When we speak of union with God, we inadvertently conceive of this union in substantialist, essentialist, and separative ways. By that, I mean we think of our soul and God's soul as somehow inherently separate and isolated from each other, as two boxed-in entities that need to become one in substance. This is not inevitably or necessarily so, from a logical standpoint. I would go so far as to suggest that this is not biblically warranted either.
This binary dichotomous view of the human being and God's Being is not an inescapable truth of the Bible but an artefact of Aristotelian logic that is part of Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy. Aristotelian logic entails the law of the excluded middle, where something rigidly either is or is not A, with nothing else being logically tenable. Such logic separates and isolates reality into entities that exist one apart from another. Thus, the human person is inherently not the person of God. God and humans are irreconcilably separate and substantially divorced from each other. Each entity—human and God—would also have its own separate sphere of experience, utterly and irrevocably divorced from each other. One metaphor for their inter-relationship would be that of a watchmaker and the watch that is made—inherently separate, unrelated, divorced, and irreconcilable in substance and in experience.
But this mechanistic and dualistic view does no justice to the Bible's portrayal of the relationship between God and humanity. It is also erroneous when it comes to the intra-relations of the Triune God where Father-Son-Spirit exist in a dynamic dance of love termed perichoresis. With the help of Asian logical frameworks, namely the dialectics of Buddhist Madhyamika (Middle-Way), we can come to a better and closer understanding of Creator-created and intra-Trinitarian relations. More than that, we can express such relations in metaphors that I suggest are more biblical and more logically tenable than that offered by Aristotelian logic.
I have written about the application of Middle-Way dialectics on our understanding of intra-Trinitarian relations elsewhere in a published academic paper, so I will not elaborate on that here. The same argument for intra-Trinitarian relations in that paper would hold for Creator-created relations. Here, I want to focus on metaphors. Namely, I want to explore two metaphors that can be justifiably used for the relations between Creator and created, between God and human being.
The first metaphor is that of the ocean (God) and a wave (human being). Proponents of non-dual teachings such as Advaita, Tantra, Zen and Dzogchen are fond of this metaphor. In deep meditation or insightful inquiry, as such proponents claim, one is able to realize one's fundamental identity with God, our divine Ground of Being, just as a wave can realize its substantial oneness with the ocean of which it is a part. Experientially, there is a sense of non-dualistic recognition of infinite shared Being, just as the singular substance of water uniformly pervades both the ocean and the wave. In this metaphor, the human being and God are ultimately one in both experience and substance/reality.
Even if such an experience is real and valid, does this necessarily mean that in reality a human being is substantially identical to God's Being? When all the waves of the human being's body (sensations, perceptions) and mind (thoughts, emotions, perceptions, intentions, decisions, images, memories) dissolve back into the ocean of their ground awareness, and this ground awareness is experienced as none other than boundless infinite non-dual awareness labelled as "God," does this mean that the human being is fundamentally constituted by God's Being, that the human being is substantially merely a part of God just as a wave or a drop of water is a part of the ocean?
Many, particularly Advaita advocates, would say yes. But this seemingly logical conclusion is not inescapably so. Why? Because experience does not necessarily conflate to reality. Epistemology is not necessarily ontology. Some may claim they are identical. But to my mind, no conclusive reason for this view has been unequivocally affirmed to date. In other words, the valid and real experience of non-dual oneness of wave and ocean need not necessarily equate to the actual reality of how things truly exist for the wave and the ocean. In experience, there is wave and ocean sharing in the oneness of water. But in reality, it is possible that the human being and God exist in a somewhat, or even radically, different mode of existence.
In reality, the human being and God may be more like a highly absorptive sponge fully submerged in the immeasurable ocean. Let's explore this metaphor more closely. The Advaita advocate might argue that the metaphor of sponge and ocean fails because one can take the sponge out of the ocean but you cannot do the same for the wave. This is easily counter-argued as follows: whether we use the metaphor of wave and ocean or sponge and ocean, in both cases, there is an implicit assumption that the ocean is all there is. There is nothing else in that picture except the ocean serving as the total context for the metaphor. Thus, it makes no sense to speak of anything else apart from the ocean into which the wave or the sponge can be taken. If there is only the ocean as the sole context, there is no way anyone can take the wave (even if physically untenable) or the sponge (even if physically tenable) out of the ocean! For the ocean is all there is. No land, no sky, nothing else but ocean.
Continuing with the metaphor, we can now imagine the sponge to be made of such refined material that it is translucent, if not transparent. In fact, at its deepest level of reality, the sponge is essentially of the same nature as God's nature—the Spirit or pristine awareness that is intensely alive. In reality, the sponge is not God but is inspirated or breathed into life by God, such that at its innermost core, it is essentially a spiritual field of the same nature as the Spirit of God.
In experience, thus, the sponge (human being) can be so completely suffused with the water of the ocean that nothing remains untouched and unpermeated. The field of awareness of the sponge restfully abides within itself once all projections and modulations have been retraced back to their source. Experientially, the sponge can then recognize its non-duality from God in terms of their shared luminous cognizant nature, both empty of isolated existence yet spontaneously alive and responsive. This non-dual experiential recognition is liberating and enabling.
This non-dual recognition makes experiential sense but ontologically speaking, in terms of substance or reality, things are not quite the same. In reality (ontologically speaking), there is no conflation of human "substance" with God's "substance" such that Creator and created are identical in being. They are neither identical in being nor of one substance in toto. A human being is not God. To assert this would be a fallacy based on mistaken interpretation of non-dual experience. Specifically, this non-dual experience is one of inter-penetration of human being and God's Being in the one taste of nakedly empty, blissfully luminous cognizance. The experience of non-duality is real and valid; but the presumed reality of substantial oneness is not.
May we all come to this subtle and profound insight of non-monistic non-duality that truly liberates and enables. This reverberating and transformative insight liberates us from afflictive suffering and cognitive stains of self-making, while enabling an open efflorescence into a new relationship with our Triune God in union-and-communion dance of perichoretic love beyond anything we have ever conceived or can ever conceive. In Yeshua alone.