The One and the Many

A Defense of Theistic Religion

Robert Bolton

San Rafael, CA: Sophia Perennis, 2008.
244 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59731-081-9
Price: $19.95 US
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This book is an uncompromising response to an issue that confronts all shades of religious belief—from the simplest to the most sophisticated—because even for followers of non-dualistic Vedanta, the possibility of believing in a false God becomes greater, not less, as religion becomes more metaphysical. This is a challenge to the usual belief that religion must necessarily be more pure the more inward it is, and the reasons for this are presented with clarity. At the same time, Dr Bolton criticizes the prevalent Western belief that the Vedanta is solely a system of monistic mysticism, regardless of historical realities, and argues that when we take a more objective view of Hinduism, non-dualistic mysticism is deprived of a ready-made argument in its favor—that of a whole religious tradition supposedly devoted to it.

What is consciousness? What is experience? The answers to these questions are not nearly as obvious as common sense supposes, and this issue is also shown to be laden with consequences for religions that are based above all on experience. Ideas are presented that are a light in the dark for those concerned with the metaphysical dimension of religion, but who wish to find it in an open universe where they do not have to identify with just one form of theory, dictated too often by sectarian ambition.

The author endorses traditional wisdom and its metaphysics, while arguing against the ideas of some perennialists who wish to re-cast it all as a system of monism. The roots of present-day religious conflicts are to be found here, because demands for an absolute unity are in practice tied to sense-bound and political ideas of unity of a kind that must be manifest to almost anyone. When misunderstood in this way, the demand for unity always turns into a demand for violence, because of the inevitable clash between reality and crude conceptions of unity. This fact typifies communism as much as certain kinds of religion.

Table of Contents

Introduction—Metaphysical Religion—The Psychological Background—The Two Faces of Simplicity—Who are the Vedantists?—Note to Reader

The Question of Idolatry
Monism and Non-Dualism—The Role of Logic—The Meaning of Hope—The Self and the Ego—The Denial of Creation—The Affirmation of Creation—A Mystical Idolatry—Appeals to Authority

Non-Dualism and its Presuppositions
Comparisons with Other Systems—Some Basic Presuppositions—The Moral Argument—The Mentally Separable—The Single Subject Idea of Identity—The Multiple Aspects of the Soul—Conclusion

Ignotum per Ignotius
Knowing the Knower—The Scale of Being—What is Consciousness?—Experience Without Content—Reality above Intellect—Consciousness and Finitude—Dangers of Impersonal Mysticism

Descartes and Shankara: A Revealing Parallel
A Perennial Issue—The Cogito in Tradition—Soul without Substance—Shankara"s Reduction of Atman—Ramanuja and Self-Awareness—The Ideology of Reduction

Knowledge, Reality, and Tradition
An Attempted Merger—Denial of the Supernatural—Knowledge and Opinion—Independent Reality—Non-Dualism or Monism?—God and the World—Explanation of Illusion—Infinite and Finite—The Ephemeral and the Unreal—Absolute or Nothing—Problems of the Self—Soul and Atman

Body, Soul, and Advaita
The Body's Significance—Who Makes the Mistake?—A Conceptually Simple Absolute—Identity and Illusion—Spiritual Self-Knowledge—The Function of the Ego—Denial of the Physical Self—Identity and Self-Differentiation

Dream and Reality
Oriental Ideas of Personality—Dream and Reality—Mystical Consciousness—A Two-Way Dependence—Non-Dualism and the Self—A Spiritual Evolutionism—The Meaning of Survival—Free Will and Personal Reality

A Debate Concerning Non-Dualism
Introductory Note—The Debate as Published—Logic and Transcendence

Some Final Reflections
The Non-Dualist Strategy—Absolute Dependence—Moral and Ontological—No Role for Creativity—The Evil 'Ego'— Freedom from Ego—Illusion and Instantiation—Non-Dualism and Evolution—The Bugbear of Morality—A Non-Dualist Reply—The Independence of Dualism

Afterword—Ranters: Non-Dualism and the Law—Index

About the Author

Robert Bolton was educated in the sciences, and developed a strong interest in Traditional metaphysics, obtaining from Exeter University the degrees of M.Phil. and Ph.D, with a special interest in the areas of free will, and personal identity and the soul. He is the author of four books, The Order of the Ages: World History in the Light of a Universal CosmogonyKeys of GnosisSelf and Spirit; andThe One and the Many—all published by Sophia Perennis. Dr Bolton is also a regular contributor to the journal Sacred Web.