A common concern I’ve encountered with the idea of oneness, nonduality, monism, union, at-one-ment, or other articulations of the neoplatonic One, is that it can seem like it is promoting that we should all become uniform and the same, a hive mind, a singular conformity like the Borg “Collective” on Star Trek, and divest ourselves of all differences. It’s a legitimate concern, as “oneness” does seem at first glance to be a kind of absolute bland sameness in everything.
I was reminded of this again recently by the iconic 1984 Apple television commercial introducing the original Apple Macintosh.
Here is what “Big Brother” on the screen says:
Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology—where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!
Is this Divine oneness? “One people, with one will, one resolve, one cause”? Not exactly. Are we seeking a “garden of pure ideology,” and a “unification of thoughts”? No, and I hope such a society will never be. This is a corrupted oneness, a false oneness, an imitation, an illusion, a perversion of true oneness which actually destroys oneness.
And yet, Jesus prayed that we may all be one, even that we may “be brought to complete unity” (John 17:11, 21-23). So what did he mean? What do all the sages mean by such oneness? What is “collective consciousness” if not the “Collective”? What is true Divine oneness or nonduality, of one heart and one mind, if not a “unification of thought” or a “pure ideology”? How do we not become assimilated into the Borg, a hive mind without personality, individuality, or unique identity and expression?
The short answer that is often given is that we find unity through diversity, the One manifests itself in the multiplicity and infinite variety of creation. It is not a conformity of thought, an absolute sameness of being, but a diversification and heterogeneity in all things. But then how is that one? Where’s the oneness?
In mystical experience we sometimes reach a state of pure consciousness where all distinctions have dissolved, all particularity falls away, all individuality is transcended, all separateness is annihilated, the veil is lifted and we see an absolute unity underlying all things, the One, Ultimate Reality, God, the Absolute, Truth, the Source, the Highest, the Ein Sof, Brahman, the Dharmakaya, the Tao, the most fundamental essential bedrock foundation of reality itself, the uni-verse (one song), and that all things are contained within this One, and are manifestations of this One, this Singularity at the heart of reality. We realize that this is the Source of all things, and the essence of all things, the light within all things, the foundation of all things, the truth at the ground of all things. We realize that as our true Self, the core of all things is that Self, and it is absolutely undivided in itself. It is infinite pure Love.
But the One cannot remain as a single undifferentiated oneness in reality. It manifests itself. It emanates itself as rays from the sun. It unfolds itself, expressing itself in the infinite diversity of the cosmos, in the stars, in the planets, in nature, in life, in the biological dispersion in evolution, in the vast array of animals and plantlife, in the billions of different colors, in the innumerable opposites and polarities of existence. This is the only way the One can manifest itself in reality.
In order to be, the One must seem to divide itself, one thing being different from another, like day and night. And although these seem like two, they are really still one. The absence of light is night, and the absence of darkness is day. The absence of one is the presence of the other. They don’t exist without the other. They become manifest through their opposition, through their contrast, through one thing appearing different than another. Without that contrast, neither would or could be. It is because of the contrast that we know them, that they are. And yet this contrast and opposition and diversity never eliminates the underlying unity and oneness of the One that is expressing them.
A problem arises when we think that any particular manifestation is the only one that should exist, that everything should be reduced to that one, that all variety should be eliminated in favor of one particular expression, that everything should conform to one specific kind, one unique religion, one race, one nation, one lifeform, one political party, one ideology, one idea, one way, one color, one leader, one this, one that, to the exclusion of all “others.”
When we reduce the multiplicity of creation to only this or that, one kind in preference over all other kinds, we actually act contrary to the manifestation of the One, and if we were successful in ever achieving such a uniformity, we would have actually lost all manifestation, all life, all experience, all expression, all contrast, all opposition, all beauty. It would all become a dead, lifeless, uniform sameness which is nothing. Beauty is not found in uniformity, but in variety and diversity, contrast, colors, opposition, difference, particularity, uniqueness.
So what does at-one-ment mean? What is the oneness that nonduality and mysticism points us toward? It is that underlying One, it is that ground essence, that foundation at the core of everything, including you and me, that is the shared fundamental identity of all things, even in their diversity and multiplicity. We don’t just know this theoretically, but we experience it directly. We know the One as our Self. The realization of this One that is the essence of all things is the beginning of compassion and empathy and love, because it means we see this same One in all things, we see our Self in all “other” beings, in every one of those diverse creations we see that we share this same One, that we are all expressions of this One.
Although they appear to not be one in duality, they are one in nonduality. Although they are perceived as many in duality, they are one in the One. The meaning of mystical experience and this Divine oneness is not to collapse all duality into sameness, reducing it all to conformity, and a singular state of expression and manifestation. No. It is to realize the oneness inherent in all things even in their diversity and duality. It is to realize that the One has manifested them all, including you and me, that it is our shared Source, our shared essence, our shared ground of being, our shared divine Self. And once we realize that, we open ourselves up to loving all creation, as it is, in all the beauty of its diverse manifestation, because in its depths it is us.
What about religions? Are we not striving for a singular one, a “one true church”? No. No single religion could ever express the infinite nature of the One, the Highest, the Divine, or God. It is expressed through the multiplicity and plurality of views found in all the worlds religions, philosophies, theologies, and theories. They are all expressing different facets of that One, different qualities of that highest Being, from different perspectives.
It is like a singular white Light in the One has been refracted through the prism of duality, manifesting itself in billions of different colors, each one a reflection of that white Light, each one relating something special about that Light, each one giving beauty and diversity to that Light. Would we ever want just white Light expressed in the world? No! It is the diversity of the colors that gives it beauty, and even though none of the colors is the white Light itself, each one tells us something unique about that Light, and their combination is the full disclosure of the Light.
The human mind is perhaps like the prism, the white Light and energy of the One consciousness flows through the mind, refracting the Light into the diversity of many ideas, many diverse thoughts, many different creations, many insights, many articulations, many discoveries, many epiphanies, a plurality of seemingly opposing and contradictory views, a vast rainbow of expressions which give beauty to the world.
None of those ideas or insights in isolation is the “one” right one, or the One, none of them is the Light as that Light is in itself, none of them has the fullness of truth, none of them is an absolute articulation, none of them is “pure ideology,” or absolute Truth. Not one! That’s not their purpose. Their purpose is to multiply and give variety to the creation, to manifest the One in its infinite bountiful incarnations. There is no end to these incarnations of the “Father.” Since the beginning of the universe, when the material creation started quite simply and uniformly, the One has continued to diversify itself throughout the cosmos, and it will continue to diversify itself in its manifestations for all time.
If we follow these diverse creations back to their source, the source of all ideas, the origin of all religions, the foundation of all creation, of all thoughts, we may discover the One sitting there, on its throne, in the very heart of eternity, in the center of consciousness, in the bosom of creation, and we realize it is us! We are that One, which has manifested itself in the multiplicity of creation, including each and every one of our particular body-minds.
All particularity and uniqueness emanates and emerges from that One being, that pure consciousness, that ultimate Ground of Reality, that Singularity. Collective consciousness is not necessarily thinking the same thoughts, but realizing that consciousness at its base is the same. In other words, we are not being assimilated into the One. We have all come from the One, our Origin, our Essence, and we are diversifying and beautifying the creation through our unique and infinite variety of manifestations in it. And yet, we never left the One. We are still that One manifesting its Self.
It’s when we forget our origin and fundamental identity in that One that we fall into a disconnected separateness, isolated individuality, selfishness, narcissism, the loneliness of egocentricity, divisions which cut us off from one another, which idolize only particular qualities of the One, which aggrandize certain identities at the expense of others, or think we are an identity entirely apart from creation, and we lose our core shared identity in that eternal One from which and in which we have all flowed as waves in the ocean. Being of “one heart and one mind” is the realization of our deepest shared being in the One, which leads to compassion and love in the world for all the diverse and beautiful manifestations of that One that we are.
I think this is portrayed well in this short video from the LDS Church:
In the beginning God made
heaven and Earth
light and dark
man and woman
He made everything different
no two fingerprints are alike
no two people are the same
we look different
we sound different
we act different
we believe different
but we can be different
and still be together
we can be kind
we can be patient
we can not judge
we can forgive
over and over again
because we don’t have to be the same
to be one
we are all God’s children
We don’t have to be the same to be one. We are all “God’s children.” We are all manifestations of that One already, incarnations of the Divine, and it is through our unique differences that we may manifest the beauty of that One in reality.
What do you think about this? How can we be one without reducing ourselves to a monolithic sameness?