Friday, April 20, 2012

What is Non-Duality?

In recent months, more and more people have asked me: What is non-duality? And for a long time, I had struggled myself with answering that question, for although I have been actively engaged with non-dual spiritual practices for many years now, it wasn't completely self evident how to articulate that coherently to someone who hasn't been engaged with these practices for some time. In fact, one of my many spiritual teachers once told me that it usually takes about 7 years of doing these practices before you can really get a handle on communicating this in words to other people. And despite these difficulties, I think this is an incredibly important topic for people to learn about as it is through this type of work that we are able to return to wholeness and awaken to who we truly are! So here is my answer based on my current understanding of the subject...

First, it is good to have some understanding of what is meant by duality. And the most basic idea behind duality is the idea that things are separate. In other words, there is you and there is me. There is that rock and there is that tree and they are all distinct and separate. There is a lack of sense of wholeness to everything, rather there is just a disparate collection of things. Furthermore, because everything is separate, there is a very strong subject-object split.

Non-dualism on the other hand is the idea that things appear distinct while not being separate. In other words, it still makes sense to make a distinction between the tree and the rock or between you and me for practical reasons, but at the same time there is an awareness that everything is part of a greater Whole. And because everything is one, there is a much softer subject-object split or none at all according to some traditions.

In terms of practical spirituality though, many people drawn to advaita, buddhism and other non-dual paths come to it at least in the beginning because they believe that they will be able to transcend the ego and live in some idealized enlightened state where they don't have any problems anymore. I however believe this to be a misconception based partly on a misunderstanding as to what non-duality is and partly on the very human and understandable hope that we might be able to end suffering for ourselves.

The misunderstanding results from believing that being in a non-dual state means that we are in this transcendent state of unitive consciousness and have left duality behind us. However, non-duality is actually all inclusive. It is in fact so inclusive that it includes duality. In other words, true non-dual consciousness includes both the awareness of the transcendent and the awareness of ourselves as individuals with personalities, a personal history and all the limitations of being a human being. And the whole point of this is that when we expand our consciousness to go beyond the merely personal and feel the wholeness of everything that is whilst not losing sight of the perspective from the personal, then without any effort at all we cannot help but be much kinder to ourselves and all of our limitations and be kinder to everybody else and all of their limitations. We awaken into wholeness and cannot help but be compassionate.

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