Following up on my previous post about David Loy's book, Nonduality, here's some additional thoughts on a subject that both intrigues me and irritates me.
The intrigue part stems from a desire most of us have, me certainly included, to look upon the world without feeling so separate from it. That separateness is inherent in a central fact about we humans.
Each of us views things from an inescapable subjective perspective.
Meaning, we are subjective beings in an objective world. Or at least, what sure appears to be an objective world.
No one knows what it is like to be us other than ourselves. I can do my best to describe how I feel about something, but in the end, all that describing can't encompass my direct subjective experience of that feeling.
Same is true for you. Same is true for everybody.
We are subjects to ourselves, and objects to other people. Each of us assumes that other people also have a subjective life, but their subjectivity is off limits to us, as our subjectivity is off limits to them.
As Loy notes in his book, Western philosophy has pretty much accepted that reality is dualistic.
Even though it has moved beyond the dualism of Descartes, where mind and body are distinct entities, there's still an assumption that the subjective inner side of us is qualitatively different from the objective outer world.
Eastern philosophy, though, has explored ways we humans could attain a nondual way of experiencing reality.
Basically, Indian philosophy (Vedanta, notably) holds out the idea that soul, or atman, can merge with God, Brahman. You know, the whole drop becoming the ocean thing. So nonduality is achieved by consciousness expanding to become the entire cosmos.
The emphasis here is on an experience of an ethereal universal force/energy/power that lurks behind everyday reality yet is distinct from it. So closed-eye meditation is viewed as a means of achieving a state of being one with everything.
Chinese and Japanese philosophy, Loy points out, is quite different. Here the emphasis is on experiencing the physical world. Instead of expanding to become everything, the goal is to shrink one's personal perspective as much as possible so only the world remains.
Bingo! Nonduality, but approached from the opposite direction favored by Indian/Vedanta philosophy. Nature is revered. Making tea is revered. Chopping wood and carrying water is revered.
I've over-simplified Loy's arguments here, which are considerably more sophisticated. Check out this 2015 blog post for a more expansive description of how Loy analyzed how various Eastern philosophies view the relation between dualism and nonduality.
He concludes that an experience of nonduality can be interpreted in various ways. Thus experience can't tell us how reality actually is. A nondual experience can be compatible with the soul merging with God thing, or compatible with the consciousness being absorbed in the world thing.
Loy also shows that for Taoism and Yoga, both nonduality and duality can be "real." That word is in quotation remarks, because the reality being spoken of in a consistence with those philosophies, not with how things really are in an objective sense.
Which gets me to the irritating part of nonduality.
I'm fine with viewing nonduality as a word game, or as philosophical speculation. I'm also fine with the notion that nonduality and duality aren't incompatible opposites but the extremes of a continuum. Meaning, we humans can look upon the world as more or less nondual or dual.
There isn't a right or wrong way to do this. Just different ways. At times we can feel separate and distinct from the world; at times we can feel that we're an integral aspect of the world.
But all those feelings say nothing about how the world actually is in an objective sense. So when people have some sort of experience that leads them to claim nonduality -- basically, oneness -- is an inherent feature of reality, that's irritatingly absurd.
Their experience is simply an experience. They're entitled to speak about it, obviously. However, a subjective experience of nonduality in which the difference between us and the world narrows markedly shouldn't be mistaken for a groundbreaking discovery about the nature of reality.
We've all had those kinds of experiences.
Maybe in deep meditation. Maybe in a breathtaking connection with nature. Maybe in a psychedelic drug trip. Maybe in an intense sexual orgasm. There's no end to the ways people feel closer to other people, to the world, to the cosmos.
Yesterday I mowed part of our property, plus our lawn, on a dry Saturday that was a break from an unusually rainy April here in western Oregon. About a month ago I wrote a blog post about how much I'm liking the John Deere X394 lawn tractor that I bought last year.
Now that I'm familiar with what the X394 can do, and am comfortable with the controls, mostly I can sit back and enjoy the power, the four-wheel steering, the power steering, and yes, the cup holder.
I can't say that yesterday afternoon I became one with my lawn tractor. But I definitely felt a pleasing harmony where the mowing flowed harmoniously, in part because mowing on the challenging non-lawn parts of our property requires constant attention.
Branches fall in high winds. I have to look out for them. There's rocks and tree stumps I don't want to mow over, so I have to remember where they are. I have to miss trees and shrubs. All in all, it was a nondual'ish experience, since I felt that the mower and the mowing and the person controlling the mower (me) weren't really separate.
But in no way can I claim this says anything about reality. It was just an experience that I had.
The potential for worry is inherent in all human experience because of impermanence and insubstantiality, but worrying about it is not compulsory.
The confused and conditioned self-referential mind worries because it does not meet experiences as they are, but how it believes them to be. It searches for permanence in that which is impermanent. It attempts to cling to that which has no substantiality in or of itself. The human brain evolved to have the ability of conscious choice, but thoughts appear in a linear and abstract way, so how they appear is not as important as what we do with them when they do appear. If the thought is an unhelpful one, in that it is motivated by anything that might cause physical, emotional or psychological harm to you, others and the world around you, it will be helpful not to act it out and allow it to pass or transform it into a help thought by reflecting on kindness and generosity.
To alleviate or to eradicate worry, the most helpful method is to maintain peace of mind. To maintain peace of mind, it is helpful to meet experiences as they are and to respond as is appropriate to the experience without creating the worry within your thought process. The on-going quality of your mind state is your responsibility as it is this that will define the quality of your next experience.
Posted by: Roger | April 24, 2022 at 11:11 PM
OK Brian Ji!
This recent blog is really great!
In my subjective opinion.
When we feel "one with nature" it is most certainly a feeling and an experience.
When we "Merge with our Master" it is most certainly a feeling and an experience.
But in all cases we are observing and feeling from one tiny point of awareness in space. We are still a grain of sand.
When you ride that mower over and over again, your one point of consciousness expands to become one with the mower, the lawn, the field. You are one part and it is now integrated by, here it comes...THE HUMAN BRAIN.....
The brain now has symbols of all these things in a map that you, one day, might be able to follow blindfolded (assuming the internal map is up to date). But since you no longer need to focus on every single rock, searching to avoid disaster, or places that needs mowing twice to really get that grass cut, you feel "one with all"...As in not requiring complete conscious thought of each individual item in order to navigate, and yet an awareness and sensitivity to each.
Just like an athlete. When Simone Biles got the Twisties, her brain, under stress, wasn't doing it's mapping thing, when she lost awareness of her body and it's positioning in space in real time, she was no longer "one with all" and stopped competing, as a safety measure.
"One With All" is 100% an experience of integration. The brain is a very complex organism, and when it's several different intelligences work together to function in its surrounding space, we manipulate all that we are connected to as if it is just an extension of our body...like driving a lawn mower we now are vary familiar with on a lawn we know very well.
That is a very real experience. But it is still just one point of attention now connected and integrated with other intelligences in the body and their connection with all that is around is.
In a similar way, two people can feel connected and "One" with each other.
When you are in that groove, it is natural to say "one with all things"....But as we become aware of more, so we are more cautious saying that. Because there isn't just what the brain conceives or knows of. There is what is beyond that. Life for a thinking human is a path of ever-growing awareness, learning, expansion, and integration. Very healthy. An integration of objective with subjective.
And that growing awareness can be internal as well as external. Indeed, growing awareness of our internal functioning can improve our growing awareness of external things, connections and our acceptance and integration of these.
We are connected to it all. Awareness can expand into that, step by step. As our attention is focused on that center from which we can truly observe best, the unknown unfolds into the known, and that into the integrated whole, and a growing love at each growing moment of awareness, through our practice.
We are always just that tiny grain of attention, that one point some call it soul. But now we are placed in the center of a wide reaching awareness that is truly aware of others and their experience, certainly highly sensitive to it" the "Whole" of what we are aware of..and that can expand through practice.
Posted by: Spence Tepper | April 25, 2022 at 06:04 AM
Zen teacher Steve Hagen writes about non-duality in ‘Buddhism Is Not What You Think’: -
“One of the principal teachings of Zen and Chan is ‘no dualism’. Dualism is separating the world into this and that, self and other, good and bad, right and wrong. Dualism has a legitimate place in our lives, it can never be an accurate representation of reality. It’s not that dualism is bad or wrong, its just that we get stuck into believing that the way we’ve framed everything in our thoughts is how things actually are.”
So, the world we create from our thoughts, from our concepts is the dualistic world. The Zen practice is to ‘see’ the world before we impose our thinking, our conditioning, our concepts onto it.
The lawn tractor instance is interesting – not too complicated or much to do with non-duality. Using tools of any sort allows me to extend my physical self into the tool and perceive the world through that tool. My car – or my tractor – become extensions of myself. I can become quite protective of my extended this extended self. And yes, perhaps the attention Brian mentions is Zen mindfulness?
Posted by: Ron E. | April 26, 2022 at 02:24 AM
Many in RSSB have heard of merging with the master, but do you really know what you are merging with?.
Gurinder the sicko baba of beas, has said you don't need to do anything else as long as you keep repeating the so called 5 holy name constantly and do 2.5 hrs meditation. You should already be aware that the five holy names are satanic names. The first name is jot niranjan, meaning the light of the devil and the others are Onkar, rarunkar, sohung, then satnam. So if you are constantly repeating these
Sickly satanic names and being totally absorbed in them , just who do you think will appear before you? and who do you think you are merging into? Put simply, you are merging into a satanic energy, who's purpose is to trick you and deceive you. Isn't there opposites in duality, where there is a positive energy, there is a negative energy , aka kaal, whos vessel gurinder singh dhillon controls. More so they use the positive energy front image to lure in innocent souls into their spiders web, beware you don't get tricked by GSD, RSSB, and its agents.
Posted by: Uchit | April 26, 2022 at 01:29 PM
swami umami: "Where does cauliflower grow without water? The Gobi Desert."
Posted by: umami | April 26, 2022 at 07:50 PM