In nondual teachings of Vedanta and Tantra, a singular seamless consciousness refracted and localized into multiplicity of thought, perception, time, space, thing, and person is the distinctive view. This is not mere philosophical speculation but experiential recognition, an insight readily available to us when we inquire into our experience. This consciousness is without form, dimension, division, finiteness, or name but when refracted and contracted takes on form, dimension, parts, finiteness, and name in multiplicity.
Idealist ViewExperientially this is true and valid. Ontologically, in reality and existence, it is not necessarily so. All we can say of any experience is the fact of that experience, not more than that. Anything we say about what truly exists apart from that experience is inference and speculation. So to say that ultimate reality or what truly exists ultimately is a single pure consciousness, based solely on our experience of it, is an inference and speculation not truth.
As an aside, there is a difference between directly and immediately knowing our knowing and imagining what it is like for an ant or an alien to know their knowing. In the first case, we are non-conceptually looking at our own experiencing and seeing it as it is. In the second case, we are concocting a thought or image of an ant or alien and making an inference of how they might be knowing their experience. Not the same! One is not to be conflated with the other.
Materialist ViewIt is equally an inference and speculation that matter truly and ultimately exists simply because when I kick a rock my foot hurts. All that can be known or experienced of my foot kicking a rock is only the experience of foot kicking rock and feeling the pain. To claim from that experience that there is ultimately a foot kicking a rock existing by themselves outside that experience is a metaphysical assumption, not truth. Epistemology does not equate ontology.
ProblematicIn both cases, the experience is valid. And in both cases, the reality is at best undetermined and possibly indeterminable. It is even less so when we make claims about this singular consciousness being the shared being of every single person, that such a shared oneness of being is objectively or ontologically true. The same problem exists: experientially we might each feel this shared oneness through our individual recognition of pure dimensionless and indivisible knowing, but in reality who can say if such a singular ontological basis exists?
Let’s illustrate with a simple example: take person A and person B, each inquiring into their private experience and realizing the formless pure knowing separately. Person A ‘melts’ into pure knowing. Person B does the same. Person A knowingly knows as infinite awareness the essential stillness and luminosity of itself and sees the varied content of experience as empty dynamic activity of awareness itself. Person B does so too. Yet, for person A his/her scope of experience is limited to his/her history, past memories, present encounters, and future imaginations. Similarly for person B. At no point does person A’s experience include person B’s and vice-versa. While there are claims by some mystics to have access to other people’s experiences or even god-like omniscient access to infinite experiences of infinite persons, there is little to no evidence that this is indeed the case. Hagiography and hearsay is no substitute for truth. The most we can say is this: experientially there is a sense of shared oneness of aware being, which when extrapolated to other persons, can be regarded as the common basis of how each person knows their own world of experience.
The question of whether this shared oneness of aware being is a single entity or not remains an open question and will likely remain so. Assuming this infinite aware being to be God who creates the multiplicity of things out of his own conscious being is the standard nondual vedantic and tantric view. But as I have argued, there is no basis to make such a conclusion given there is no basis to conclude (prematurely) that there is a single truly existing substance of consciousness underlying all things. Even if one grants the possibility of such a God, it would be a pantheistic or panentheistic God, an idea I have already deconstructed and debunked in a previous post.
Sovereign GodThere is another ontological possibility. This is the possibility of a transcendent God who is beyond this experienced world refracted from the field of knowing and who is beyond even this field itself. Such a God can never be known by pure knowing no matter how hard or how long one tries. This illuminative knowledge of God is impervious to human self-directed inquiry and knowing. Yet, sincere inquiry can trigger or evoke an in-breaking of knowledge from beyond itself in an act of grace-given revelation. When this happens, everything changes. Rather than saying we ‘know’ God, it is perhaps better to say we are ‘known’ by God even as we come to know Him obliquely.
Our previously-held views and beliefs collapse like a heap of straw. We are startled out of our complacency of meditative absorption or wakeful non-duality into a whole new estimation of reality and experience beyond facile “all roads lead to Rome” pluralism. This God is truly holy and majestic and unapologetically exclusive—He is the One and Only God. No if’s, no buts, only Him, whose radiance and face is Jesus. And that is liberating beyond measure!
Consciousness as the source of our refracted experience of multiplicity is a gift of the divine Consciousness of God who is Spirit. God, while utterly transcendent, also intimately pervades all of creation and permeates consciousness itself as the immanent God. Breathed into being in God’s image, we are fundamentally pure spirit or consciousness with the capacity to refract and localize itself into the multiplicity of phenomena. And in so projecting, we get to designate and name each and every one of them with the God-given abilities of language and conception (see Genesis 2:19-20).
EpilogueRecognizing non-dual awareness is indeed important and beneficial. It can evoke a more profound way of understanding the self and a more whole way of being alive. It can relieve the heated divisions of human consciousness trapped in selfish alienation. But it is not the final solution as it is bereft of a God who is transcendent, immanent, sovereign in His purpose, and who is working all things out for good in His eschatological plan.
Beyond ourselves, we need to know and be known by Him in redemptive love. Will we be willing?