Is everything one?

Is everything one?

Well, in one sense, of course it is. Everything in the universe is made up of the same elements that were found in the big bang. But when we ask this question, it is usually in a more spiritually oriented way.

So is everything one, spiritually speaking?

The short answer: No.

The long answer: Nooooooooooooooooo.

Jokes aside, the idea that all is one, when actually imbibed into our lifestyle, contradicts almost everything we strive for on a day to day basis. Where do we find our joy? In loving others, in being loved, in interaction, in experience. If we were to take the philosophy of oneness to its inevitable conclusion, it would mean that all of the above-mentioned experiences are simply illusion. If all is one, there is no loving interaction, no activities, no action at all.

In the same way, we are all of the same energy, but are eternally varied. As we know, diversity is the spice of life.

Now sure, we can believe in oneness and still not become a reclusive monk, in fact, many do. But this is exactly my argument, that while many proclaim oneness, they do not actually practice it. Before continuing, it is worth noting that there is a misinformed opinion doing the rounds that all Eastern philosophies teach the philosophy of oneness, but this is not in fact the case. By taking a quick look at those that do, however, much becomes clear. Advaita Vedanta espouses oneness, and what we see in these traditions are tendencies toward reclusive monastic living. People who follow this philosophy do not waste their time on so-called illusory loving exchanges, they rather separate themselves and practice severe restrictions and meditations to ultimately realise that nothing is true, that nothing is worth their time, except for oneness. Other Vedantic lineages, however, maintain the stance of acintya-bhedābheda, that is, simultaneous oneness and difference. This stance is much more in line with the lifestyle of the modern seeker. This perspective maintains that while everything is indeed one, in the sense that we are all made of the same Divine energy, it also maintains that these energies are eternally varied in form. In the same way that the universe is one substance yet within it there are many systems functioning and interacting, even down to the level of us on planet Earth, the Divine energy is one in substance, but eternally enjoys form for the sake of loving interaction. The monks of these traditions do not believe in negating the self, but rather they seek to perfect their eternal role, that of lover of all. From this perspective, the natural desire of the living being is to be in loving exchange with others, and this is our perfection. The whole universe becomes a cosmic dance, an eternal playground where different energies engage in ever-increasing blissful interactions.

If we were to look solely on a practical level, it seems we are all in the second school. Most of us yearn for loving exchanges and exciting experiences, not really an impersonal oneness somewhere in the mountains. In fact, it seems quite boring. This is because of the old sat-cid-ananda, that is, being-knowing-loving, or eternity-knowledge-bliss, the levels of spiritual experience. As we see, loving is at the end, because the end of knowing is love, and there can be no love if all is one. Love is a function of two or more.

Before I depart, I would like to leave you with one parable from the life of the sage and social reformer, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, that nicely explains this point. Once, when he was young, Mahaprabhu’s mother gave him sweets to eat, but instead of eating the sweets he started eating clay from the ground. He argued that since all was one, he might as well eat the clay. His mother, being an intelligent woman, explained to him that while everything consisted of the same energy, everything was adapted to a certain use, a certain role. In the form of a pot, clay can carry water, yet if you throw water on the ground you only get mud. In the same way, we are all of the same energy, but are eternally varied. As we know, diversity is the spice of life.

But that’s just my opinion, debate is more than welcome.

Join us on Thursday evening (27 August) for a program on Shankaracharya, the sage who spread the philosophy of oneness accross India. Regter van Zijl hall, Top Floor of the Neelsie, 18h00. Dinner included.

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