I started to practice yoga and meditation when I was 20 years old. Forty-one years later, I'm still at it: trying to find the real me and the truth at the heart of the cosmos.
Along the way, in 1990, I married a woman who has taught me as much, or more, about reality than meditation has.
Laurel is a psychotherapist (now retired). She helped me understand that attempting to transcend this world is crazy if you haven't first come to grips with yourself and how you relate to other people.
This is a central theme of John Welwood's essay, "Double Vision: Duality and Nonduality in Human Experience."
The tag line of Welwood's web site is Integrating Western Psychology & Eastern Spiritual Wisdom. A worthy goal.
During the decades I was an active member of a mystical/spiritual organization headquartered in India, I met many people who fell into a general diagnostic category of Seriously Screwed Up.
Like me, they'd spent countless hours on their meditation cushion. Yet all of this gazing inward hadn't made them either comfortable with themselves or capable of having warm, open, egalitarian relationships with other people.
Welwood does a good job of analyzing how a single-minded focus on transcending this world so Oneness can be revealed is more than a little contradictory.
On the human plane, our lives evolve and unfold through the relative play of duality — otherwise known as relationship. Indeed the central, defining feature of the human realm is relationship— the network of interactions with others that supports our life from the cradle to the grave. Relationship only happens when there are two— who engage in a dance that continually moves back and forth between twoness and oneness.
In this way, the human realm serves as a bridge linking samsara— the experience of separateness— and nirvana— nonseparateness. This is why being human is a living paradox, and also a field in which a vast range of feeling— from unbearable sorrow to unthinkable joy— is possible.
However, there is a one-sided perspective circulating in the contemporary spiritual scene that uses the absolute truth of nonduality to disparage or belittle the relative play of duality in human experience. This perspective casts nonduality in a primarily transcendental light, regarding only absolute truth— the nonexistence of separate entities— as real, while seeing phenomenal existence — the play of duality— as unreal, illusion, untruth.
...In the name of nonduality, it creates its own form of dualism by setting up a divide between absolute truth and relative human experience.
This pretty much sums up Welwood's message, but he's got a lot more to say in the essay's twenty-one pages.
I don't claim to understand what nonduality is all about, though I hear the word used a lot.
I'm baffled by what an experience of nonduality would be like. Duality I get: it's the world of separate stuff that I know now. Oneness I sort of get, though I don't see how it'd be possible to be conscious of One, because then there would be two: One and an awareness of it.
Welwood doesn't do much to help me grasp what nonduality is, but I liked his warning about over-emphasizing it.
Nondual teachings that mainly emphasize the illusory quality of human experience can, unfortunately, serve as just another dehumanizing force in a world where our basic humanity is already under siege at every turn.
What is needed in these difficult times instead is a liberation spirituality that helps people recognize nondual presence as a basis for fully inhabiting their humanity, rather than as a rationale for disengaging from it. We need a spiritual vision that values and includes the central playing-field where our humanity expresses itself— relationship.
"Oneness" or "nonduality" are concepts. The reality in which we live and breathe is dual. There's us, and there are others. Other things, other people, other living beings.
When we recognize and accept these differences, that's wisdom. And, truth. Whatever we're experiencing, that's what's true for us. Our notions about some transcendent ultimate reality -- God, nirvana, enlightenment, heaven -- are just that: notions.
This kind of perspective avoids two major pitfalls on the spiritual path — spiritual bypassing and the spiritual superego — which are ways of imposing on oneself a higher spiritual perspective that lies far beyond one's actual state, thus creating further inner division.
When people try to bypass, or prematurely transcend, their current psychological condition by trying to live up to some noble spiritual ideal, this does violence to where they are. And it strengthens the spiritual superego, the inner voice that tells them they should be something other than they are, thereby reinforcing their disconnection from themselves.
I've always felt that for a man, being married is the surest and fastest route to losing his ego, because once the honeymoon is over it doesn't take long for him to realize that from this point forward, he must submit to a higher power. (One example among many: I hadn't realized that I'd been hanging up towels the wrong way, but Laurel has enlightened me.)
So I enjoyed this section of Welwood's piece.
Swami Prajnanpad recognized the significance of this discrepancy between people's spiritual practice and their ability to embody it in their relationships, often telling students who wanted to study with him to "bring a certificate from your wife."
He saw marriage as a particularly powerful litmus test of one's development, because in it one is "fully exposed...All one's peculiarities, all of one's so-called weaknesses are there in their naked form. This is why it is the testing ground." In solitary spiritual practice, the spiritual aspirant "may accomplish perfection and feel: 'Oh! I am at ease, oh, I can feel oneness.' "
But in marriage, "everything gets confounded." Yogis discover that their so-called realization "was only on the superficial level. It had not percolated deep within. It simply appeared to have gone deep. Unless you are tested on the ground where you are fully exposed, all those outward achievements are false. This is the point, and you have to grasp this completely."
Hi, Interesting, as ever.
You can't escape duality or experience non-duality. Escape and experience are terms of the dualistic world.
This is outside of reason. There is some interesting analysis above, some so good I will read through it again and follow up some references but to rationalize this is look for your own eye with a telescope.
There is no experience of enlightenment or the one true self as, by definition, there is no one left to experience it.
What is the one true self?
[for those who don't know me I fully support that Enlightenment is valid. I will not claim to be Enlightened as to do so would be to look insane, Baaaah!, but will say certainly I have been in extended states of Satori. Enlightenment is valid, Non-duality is real, but language and investigation cause great confusion over what is simply the case as is.]
Posted by: Tao (the one with the blog) | November 07, 2009 at 01:20 AM
Oneness and nonduality are concepts ONLY of the person who is in duality. As the one does not conceptualize, how could it!
Such inquisition is very much tied by its own laces.
This can not be reasoned ;-D To reason is failure, who reasons? The ego, the mind, the intellect? any of them are objects of the initial illusion of separateness.
Nice try investigators but only going beyond the mind (so no use coming back at me with words) can you get beyond this Object Subject trap. Bare in mind also that English is a noun doing a verb language, completely unfit for the task.
What gives birth to the mind and to that and to that? You can never give a nondual answer using English unless you plump for the big G word or some other fluff. There is also no room for the big G in nonduality the investigator must cast the investigator off. Leave language, leave rationale, leave logic, leave any of these mind tools, leave mind, leave the source of mind, leave any idea of source and sourced, stop breathing... wait....
Posted by: Tao (the one with the blog) | November 07, 2009 at 01:36 AM
To me, this is the fallacy in the Eastern religions that count on a monk who disappears into a cave to find the truth of the universe but doesn't come out to deal with real people and gets his food handed to him by disciples without contact. He isn't experiencing life. It's also the problem with something like Catholicism that supposedly sets up rules for living while not having to live fully or understand what it's like. Relationships are where you see how well you are applying any spiritual concept. I see value of a time in the 'wilderness' but then coming out to deal with the nitty gritty of life to see for yourself how well it works. Hypothetical often is quite a surprise when applied.
Posted by: Rain | November 07, 2009 at 05:36 AM
Rain, I agree. My problem with concepts like "nonduality" and "enlightenment" is this:
If you can't tell the difference between someone who is nondual or enlightened, and someone who isn't, then what's the point? If these are just words, with no reality behind them, who cares?
Some might say this is the case with all words, but really, it isn't. I say I love my dog. You say, point to this amorphous "love." I respond, no problem.
I pat her in the morning (all day long, in fact). I take her on walks. I feed her. I take care of her when she is sick. All of this applies to my wife also, of course. We don't leave her tied to a chain in the yard, or keep her outside in bad weather. We don't hit her. It's clear from our actions that we love her.
But how can you tell someone is nondual or enlightened? If they've been ascribed these qualities, what would make them stand out from someone all dual and unenlightened? As I've noted before, if there was a game show, "Pick the Enlightened Person," how would you choose them out of a crowd?
If a concept has no connection to the world, no evident effect on us, no transformative power, then it is empty of interest to me. Like you said, Rain, the East (as well as the West) is attracted to transcendent notions. But bringing these down to earth and making them real -- that's the challenge.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | November 07, 2009 at 10:13 AM
War isOver (if you want it)
My heart is full of grief. All of the time. Daily I go to grief. I go in meditation, I go to grief in dreams. But mostly I visit grief with the heart broken warriors who have seen the horror of war and have returned to 'ordinary life' to try to resume their lives. The young ones have become their own version of the IED - improvised explosive devices - they are blowing up psychologically in their lives and the lives of their families.
I understand humankind's history is full of senseless war. One can look at history and look at all of the wars occurring today and feel hopeless. War, and the case for continuing war, has a crushing momentum. When we feel hopeless, we feel helpless, when we feel helpless, we begin to withdraw, mood alter, sedate and control our feelings with consumerism in its myriad forms. (Refined carbohydrates - alcohol, sugar, white flour, the screens in our lives - internet, television are favorite mood altering substances and activities in our culture. And then there is always shopping.)
Every day, I face the helpless, hopeless feelings that I have within that tells me to give up and turn away.
I have had to go back to my own heart to study peace. I am always a beginner here in the peace project within. As soon as I develop self-righteous certainty, I will not be available for where the investigation of peace wants to take me. I must be open and committed.
I have had to abandon the lust for enlightenment and for spiritual ideologies to cultivate peace within. I can only follow myself here into the wilderness.
Spending my days with wounded warriors: many from the Vietnam era, a few old timers from WWII and the crazy, dangerous kids who have the thousand mile stares has made me more committed to peace. As a taxpayer I pay for (purchase and invest)in this suffering. As a taxpayer, I pay myself to work with these psychological injuries. I cannot pretend that this is not madness. There is blood on my hands, too.
I cannot engage as I once did in casual 'case building' against other people. I cannot silently listen to vicious gossip. I cannot indulge in petty resentments because then I have no peace in my little life. I must be vigorous in confronting this behavior as the source of war. I cannot act out in my relationships with passive-aggressive dishonesty.
I accept that I am complicit here on so many levels and the task of peace appears impossible.
One perspective is that war is exerted through the capture and channeling of the collective human power. Authoritarianism and fear. Self righteous religions (with dueling sacred texts and soul wounding hierarchies) and imperialistic governments are the biggest culprits.Power taken from us before we were born. Not a new story.
I allow grief to fill my heart and soul with ache; I contain outrage and I confront my fears daily. Always a beginner.
Posted by: www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1052789444 | November 07, 2009 at 08:10 PM
Because we are endowed with awareness, perhaps nonduality is a state impossible to achieve. There is the awarer and what they are aware of.
A subjective mind-state is a big step towards nonduality but is formed and limited by the influences of our rather limited past experiences. The result is a conditioned mind which affects how and what we are aware of.
Each of us is but a mere micro-blip in the timeframe of a vast universe. Perhaps it is when we finally relinquish our physical form that only then, without consciousness/awareness, that we will be in a state of nonduality and egolessness, not affected by space, time, particularities etc. We in effect disolve into the cosmic nothingness, which is everything.
Didn't the Buddha say something like: we should be aiming for the cessation of rebirth, to avoid future suffering and dissatisfaction by later generations. (to which I would add, is brought about by ego and awareness.)
Posted by: peka | November 08, 2009 at 12:35 AM
Is there a requirement to achieve a state of nonduality? This achievement may involve possibility and impossibility. Does this nonduality require big steps to get towards it? I think I need training in big steps. Could someone help me. Thanks for any assistance, Roger
Posted by: Roger | November 09, 2009 at 08:32 AM
Maybe the best way to discover non duality is to enter the heart. The heart has its own understanding and its own language:
...not one, not two...
the door into the heart is very small and the intellect cannot fit through an opening so small
Posted by: www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1052789444 | November 09, 2009 at 06:44 PM
Dual nature of this world is its design. How one can perceive non duality while living in the body in this world? One can achieve it only by means of a technique that helps to realize death and come back while living.
Things are not that simple as it sounds. (imo)life is too short to realize it, if realized in life time, U R GOD.
Posted by: rakesh bhasin | November 10, 2009 at 08:45 AM
I'm guessing non-duality is the absence of duality. A nothing or no thing. With that said, I like the idea of using the heart to discover and find understanding. I'm sure the language of the heart is sincere and simple. Hopefully, the door into the heart is available to everyone and everything.
Posted by: Roger | November 10, 2009 at 12:18 PM
incorrect. non-duality is not a "nothing or no thing".
non-duality is no differences, no divisions, no separations, no opposites, no multitude... no duality.
non-duality is very much a 'something': nonduality is a wholeness, a completeness, a unity, a totality... without any divisions or polarities or opposites.
Posted by: Eru Iluvatar | November 10, 2009 at 01:12 PM