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Author's note (21 Dec 09) This page was originally written as part of - and has been relocated from - my "Integral Paradigm" series (original url). It reflectys an earlier phase of my understanding and gnosis, in which I still considered the nondual Reality the highest, and hence that the Ultimate must in some way be Unmanifest. This is basically a perennialist position which stems from Vivekananda's Neo-Vedanta, and derivative worldviews such as Guenon-Schuon Traditionalism (Neo-Sufi), Huxleyan Perennial Philosophy (strongly based on Vivekananda), Daist Advaito-Buddhism, and Wilberian Integralism (the latter heavily influenced by Da Free John). However, Sri Aurobindo has pointed out (I don't have the actual quote on me atm, it is in The Life Divine) that it is the mental being that conceives the Supreme as nonbeing or void (via negatia). So this represents only a Mental stage of Realisation, which is transcended through Higher Realisation and beyond. Sri Aurobindo's Integral philosophy is able to acknowledge all experiences and realisations, rather than subordinate the theistic to the nondual, or the nondual to the theistic. The following page therefore has been modified and updated to reflect this larger perspective.

The Transcendent Absolute Reality

The Transcendent Absolute Reality means the Absolute Reality as The Transcendent, and vice versa. As pointed out in the introductory notes, this represents a mental (jnana yoga) realisation; which is not the Absolute or the Supreme in its fullness. This partial understanding can be attained through Accounts in traditional religious literature, and Contemporary accounts of mystical experience (the universality and ubiquity of the monistic state), as well as Philosophical-Phenomenological reasoning ("Cartesian Monism").

From this perspective - i.e. Gnosis, Intermediate Zone, and (initial or teh first stage of) Realisation or Authentic Enlightenment, Reality in Itself, i.e. Reality as it appears without the blinkers of conceptual thought and psycho-physical consciousness, is infinite, eternal, limitless indivisable perfection. This Reality has been given many names - e.g. God, Self, Tao, Energy, Void, etc.  Some of these names are stupid, others are good.  For example, calling this Reality God (as some religious people do) or Energy (as some New Age people do) is stupid, because Energy is a quality, not an absolute, and God is generally thought of as a supreme being seperate from us, whereas Reality is us.

For the sake of convenience, I have used Plotinus' term "the Absolute", and Sri Aurobindo's term "the Supreme" as synonyms for Reality in Its Original Unmodified nature (which is its nature anyway, even in the midst of manifestation and duality).

The Neoplatonic term "hypostases" (underlying state) is used to designate the realities that are derived from that original Supreme, and at the same time are aspects of It.

Theology = Paramology - The Study of the Absolute Reality

In formulating a new Metaphysical theory of Reality, there are a number of logical starting points . One can for example begin with the finite individual and explore from there, empirically, psychologically, phenomenologically, and logically, working upwards, downwards, inwards, and outwards. Or one can begin from the unitary Absolute Reality and proceed from that theological, metaphysical and ontological foundation to the world of multiplicity. Because the latter serves as the foundation of the former, I have chosen to present the Absolute first. But to begin with the relative world would be just as appropriate.

Traditionally, the study of the Absolute Reality (or Godhead or Absolute Consciousness or Enlightenment) in metaphysics falls under the rubric of Theology. However "Theology" refers more specifically to study of the God of a particular monotheistic religion (Aristotle's more philosophical use of the term would probably be better but is not widely known). And this does not apply to things like Enlightenment or Self-Realisation (e.g. when one attains states of enlightenment one doesn't see this anthropomorphic entity standing separate to oneself and to the universe). Therefore the word Paramology is here used to refer to the study of the nature of the Absolute Reality (parame - which means the the Supreme reality in Sanskrit) is used here instead . Hopefully not too clumsy neologism.

Of course, we can't really know conceptually and logically what the Absolute is, because the Absolute by its very nature transcends the mind and mental concepts; even though these mental concepts are themselves instruments of mystic teachings. The Absolute Reality, The Supreme, the Divine, the Godhead, transcends both "God" and "Void". The Reality Itself is beyond all concepts. But even though we can't understand conceptually, we can get some idea, in a Zen parable finger pointing at the moon sort of way.

Author's note (21 Dec 09) - originally I only had three levels of understanding. But that meant the page emphasised only a nonduality perspective, and hence was not integral. Therefore I have added a fourth level, to represent the Supreme experienced integrally.

The levels of Understanding

It is suggested that there are four levels of Understanding what the Absolute Reality is. These are (from the highest down) "the Supreme", "that" or "suchness", "The Absolute", and anthropomorphic "God". These correspond to the three epistemological levels of monistic mysticism - Absolute Knowing, Valid Relative Knowing, and Invalid Relative Knowing.

At the highest level, there is the Integral Absolute, the Supreme, which includes but is not limited to, positive and negative, personal and impersonal, immanent and transcendent, nondual via negatia and shunyata and I-Thou duality.

At the next highest level, relative to ordinary existence and dualistic, conceptual, consciousness, words and concepts are left behind, there is only the ineffable, "thatness" or "isness" or "suchness" (=nonduality). It can't even be called "that" because that implies something rather than something else; it can't be called the Absolute because that excludes the relative. This is the via negatia of western Theology and mysticism, the "middle way" of Madyamka Buddhsim (shunyata is not this and not its opposite), the paradox at the heart of the Zen koan. At the same time, "negative theology" itself implies only one side of the whole; nirguna requires saguna, both being recognised as partial perspectives that have to be transcended. To say that the Absolute without qualities is more real or a more accurate description than the Absolute with qualities is to miss the point entirely. This is the central limitation of the rational mind, it cannot convey or encapsulate those realities which are above and beyond it. And while words and concepts can imperfectly indicate or hint at It, they can never truely describe it.

At the middle level (episteme), words and concepts can be used to describe the Absolute Reality. And these descriptions are good as long as we don't confuse them for the Reality in Itself. Hhere we are in the realm of metaphysics and esotericism.

Now, the various mystical and esoteric traditions of the world are (apart from a few dualistic traditions like Samkhya and Gnosticism) unanimous in affirming that behind and beyond, including but also transcending, these dualities and polarities, there is the Absolute Reality in Itself. The description of the Absolute however differs, according to the religion or esoteric tecahing one consults. Vaishvanites like Chaitanya and the Hare Krishna school of Prabhupada, and Sufis like Jili, consider the Personal Godhead higher than the impersonal. In contrast, Neoplatonism, Shankara and Wilber have the Impersonal or Nonpersonal as highest. Others like Ramanuja incorporate elements of both, or, as Sri Aurobindo perceptively suggest, say the the Supreme is beyond limitations of both Personal and Impersonal.

A further distinction is to refer to an Unmanifest Absolute on the one hand, and a Manifest Absolute on the other. The former is the Nirguna (qualityless) Brahman of Vedanta, the Tao that cannot be spoken, the En Sof, the Shunyata ("void", "emptiness", "openness"), Forefather of Gnosticism, and Godhead of Dionysus and Eckhart. The latter is Saguna (with qualities) Brahman, the Logos of Philo and Sufism, the Manifest Godhead, or the Supermind of Sri Aurobindo.

At the lower level of understanding (doxa or mere opinion), the Reality in itself is completely lost and distorted by non-gnostic intellectual or religious philosophical, theological, or anthropomorphic and sectarian concepts of "God". While these may be fine and even useful as allegory and metaphor, it should not be taken literally. To do so means one is caught up with thoughtforms, and mostly outdated or limited ones at that.

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uploaded 27 May 1998; relocated and modified 10 July 2004, relocated and modified 21 December 2009