk about God-stuff is that ordinary people lead themselves or others into nonsense and then into imposing nonsense and then into cruelty and murder of other human beings. Hence the insanity of man on man violence – caused by what Tolle admirably calls the ‘collective pain-body’
The oneness we achieve is not a unification.
A unification suggests that the two bodies that become united are somehow on an equal footing. We are finite Whole/Oneness/God is infinite, the finite can ‘know of’ Whole/Oneness/God, but not ‘know’ in the sense of completely understanding. This is why many religionists say a Messenger or ‘Manifestation’ is necessary to act like an electrical transformer to knock down the infinite current of the Whole/Oneness/God to a level of current that we as finite forms of consciousness can take in without getting blown apart.
The ‘know of’ versus ‘know’ distinction can be approached via a sun analogy. We feel the warmth of the sun and see by its light but could never embrace it in its entirety. Correspondingly we can experience the warmth of God’s love and the light of God’s knowledge by reflecting them in our own being, behaviour and words. Such teachings as this are to be found at the heart of ll true wisdom traditions – Sufism, Buddhism. It is important to find a teacher or several who is the real McCoy and will not lead us into negatives. Tolle as far as I can tell is as sound as the perfect Buddhist bell!
Metaphors, analogies and allegories always have limitations. The best I know is the ‘drop and the Ocean’ analogy.
But the drop is simply a ‘liquid mote’ thrown off from the infinite Ocean (i.e you or me). This mote, you or me, suffers from the illusion of separate, self-generated, independent existence – until it wakes up – to Oneness. That is scary
As the beloved Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” Thich Nhat Hanh SL p504. Hence his re-presentation of Buddhist philosophy as ‘interbeing’. As Abdul-Baha also says, “All is one”.
Oneness is a matter of our being willing to stop asserting, for a while, that we have separate, independent identity. Our eternal existence derives from God’s existence, not from our identifying with David Beckham’s aftershave or Cheryl Whatsit’s latest bit of twaddle – or our self-assertion that I am a ‘writer’ or a ‘teacher’ or whatever.
Our salvation and assured eternal existence derives from the particular admixture of those virtues, names and attributes of God with which we have been endowed via our parentage. That admixture exists at birth in potential form. It gets manifested via the degree of
excellence of the parenting and education we receive plus in adult life the effort, the will, we exert to reflect those virtues, names and attributes. That is our eternal soul. That is our heaven, our oneness in this life and the next.
The oneness is to let go and let be.
The being that is ‘let be’ here is God, because there is nothing other than God – the ‘Sun’, the Sun’s rays (the Holy Spirit) and the Creation that the sun’s rays illuminate (make apparently real as part of God’s learning ‘machine’ for us) is all that there is.
Creation is not separate from the Creator. We as the apex of Creation are not separate from the Creator – but along with everything else we are His emanation. The emanation of His Creativity is permanent because He is eternal.