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The Christ and Advaitic Experience

by Fr. Jacques Dupuis, SJ.

Inner Light Jesus' religious life is entirely centered on the person of the Father. As he prays and adores, as he entreats and implores, the Father-centeredness of his human soul is so deep as to seem to have roots beyond the human sphere. Jesus’ sense of total dependence upon the Father seems a human echo of an even deeper origin from him.

Advaita Experience

Before a dialogue can be established between the two experiences of God (Christian and Hindu), Advaita experience must first be exposed for its own sake, at best in broad outline: traditionally, two expressions are understood to express the core of advaita experience, both of which are found in the Upanishads: aham brahmasmi (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1,4,10), and tattvamasi (Chandogya Upanishad 6,8,7), the second belonging to the instruction of Svetakatu by his father:
In the beginning this (universe) was Brahman alone, and he truly knew (him) self (atman), saying: I am Brahman. And so he became the all. Whichever of the gods became aware of this, also became the (all); so too with seers and men. . . .This is true even now. Who thus knows that he is Brahman becomes this whole (universe). Even the gods have not the power to cause him to un-be, for he becomes their own self. . . . (Brhad. Up. 1,4,10).

My dearest child, all these creatures (here) have being as their root, being as their resting place, being as their foundation. My dear boy, I have already told you how each of these substances (
devata) (itself) becomes threefold when it enters into the sphere of man.

My dear boy, when a man dies, his voice is absorbed (sampad) into the mind, his mind into breath, breath into light, heat and light, and heat into the highest substance. This finest essence—the whole universe has it as its Self; that is the Real: that is the Self: That you are, Svetaketu! (Chand. Up. 6,8,7).

At the root of advaita experience is a relentless inward search for self-awakening.... The advaita experience to which man's relentless quest for inner Self leads can, perhaps, be described as entering, or rather being assumed, into the knowledge which the Absolute has of itself, thus literally seeing all things from the point of view of the Absolute.

From the vantage point of absolute awareness all duality vanishes, for only the Absolute is absolutely, one-without-a-second (ekam advithivam). From that point of view the world and history have no absolute significance; their existence belongs to the real of the relative, the lila of God.

In the wake of the advaita experience, the ontological consistency of the finite seer himself vanishes under his feet. His awakening to absolute awareness leaves no room for a subjective consciousness of the self as a finite knower; what remains is the “Aham” consciousness of the Absolute in the epiphenomenon of a sarira: aham brahmasmi.

If this description is correct, it will have become clear that Advaita experience implies a drastic evanescence of all that is not the absolute: as the awareness of the absolute Aham emerges in the knower, the knower is submerged in it.

“Who knows and who is known”, asks the Upanishad. There no longer is a finite ego who, facing God and being faced by him, contemplates him and addresses him in prayer.

What there is is the awakening of the knower to the subjective awareness of the Absolute itself, not an objective knowledge of the Absolute by a finite self. In the process of enlightenment, therefore, the human self gives way to the divine Aham. Such is the radical demand of Advaita.

Jesus’ Ego and Advaita Aham

That the distinction between Jesus and the Father is an irreducible component of experience is certain, but so is his unity with the Father—a unity due not to Jesus’ mission, but in the last analysis based on being: Jesus and the Father, advaita, non-duality.

Paradoxical as it may seem, the Upanishadic Aham Brahmasmi finds in Jesus its truest application: in him the saying becomes literally true and takes on a new meaning: it enunciates Jesus’ union with the Father, which has its roots beyond the human condition. More exactly it expresses Jesus’ personal consciousness of belonging with the Father to the sphere of the Godhead.

Applied to Jesus, Aham Brahmasmi seems then to correspond to Jesus' 'absolute' Ego Eimi sayings in St. John’s Gospel (Cf. Jn. 8,24,28; 2,58; 13,19).

.... Perhaps we shall have to say that Jesus’ human consciousness solves an unsurmountable antinomy to which Advaita experience otherwise would lead: between the values of the absolute unity and of personal communion. Or at least that Jesus’ awareness of his relationship with the Father is the supreme realization of advaita in the human condition—a realization, indeed, unforeseen and unexpressed by the Upanishadic seers....

While insisting that Jesus’ awareness brings the Advaita experience to an unexpected fulfillment, we must equally stress the fact that the absolute demands of advaita help us to purify our understanding of the communion of Jesus with the Father, which can never be reduced to the measure of our interpersonal relationships between men.

Jesus' consciousness of his union with the Father is human, but it is the human awareness of a communion in the Godhead. Thus, while it finds in the mystery of Christ its fullest realization, the Advaita experience also helps to discover new depths in the same mystery. It is in this sense that Swami Abhishiktananda could truly say that the reading of the Upanishads helps us to penetrate more deeply into the mystery of the Lord as revealed in St. John's Gospel.

Christian Consciousness and Advaita Experience

The Christian experiences God not only through but in the human countenance of Jesus whose face is the human face of God....

If .... Jesus’ religious experience consists ... in his human awareness of being one with the Father, if moreover, the Christian is called to share in this awareness, advaita has a place in the Christian experience as in that of Jesus himself: the Christian shares in Jesus’ awareness of his advaita with the Father. This is Christian advaita.

  ~ Fr. Jacques Dupuis, SJ, was a theologian and author of several books, most notably Towards a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism. He taught at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He died in 2004.

This article is an extract from a paper given by him at the Abhishiktananda Seminar, Shantivanam Ashram, in southern India in 1977. 

If you'd like to pursue this subject further, you may like to see our page on Christian Advaita.

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