After the last series I muttered to myself about never wanting to do another series again. Hah! Well, here I am doing it again because, when I stopped to look at how much I had written, I found I had too much on this topic for a single post. I sure can be a long-winded fool! So right now it looks like this will be a three-part series, beginning with an examination of how we might understand “transcendence” in a non-dualist way, followed by explanation of what I mean by “transcendent love” in that context, and ending with a consideration for how those ideas might shape one’s spiritual practice.
What do we mean by “transcendent“? In common use, and especially in spiritual circles, it usually means a state of elevation above other things. We mystical types often speak of transcendence as a blissful experience or state of consciousness closer to God and further, if not completely, removed from the pains of mundane existence. In short, we make transcendence something otherworldly. This expectation fits neatly into the dualistic thinking of heaven vs. earth, unity vs. separation, love vs. hate, and so on. In that dualistic thinking we find it easy to define transcendence as otherworldly because we want to escape the part of existence we have judged to be lacking, wrong, corrupted, diseased, bad, or evil. In short, we have a desire for a “there” we can get to in order to be away from the “here” we find unacceptable, and our notions about transcendence seem to offer us the way out.
Let’s consider, however, that this might say more about the dynamics of our thoughts and feelings than it does about the whole truth of transcendence. Mystics of many traditions agree that it is possible to know transcendence here and now, even while living and moving in this world. They claim that the non-dual One is not only beyond our common world of seeming separation, but It interpenetrates and is present here and now in a way that defies the either/or logic we are trained to idolize. Christianity is no exception, and here are some of its messages from non-dual perspectives: God is the One in which we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28); the Kingdom of Heaven is within you (Luke 17:21), and it is also spread out over the face of the entire earth (Thomas 113); Jesus speaks of lifting a rock or splitting wood and finding him there (Thomas 77). From such a perspective it is clear that the One we call God, and thus the experience/state of being closer to God, is not limited to either/or duality; it is both beyond the world as we commonly know it and present within it. One of my favorite analogies for such an experience/state is lucid dreaming, which means being aware that you are dreaming while you are still in the dream. Lucid dreaming transcends the usual either/or opposition we make; it is both dreaming and wakefulness, and it is suggested this has significant relevance to mystical transcendence.
At this point, it might be objected that the non-duality of God is traditionally spoken of as both transcendent and immanent. I appreciate this statement and have often used it. Yet in the present context it can be seen that this statement is only another way of tackling the non-duality of God through our dualistic language and logic, and it is a way that continues to imply transcendence is apart from the here-and-now as we commonly know it. To me, that use of the word “transcendence” fails to open to its larger meaning of climbing across boundaries, of being without limitation, and so God’s transcendence would remain limited by being conceptually opposed to immanence; a transcendence that is not also immanent isn’t fully transcendent after all. I admit it’s a bit of a word game, but I’ve found it to be a helpful one, not unlike a Zen koan.
For Part 2: How can we understand love as transcendent in this non-dualist way?