The Soul’s Choice

[Editor’s Note:  This material was revised in November 2018 and integrated into a PDF booklet, Christian Meditations on the Tarot: The Soul’s Choice]

The choice is ours…Towards a Contemplative Model of
Christian Faith & Spiritual Formation…

  • We are of two minds:  1) The Empirical/Dualistic Mind, on the one hand, and 2) Transcendental/Nondual Awareness, on the other.
  • Within the confines of the empirical/dualistic mind, a conventional, egoic identity develops through which we experience life in alienation from God (SEPARATION/SIN/DEATH).
  • Transcending the confines of our conventional, egoic identity, however, we “put on Christ” and are reconciled to God in transcendental/nondual awareness (UNION/LOVE/LIFE).

While the empirical/dualistic/egoic mind rules our lives, we live in alienation from the true meaning and purpose of our existence. This is traditionally associated with “the fall of man” which is attributed to our first parents (cf. Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15:22).  The mind of fallen humanity is referred to in the Christian scriptures as “the carnal mind” or “the mind of the flesh” (cf. Romans 8:5-7).

By virtue of this empirically oriented, egocentric mind, we represent the world “horizontally”— slicing and dicing it into spatiotemporal pieces that appear to relate to one another causally/deterministically. This seems to give us (as “separate selves”) some measure of knowledge and control over our environment— so far, so good —but approaching the world exclusively in this way (SEPARATION), we live our lives in bondage to sin (and in fear of death) as we endeavor to evade our inevitable destruction (or somehow anesthetize ourselves to it) rather than facing it lucidly and soberly.  As such, we live in ignorance of our truth and being in Christ (UNION/atOnement), the experiential knowledge of which constitutes the true meaning and purpose of our existence and which, alone, can liberate us from the bondage of sin and death as we, by grace, discover what it means to be reconciled to God, to one another, and to the rest of creation (cf. II Corinthians 5:16-19).

In other words, having “eaten of the tree of [dualistic] knowledge”, we can indeed understand (to some extent) the “horizontal” (empirical) relationships that come to bear on our lives in time and space (“the cause IN appearances“, as Kant puts it), but so doing, we tend to become more and more oblivious to “the cause OF appearances” which can only be apprehended “vertically” (i.e. spiritually—cf. I Corinthians 2:14).  Moreover, our transcendental/nondual “ground” (the mind of Christ–aka the Divine intelligence or Logos) is not (in principle) accessible to our empirically oriented, dualistic understanding. Nevertheless, from another point of view, these two conceptually distinct aspects of life— the “horizontal” (empirical) and the “vertical” (transcendental) —together constitute an integral whole that is, Christ-like, both human and Divine. By recognizing and honoring both aspects of our lives, we can trace our natural history and genealogy empirically (“that which is born of the flesh is flesh”) while at the same time realizing our intimate relationship to God transcendentally (“that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit”).  But living in ignorance of the vertical aspect of our lives— as we said above —our world seems out of joint, our lives absurd, and all our efforts ultimately in vain.  The good news, however, is that the kingdom of heaven is within us, among usat hand:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).

“Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).

“His disciples said to him: On what day will the kingdom come? It will not come while people watch for it; they will not say: Look, here it is, or: Look, there it is; but the kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and men do not see it” (Gospel of Thomas 113).

Whosoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely…
Be still and know…

Conclusion . . .

As such— Dear Unknown Friends in the stillness of Divine presence, as we continue to meditate on this arrangement of images, let us take up our cross (Le Pendu); let us open our hearts to the abundant life of the Spirit (The Aces of Chalices and Batons); let us become like little children (Le Soleil); and let us enter into the kingdom NOW (Le Monde).

“The Now is no mere nodal point between the past and the future. It is the seat and region of the Divine Presence itself…. The Now contains all that is needed for the absolute satisfaction of our deepest cravings…. In the Now we are at home at last” (Thomas Kelly, “A Testament of Devotion”).

–> The  Divine Presence “I AM”

 Note:  Click here for a “key” to the arrangement  of images, below…]

[Note: It goes without saying that this material has been inspired in large part by my study of our anonymous author’s Meditations on the TarotI am also indebted to Paul Nagy for his feedback on the arrangement of images.]
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9 Responses to The Soul’s Choice

  1. Cassiodorus says:

    Hi Wayne,

    I haven’t commented here for a while- the chart from Tomberg’s Meditations is excellent! I recall seeing something like that in one of Ken Wilber’s books, but I’m not sure. A little off topic….. In one of our previous exchanges, I said that I think that Christian theism is ultimately not non-dual- that being the case for the simple reason that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo implies an absolute ontological distinction between Creator and created. That, I claimed, would preclude even a theistic non-dualism, one in which there are real differences within the Divine allowing for a devotional form of spirituality. But, recently I began to investigate the Vedantan school of Dvaitadvaita, or “dualistic nondualism”. In the same vein of thought as my own, the founder of this tradition, Nimbarka, rejects the conception of souls and matter as qualities of God. The function of quality is either to differentiate a thing from other things or to make the object better known. Matter and souls as the qualities of God serve no such purpose. As there’s nothing other than God , what can they distinguish Him from? He also disputes the view that matter and souls constitute the body of God. It is wrong to distinguish between the body and soul of God. If so, then God, being the soul, would experience all the miseries and imperfections of the body. One part of God cannot present eternity and perfection, while the other presents transience and imperfection.
    The resolution that Nimbarka presents for this conundrum strikes me as the most consistent:

    “Matter and souls are therefore not the body of God, but his powers. So the truth is not identity qualified by difference, but identity AND difference. Both identity and difference are separately and equally real. God, souls and matter are all real, but the last two are absolutely dependent on God.

    The relation between God and universe is one of identity AND difference. The universe cannot be absolutely identical with God, for then God himself will be bound and experience all the imperfections and miseries of samsara. The universe cannot be absolutely different from God either- for then it would constitute a limit to God and he could not be its all pervading inner ruler and controller. Matter and souls do not have an independent existence of God and hence are not different from him. But since they are dependent and limited, they are different from God who is independent and unlimited.

    Even as the rays of the Sun and the Sun are both distinct and non-distinct, so is the relationship between the soul and God. In tat tvam asi, ‘tat’ refers to the all pervading Brahman, ‘tvam’ refers to the dependent soul and ‘asi’ refers to the relation of difference cum non-difference between them” –


    • Welcome back, Cassiodorus — good to hear from you! Dvaitadvaita, as you represent it, seems reasonable enough to me. The only question, perhaps, is whether or not, in addition to satisfying someone’s demand for a rational explanation it is also conducive to their movement beyond metaphysical speculation to an ontological realization of that which Spinoza refers to as “the union that exists between the mind and the whole of nature (aka “God”). I see no reason why not, do you? Apropos of “matter and souls . . . not [being] the body of God, but his powers”, do a google search for “The Concept of the Divine Energies”, by David Bradshaw (Univ. Kentucky). This video might be of interest, as well:

  2. Cassiodorus says:

    Hi Wayne,

    Thanks for those recommendations. I’ve seen that video on Christian panentheism before, but I’m not familiar with David Bradshaw’s “The Concept of the Divine Energies”. I will definitely take a look. With regards to your question concerning “metaphysical speculation” and “ontological realization”, I would respond with a guarded yes. I think we need to be careful because it seems to me that one can’t speak of realization without some kind of metaphysical speculation. Undoubtedly, as Ananda Coomaraswamy pointed out, there are many paths- that’s undeniable. But, the more controversial claim, that there is “one summit” , is far from obvious. Is Nirvana, moksha, and theosis all describing the same experience? I’m not sure. Even within the Christian tradition, there is quite a bit of variation on the understanding of divinization. I think that the “container”, that is, the metaphysical framework that the aspirant adheres to, has an impact on the spiritual experience. Could it be that there are just as many summits as there are paths?

    • [“…it seems to me that one can’t speak of realization without some kind of metaphysical speculation.”]

      Neither Jesus nor the Buddha seemed to have been big on metaphysics, eh? And what about Douglas Harding and the Headless Way — have you ever taken time to have a look for yourself!? 🙂

      [“…as Ananda Coomaraswamy pointed out, there are many paths- that’s undeniable. But, the more controversial claim, that there is “one summit” , is far from obvious. Is Nirvana, moksha, and theosis all describing the same experience? I’m not sure. . . . I think that the “container”, that is, the metaphysical framework that the aspirant adheres to, has an impact on the spiritual experience. Could it be that there are just as many summits as there are paths?”]

      Does it have to be “either/or”? Why not say that the summit has a universal aspect and a particular aspect? Our particular temperament and training informs our journey and the way in which we describe the summit (or at least our approach to it), but at bottom, the ultimate reality must be One, it seems to me (or, at any rate, “not two”). This should give us a measure of humility when the question of the superiority of “my path” comes up–and a measure of respect for the paths of others, whether or not we are in position to learn from them. Or do you see it differently?

  3. Cassiodorus says:

    Hi Wayne,

    Thank you for you thoughtful comments. Before I respond, I want to apologize if I sound overly quarrelsome. It’s my way. I also want to say that I’m actually an esoterist at heart, so what I’m about to say represents something of inner dialectic that I have decided to include you in. Please forgive my pretension.

    I think, ultimately, it does have to be either/or if “at bottom, reality must be One or not two.”
    I think that statement is, itself, a bit of “metaphysical speculation.” If Truth is one, then how do we make sense of conflicting religious doctrines? Answer: the exoteric-esoteric distinction. Esoterism is the deeper truth, one that goes beyond thought forms and is fundamentally experiential. But, the idea that esoterism “transcends” theology is, in my view, a meaningless statement. What is actually, de facto, being said is that the claims made by theology aren’t really true. For example, Christian theology has long claimed that Jesus of Nazareth is the decisive revelation of God, not a particular manifestation of the Absolute. But, by endorsing universalism, theological claims are reduced to “relative truths” and represent “upayas” or “skillful means.” I struggle not to see that as a rather vacuous idea.

    I find much of going “beyond” theology/metaphysics to be an exercise in trying to have one’s cake and eat it too. What is really, in effect, going on is that the Western religions are being Easternized or , the vociferous protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. After all, how else is one to characterize re-interpreting Christianity in non-dual/monistic terms?

    If there is one more point I’d make, it would be the Incarnation. If God did become man in the course of history ( a basic datum prior to our interpretation of what this Divine embodiment might mean), it should give one pause that the Incarnation occurred in Judaism and not the East, that the Apostles and the Fathers- who were closer to the event than ourselves- interpreted it in a manner that we now call “exoteric”. I think it is difficult to believe that, basically everyone misunderstood the nature of the Incarnation until modern “spiritualists” finally arrived to explain to us what the Incarnation really means. I’m not the first to make this argument- Peter Kreeft did before me- but I reiterate it because I think it has a genuine bite to it. If the Incarnation took place in history, than surely when and where it occurred matters. And it makes sense to accord a certain privilege to the understanding that unfolded in history following the event vs new interpretations from other worldviews that are not applied until centuries later…I find an implied “imperialism” inherent in the esoteric interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth to be a strike against such views.

    • No, no, Cassiodorus, you are not being quarrelsome at all–I was afraid you might think I thought that and I edited my comment almost immediately (removing the world “really” from the last sentence) hoping to reduce the chances of giving you that impression. Let me now edit that implicit “speculation” a bit, too:

      ” Our particular temperament and training informs our journey and the way in which we describe our approach to the summit — even if, at bottom (or, “at top”, if you prefer), the ultimate reality is One (or“not two”).”

      How does that strike you? With regard to the reinterpretation of Christianity in nondual terms, Christianity seems to have been understood quite esoterically from the beginning by a minority of adherents (mystics/gnostics/hermeticists). The particulars of their historical and metaphysical beliefs have varied widely, but all agreed that our living connection with the living Word of God is what is key. Once that connection is realized, we may or may not choose to speak of it, but if we do speak of it, we can only use some variation of some mode of discourse that happens to be ready to hand. Jesus had the law and the prophets and poets of the old testament. Since our selection of scriptures is much richer and the popular understanding of Christianity in this day and age is rather impoverished, I think we are justified introducing eastern ideas into the mix. I would also refer you to a Gornahoor article where it is observed, perhaps with more rigor, that:

      “Pope Benedict XVI made the point that once the Logos was admitted into the Gospel, the whole of Greek philosophy came along with it. We can rightly extend that idea. Once Greek philosophy is becomes a part of Western Tradition, then we are justified to also pull in the Vedic Tradition.”

      In any event, I’m really not concerned with accusations of imperialism one way or the other (the exchange of ideas and symbols between cultures is incessant and unpreventable). The incarnation is a symbol. It is real and true, from where I stand, even if Jesus never existed (just as true as “the cross”–see the Frithjof Schuon piece) . My life has been greatly informed by the Christian scriptures (as well as my exposure to various Christian beliefs and Christian styles of worship), but I am not attached to the idea of being a Christian, per se (if any group or individual wishes to insist that I can’t be one).

      Apropos of Jesus and nonduality, have you listened to Alan Watts on “Jesus and his Religion”? “The BOOK on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are” is also worth a look (though you will need to draw your own conclusions as to how it relates to Christianity).

  4. Cassiodorus says:

    Hi Wayne,

    It’s funny- I didn’t sense anything “quarrelsome” from you at all. Whereas I’ve been known to “pick fights” from time to time. So, we’re good. Cool. I forgot that I first encountered you at Gornahoor; I was probably badgering Cologero about this very same subject. It represents something of a dilemma, both spiritual and intellectual, for which I have yet to realize a satisfying solution. It’s interesting in a strange kind of way that I’m looking at an image of Alan Watts while I type- it was Mr. Watts who largely “inaugurated” my spiritual and intellectual odyssey some years ago. I grew up in a nominally (culturally) Christian home and I pretty much rejected religion entirely during my adolescence. So, when I discovered folks like Watts, Ken Wilber, Joseph Campbell, and CG Jung, it was truly eye-opening for me. But, it was the writings of the Traditionalist School that actually brought me back to traditional religion and eventually to the Roman Catholicism of my childhood.

    At the end of the day, your position seems to correspond largely with the likes of Watts and Huxley, a kind of “liberal” Perennialism or “Neo-Vedanta/Theosophy”. (I realize one can get crazy with labels.) I don’t think I would agree that “all agreed that our living connection with the living Word of God is the key.” That is certainly essential. But, I think any comprehensive evaluation of Christianity tells us that the “core” claim of the Christian revelation (from which its spiritual truth is derived) is the actual death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Creeds make it a point to address the real humanity, the real life, and ultimately the real Risen Christ. I think to reduce all of that to “symbols” is a gnostic tendency and represents a kind of denigration of the the importance of physicality/materiality- which the early Church railed against. (Btw, I thought your posts on Gnosticism, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly were your best!)

    Nevertheless, despite all of that, I still adhere to a kind of spiritual “universal grammar” as Huston Smith once eloquently put it. The East does, indeed, have something important to teach us about, (as you said), the Living Word. Believing things (and philosophical speculation for that matter) is not enough. True metanoia requires the “inner journey.”

  5. [“…it was Mr. Watts who largely “inaugurated” my spiritual and intellectual odyssey some years ago. . . . when I discovered folks like Watts, Ken Wilber, Joseph Campbell, and CG Jung, it was truly eye-opening . . . ]

    Yes–and this is not uncommon, eh? Cologero’s story seems to be somewhat similar:

    So, my question would be, is it not time to enlarge our idea of the canon of scripture to include some of these writings? Why force people to leave the church in order to find the truth elsewhere and then, maybe– if they don’t lose their way entirely –to discover later that an analogous teaching had been concealed in the Christian scriptures all along?

    [p.s. I made the correction indicated in your last comment which I then deleted]

  6. John O. says:

    A fine correspondence gents. In it I see much of my own spiritual biography.

    Watts was a drunk and a lecher.
    Huxley, a brilliant acid head.
    When they carried them out on a stretcher,
    they were enlightened – but dead!

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