Oneness has a lot of appeal.
It's simple. Nothing is simpler than one. (Well, maybe nothing is simpler, but since there is no way to know what nothing is like, since it doesn't exist, who knows?)
Also, oneness has a lot in common with love.
Love brings us together, which is a big step toward being one. Duality, on the other hand (a good phrase to use when talking about duality), posits two things that are inherently different.
Like most people, I've had the idea that Eastern forms of spirituality are more into oneness that Western forms are. The cartoon above captures the notion from a Buddhist perspective. It's difficult to imagine a Christian or Jewish version of the joke.
The Greeks were the source of Western dualism. Here's an excerpt from a book that I'm enjoying a lot, Jeremy Lent's "The Patterning Instinct."
The eternal soul, Plato explains, knew all about the immutable world of Ideas before it was incarnated. At birth, when the soul is forced to leave the world of Ideas and become fused with a mortal body, it forgets most of its previous knowledge. Thus, the goal of philosophy, in purifying the soul from the body's pollution, is not to learn new truths but to rediscover the Truth that was already known to the soul prior to its incarnation.
...Here, in Plato's cosmology, is the beginning of the cascade of dualism that would structure the European tradition of thought about the nature of humanity and the universe all the way to the present. In this constellation of ideas that would become endemic throughout Western civilization, the human capacity for abstract thought is linked with the soul, which, in turn, is linked with truth, and truth with immortality. The body, as part of the changeable material world, is associated with sensory appetite, ignorance, and death.
Soul and body. Heaven and earth. Truth and illusion. Spirit and matter. Good and evil. Eternity and time.
These are the sorts of dualisms that have split the Western mind for thousands of years. ("Mind," by the way, has largely replaced "soul" since Descartes. But many, if not most, Westerners still believe that mind has an immaterial basis, as does consciousness.)
So Eastern forms of thought and spirituality attract people who are turned off by the rigid dualism of Western religions. In my case, I embraced Indian philosophy because I believed it was markedly more into oneness than Christianity and Judaism.
Well, over the years I changed my mind.
The form of meditation I learned from an Indian guru was intensely dualistic. It was aimed at leaving behind awareness of the body and senses in order to experience a form of "soul travel" that led to knowledge of realms beyond the physical.
You can't get much more dualistic than that.
In these passages Lent explains how ancient India embraced a form of dualism that differed in some respects from that of the Greeks, but still was based on the same sorts of splits found in Christianity. After quoting from the Maitri Upanishad, he writes:
The realization of oneness in breath, mind, and the senses seems a long way from the Platonic notion of the separation of mind and body. In fact, an influential school of classical Indian thought is known as advaita, which literally means "not two" and is frequently translated as "nondualism."
Does this mean, then, that the principles of Yoga transcend the dualistic mind-body split that India civilizations inherited from its PIE [Proto-Indo-European] forebears? Further investigation shows that this is not in fact the case.
First, we need to consider what the term advaita refers to.
Is it saying that body and mind are not two, that they are really just different aspects of one entity? Not really. Its core teaching is based on the foundational idea that atman equals Brahman, that the world of maya is illusory, and that although things seem separate from each other, if you keep peeling the onion and look to the inner reality, you will see that everything is ultimately part of Brahman.
Rather than resolving the mind-body split, advaita teaches that relinquishing the body and all other conditions of existence is necessary to realize the true identity of atman and Brahman.
So if someone is looking for oneness, it won't be found in either Greek or Indian thought, which are both thoroughly dualistic.
Pleasingly -- because I'm attracted to Chinese thought, especially in the guise of Taoism (and Tai Chi, basically Taoism expressed as movement, which I've been practicing for 13 years), Lent is big on the Chinese way of looking upon the world, which he admires as being in tune with modern scientific thought and a naturalistic approach to oneness.
Here's how he concludes his chapter on "Dualism and Divinity in Ancient India."
The belief in the divinity of everything in the universe ultimately differentiates Indian thought from that of the Greeks. In Greek dualism, only humans possess the faculty of reason that enables them to achieve the lofty heights of divinity. For the Greeks, the ultimate Truth attained by reason is to be found above the world, separate from the world, in a dimension of eternal abstraction.
In the Indian cosmos, dualism took a different form: the source of meaning is both above material things and hidden deep within then, and is glimpsed by piercing through both the reasoning faculty and the senses.
While looking in different directions for the ultimate source of meaning, both traditions agree that it's not to be found in the tangible world. It is in this sense that both are dualistic.
In the next chapter, we will explore an alternative understanding of the universe. In the ancient civilization of China, untouched by the migrations of Indo-European tribespeople, an unbroken tradition evolved from shamanic roots into a cosmology that demonstrated, by its very structure, how the human quest for meaning can take an altogether different approach.
And I'd add, an exceedingly appealing approach for those, like me, who are tired of philosophies and spiritualities that divide, rather than unite, our world.