Nonduality and Contemplation

The word “contemplation” connotes that area in which the Eastern influence upon Christian spirituality is most visible. This is true even when the word itself is not heard. The influence is evident in the greatly increased popularity of various forms of meditation, and of Asian meditation methods. We have found nonduality at the core of the Eastern traditions. Contemplation, understood as nondual consciousness and experience, is the deep pivotal point at which the Asian influence is most decisive. This point generates the central viewpoint from which the unity of other currents of Eastern influence may be seen.

The understanding of contemplation has changed in the Christian West during the past half century, under the influence of the Asian traditions. Fifty years ago, a standard Roman Catholic guide to the spiritual life might define contemplation as “gazing with love upon God,” or “the experience of union with God.” Today we are more likely to understand contemplation not so “objectively,” but as unitive experience or, in Eastern terms, nondual experience. Similarly, “meditation” half a century ago was still considered, in the West, as a deliberate reflection upon revealed truths. Today most people understand meditation not as discursive thought but as a practice of silent deepening which transcends thought.  Here I shall consider contemplation in the latter sense, as we have come to regard it under the influence of the Asian traditions: as unitive experience, nondual experience. Further, we can understand contemplation not as exclusively “supernatural,” but also as the natural realization of a human potential, and therefore as essentially universal in human spirituality as is life or consciousness or love.

Excerpt from Purity of Heart and Contemplation: A Monastic Dialogue Between Christian and Asian Traditions. Edited by Bruno Barnhart and Joseph Wong (New York: Continuum, 2001)

pp. 303-304, Bruno Barnhart, “Christian Self-Understanding in the Light of the East”