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Monism

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Varieties of Monism
Monistic as Opposed to Theistic Cosmology
Pantheism and Acosmism
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Varieties of Monism

The term "monism" (from the Greek monas "one"), like "materialism" and "dualism", is rather ambiguous.  In modern philosophy it is used to designate any metaphysical theory which states that there is only one reality, from which everything else came.  Thus the nineteenth century Darwinist philosopher Ernst Haeckel distinguished between dualism - the religious idea of a God separate from his creation - and monism - the thesis that there is "one sole substance in the universe, which is at once "God and Nature"; body and spirit...." [p.16].  Nowadays this position would be referred to as "Holism".  Likewise, the psychologist, philosopher, and student of religious experience William James developed the theory of Neutral Monism, according to which mind and matter are ultimately reducible to the same reality [Evan Harris Walker, "The Nature of Consciousness", Mathematical Biosciences, 1971, 132-3].  Others use the term monism to designate a materialistic position - there is only one reality, and that is physical matter and energy

But Monism can also be defined as the thesis that there is only one spiritual or Divine reality, and that physical and psychic reality are not separate from that.  This could be termed "Spiritual Monism", to distinguish it from "Neutral Monism" and Materialistic Monism.  Monism (in the sense of Spiritual Monism) sees the Divine as an all-embracing impersonal or transpersonal Absolute Reality, which is identified with the innermost Self (the "God within").  So there is no separation  between God and the Soul, or God and the world

In general then, and like Holism, Monism heals the split between mind and matter, or natural and supernatural, caused by Dualism.  Thus for example the Jewish philosopher Spinoza suggested that the radical duality of Mind and Matter proposed by Descartes constituted only two of an infinite number of attributes of a single substance, God.  Spinoza was the first modern pantheist and was excommunicated and condemned by the Jewish community of the time for his trouble.  In our own century though, Einstein, when asked by an important Rabbi what his conception of God was, replied that the only concept of God that made sense to him was the God of Spinoza, who was not an entity separate from the Cosmos.



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Monistic as Opposed to Theistic Cosmology

The Theistic Religious Worldview (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc) begins with the idea of God as a separate knowable anthropomorphic (human-like) supernatural personality who creates the universe and living beings out of nothing.  Creation stories like Genesis are thus a projection of a human character into a supernatural context.  The God of Judaism and Christianity is in that respect not very different from the human-like gods of Homer

The Monistic, or Nondual, Cosmology in contrast begins with the impersonal "abstract" Ultimate Reality, which is described in terms of pure being and consciousness, and identified with one's own innermost Self.  Reality is ultimately unitary; consisting of only one absolute principle.  So rather than separate God from Soul, the Monistic or mystic position sees the two as being ultimately synonymous.  God is not something external and separate from oneself, as in the Theistic religious position, but rather inter-nal and the same as one's innermost self.  Hindu Vedantic monism calls this Absolute God-Self the Atman (literally "Self"), whilst in Mahayana Buddhism it is sometimes referred to as the "Buddha Nature"

In exoteric forms of monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Krishnaism, etc, God is a Person separate from you and me.  Reality is made up of a lot of separate creatures - you, me, the table, the chair, God, the angels, etc, and there is no way these can be reconciled a s single reality.

In Monism, "God" is the infinite ocean of Consciousness.  All beings, are like waves on the surface of the ocean; its tem-porary transformations, not separate from it

The goal of the spiritual path is the realisation of one's own identity with this Absolute Reality.  By doing so, you become that Absolute.  For, as the Indian philosopher-mystic Shankara explains, it is the Absolute that is the eternal substratum of the individual consciousness and the ego, the innermost Self, whose essence is constant infinite Bliss. (Vivekacudamuni, vv.128-131)

By becoming the Absolute you are removed from the cosmic order; you are no longer a finite being, but instead - or perhaps I should say you are no longer a finite being, but also - the Absolute Reality, Atman-Brahman.  The boundaries of the self disap-pear, and the being becomes infinite

Whereas Theism is based on duality - the duality between God and Self, and between God and Creation, Monism is based on unity - God is not different from the self or the universe.  There is no "creator" standing apart from the universe.  Rather, the universe is itself the being of "God"

One could say that the radical Monist stands midway between the Theist and the Atheist.  Like the Theist, he or she admits the existence of an original First Principle of a Divine or Spiritual nature.  But like the Atheist he or she denies the existence of a Personal absolute reality standing apart from the rest of Creation.  According to the Monist, there is only one reality - call it Absolute, God, Atman, Tao, or whatever - and this includes in its being all finite reality as well as the Divine reality; there being in fact ultimately no distinction between the two.  All of reality consists of only this one absolute principle

The Theistic Spiritual Breakthrough concept is therefore just as alien to Monism as it is to Shamanism.  Inasmuch as Monism sees the entire physical universe as of the essence of the Divine or Absolute reality, the whole idea of a miraculous "breakthrough" into a profane world becomes superfluous

The persuasive thing about Monism is that it agrees with the universal quality of mystical experience; which is an all- embracing sense of unity.  The dualistic religions on the other hand are contradicted by the mystical experience, which is why they have so often down-played and even tried to suppress such experiences.



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Pantheism, Panentheism and Acosmism

As far as philosophy or metaphysics goes, there are two main forms of Spiritual Monism: Pantheism and Acosmism.  These constitute the two ways of understanding the Absolute Reality and its relationship to the Cosmos (or Relative Reality).  Although both positions are valid, each still constitutes only a partial perspective

Pantheism, is the doctrine that the entire universe, and all beings in it, are the real manifestation or transformation of God.
Acosmism is just the opposite - the universe is unreal, only the Absolute Reality is real.
Panentheism strikes a balance betwene the two - God or Godhead is the cosmos, but God also transcends the Cosmos



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Pantheism
Acosmism
Panentheism
Monism and Monotheism
Monism in Mysticism
Limitations of the Monistic paradigm



Web links Links - Monism Web links

external link Monism - Wikipedia entry

web sitelinks Nonduality Salon - heaps of links to various pages on monistic philosophy (basically Advaitin)

web page Monism - a detailed overview from teh - Catholic Encylopedia. Most of it is good, however the writer concludes with the following rather curious statement

"Dualism leaves room for faith, and hands over to faith many of the problems which philosophy cannot solve. Monism leaves no room for faith. The only mysticism that is compatible with it is rationalistic, and very different from that "vision" in which, for the Christian mystic, all the limitations, imperfections, and other shortcomings of our feeble efforts are removed by the light of faith."

Looks like I wouldn't make a very good Catholic, that's all I can say :-)




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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 8 April 1999; last modified 7 August, 2004 by WF and MAK.