Cherry Picking from Eastern Mysticism

Cherry Picking from Eastern Mysticism November 28, 2017

Cherry Picking from Eastern Mysticism

Eastern philosophy is the basis for many of the concepts we take for granted in the spiritual community—from being in the moment to letting go of the ego to developing mindfulness and more.

It seems that admiring wisdom that comes from the East is an inherent part of the spiritual approach.

However, Western spiritual seekers haven’t exactly used a scientific method in their assimilation of Eastern ideas. Wanting to get away from myth and dogma, they have mixed and matched, shaken and stirred, mashed and meshed, blended and juiced . . . and in the process, well, kind of lost their way.

Trying to Combine Love and Oneness

A prime example of philosophical inconsistency that permeates many spiritual circles results from trying to combine the idea of oneness (found in Eastern teachings) with the idea of God as love only (a concept that was intended to abolish the vengeful God of the Old Testament).

By equating the ideas of love and oneness—for instance, by saying that there is one God and that God is only love—spiritual preachers and poets have stepped into what can accurately be described as a philosophical predicament.

To explain the discrepancy between these two ideas, let me give you a quick introduction to the Eastern inspiration for the concept of oneness.

Non-dual Oneness

In the Vedas—the central writings of Yoga and Hinduism—the concept of ultimate reality is represented as Brahman, the One without a Second, meaning that there is nothing but Brahman. It is a non-dualistic concept. There is only one, never two. No up or down, east or west, good or bad, love or hate… only oneness, period.

Because of its immensity, Vedic philosophy deduces that the concept of Brahman is too vast for the human mind to contemplate. Therefore, lesser aspects are offered for personal connection. The practitioner can, for example, connect with Brahman through the human emotion of love. That practice is called Bhakti Yoga. The idea of using one entry point is much like shaking the hand of a person instead of touching every part of his or her anatomy.

Nevertheless, in Vedic philosophy it is always clear that the entry point is a part of the whole, not the whole itself. Oneness is pervasive, never partial.

The Duality of Love

Love, on the other hand, is, in its essence, a dualistic concept, for how could we know love unless we knew the opposite of love?

Love cannot exist without hate anymore than light can exist without darkness.

No matter how we stretch the concept of love—explaining it as divine or as the glue that holds the universe together—we can only understand love in contrast with other emotions.

Love depends on our knowing anger, resentment, bitterness, hate, and all the other negative emotions. Love is not one, but always one-half of two or more. It cannot exist without an opposite.

Oneness Does Not Equal Love

Therefore, oneness (everything) cannot be equated with or reduced to love (one-half of a dualistic concept). The two are qualitatively different.

Saying that God is both one (everything) and only love (limited) is like saying that the universe is expansive in all directions forever and at the same time that the universe is only our little planet.

We cannot have it both ways.

Love is a part of oneness, just like the Earth is a part of the universe.

The whole cannot be reduced to its parts.

Cherry Picking Leads to Confusion

Most of the world’s scriptures, philosophies, and theologies have evolved over hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. If people in the spiritual community want to create their own theology, they need to understand the fundamental concepts of the philosophy they are picking from.

True spirituality is not assembled through lists of personal likes and dislikes, but rather through communal exploration, personal experiences, deep contemplation, and intellectual integrity.

We can only mix and match when we understand the essential principles of interspirituality and how important concepts fit together.

How Experifaith Can Help

It is my belief that the Experifaith model can be a helpful tool for those who want to engage in such an exploration with some consistency.

The model does two things pertinent to this article.

1) Helps people understand how the religions of the world fit together.

2) Allows the modern spiritual seeker to explore interspiritual elements from all the great wisdom traditions without conflating nonduality with duality.

Whether you use my model or not, make sure that you understand as much as possible about the religious and spiritual traditions you are picking from so you don’t accidentally wade into a philosophical quagmire.

Gudjon Bergmann
Author & Interfaith Minister

Learn more about Experifaith and get a free web version of the book.

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  • Judgeforyourself37

    In any religion most of us take what we need and leave the rest. How many Catholics do you know who may even go to Mass every Sunday or Saturday evening, but do not follow all the tenets of that religion. They use contraception. What thinking person, especially women of child bearing age, does not use contraception? Some have had abortions, they do not fast. However, they follow what they need.
    The same is true of our Jewish friends, most whom I know eat shell fish, and pork, or bacon. Those who are strict Orthodox, and some Conservative Jews, do follow the dietary laws, but most Jewish people or all ages, especially the younger Jewish people of today, follow the Reformed tradition.
    In Islam, too, most do not pray to Mecca as often as is required, as they are too busy with work or child care or a combination of both.
    Why, then is so back to take from the Mystics what you need? Some folks like Yoga for the stretching and balance that it yields.

  • Unlabeled_Unlimited

    I’ve recently come to believe, all the information/teachings are not “owned” by other humans, or by ancient people’s teaching/history, but are in my existence and thus available to me, inside me, in any way I wish to use them.
    We know, science is proving, that reality is relative, and results are always influenced by the bias inherent in the researcher.
    So, in light of the esoteric (god is all, as above/below, faith/belief is only reality) and the scientific, how can we continue to think there IS a right/wrong belief to be had?
    I wanted to add, but caught myself, “as long as we respect the Law of Free Will.” But I saw my own judgement , my own bias, my own reality. This is my reality, but it sure as heck may not be yours.
    My spirituality, practice, was none, really it was the American Gods of White Coats, Black Robes and Industrial Royalty. Nearly killed me.
    Now, my beliefs absolutely have been cherry-picked, discerned, energetically relevant to ME. And I throw out the rest.
    Funny thing is, I believe Jesus, to name but one Master Guide/Teacher, said as much.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking article. I read it a few hours ago and couldn’t let it go. Much love.

  • Thank you for sharing your path. I completely believe that each person can cherry-pick, hence, my interspiritual approach, but – and I have come to this conclusion over years of contemplation – it seems counterintuitive to completely negate hundreds and sometimes thousands of years of communal thought.

    I simply believe that a) one must have a fairly good understanding of the completeness of a philosophy to be able to pick from it (that is, if one wants to do it with some consistency) and b) that it can be helpful to have a philosophical framework that includes the major elements from each of the wisdom traditions (such as my Experifaith model or Ken Wilber’s Integral model).

    While much of life is subjective, there are some constants. If one is looking for philosophical congruence (and that is a big if), it probably won’t hurt to be aware of those elements that appear to be universal.