Looking back, I don't think I ever was a full-on dualist, just a half-hearted one.
This was during the 35 years I was a member of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), a religious organization based in India whose core teaching was that this world in which we live and breathe isn't our true home but a temporary resting place -- since the purpose of life is to return to higher regions of reality and God through extensive meditation, devotion to a guru believed to be God in Human Form, a vegetarian diet, abstinence from alcohol and drugs, and morality, including no sex outside of marriage.
Thus the RSSB teaching was thoroughly dualistic. The guru would say things like, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience." Which I recall is a quote from Teilhard deChardin.
I never fully embraced this notion of the world as a place to be escaped from. I didn't like the judgmentalism of so many RSSB initiates. They considered themselves to be God's chosen people, even though that honor is claimed by many, if not most, dualistic religions. They were even proud of their humility.
When I gave talks about the RSSB teachings, which was frequent, I'd pay lip service to the oft-repeated adage that it was crucial to shun lust, anger, greed, attachment, and egotism. However, I never came across a single person during my 35 years of RSSB membership, including the guru, who didn't manifest these and other so-called "negative" emotions and qualities.
Which are better termed simply emotions and qualities.
In my experience, the people who talked the most about having overcome negative emotions and qualities were seriously lacking in positive emotions and qualities. It was as if all the attention they paid to stifling their dark side left them with insufficient energy to manifest their bright side -- especially in a natural fashion rather than a stilted artificial fashion.
One reason I detested holier-than-thou attitudes back then, and still do, is that I grew up in a family with a lot of dysfunction. Not just my immediate family, which was very small. My mother was divorced and I had a half-sister ten years older than me who got married at 18, so wasn't around much. My father wasn't in the picture, a man who I only spent an hour with in my entire life, aside from my baby years.
And that hour was very weird, not satisfying at all. My mother didn't speak much about my father. She told me that they got a divorce after he refused to move to Texas, a drier climate than Massachusetts, on the advice of doctors following the birth of my sister Evie, who was born with a congenital heart condition. Supposedly my father's job as a General Electric efficiency expert was more important to him.
Just as alcohol was more important to my mother than sobriety for much of my childhood. That was her biggest dark side, I suppose, as my father's cold detached ambition was to him. In addition, I grew up listening to tales of my mother's relatives facing their own divorces, drinking problems, affairs, and such.
There was a lot of financial and artistic success in my family. Also, a lot of dark side dysfunction. They were all good people. They were family. They were lovable. So early on in my life I learned an important truth: we all are driven by forces outside of our control. Genetic, psychological, cultural. Scratch the surface of a so-called saint and you'll find a sinner.
That's why I get irritated when some commenters on my recent blog posts take self-righteous shots at two authors I like a lot: Alan Watts and Paul Breer.
Both men make no claim to being saints. Breer was in prison for two years; Watts had a drinking problem and relationship problems. Their personal lives were completely in accord with the messages in their books. Breer was a passionate believer in the illusion of free will and an immaterial self. Watts was a fervent advocate for a spirituality founded on being and acting natural, which included embracing the dark side of life.
Here's how Watts described the dark side in a book he wrote in 1940 when he was only 24, The Meaning of Happiness. These are wise observations about life that narrow-minded religious moralists should seriously consider, rather than reject out of hand.
If you sit still for a while, completely relaxed, and let your thoughts run on, let your mind think of whatever it likes, without interfering, without making suggestions, and without raising any kind of obstacle to the free flow of thought, you will soon discover that mental processes have a life of their own.
They will call one another to the surface of consciousness by association, and if you raise no barriers, you will soon find yourself thinking all manner of things both fantastic and terrible which you ordinarily keep out of consciousness.
Over a period of time this exercise will show you that you have in yourself the potentiality of countless different beings -- the animal, the demon, the sartyr, the thief, the murderer -- so that in time you will be able to feel that no aspect of human life is strange to you -- humani nihilism a me alienum puto. ["I consider nothing human is alien to me."]
In the ordinary way consciousness is forever interfering with the waters of the mind, which are dark and turbulent, concealing the depths. But when, for a while, you let them take care of themselves, the mud settles and with growing clarity you see the foundations of life and all the denizens of the deep.
...For the unconscious is not, as some imagine, a mental refuse-pit; it is simply unfettered nature, demonic and divine, painful and pleasant, hideous and lovely, cruel and compassionate, destructive and creative. It is the source of heroism, love, and inspiration as well as of fear, hatred, and crime.
Indeed, it is as if we carried inside of us an exact duplicate of the world we see around us, for the world is a mirror of the soul, and the soul a mirror of the world. Therefore when you learn to feel the unconscious you begin to understand not only yourself but others as well, and when you look upon human crime and stupidity, you can say with real feeling, "There but for the Grace of God go I."