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A Buddhist Manual for Being Christ-like

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About four years ago i went through the Tibetan Buddhist text The 37 Bodhisattva Practices and analyzed them in the context of Christianity to such an extent that (hopefully) a Christian with no knowledge or interest in Buddhism could still benefit from the wisdom if sincerely desiring to be Christ-like. This text has been very helpful for many Buddhists just beginning on the spiritual path as well as very wise veterans of it. Reading it i was feeling it had all the potential of being adapted to another religion, and since at the time i was in a Christian club at school (for the sake of the spiritual discussion), and because i wanted to learn more about the contents of the Bible, i figured i would begin with the Christian adaptation. The Christian model of the saint fit very well as a parallel for a Bodhisattva, and Buddhahood as becoming Christ-like (of course the comparison is by no means perfect, but still i find there is value in this kind of cross-religious analysis and the basis of differences are beyond the scope or intent of this piece of writing). This should (hopefully) be as useful to Buddhists seeking a better understanding or appreciation for the Christian faith as it is to Christians in aiding their spiritual development. I focused on using only verses from the Old and New Testaments, so that its validity would be less questionable to any Christians who don’t have knowledge of or faith in the apocryphal writings. No doubt the addition of these texts would yield a great wealth of relevant verses to add as references. I will also note that i did not include the text of the verses referenced, due mostly to the sake of saving space. I welcome any and all feedback, and/or dissemination of this text for constructive spiritual purposes.

Click here to download the PDF.

Click here to download the DOC

Note that it will be updated periodically as useful feedback comes in.

Thank you all!

Jacob Ibrahim Abuhamada

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My Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Death of Religion

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There is a pretty obvious disparity between being religious and being spiritual. Religion is about following rules; establishing order to an individual and a society. Spirituality is about an experience; about feeling spiritual. Religion says you need to donate to the poor; spirituality causes you to want to do it, and to feel good from it.

Religion has been necessary as a safeguard for society, since spirituality can be difficult to define, learn, experience, and thus near-impossible to ensure with the society otherwise. The difficulty is illustrated in the common ethical/legal idea that while the ideal ethical society wouldn’t need laws like “don’t murder” (because no one would anyways), in the real world we need the law in place because not everyone abides by the same behavioral and social patterns. But spirituality is the paramount purpose of religion, and it has been largely supplanted and suppressed by many religious institutions today.

I don’t see much spirituality in religion anymore, and i think this is fueling the rise in the number of the world’s non-religious. Recently i went to Mecca, the Islamic holy land, and i’ve been amidst the ultra-religious, ultra-Islamic Saudi society, and it has been this experience which brought this subject to mind.

While in Mecca i saw no spirituality.

I will repeat this again, because it bears repetition. I was in the holy center of the world for as many as 1.5 billion human beings, was surrounded by tens of thousands of Muslims on pilgrimage in their most holy place, and i saw no spirituality–I saw only religion. I may not exactly be Muslim by most conservative standards (whether i am or not is up for debate, but through study of the Qur’an i believe that my Omnism and general morality implies that i am), but i am a lover of spiritual experiences and i seek them in all places and times, and i am extremely reverent towards all things sacred.

While circumambulating the Ka’aba there was little sacredness left, highlighted by the absence of love or recognition of others. Everyone cared only of their own pilgrimage, pushing and shoving each other as they walked, many not looking where they were going, many going against the flow of traffic to get up to the Ka’aba or to leave, and always doing so in the rudest of ways. It took every ounce of mental effort to keep track of my aunt, cousin, and grandmother and to not blow up in rage at these people around me. I wasn’t given a chance to sink into a spiritual calm, or to admire the wonder and beauty of the place, or to contemplate the importance and the meaning of the core ideals that Islam embodies. In the bathroom, while washing my feet (only because they were dirty), i was given a stink eye by a guy because i wasn’t doing a full wuDu’, the process of ritual cleansing done by all Muslims before prayer. While i’m very happy to have been given the chance to have gone, i’m very sad not to have seen the loving-kindness that i’ve come to expect from devout Muslims.

Through my time here practicing Islam and studying the Qur’an and learning Arabic and living within this culture, i see such a gaping disparity between the vision of the Qur’an and the common Islam of today. For one example, the Islam of the Qur’an sought peace and brotherhood between it and neighboring religions, and asserts that they will go to heaven too so long as they love God and act righteously (e.g. 2:62). So many Muslims i’ve met here in the Middle East believe that other religions result in hell. For another example, at the end of the group prayer you’re supposed to turn to your right and then to your left, saying As-salaamu-‘alaykum (peace be upon you) each time. While there is a person on either side of you, nobody actually says it to the person sitting next to them; instead they say it quietly while looking at the ground. This practice obviously had the original meaning of establishing brotherhood between Muslims! And at the very least it would have the potential to. But instead it’s treated like a mere rule to follow; in other words: It is religion without spirituality.

The Islam in Saudi and of much of the modern world is the following of rules. I’m sure that many Muslims have profound spiritual experiences today as they used to through the following of these rules, but the spiritual core is lost to the general public. The one branch devoted to spiritual experiences—Sufism—is considered by many Muslims to be a misinterpretation of Islam, if not downright heretical. But the Sufi’s aim is the core lifeblood of the religion as a whole: Constant remembrance and reverence for God in every word, thought, and action you carry out. When you remove the spirituality from the religion, you’re left with a shell of rules and fundamentalist fairy tales. Islam has not lost all of its spirituality, but it’s in a dire state. The peace and calm of prayer has to come out of your head for it to mean anything, and this is what’s most important. Not the number of prostrations i do, the times i pray, the avoidance of pork, or the manner of cleansing myself before i pray.

By now if you’re a Muslim, you’re probably not very happy with what i have to say. If you’re not Muslim you may be saying “I knew it! I knew Islam was false!” Well first of all: No it’s not a false or bad religion. And second, for you Muslims who feel angry at this: I love the Qur’an. I profess that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is a prophet of God.[1] Third, and most importantly:

My experiences with other religions have shown me the same chasm.

Like Gandhi seemed to notice nearly a century ago, i see little of Christ in most Christians today or Christian communities. Chances are, you already are aware of this, reader. Even amongst Christians this is no secret — there are so many sects, factions, and new churches divided over almost every single superficial matter you can imagine — and of course with many sects, the others are considered wrong and un-Christian-like.

In Judaism, the lack of Jewish spirituality is very obvious, and many Jews will be the first to admit that they aren’t religious, or if they are it’s because they want to preserve their ancient culture; and the spiritual ones i’ve met all drew their spirituality from Eastern religions!

And while i choose the label of Buddhist and am most fond of Eastern religion, they too are often in a similar position. So many of the Buddhists i’ve known are more concerned with doing everything in the exact order and exact manner of how it’s written, rather than focusing on the core of the meaning in facilitating spiritual experiences and spiritual-psychological growth and transformation. Many of these fundamentalists will speak highly of dialogue with other religions, but will chastise you as a Buddhist for not adhering to some core Buddhist belief like reincarnation or reliance on the guru—and i say this from personal experience.[2]

So is it really any wonder that people of the modern world are leaving religion in droves?

Atheism, agnosticism, and apathy towards religion is on the up and up across all cultures. Even those who still consider themselves a member of their birth religion very often don’t participate or adhere to it in any significant way. It seems we may not need religion anymore. Do we? To know this we need to examine the role it plays for humans. I’m most fond of Joseph Campbell‘s four functions of mythology as the answer to this: The social (for the organization of society and community and the integration of the individual into it), the cosmic (for explaining the nature and origin of the cosmos and the individual’s place in it), the psychological (helping the individual to grow and overcome obstacles in their psyche), and the transcendent (facilitating spiritual experiences).

The first two are fulfilled by modern global politics, science, and technology, but the last two are lacking. They are what is most needed in the globalizing world, and the chief reason religion is still around at all. But i don’t think we need religion so much anymore, or at least we won’t need it before long. It’s about the spiritual experience now, and that should be approached the way we approach the first two, which is to say, scientifically. We need to compare experiences and practices around those experiences. We need to experiment with spiritual experiences and share them with each other.

I was reading my favorite sacred text recently (which i believe to be the most profound sacred text of any religion or spirituality) called Self-Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness.[3] The point of the text, as i understand it, is to highlight and underscore what the experience of the ultimate Transcendent ideal is at the level of one’s consciousness, and it explains how to go about bringing forth such an experience. It doesn’t make metaphysical claims, and none of its main points are really things that would be considered sacrilege by any religion. The very first thing explained by the text is how there are so many different practices to reach enlightenment, and that each practice holds potential danger to lead one into judging others and falling back into dualism (the transcendence of dualism being the realization of the experience of this Transcendent ideal). The next thing it does is list all the different words that exist naming the Transcendent ideal that we experience, even including that the theists (Tirthikas) call it the “soul” or “Self,” (no small deal for a religion built originally around the denial of the existence of an immortal “Self.”[4]) and then clarifies that they are all pointing to the very same phenomenon.

Why do i bring this up? In my opinion this represents the future of religion and spirituality: The end of the religious institutions involving mere rules and the division between them and the “others” and the flourishing of a subjective, individual-centered recognition of spirituality as one of the human necessities. Spiritual experience is something that is ubiquitous throughout the world. It is experienced in nature as often as it is in temples, and probably in isolation far more often than around others. It comes as an overwhelming peacefulness, clarity, wakefulness, presence, and bliss. It is inarguably positive in-and-of itself, but it is largely ignored by a rapidly globalizing society which doesn’t know how to bring out these experiences in the mind.

The extent of the need for religions is the diversity of needs by humans to raise their consciousness to some kind of a spiritual experience. Some need a congregation, some need a very specific order of actions to do in repetition, many need ritual. The variety of sources for these transcendence “triggers” and “catalysts” will of course be drawn from the diverse, ancient religious traditions that exist today. We already see this happening to some extent with all the completely new sects and religions that keep popping up. But i don’t believe this will save the institutions as they exist in their present form; it will merely preserve the link to the cultural history.

So while institutionalized religion evolved out of spirituality, it is in spirituality that i believe it will meet its death. Modern society has done away with the need for religion, because its needs regarding religions’ functions have changed. We need guidance on the path to spiritual experiences and overcoming our problems as they arrive in life. The latter is aided by the discipline of psychology, but the former has no significant scientific basis as of yet.[5] When the day comes that the spiritual experience at the level of one’s consciousness is approached scientifically and appreciated for what it is, religions as we understand them today will be relegated to mere cultural history.

Jacob Ibrahim Abuhamada

4/24/14

Please share and please comment with your thoughts on the matter!

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  1. These words may mean different things to me than they do to you, but then we’re getting into a discussion of human opinions, and we’ve departed from a discussion of the Word of God.

  2. Granted they are the least, as far as percentages of adherents go, and the fundamentalists are never the monastics or religious leaders, which is very relieving–and of course i’m only speaking in terms of my own personal experience.

  3. It’s actually more considered a chapter or section of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but it stands alone as a separate entity in both style as well as message in my opinion.

  4. The word used is atman, and the emphasis is obviously leaning towards the Upanishadic tradition. But to me this holds massive import, as the Upanishads are another of my most favorite holy texts, and they are devoted to explaining the union of the atman with Brahman or God. So this one casual line in this text goes on to assert the validity of a theist’s recognition of the Transcendent, or God as another name for the Transcendent as it’s expressed in Buddhism: Emptiness. And of course the core definition of both is that they are transcendent of all possible descriptors. Buddhism does a phenomenal job at analyzing and extrapolating the meaning of this and how it forms the basis for reality itself. For the strongest insight into this, you should read the Mulamadhyamakakarika. But do so with commentary. It’s almost impenetrably complex otherwise.

  5. I’m with B. Alan Wallace when it comes to this. For more on his work on trying to establish a scientific discipline around the exploration of spiritual states of consciousness, click here.

 

Illness in the Center of the World

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Okay, with confidence i can say this is the highest temperature i’ve ever had. And no, i’m not talking about the Saudi Arabian climate. My overall shittiness is on par with the thing i had at the beginning of the year where i was projectile vomiting, but at least that didn’t last so long.

A bit over a week before i came to Saudi i had just gotten over strep. Then i stupidly took a week-long live Typhoid vaccine. Then i didn’t sleep on an overnight flight. A flight, by the way, to a place where the weather and bacteria are foreign, harsh, and unforgiving. So i guess i was asking for this. Anyways, it resulted in my first overseas hospital experience. It didn’t seem much like a hospital. Sort of halfway between a doctor’s office and a walk-in clinic. The doctor spoke English but he didn’t want to hear English besides my saying yes or no to his questions. Then i’m given my first ever experience with taking a suppository. And what is it? Paracetamol. Paracetamol is another term for Tylenol. I might as well have just gone to the pharmacy next door and bought myself some more ibuprofen. I’m also given an IV for Paracetamol and a saline drip. And finally, the antibiotic prescription (which was all i’d wanted in the first place). All in all i’d rate the experience at the “medical center” a 3.5 from 1 to 10. At least it was clean and not overflowing with people. And the doctor did speak English… sort of… But not somewhere i’d recommend visiting on a trip through Saudi Arabia.

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“Sure i can give you antibiotics, but first would you kindly please shove this up your ass? kthnx”

So about a day goes by, i take my two daily doses of antibiotics, drink tons of water, and am subjected to a large amount of Arab folk medicine foods and treatments, and i wake up at 7 something after 3 hours of sleep to take my temperature aaaaand… 104. Can’t that give adults brain damage or something? Yes. Yes it can. I will admit this has me a little scared. So i’m given cold rags to put on my forehead and body, i take a dose of antibiotic for the day and 600mg of ibuprofen and… 102.4. Fuck. Well at least my trip should only improve from here…

As the title states i’m right by the center of the world for the 1.2-1.5 billion muslims in the world: Mecca. Which i should be going to visit soon. In addition, i should be going to the other major holy center in Saudi, Medina, where the Mosque of the Prophet Muhammad is, and so is he, so i might as well go say hi (if only the dead could speak… not that my Arabic’s good enough for interesting philosophical conversations yet anyways). I should be going to Ta’if high in the Hijaz mountains, where supposedly there are wild baboons everywhere, and even more rare and interesting here in Saudi: Trees! Live, actual, wild, untamed trees! The joy! But most importantly to me, while i’m in Mecca i will be going to see the Jabal An-Nur — the mountain of light — where Muhammad (SAAWS) first received his revelation from the angel Gabriel. This being the start of my lifelong dream of visiting key spiritual centers around the world.

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It’s worth noting that for me it’s important that when visiting a new culture i adopt more than just the culture and language, but their very manner of thought, right down to religion. I certainly am beyond the capacity for dogmatism, but to temporarily suspend doubt and see the world through new “psychic eyes”, new thought patterns, is one of the most eye-opening, life-changing of experiences. At heart, my core philosophical conviction will always lie with Buddhism, but as a Buddhist, as a person with the unshakable conviction that compassion is the greatest power in the world for happiness and change, i know of nothing which better builds empathy (wisdom, too) than putting aside one’s own beliefs temporarily in order to understand others. So for this month at least, i am muslim, and will always have it lying dormant within me to draw upon when i need to.

La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasulu Allah.

April 8th, 2014; 11am-ish

Prayer to Purify My Consciousness

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This is my prayer to transcend ignorance. Let all beings bear witness.
I will remove all fear, anxiety, and aversion around mere experiences.
I will not let psychological trauma, delusions, and compulsions control my life.
I will detach from the past and overcome anxiety about the future.
Instead i will have gratitude about every experience — even the undesirable.
I will let go of ego and self-concern and instead be humble, relaxed, and accepting.
I will forgive all who have transgressed me and my dear ones, and generate boundless compassion and love towards them.
I will diminish the untamed monkey-mind and adopt the rock-solid foundation of focused attention,
While also holding fast to patience in the certainty of more than enough time to live.
I will let go of over-analysis and let myself experience in the present without attachment to the experience.
I will not fear death at any level, gross or subtle.
Indeed, i know the fulfillment and meaning of life come from what i create, inspire, and how much i love.
I am perfect. Life is perfect. There is enough time and energy and resources.
There is nothing to strive for, to attain, to acquire, to experience;
There is only to be, to love, to give of myself.
This is my prayer; May its merit be dedicated to all living things.

The Nameless and the Meaning of Life

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Madhyamaka is the philosophy of the negation of all assertions. Nothing you say can be entirely true. Omnism is the acceptance of all assertions. Nothing you say can be entirely false. These are the same reality. This is the Tao. This is the transcendent nature of Brahman. It is this force, call it emptiness or God, which permeates phenomenological reality and allows for its existence. It is what stands in place of essence and allows for change, and therefore existence on this multiplicitous plane of conventional reality. This Ultimate reality in an eternal loop reifies and extends its nature into an infinite incomprehensibility. The transcendence of transcendence of Brahman, the emptiness of emptiness, the Tao of Tao: this is the Ultimate. It is why it is beyond all description, beyond name and form, beyond equal in the conventional plane.

We may wish to call this God. Or we may have negative connotations and experiences around that word, and so prefer to leave it without a name. This nameless, pan-ultimate higher reality is so self-reifying that it cannot even be said to definitively exist, nor not exist. In regards to it, we can say it is eternal and the ground of being, as with Brahman, or we may refer to it being empty and negating all being.

It is both within and beyond time and concept. It is what fills man with awe enough to bow our heads to the earth in submission and recognition of our inconsequentiality and its absolute awesomeness. It is what is behind the flowing and beautiful force of nature that some prefer to worship. It underlies every thought and perception like a canvas of canvases. It is what begs men to the mountains for lifetimes of solitude to explore within themselves, because they have seen it within, rather than without.

And it doesn’t matter where you find it, or by what name you call it. You may call it the soul or the primordial awareness or atman if you’re looking within, and if you find that, you’ve found It. If through reasoning you recognize the Absurd or the essencelessness of the ground of Being, then hold to that. If you require an image or an embodied name which gives you that sense of connection, such as a god or guru or deity, then hold to that. If it is beauty which wraps you in awe so deep that you lose yourself, then hold to that. If it is love for another person or all sentient beings, cultivate it and do not let that connection go.

The point of this undefined pan-ultimate reality experientially and phenomenologically is connection. One could say that this is what spirituality as a whole is. Embracing connection with this transcendent Other is at the same time connection with our conventional reality of names and duality. Our independent selfhood dissolves in this new reality of perfect connection to All. At least this is half of it. The other half of the experience is of a self which grows to encompass all phenomenological experience. It grows to become this new reality of the unification of the Ultimate and conventional realities. This is breaking free from conditionings and suffering insofar as they relate to our awareness of the present and our love for all things.

This is the ideal strived for by every philosopher, every mystic, every spiritual or religious person – indeed, every living thing – whether they realize it or not. It is what you and I long for when we wake up in the morning, when we go to sleep at night, when we love another, or eat ice cream, or make a bad decision, or create something beautiful, or say thank you. It is the Modus operandi of life itself. Life seeks to return to that unified, infinitely connected non-dual reality which it emanated and continues to emanate from.

As life, you must embrace the path which speaks to your sense of awesome connection and see it all the way to its glorious end. Or in the more concise words of Joseph Campbell: “Follow your bliss.”

Buddhism and Taoism

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When Buddhism entered China in the early part of the first millennium CE, it easily blended with the native Taoism. There are great similarities, such as their views on non-attachment, their philosophies of the ultimate nature of reality, most of their ethics, and many of their meditation practices. The differences are mostly superficial, lying in cultural differences—things like ritual or symbols—and in positions regarding metaphysics. Thus, despite these minor dissimilarities, Buddhist philosophy is in the end categorically and fundamentally congruent with the Tao.

Buddhism and Taoism are two very unique and interesting religions which developed independently of one another around the same time in two neighboring ancient civilizations. They did not come into contact until centuries after their establishment, and their most important figures never had any knowledge or interaction with one another. Taoism began most officially with the writing of the Tao Te Ching, which provides the philosophical and textual basis of Taoism. It is from the Tao Te Ching that over the milliennia Taoist philosophers, mystics, sages, and priests constructed their rituals, symbolism, social organization, and a more easily digestible metaphysics for the common man. By contrast, Buddhism was founded upon a man and his ideas, with nothing being written down until long after his death. The Buddha himself established the monastic organization and most of the metaphysics (allegedly). The Taoist polytheism and ancestor worship are both incongruent with Buddhist metaphysics, which holds that there are no eternal beings—all beings die and are reborn—thus ancestor worship and the belief in immortal gods is seen as wrong view. There are also differences in ritual which result from these differences in metaphysical perspectives.

Despite their independent creation in two very unique cultures, Buddhism and Taoism have a great number of deeper similarities. The range of different meditation practices are quite similar. Both have practices involving the quieting of the mind, examining the mind and senses of the body, contemplating the nature of reality, and entering into unity with the Absolute. The ethical beliefs of the two religions are also quite similar. There are certain virtues such as non-attachment and honesty, which one should master in order to be considered enlightened or “a sage.” Perhaps the most significant similarity between the two religions is their core idea of moderation, or walking the middle-ground between excess and self-denial. Buddhism calls it the Middle Way, while Taoism calls it the Tao, meaning “the Way.” Both “Ways” see the extremes of seeking more than one’s basic needs and denying oneself of their needs to be the source of basically all human suffering and strife.

It’s quite a testament to the human condition to consider that these two traditions arrived at so many similarities, despite the different environments in which they arose. And not only the human condition, but also the ultimate nature of reality—the highest, most transcendent, most immanent, most mysterious reality, called the Absolute, which both traditions came to describe in remarkable depth using almost the exact same descriptors. The Tao is in no way incongruent with the Dharmakaya, emptiness, Buddha-nature, suchness, or any of the other myriad Buddhist terms for the Absolute as relating to different situations or approaches. The interaction of these two religions was within a society where religious plurality is already an accepted norm, as expressed by the old Chinese saying: Every Chinese wears a Confucian cap, a Taoist robe and Buddhist sandals.” In China it was never uncommon for people to incorporate aspects from all faiths into their spiritual lives. No rigid walls ever existed between the faiths or the people of faith, because religion was not approached in such a manner as it is in the Occident. So between such visceral similarities at the philosophical, mystical, and ethical dimensions of the two faiths, and the relations taking place in such a pluralistic society, it is no surprise that Buddhism finally became acceptable to the ancient thinking of the Tao.

Omnism and Panentheism

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Recently i considered the question: Does Omnism follow from Panentheism (the belief or doctrine that God is greater than the universe and includes and interpenetrates it) or does Panentheism follow from Omnism? After much thought, this is what i realized:

If God is alleged to be transcendent of the summation of the limits of epistemology, then Omnism must follow from Panentheism (this is because Omnism is the view that the objectivity that is transcendent of the subjective, does not exist apart from the very fact that all subjective views are valid but that no objective view is valid, for objective views do not exist [it’s in fact, oxymoronic to say “objective view” as an object does not have a view]). On the other hand, if one holds the belief that all subjective views lie underneath the umbrella of the objective conviction that there is no objective truth, then again one is of the opinion that all that can be cognized or conceptualized is within or a part of the ultimate, highest, non-dual subject-object*. Thus, Omnism and Panentheism are wholly interdependent and each implied inherently in the other.

While these two ideological and/or philosophical systems completely encompass one-another, a friend pointed out to me that they do not technically overlap as they deal with different matters — Panentheism deals with the nature of God (theology) and existence (ontology), while Omnism deals with differing perspectives about systems of thought. Nonetheless, while they differ in focus, they are still inherent in one another philosophically, and so in my claim of being an Omnist (and in speaking about it in general), from now forward, understand that I also claim to be a Panentheist, by virtue of the fact that it is inherently implied by the tenets of Omnism.

I also am an ardent student of Buddhism, in particular Tibetan Buddhism, and in even more particular, Madhyamika philosophy. Without going in depth (for now) into the tenets of Tibetan Buddhism or Madhyamika, i will just note that i see no incongruency between such philosophies and Omnism-Panentheism; in fact, the two appear to complement each other very nicely. More will be discussed of this in the future.

*The non-dual subject-object is referring to the unity of the objective lack of objectivity, and subsequent subjective universal validity.

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