Oneness. Unity. Enlightenment. Perfection. Salvation.
These are abstractions. Nobody ever has seen, touched, heard, tasted, or smelled them.
They're conceptions, but religious believers often take them to be more real than here-and-now reality. "The Guru Papers," which I'm enjoying a lot, says:
I started out by reading the final chapters of this book by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad first. Having written a book about oneness, "Return to the One," I couldn't resist jumping right into the Oneness, Enlightenment, and the Mystical Experience chapter.
Especially "The One-Sidedness of Oneness" section. I've got to agree with Kramer and Alstad, though not too long ago I wouldn't have.
1. Such experiences are more real than ordinary reality, and so unity is superior to diversity.
2. It is possible to be in the mystical state all the time and, of course, the more you're there the better.
3. The path to unity is through negating individuation. Here descriptions of unity turn into prescriptions for individuals to no longer act like individuals.
4. Following a presumed "arrived" master is the best way to get there.
The experience of being a part of something larger (even the whole cosmos) is very different from declaring the whole more real than its parts. Just as it takes an individual to have this experience, it takes an individual mind to construct the ideology of Oneness -- an ideology which quixotically denies the individuated reality of the person constructing it.
Duality is ever-present in religions. It just is more obvious in Western monotheistic faiths like Christianity. God and Creation are clearly separate.
But Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism have their own more subtle dualisms. Kramer and Alstad say, "The ideology of Oneness contains a hidden dualism precisely to make certain expressions of unity better and higher than others."
For example, those expressed by a so-called perfect master. After all, how could anything be better and higher than perfection?
The problem, though, is that "perfection" is an abstraction, as is "oneness." Neither exists in the sense that a tree, person, fish, or star does. If fact, logically many abstractions of this sort can't exist.
How could someone claim to have experienced oneness? Wouldn't they have to exist separate from absolute unity in order to have the experience?
Likewise, I've spent quite a few hours in the company of gurus who are considered by true believers to be "perfect." Yet I saw plenty of imperfections. They make mistakes, forget things, get facts wrong, express negative emotions.
Still, because the gurus are considered to be enlightened beings, everything they do and say is viewed uncritically as a manifestation of perfection by their disciples.
What drives this submission to an authoritarian hierarchy? Abstraction.
...Whereas monotheism makes the revealed Word of God sacred, Eastern religions make presumed enlightened beings sacred. Thus the concept of enlightenment brings authoritarianism at the personal, charismatic level (gurus, masters, avatars, and buddhas).
Here the authority comes from living people, not an institution -- although they almost always create an institution around themselves or are already part of one. Not coincidentally, surrendering to and obeying the master is presented as a (usually necessary) step on the path to enlightenment.
The very nature of any structure that makes one person different from and superior to others not only breeds authoritarianism, but is authoritarian in its essence. Just as there is no way for humans to question a remote God, there is really no way for a non-enlightened being to question the words or actions of a presumed enlightened one.
This is why gurus can get away with anything -- they are judged by different standards that make whatever they do perfect by definition.
It's amusing how frequently I'm criticized by true believers who say that I live in a world of my own deluded concepts.
Yet actually the reverse is true.
Since my conversion to churchlessness I've become a lot less abstract, while those who consider notions like "perfection" and "selflessness" to be more true than clear and present reality are still addicted to conceptions.