Seven Books on Christianity and Nondualism

John Ruusbroec, nondual Christian mystic

John Ruusbroec, nondual Christian mystic

My friend Ellen recently asked me on Facebook to define nondualism for her. I referred her to a post I wrote on the subject last summer called Nonduality in the Bible… and Us. Not much to add to that post, but I though I’d offer a short list of books that explore nonduality within a Christian context. These books  come from a variety of perspectives, so read with a thinking mind and a discerning heart.

  1. Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See — Probably the single most accessible introduction to nonduality within a Christian context. Rohr offers down-to-earth, easily accessible reflections on why the Christian life is about a new way of seeing — where “everything belongs.”
  2. Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message — My understanding of metanoia as “attaining nondual consciousness comes from Bourgeault, whose vision of Jesus as a “wisdom teacher” is deeply contemplative, mystical, and nondual.
  3. John Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals and Other Works — Meister Eckhart is generally considered to be the greatest of the nondual Christian mystics, but I  follow Evelyn Underhill in considering Ruusbroec, who lived a generation after Eckhart, as being more accessible while as daring in his vision. Eckhart was condemned as a heretic, whereas Ruusbroec has been beatified. Go figure. Anyway, this is an excellent example of Christian nonduality from the middle ages.
  4. Sara Grant, R.S.C.J., Toward an Alternative Theology: Confessions of a Non-Dualist Christian — Grant, a Scottish Catholic nun, lived in India and lived and prayed  alongside such luminaries as Bede Griffiths and Abhishiktananda. In these lectures she details how Advaita (nondual) Vedanta influenced her faith as a Christian.
  5. A Monk of the West, Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism — An anonymous Cistercian penned this theological treatise which affirms the possibility of fruitful and meaningful interspirituality between Christianity and Advaita Vedanta.
  6. Bruno Barnhart, The Future of Wisdom: Toward a Rebirth of Sapiential Christianity — Barnhart is Bourgeault’s mentor and a Camaldolese hermit. This book looks not only at east-west dialogue but also Christianity’s dialogue with modernity and postmodernity to articulate a new vision for nondual wisdom.
  7. James Charlton, Non-Dualism in Eckhart, Julian of Norwich and Traherne — This one is brand new and I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, but based on its Amazon page it looks pretty interesting. My link takes you to the Kindle edition, which is far less expensive than the academically-priced hardback.

Of course, these seven titles are offered just as a way to whet your appetite. If you want to explore nondualism further, especially within a Christian context, then consider the writings of Meister Eckhart, Thomas Keating, Martin Laird, Michael Casey, Raimon Panikkar, Bede Griffiths, Abhishiktananda, Maggie Ross… the list could go on and on.

If you know of any other books that explore nondual awareness from a Christian perspective, please post a comment below and share your thoughts.

If you follow the links of the books mentioned in this post and purchase them or other products from Amazon.com, I receive a small commission from Amazon. Thank you for doing so — it is the easiest way you can support this blog.

  • http://bobholmes.blogspot.com Bob Holmes

    Thanks for all your good work Carl.

  • http://faithinbooks.com Faith in Books

    The Consciousness Trilogy by Don Carroll, a wisdom fiction trilogy centered on unitive consciousness. Don’t overlook these novels just because they are self-published and edited. Richard Rohr was one of his inspirations (also Ponticus Evagrius and Ramon Llull among others). It’s the real deal.

    http://www.faithinbooks.com/spirituality-book-reviews/itemlist/tag/the%20consciousness%20trilogy

  • Ulysses Castillo

    I’d add Anthony DeMello’s Awareness and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Going Home.

  • mickey

    Carl, does Raimon Pannikar write on dualism from or within a Christian perspective?

    • Carl McColman

      Yes, Panikkar writes as a Christian, integrating both Christian theology and Vedic philosophy into his work.

      • mickey

        If he mixes Hinduism and Christianity; can this be called a Christian perspective?

        • Carl McColman

          I would hardly accuse Panikkar of “mixing” Christianity and Hinduism, any more than Augustine mixed orthodox Christianity with neoplatonism or Aquinas mixed Christianity with Aristotelian thought. The church has a long and venerable history of fruitful and respectful dialogue with voices from outside the faith; Panikkar (and most of the other writers I cite in this post) stand in that tradition.

          • mickey

            Hi Carl, I don’t think we’re accusing… but what is the difference between mixing and integrating? I’m not sure Augustine and Aquinas ‘mixed’ didn’t Aquinas use the Aristotlian framework to systemize his theology? and Augustine the same with neoplatonism? I am writing because I am curious to the difference between dialogue and perhaps mutual enrichment between faiths but if we intergrate another faith into christianity i wonder if we can call it christianity? To be honest I haven’t read much of Panikkar but skimmed his Christophany (I think it was called) I remember it being a mish mash but my memory hasn’t served me well on other occassions.

          • Carl McColman

            My apologies for sounding defensive; certainly your questions merit a reasonable discussion. I think for me the difference between “mixing” and “integrating” looks like this: on the one hand, an effort to retain a sense of Christian orthodoxy and identity even while engaging as deeply as possible with interfaith dialogue (that’s “integrating”), which is different from, on the other hand, a less intellectually rigorous (but often idealistic and well-meaning) merging of the language, symbols and practices of two or more faiths in what ends up becoming a syncretistic hybrid (that’s the “mixing”). I would argue that integration seeks very much to retain the identity of Christianity and the other faith(s) in dialogue with Christianity, respecting differences, celebrating commonalities, and charitably yet frankly acknowledging distinctions, tensions, and criticisms separating the traditions. The “mixing” approach is much more comfortable with abandoning traditional forms of identity and really does seek to create something new. The integrationist approach might entail what Paul Knitter calls “dual practice” — where a person may seek to be faithful both to the Christian Gospel and to the practice (and/or philosophy) of another tradition, without engaging in any type of syncretistic blending. Is that possible? It’s not my place to judge; many would say no, but some others are trying to live out such a dual practice in their own faith journey.

            As for your question “can we call it Christianity?” when we consider how broad the Christian “umbrella” already is — from the Copts and Nestorians and Orthodox Christians, through the Catholics, Anglicans, mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Fundamentalists, Quakers, and so forth … I mean, how can any one of us presume to establish limits on who (or what) can or cannot be deemed “Christian” even before the question of interspirituality and interfaith dialogue is considered? At the end of the day, we are responsible only for our own faith identity, usually embedded in whatever community we find ourselves in. So a liberal Anglican, a moderate Presbyterian, a traditionalist Catholic, an ordinary Orthodox, a progressive Quaker, and a strict Fundamentalist Pentecostal will each have a different understanding (often mutually exclusive!) of what the boundaries of Christianity look like, and what is necessary to remain within such boundaries. I myself am very comfortable with interspiritual and dual-practice exploration and would hesitate to refuse to call someone like Panikkar or Merton or Bede Griffiths “Christian” just because of the work they do; nor would I label their work as anything but Christian, even if admittedly profoundly interspiritual and interfaith-oriented. But that’s me. You may have a different image of God than I do, a different set of theological assumptions, and membership in a community with different/stricter boundaries than I experience in my community. All of that factors in.

            I hope this is helpful to at least give you a sense of where I come from. Frankly, I would never describe Panikkar’s work as a “mishmash”! I think he is a brilliant and well-reasoned scholar, and his writings reflect his erudition. But you certainly are entitled to your perspective which may be quite different from mine.

          • mickey

            Hi Carl, thanks … your distinctions are helpful. The Paul Knitter approach makes me wonder why someone wants to be faithful to the Gospel and at the same time to the practice of another religion? This I suppose is wholly subjective – but would still be interested to hear from you or your readers.

            I know that some practices can be mutual in different religions, for instance silent prayer/meditation/centering prayer – I suppose perhaps the difference is what we center on? For an example would you call Merton an Integrationalist and Alan Watts a Syncretist? I know labels, labels :-) when we label each other we diminish/deny each other…but to come a bit closer to some understanding or am I being to dualistic? (tongue in cheek)

            …the other day I read about Merton: his final intention to “find a Tibetan guru and go in for Nyingmapa Tantric initiation”. This is a quote from one of his letters I think. I must say I was a bit disturbed by this, I don’t understand his motives, what I mean I don’t know his background for this. I am a Merton fan.

            Sometimes I wonder whether peoples need and perhaps my own as well; to look else where is because of a kind of boredom with their own faith, maybe the image of God we have is ok for where its at but perhaps our faith in our own faith/tradition is too small, too cramped etc etc surely the Holy Spirit can create new life, perspective anywhere and anytime.

            As you say the umbrella is broad but the ‘handle’ is pretty firm. I think there is very much consensus across the denominations as to what is orthodox Christianity (the faith) when we look at the ‘essentials’ But practices vary. Even God puts up perimeters for us, in the garden (Eden), in nature. Everything has limits, most things have opposites, yin yan, heaven/hell,… therefore I am restling with this non-dualistic thing. I certainly think before the Fall everything was so… now we live in friction. Perhaps being non-dualistic is to trust God that everything belongs, and that he will sort out the friction in the end. I just think we have a quite grave responsibility towards others.

            I have read more Panikkar now since my last post via amazons very helpful preview function, in fact I could pretty much read the whole book if I wanted. It was wrong of me to call it mishmash but hey! maybe that means I’m ready to read it although the Rhythm of Being looks very good as well.

            Peace

            m

  • Chris

    I am a catholic who practices zen. I sit regularly with a Jesuit Zen teacher and a Trappist Zen teacher. I’ve been to India and sat in Catholic Ashrams including Vadana Mataji’s…she is a catholic nun who has written several books that could be on this list. There are a lot of Catholic Zen teachers whose work would certainly belong on this list. Ruben Habito, Robert Kennedy SJ are two who pop to mind.

    I’m not sure the distinction Carl makes is as cut and dry as it may seem. In my experience, mixing and integration don’t often have a clear line between them.

    Non dualism isn’t mutually exclusive with helping others. They are you and you are them…..if your hand was on fire you would certainly put it in some water!

    I’m typing this on a phone. I’ll add more thoughts when I can make it to a computer.

  • http://www.hanumandass.com Hanuman Dass

    Just ran across your blog surfing google. Based on the comments I thought it would be relevant to mention the work of the Perennialists and specifically Frithjof Schuon. The Perennialist’s posit a religio perennis or a primordial tradition that says behind and at the core of all major faiths is an esoteric nondualism. The beauty of their philosophy is that they unite the worlds religions esoterically while honoring the exoteric form of each of their traditions. They are of course not without their critics. I would consider myself a perennialist but do see some difficulty when translating this philosophy into the Christian context, specifically with its exclusivist basis. While a primordial tradition can easily be found in Christianity the weight of Christian history objects in my opinion to any real adoption of the position.

    I suggest Schuon’s work “The Fullness of God: Frithjof Schuon on Christianity” for those interested and also Worldwisdom.com which is a bookstore specializing in Perennialist titles.

    One is most able to see nondualism in the mystics. The only living expression I can find is Eastern Orthodoxy. But even they keep a doctrinal distance (the essence/energies distinction) from nondual identity with God. In my personal experience as a Christian nondual realization finds its fullness in prayer. Salvation, scripture, sacraments, doctrine, etc. necessarily maintain a dualistic framework which brings one into contact with Christ. But it is in the depths of prayer that we come into contact with God. The experience of God in prayer and at its pinnacle of contemplation can never be hedged in by exoteric doctrinal correctness. Every tradition posits a dualist framework or form which serves as a means to bridging the divide between God and man. Once the bridge is crosses man is left squarely within the the realm of the heart or the meeting place with God. The experience here can not be truly expressed fully in the language of doctrine and it’s not meant to be. But for the sake of tradition we come back from this experience of God and speak of it within the form of tradition for others sake.

    These are my opinions anyhow. I hope they help in some way and again check out the resources I listed if anything resonates with you.

    HD

    HanumanDass.com


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