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The Shortcomings of the Monistic Paradigm

Monism is superb as a mystical framework or teaching.  But the problem is when it has to explain finite existence, rather than simply deny or ignore it.  And what exactly is the relationship between Unity (the Absolute) and Multiplicity (the phenomenal World)?

Now, if the Absolute is different to the world, the entire world or universe must then be unreal (since the Absolute is the only "thing" that exists).  But the very fact that we do experience the world shows that it must be real, at least on some level.  And if it exists, even on a relative level, that means that there is something (even a relative Something) apart from the Absolute, and Monism (which says that there is only the Absolute) is disproved

So the Absolute cannot be different from the universe

But on the other hand, the Absolute cannot be the same as the Universe either, because if it was there would be nothing beyond the universe, and we are stuck with a sort of spiritual materialism

Shankara tried to get around this problem by saying that Maya (the world) is neither the same as, nor different from, nor both the same as or different from Brahman (the Absolute).  It is therefore simply "unexplainable" (anirvachaniya). Well, this may be good mysticism (the mystical experience is after all ineffable) but it is bad philosophy; an admission of intellectual defeat

So both Acosmism and Pantheism have problems.  Pantheism limits the Divine to the  cosmos and the world of relativity, whilst Acosmism, in an effort to preserve the immutability of the Godhead, reduces the world to mere illusion.  What is needed is a third alternative, which recognises both Godhead and world, without denying either, or separating them by an unbridgable gulf, as dualism does

That alternative is panentheismPanentheism  means that God includes the Cosmos (Pantheism) but also transcends it (Acosmism).  Thus, from the point of view of Manifestation, the Cosmos is absolutely real and Divine, as it is the real transformation of the Godhead.  But the Godhead in its transcendent nature is infinite, eternal, unchanging, etc etc (Acosmism).  The world and finite existence comes about through a process of emanation from the Godhead.  The Indian monistic philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism is a good example of Panentheism

And with this we come to our fifth metaphysical alternative: Emanationism.

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 8 April 1999