By Wilson Van Dusen
Hinduism’s Advaita Vedanta, or non-dual theology, probably represents the highest mystical insight possible. It is the insight that ultimately only God exists. As a student of comparative religion, I regard Swedenborg’s mystical revelations as the greatest ever. So, can we then ask whether we also find non-dualism in Swedenborg? The answer is a resounding yes. The highest revelation of Hinduism is also in Swedenborg’s revelations, even though the two traditions had no contact.
The truth that there is but one life alone and that this flows from the only Lord, and the truth that angels, spirits, and men are merely recipients of that life, I have been made to know from so much experience that not even the smallest shadow of doubt has remained. (Secrets of Heaven §3742)
Though I have long suspected Swedenborg’s theology was also non-dual, only recently did I find the real evidence. You must realize Swedenborg’s work represents thirty densely packed volumes. Add to this that Swedenborgian scholars have not noted or emphasized the non-dual aspect of this theology. You then see how it might be difficult to find. We can look at it now and see what light it throws on Advaita Vedanta, since Swedenborg represents a totally different tradition from Hinduism. Swedenborg’s theology presents the non-dual in a kind of illuminating paradox.
A Governing Sphere of Divine Providence
Divine providence governs all things from the greatest to the very least (Chapter 1 of Swedenborg’s Divine Providence and through the whole book). Yet it is not meant that we see divine providence at work (Divine Providence, chapter 9). In all things, divine providence looks to what is infinite and eternal (Divine Providence, chapter 3). This providence sees existence working toward the end of all things in every incident. This means divine providence has overarching concerns and ways of working far beyond our ken. For this reason, what appears to be evil is permitted because it is part of the working out of these ends (Divine Providence, chapters 13–15). One end of providence is that there be a heaven from the human race (Divine Providence, chapter 2). So far we can sum this up as: God rules all things, the basic non-dual position. In Hindu terms, Brahman is the all.
The Self is everywhere. Bright is the Self,
Indivisible, untouched by sin, wise,
Immanent and transcendent. He it is
Who holds the cosmos together. (Isha Upanishad 8)
We Are Recipients of Life
Now, when we zero in on the person in the midst of this providence, we begin to see human life operating in the midst of essential non-duality. For one thing, the person is divided in terms of an external and internal (New Jerusalem, chapter 3). The external includes our senses, awareness, and all those aspects of ourselves we are aware of. The internal is a realm we are partly aware of, and largely unaware of. It is the realm of our real loves and our given nature (the love of the life). Our outer conscious aspects are really only the concretization of the far less known inner and affective aspects. We receive life and influx from God and the spiritual worlds in our inner aspect. We are not really a life in ourselves but a recipient of life. All that we take to be our real self, where we feel in control, is really a recipient outer vessel. We think we have prudence, the ability to decide, but we don’t really have prudence (Divine Providence, chapter 10), though it is intended that we seem to have it.
On the basis of our own prudence, we adopt and justify the conviction that we are the source and the locus of everything that is good and true as well as of everything that is evil and false. Everything we adopt and justify becomes virtually a permanent part of us. If we believed that—as is truly the case—everything good and true comes from the Lord and everything evil and false comes from hell, then we would not claim the goodness as our own and make it self-serving or claim the evil as our own and make ourselves guilty of it. (Divine Providence §309:3)
Now here is the essence of the paradox. When we try to reform ourselves, try to better ourselves by whatever our light of understanding, we are working on our external self. The Divine aids us in both our interior (which is under its control) and our exterior. Swedenborg’s writings call this “reciprocal conjunction.” Conjunction is the Divine uniting with the person. Love and heaven are major examples of conjunction. Love joins. Heaven is the state of joining to God. God and divine providence are superordinate to us since they are aware of the infinite and eternal in all things. So our apparent effort to improve ourselves is met by the Divine working within us. The Divine Human is superordinate to us. So our doing is relatively an image within the real doing. Our effort at conjunction with God is met by the real and substantial work of the Divine.
The partnership between the Lord and us is reciprocal. Because the partnership is reciprocal, it obviously follows that we have to unite ourselves to the Lord so that the Lord will unite himself to us. Otherwise there will be a parting and a separation rather than a partnership—not on the Lord’s initiative but on our own. To allow the partnership to be reciprocal, we have been given free choice. (True Christianity §371:2)
Reciprocal Conjunction Is the Oneness of Union
We can then easily turn this from “us-versus-God” duality to a non-duality (God alone is real). We do this by simply acknowledging and appreciating that our very effort to understand and appreciate these things comes from God. We cannot even pray without God’s aid. The very highest and best we try to do occurs within and is a manifestation of divine providence. What we try to do God is doing through us. Our apparent duality is an aspect within a transcendent non-duality. The non-duality of God alone is superordinate to all appearances of duality. And we can experience this non-duality when we appreciate that all our efforts are simply manifestations of a providence that rules all, that envisions a heaven of the human race, and that is leading us toward this. Those in heaven become a conscious and coordinating part of the real order of things in which God is really all there is.
So the highest teaching of the Upanishads and of Hindu Advaita Vedanta also exists in what Swedenborg found in his great exploration. The non-dual position in Hinduism helped me to see it in Swedenborg’s writings. But in a way, the writings better illuminate the human situation by providing a direct way to providence at work. There are other ways where the writings of Swedenborg see reality in a unitary way. But this is a good first statement. All our efforts to improve ourselves do not create an “us-versus-God” dualistic situation—but rather our efforts are a part of the working out of divine providence. We are better off to see it as such because that is the truth. In this way, we can sense God working right in the midst of our situation.
Wilson Van Dusen, PhD (1923–2005), renowned clinical psychologist and adjunct professor of psychology at Sonoma State University, was a prolific author on mysticism and extraordinary states. His book on Swedenborg, The Presence of Other Worlds: The Psycho-Spiritual Findings of Emanuel Swedenborg, first published by Harper and Row in 1975, has enjoyed a wide readership and remains in print through the Swedenborg Foundation. To find out more, click on the above link.