Many things in life don't make sense, yet are enjoyable. Lost, the TV series, comes to mind.
After every episode my wife and I look at each other and say, "What the heck was that all about?" Most of the time we've got no idea what's going on. It's an entertaining ride on the Confusion Express, though.
It's refreshing to have nondualism discussed from a Jewish perspective, rather than a Hindu, Buddhist, or New Age outlook. I like Michaelson's thoughtful, quasi-intellectual style.
Having read about a third of the book, here's my favorite quote so far:
Rather, nonduality may be said to be the place where mysticism and atheism shake hands. The cosmology may be identical, as there are no puppet-masters pulling the strings of our reality. Yet the stage is now a cathedral.
This is an astute observation.
My take on nondualism is that it is the place many religious skeptics end up after they've dropped fundamentalist, faith-based, and ritualistic dogma. Yet they don't want to embrace a fully rational and scientific view of the universe that seemingly leaves little place for a mystical vision.
Indeed, Michaelson says in his introduction:
I like to think of it this way. First, if you have some belief in God, drop it. Let the atheists, or your own doubt, totally, utterly win: there is no one minding the store, just matter and energy combining and separating. There is nothing in this moment that cannot be explained by science and reason.
But then, take science seriously, and remember that there is no self either: consciousness is an illusion of the brain, after all. Believe the postmodernists, the Buddhists, the Darwinists, the cognitive materialists, and the Hasidim when they say that this sense of ego, while essential for our survival, causes us to mistake a pattern of phenomena for something that's actually there. Really, there is no soul, just a buzz of neurons. So: no God, no self. And then...what?
What's left, after the self is subtracted, is what nondualists mean by "God." Other names are fine as well. Empty phenomena, rolling on; the Divine Play; Indra's Net; the Dharma; causes and conditions; the substance of Nature, and its laws; the Shechinah and the Holy One; as you like it. YHVH, the primary Jewish name for God, basically means "Is."
OK. So what "Is" is, is what is. That's cool.
It's great to have a philosophy whose central adage can fit on a bumper sticker. ("Form is emptiness and emptiness is form" is a bit longer, but also pithy.)
Thus anything and everything is included in the nondual vision. Transcendence. Immanence. Emotions. Detachment. Silence. Speaking. Thoughts. No mind. Heaven. Hell. Sinning. Saintliness. Materiality. Spirituality.
This sounds wonderful, just as the above-mentioned cathedral seems more attractive than a plain old stage. But when everything on the stage is in the cathedral, the only difference between the two is...what?
What's difficult to understand about nondualism is what's the point of it?
The answer, if there is one, might be: to realize that there's no one to get the point, or any point. The self which is doing the asking doesn't really exist, so existential questions are pointless. (Practical questions, though, like "who will win the Super Bowl?" aren't, especially if you have a bet on the game.)
At first, most of us imagine that we are essentially selves, and some of us believe that there is a God as well. Nonduality invites us to suppose nothing, believe nothing: that there is no God, but also that there is no self. When there is merely no God, we remain as we were. But when there is also no self, then what is left is the Ein Sof, the God beyond "God." Simply what is; simply this; and not-this as well, "surrounding as well as "filling" all that can be predicated.
And from that fullness, which is also utter emptiness, God reappears, and the self reappears as well -- only now as masks, perspectives, ways of seeing, modes of speech. Some masks are more real than others; some are merely imaginary. But that becomes a subject for a different conversation. In silence, all disappears. From silence, all is born.
Well, like I said, nondualism doesn't make sense. It's likable, though. When I finish Michaelson's book I'll let you know whether I've grown even fonder of nonduality.