In “Christian Nonduality: A Q&A with Cynthia Bourgeault” Cynthia Bourgeault says:
Many people approach nonduality as a philosophy, the metaphysical conviction that “all is one.” I approach it as a modality of perception—as an operating system—in that it’s a way of organizing and making sense of the perceptual field. A nondual operating system perceives from oneness. It doesn’t need to divide the playing field into inside and outside, subject and object, self and other. It captures the whole thing as a seamless whole. I see oneness because I am seeing fromoneness….
As I’ve already suggested, there are a variety of different definitions of nonduality at work out there as Christians scramble to get onboard with this term, which was never a part of Christianity’s native language. My dear friend and colleague Richard and I use the term in slightly different ways—for him it’s closer to the ability to hold two opposites from a higher place; for me it’s all about the wiring of perception. So from my perspective, nonduality is never about belief—because belief is always a mental operation—and always about experience. It’s the experience of direct perception from the heart.
My approach to nonduality begins with the observation that it simply means “not two”. But “not two” is vague. Does it mean “one”? The unitarian mystics and philosophers of the “perception of oneness” such as Bourgeault assume that is the case. But that isn’t the only alternative.
What if “not two” means “three”? Or what if “not two” means “any number other than two”?
What we are talking about here is sacred geometry. Basically, we are talking about visions of wholeness and how many boundaries are the right amount. So when we are drawing or mandalas or yantras of All-That-Is, what is the truest or best or ideal pattern to draw?
Nonduality begins with a set of perceptions as opposite each other: self/other, yin/yang, individual/collective, etc., and then says that these are “not two”. The philosophy is implying a hidden unity, but “all is one” is not actually implied.
What I think is really implied is something awfully close to “all is one and three”.
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 42:
Tao produces one
One produces two
Two produce three
Three produce myriad things
Master Yang Hsiung’s Canon of Supreme Mystery (c. 4 BCE) describes the Tao as a combination of three primordial forces in constant interplay or spiritual warfare: Yang, Yin, and Jen.
My own books, The Great Mystery (2019, forthcoming) and Lingua-U (2019, forthcoming) will update and re-imagine Yang Hsiung’s philosophy as the foundation of a metalanguage capable of describing the hidden relationships of the Sacred Words in all the world’s Great Traditions and virtually word in any human-speakable language.
Imagine, from a Christian Trinitarian standpoint, that Jesus Christ had a contemporary counterpart about 7,000 miles away in China who conceived of reality as a three-fold unity … and saw Yin and Yang as requiring a third reality called Jen. (And then, about 2,000 years later, Lingua-U arrives to observe that Jen (??) is spelled identically to Jesus (??)(among other words) and the penultimate station (??) is spelled identical to Yahweh (??) (among other words).
It’s not the plot of a Dan Brown spiritual thriller like The DaVinci Code. It’s a real fact about the evolution of language and its spawn of metalanguage in our time. Personally I regard it as something of a major miracle, but then as the creator of Lingua-U it’s not really within my power to be fully objective about it.
A Christian philosophy could interface with traditional Chinese philosophy like so:
The Trinity produces the Father (one)
The Father (one) produces The Son (two)
[The Father (one) and] The Son (two) produces The Holy Spirit (three)
The Holy Spirit (three) produces myriad things.
– Joe Perez
Every nondualist who has rested content with the notion that “not two” means, indubitably, “all is one” needs to ask themselves some hard questions. What about “all is one and three”? In other words, a spirituality based not on “nondual realization” but on the arrival of “ternary consciousness”.
With Richard Rohr, we could speak about the holding of two opposites from a higher place as one expression of ternary consciousness. The only thing holding us back, I think, is that there is currently no widely practiced way of looking at all opposed concepts as simultaneously juxtaposed and reconciled (excepting philosophies in the mold of Fichte and Hegel).
But Master Yang Hsiung achieved that feat over 2,000 years ago in the Canon of Supreme Mystery, and we could follow in his footsteps. That’s why I have used Lingua-U to rename the third principle from Jen to Yung (??), a neologism that ‘unifies’ Yin (??) and Yang (??), by unifying the subtle energy at the Fifth Mark, the Mark of Substitutability.
With Bourgeault, we can affirm that ternary consciousness is not merely about arranging thought patterns. It’s also about the experience of a unitive field of perception within which other perceptions cohere. Where I differ with Cynthia is that I don’t think it’s really all that meaningful to call it “nonduality”. What she is describing is better understood as the unitary field within which a myriad of sacred geometries could manifest.
The unitive experience “perceives from oneness” as she says, but there is no good reason to call it “nondual” as opposed to “nonternary” or “nonquaternary”, etc. It’s simply an experience of All-in-All consciousness, which Lingua-U suggests is best described by words from the Abrahamic Traditions such as “Allah consciousness” or “Yahweh consciousness” specifically (although Buddhists could perhaps substitute “Yama/Buddha consciousness” if they preferred and other Integralists might simply go with “Always Already consciousness” or “Unitive consciousness”). All of these Divine Names are possible linguistic formulations which reproduce in their Sacred Words the subtle energetic patterns associated with Unary consciousness (i.e., words described by the Throne of Alleluia in Lingua-U).
In my view, Christians should immediately STOP trying to get onboard with the term “nonduality”. Nondualism is simply too vague to serve the sorts of careful, deliberate distinctions that good theology requires at this point in the world’s evolution. The days of “nondualism” are sorely numbered.
Instead, Christians should explore the resources of their tradition for ways of approaching “ternary consciousness” or “Trinitarian consciousness” that speak to the heart and mind and soul and spirit.
In conclusion, let us remember the words of Jesus given by John 14:2:
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
To be clear, even as Christians plumb the depths of Trinitarian realizations possible as members of the Body of Christ, they ought not succumb to the illusion that Trinitarian insights are the final, most perfect form of divine wisdom or perceptions. Ternary consciousness is the cutting edge of spirituality today, but it won’t always be so. There are many rooms in God’s house, many sacred geometries for containing manifest Creation.