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Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies

Volume 6 Article 13

January 1993

Book Reviews: "The Unity of Reality: God, God-

Experience, and Meditation in the Hindu-Christian
Bede Griffiths

Michael Stoeber

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Griffiths, Bede and Stoeber, Michael (1993) "Book Reviews: "The Unity of Reality: God, God-Experience, and Meditation in the
Hindu-Christian Dialogue"," Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies: Vol. 6, Article 13.
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Griffiths and Stoeber: Book Reviews: "The Unity of Reality: God, God-Experience, and Meditation in the Hindu-Christian Dialogue"


The Unity of Reality: God, God-Experience, and Meditation in

the Hindu-Christian Dialogue. Michael von Bruck. James V. Zeitz tr.
New York: Paulist Press, 1991, 340p., incl. glossary and index.

ONE OF THE fundamental problems in He now moves on to what is the main

theology today is to know how to relate the thesis of this book,. the presentation of a
Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the Hindu comprehensive understanding of the
experience of non-duality (advaita). Jules Christian Trinity seen in the light of the
Monchanin, the founder of Shantivanam experience of non-duality. It must be made
Ashram in India once declared that the focus clear that advaita is. not a philosophical
of the ashram was 'advaita and the Trinity'; theory but an experience of reality, which is
and his companion Henri Ie Saux (Swami normally mediated through the practice of
Abhishiktananda) attempted in his own way, meditation. This is the great difference
especially in his .book Saccidananda, to between the Eastern and the Western
fathom the mystery; but in his book Michael approach to reality. The Western mind,
von Briick, who spent many years in India, following Plato and Aristotle, has normally
has presented the problems with a depth of followed the method of logical deduction,
understanding and a methodical comprehen- based in Christian theology on the revelation
sion which has never been achieved before. contained in the Bible. The Eastern mind
He begins with a careful presentation of starts from the intuitive experience of reality,
the Vedantic phiiosophy, especially as shown but Michael is careful to point. out that
in the teaching of Sankara, the Indian intuitive experience, especially the meditative
philosopher who is an acknowledged master ex;perience of non-duality, must always be
of advaita Vedanta. He then moves on to a rationally developed, as is seen in all the
study of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity leading schools of Hinduism and Buddhism.
from the time of the early fathers to the There is therefore no question of putting
mystics of the Middle Ages - especially mystical experience in opposjtion to rational
Tauler and Suso, leaving out their master knowledge, but working always towards their
Eckhart, as he has already been studied in integration.
depth in relation to both Hindu and Buddhist In this way the doctrine of the non-
thought. He then shows how Luther's duality of the persons of the Trinity is seen to
theology was influenced by the study of the be based on the understanding of
mystics, especially through the mystical 'perichoresis' (literally the dance), that is the
treatises known as the Theologia Germanica movement of Being itself in its self-expres-
and moves on to a most interesting exposition sion and self-realisation. In this view, person
of the Trinitarian philosophy of Hegel, signifies relationship and the persons of the
showing how close it comes to advaita; the Trinity are essentially the expression of
study of Karl Barth and other modem absolute Being of God in its eternal self-
German theologians completes this presenta- giving in love. Being expresses itself
tion of the doctrine of the Trinity. eternally in the Word, and communicates

Hindu-Christian Studies Bulletin 6 (1993) 45-60

Published by Digital Commons @ Butler University, 1993 1
i' ! Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies, Vol. 6 [1993], Art. 13
46 Book Reviews

itself eternally in the Spirit. We must We are being challenged today, as Pere de
remember that in using words like this we are Lubac said to Fr. Monchanin, to rethink
f using terms of analogy. Humanity is made in
the image of God and human consciousness
everything in terms of theology and to rethink
theology in terms of mysticism.
11 reflects the original being and consciousness It is impossible in a short review to do
from which it comes. Such language points more than indicate the immeasurable riches
towards or indicates a reality which our to be found in this understanding of the
human mind reflects. trinity as the universal ground of all reality.
But lest this should appear as a merely Nothing in the universe, including sin, suffer-
metaphysical concept of God, Michael ing and death, as reflected in the crucifixion
emphasises how it is based on the Incarna- of Christ, is. outside the mystery of the
tion in Christ. In Christ the eternal reality, Trinity. It reflects the dynamism of love
which is also pure consciousness, expresses which permeates the whole creation. We are
and communicates itself in a movement all involved at all times in the mysterious
analogous to its eternal expression and com- process, by which the eternal reality mani-
munication in the Trinity. In this way human fests itself in all creation and draws every
history, including all human sin and misery, creature out of its immersion in the spatio-
is seen to be integral to the unfolding life of temporal world into its own eternal life, thus
the Trinity. We have to remember that in reconciling all opposites, and revealing the
expressing himself in his Word the Godhead essential 'unity of reality' .
expresses the whole universe and all human- It should be added that this is a trans-
ity, which are a reflection of the infinite lation from German. How accurate it is I
being and consciousness of God. cannot say, but the translator has succeeded
But above all we have to realise that all in putting in clear and concise English the
these relationships which constitute the inner extremely rich and complex thought con-
life of the Trinity are 'non-dual' relationships. tained in this extraordinary book. I can only
The eternal Being differentiates itself in recommend all those who are concerned with
consciousness, but at the same time always the evolution of theology today to study this
remains absolutely one. This is obviously a book and see for themselves the depths of
mystical insight and we have to recognise insight which it brings ..
that all theology points toward a transcendent
reality which is beyond word and thought. Bede Griffiths

THIS BOOK IS inter-religious dialogue aspects of the apophatic experience of the

that draws on Advaitic thought in developing Christian Trinity. 'Perichoresis' (dance)
a Christian mystic theology. Some sections describes the 'mutual permeation' of the
of it are quite dense and even convoluted at Persons of the Trinity (p.87). It characterises
times, and the comparative parallels are not the 'polar movement' between the unity in
always persuasive. Nevertheless, the essen- transforming the consciousness of the mystic.
tial thrust of von Bruck's argument is pene- In Part n of the book, this trinitarian
trating and seems in many respects a cogent perichoresis is illustrated in reference to
proposal. He focuses on the transformative Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius,
power of the Advaitic non-duality experi- Gregory of Nyssa, John Damascene,
ence, suggesting that it is an existential real- Augustine, The Cloud of UnknOWing, Suso,
isation which corresponds to and illuminates and Tauler. Also, von Bruck attempts to
clarify his view in dialogue with Tillich, 2
DOI: 10.7825/2164-6279.1082
Griffiths and Stoeber: Book Reviews: "The Unity of Reality: God, God-Experience, and Meditation in the Hindu-Christian Dialogue"
Book Reviews 47

Luther, Hegel, Barth, Pannenberg and Molt- ness is integrated and harmonised in the
mann, and he makes extensive references to a unitive experience, and the mystic actively
wide variety of secondary material. expresses, like Jesus as exemplar of kenosis,
The Trinity symbolises the dialectic positive and personal elements of the Trinity.
between apophatic and cataphatic God: it is Von Bruck attempts to illuminate the
the process of unity ~n distinction, wherein perichoretic processes in reference to a wide
the three Persons perichoretically reveal the variety of Advaitic doctrine which he
essential unity of the Divine. This pericho- develops in Part I. But not all the parallels
retic revelation cannot be comprehended are clear or cogent. I think confusions arise
through transitive thought but only experi- in part from various ambiguities in Advaita
enced in an 'intransitive becoming conscious' Vedanta itself Von Bruck's thesis is a
(p.78). In meditative experience the mystic Christian perspective which maintains the
participates in the perichoresis of trinitarian essential value of creation, personality and
non-duality. Von Bruck goes on in Part III to community. He admits that some Advaitans
develop an epistemological. framework for depict the world, personality and history as
the trans-subjective experience, one that illusion, hence failing to integrate saguna
involves personal, self-transformative Brahman into the unitive experience. Yet he
methods of verification. Meditative postulates a 'transpersonal person' as the
consciousness is a spiritual experience that Absolute in Advaita and insists upon theistic
encompasses both mental and sensual elements. He maintains that Advaita does not
consciousness. Advaitic unity is 'understood espouse a monistic ideal, he speaks of moksa
not as a statement, but as a self-realising as the fruition of empirical reality' (p.68) and
process' (p.l83). Evidence of its epistemo- suggests there is a purpose to Maya.
logical and ontological primacy is found in Moreover, he ascribes an ontological
its transformative consequences: reflecting connection between saguna and nirguna
the perichoretic Trinity, the united con- Brahman and says that bhakti yoga is indis-
sciousness 'integrates all of reality in pensable to the unitive ideal in Advaita. But
contemplative receptivity' (191). The mystic's even if we stretch to the limits the most crea-
consciousness is transmuted in advaitic tive Advaitic perspectives, it seems difficult
unity, and she expresses elements of the to maintain that 'we can present the experi-
Divine in daily life. ence of [Advaitic] non-duality as a melting
For von Bruck, Christian prayer and away of the human self in the ecstasy of the
Yogic meditation mutually inform each other unity of love based on divine grace' (p.64). I
in an ascending hierarchy of petition, praise, think that a comparison between von Bruck's
personally transformative prayer, and finally reading of Advaita and Ramanuja's
contemplative concentration. Contemplation Visistadvaita Vedanta would prove most
corresponds to objectless meditation, the revealing in this regard. Indeed, von Bruck
stripping away (kenosis) of images, catego- perceives an irreversible dependence of
ries, and the egocentric will, and the plunge atman upon Brahman (tadatmya), and a
into the dark nothingness of the infinite relationship in the non-duality of Advaita. He
abyss. Advaitic unity is the identification says: 'each person is an atman who is neither
with nirguna Brahman or Father. But for identical with nor different from the
von Bruck this is the 'eternal unity of the Absolute, but in a particular relationship of
many', 'the unity of possibility and realisa- non-duality to it' (p.137).
tion' (p.1S1). The experience does not I suspect that von Bruck would find
culminate in static and amoral 'nothingness', stronger parallels to tfinitarian perichoresis
but leads to the 'experience of Jesus as he. is in other forms of Vedanta. Moreover, it is
in himself; namely, as a center within the not always clear to the reader just where von
trinitarian love' (p.189). Human conscious- Bruck's reading of Advaita transforms into

Published by Digital Commons @ Butler University, 1993 3

Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies, Vol. 6 [1993], Art. 13
48 Book Reviews

the 'creative integration' of his own Christian, choretic movement. Moreover, von Bruck
theistic perspective. But it is clear that in insightfully adapts from Advaita a doctrine
establishing some correlations between of rebirth, one which he deems necessary to
Advaitic and Christian mystical experience coherent theodicy. He addresses traditional
von Bruck firmly locates spiritual experience Christian theological objections to rebirth
at the forefront of inter-religious dialogue. and criticises popular misconceptions as well
From a Christian standpoint, intra-trinitarian, as Advaitic perspectives which deny the
perichoretic transformation illustrates the reality of samsara. His views on spiritual
'trans-historical power of the Spirit'. (p.263) growth and the socio-communal ideal of
and moves the terms of conversion away Christian perichoretic transformation require
from cognitive beliefs that are socio- the postulation of a unique personal centre of
historically conditioned, to experiences of the the individual, and the rebirth into this
Spirit which are not exclusive to Christianity. particular realm of existence in progressive
As von Bruck puts it: 'The "how" and movement towards the perichoretic ideal.
"where" of this realisation cannot be confmed Von Bruck's theological development
to our theological pronouncements and should stimulate discussion on a number of
church walls' (p.265). controversial issues: the relation of his
Von Bruck sees the Christ event as a mystic theology to more mainstream
limited 'historical accident' that qualitatively Christian perspectives; his stress on personal
transforms history in that this aspect of the spiritual experience and the epistemology
Trinity becomes the integrating factor in thereof; his interpretation of Advaitic
trinitarian perichoresis. Although the effects doctrine; and his views on religious truth,
of this event are not exclusive to the western rebirth, the Christ, proselytism, and the
world, the personal and active experience of nawre of inter-religious dialogue. The Unity
Christ is the natural extension of the non- of Reality is a provocative and significant
duality of Advaita. It draws the historical book.
into the contemplative mode and integrates
the socio-historical with the unitive Michael Stoeber
experience. But Advaita provides insight into Catholic University of America
the nature of the trinitarian unity, as well as Washington, D. C.
the spiritual means necessary to the peri-

The Law of Karma. Bruce R. Reichenbach. Honolulu: Univet:sity of Hawaii

Press, 1990, 238p.

THE LAW OF Karma is a facet of Indian as 'a living thesis' that goes beyond the
thought which is known best to the West but classical documents to the exposition of
is understood the least. The book under contemporary scholars.
review has all of the requisites to change Because this doctrine is a master key
that. that opens many other religious and philo-
The philosophical approach of the book sophical doors, the reader is ushered into
sets it apart from recent contributions to the numerous chambers that discuss the Law of
field that follow historical and anthropo- Karma in relation' to its Metaphysical
logical lines. It is also distinguished by Presuppositions; to the Law of Universal
addressing the issues of karma in its total Causation; to Fatalism; to the Problem of
Indian setting, and by delving into the subject Evil; to Causation and Divine Intervention;

i 4
DOI: 10.7825/2164-6279.1082