This review is reprinted from ChristianNonduality.com.
It has been a little more than a decade since my life was graced with two new friends, Thomas and Cynthia Lynch, who were introduced to me through the courtesy of Leonard Swidler, co-founder of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies. The Lynches came bearing a book that has been instrumental in forming my ecumenical outlook, The Word of the Light (Hara Publishing: 1998). This book gifts us all with a scientific, scholarly treatment that uses the Gospel of Thomas as a hermeneutical lens (a clean lens that is unblemished by religious or secular politics) through which to interpret the Light found in the fundamental writings of all of the great traditions, the wisdom that is indubitably common to Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.
Mohandus Ghandi’s grandson, Arun, wrote: “Dr. Thomas D. and Cynthia E. Lynch have endeavored to show humankind the oneness of all religions of the world. I know this scholarship will not be wasted. It will takes us a step nearer the realization that faith, like the sun, enlightens and enriches everyone equally.”
Now, certainly, The Word of the Light was not the only scholarly vehicle around for engaging such ecumenical impulses. The reason it still stands out is that it was structured in such a way that holistically engaged its reader — empirically, logically, practically and interrelationally, which is to suggest that it not only engaged the head but also the heart, that it not only invited one’s assent but also initiated the willing into the unitive experience, meditatively. Thus the book was friendly, accessible, practical and an awakening experience — an awakening to our solidarity that compassion might naturally ensue.
Books like The Word of the Light do not come along very often, but, a decade later, humankind has been gifted again by Jerry Katz of the Nonduality Salon (an Internet community), also in the form of an eminently accessible and practical book, One: Essential Writings on Nonduality (Sentient Publications: 2007). It, too, orients one to an awakening to our radical solidarity and an experience of profound compassion. The book, as a paragon of the way anyone might approach nonduality, which is to say without either a rigid metaphysical or religious dogmatism but with an eminently eclectic perspective regarding both its cultural manifestations and practical applications, leaves one with the initial impression that it is just a tasty morsel suggestive of what could be a bountiful banquet if only Katz and similar-minded authors would keep writing and writing and writing. He makes clear that it is a brief, even if comprehensive survey. If one pays careful attention, though, the more lingering impression Katz would leave us with is how bountiful the harvest of compassion could truly be if each of us would only set out on the path of desire for nondual realization.
From lurking at Nonduality Salon and reading One, I have gathered the clear impression that nonduality is being approached with great circumspection, which is to say, with both appropriate epistemic imprecision and ontological vagueness, as necessarily inheres in the matter at hand. That’s the first clue that one will not be engaging a facile treatment, superficial apologetic or hidden agenda, much less any type of hermeneutical axe to grind. Rather, the book seems to invite the reader’s engagement on the same terms as any good poem, which is to say, as a gift to be opened by the reader, herself.
This review should be easy enough in that I have inked up so many of its pages, paragraph by paragraph. However, to overread my own interpretation into these writings would, in some sense, equate to a taking of the gift that it can be for you. What I would like to do, instead, is to provide a hermeneutical framework for the Christians, who might engage this book, and maybe for Westerners, in general, also.
There is a real tendency for Western minds, in general, Christian minds, in particular, to engage the thought of the East from an ontological or metaphysical perspective. Now, I’m not going to deny that there might even be some heavy metaphysical lifting going on in much of Eastern thought, for that denial, in and of itself, would entail falling into the trap that I am trying to help you avoid. So, just imagine, if you will, when you read the wisdom gathered on the pages of One, that it is not so much trying to gift you with another way of interpreting or processing reality as it is trying to invite you to another way of seeing or experiencing reality.
Put another way, it is not so much an exercise in discursive analysis as it is a cultivation of a more authentic awareness. It does not promote cognitive insight as much as it promotes conceptual clarity with a concomitant affective cleansing, which will result from ensuing detachments (broadly conceived). To the extent you do encounter a passage that is metaphysically jarring, let me suggest that you just gently substitute images of interrelatedness and intimacy whenever you encounter something that otherwise implies an unnuanced identity. Let me also point out that there is WAY more nuance to be enjoyed than many might otherwise be able to see from any cursory reading that is immersed in an habitual dualistic mindset.
Let me suggest, now, in more philosophically rigorous language, receive what seem to be metaphysical assertions as epistemic stances or what seem to be ontological descriptions as more so a relating of phenomenal experiences. After all, there is no room to presume that folks — who, self-described, would kill the Buddha — are returning from ineffable experiences only to clearly effable about reality, or that they are telling us tales about, what they claim to hold in-principle as, untellable stories. Something else is going on, which is an invitation into an experience and not an initiation into a philosophical system.
In One, you will encounter real people with profound existential longings (comparing favorably to your own) and authentic phenomenal experiences that point to a deep interconnectedness of all Reality. This interrelatedness is ineluctably unobstrusive, which is why so few see it, but utterly efficacious, which is why all experience it, even unawares. Because we are dealing with phenomenal experiences and existential realizations and not, rather, philosophical arguments, category errors and confusion will abound for any critic who chooses to engage these writings through dualistic Cartesian lenses rather than, instead, engaging the wisdom that is there to be had, even in, maybe especially in, paradox and uncertainty. As Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM observes regarding so much of Buddhism, we are being gifted with practices and not conclusions. I would add that we are being gifted with stories of experiences of unitary reality and not ontologies.
One recurring theme, for example, is the triadic movement from 1) phenomenal appearances (illusions) through 2) interpretive critique (broadly conceived, such as lingustically, psychologically, etc) and back to 3) a new awareness (often an awareness of self and other that is so conventional and common sensical as to, ironically, be unconventional and uncommon, given so many of us succumb to the fogging of our lenses, save for occasional contemplative glimpses).
My favorite surprise was the story of Ohiyesa, a Native American known by the Anglicized name of Charles Alexander Eastman. Every tradition was enthralling and every personality engaging as Katz also surveyed nondual “confessions” from Advaita Vedanta, Sufism, Judaism, Taoism, Christianity and Buddhism, as well as perspectives from psychotherapy, education, art and cinema. There are comprehensive notes and citations.
In reflecting on the writings of Bernadette Roberts as were presented in the book, which might be of special interest to those in my particular orbit, my only caveat is that one might best employ the same type of interpretive lenses for her account as I recommended for the other traditions. After significant reflection, my most generous interpretation would be that her experiences might correspond, generally, to what theologians have distinguished as primary and secondary objects of our beatific visions and further distinguished as essential (both subjective and objective) and accidental beatitudes, all which I would receive as epistemic stances and phenomenal experiences and not in terms of ontological conclusions. Absent a metaphysical glossary, these writings do not invite philosophical parsing, so one might otherwise more safely presume that they are a very generous gift in the form of a very depthful personal sharing that is some of the most poignantly beautiful (the pain was so very palpable and the Eucharistic oblation so very sincere) and poetic story-telling of one of the most profound nondual experiences (of tremendous existential import) ever to be related (quite courageously) within our modern Christian tradition.
Do yourself a favor and unwrap the gifts that are uniquely yours in One: Essential Writings on Nonduality.
Reprinted from ChristianNonduality.com.
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