What we call “non-duality” has become nothing more than a psychological strategy for spiritual bypassing using the ABSOLUTE as our rationalization tool for why things, that we don’t really understand, happen.
What we call “non-duality” has become nothing more than a method of avoiding taking responsibility, for the choices that we make and the repercussions that those choices have, by claiming, “it’s all inevitable anyways, so was their really a choice?”
What we call “non-duality” has become nothing more than a tool that we use to quickly resolve the cognitive dissonance that the inherently paradoxical nature of life produces within us because we abhor the uncomfortable tension that accompanies it.
What we call “non-duality” has become nothing more than a tactic for selectively rationalizing away our own flaws while actively highlighting the same flaws in others.
What we call non-duality has become nothing more than the misguided claim that because an absolute reality exists, the relative one we inhabit is an illusion and THUS of little consequence; our endeavors, our enterprises, our relationships, our struggles, our triumphs, our fears, our joys are of little consequence since they are all formulated on the axis of a “separate self” which has no reality.
Yet, the fact of the matter is, that non-duality in its original form says absolutely NONE of these things.
Non-duality simply states that the fundamental nature of reality is whole and indivisible. Every other conclusion one extrapolates from that is just a distraction from the point.
So, let’s look at some of the conclusions we have drawn from this basic statement of non-duality.
Conclusion #1: “Since, reality is whole and indivisible in nature, the self is an illusion because it appears to be separate from the whole.”
This is a common fallacy among non-dual practitioners. This is why everyone is in an all fire hurry to negate their self and claim that “I am not here”, “there is no doer”, “no one is saying these words right now” and other absolutely absurd things.
Imagine reaching with your hand into the ocean and scooping out a handful of water and holding it in your cupped palm. You have separated the water from the ocean. To claim that the water is not separate from the ocean is a ridiculous statement to make. It is clearly separate. However, is the water in your hand any less “water” than the water in the “ocean”? Is it any more or less “wet”? No, it is identical. In fact, “ocean” and “hand” simply refer to the shapes in which that water appears. Yet, its nature remains unchanged by the separation into the two containers.
So, there is a separation in form but not in essence. Yet, one cannot deny the separation in form and call it an “illusion”. The nature of form is that it is created, it exists for a while, then dissolves back into the flux from which forms arise. Denying a form which clearly exists is ridiculous. That’s like sitting on a chair and claiming that there is no chair. Until that chair breaks and disintegrates into dust, the chair is very much there.
Similarly, with the self.
As long as there is a body and a brain, awareness is organized into the shape of a self. That is the form in which it exists. Now, one might look at the universe and say “the universe and I are of the same nature and in ESSENCE there is no separation between the two”. That is correct. Yet, many then continue on to say, “and because there is no separation, this self is an illusion.”
It is not.
That is like scooping water in your hand and claiming, “There is no water in my hand”, when there clearly is.
Reality is whole and indivisible in essence, yet infinitely divisible in form. And this is the paradoxical nature of it. Those who are uncomfortable with paradoxes will try and assert one point of view over the other. And in doing so, they end up missing the whole point.
Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
Conclusion #2: “Everything is “inevitable”, so there is really no choice to be made.”
This is a statement that is often used as a tool to encourage people to relinquish the iron-grip of control that they have over their lives. And from that perspective it has benefits. But when adhered to as gospel it has a totally debilitating effect on a person.
I used to have a friend who was terrified of driving. Each time she’d get into her car her seat would be completely upright and all the way to the front, with her nose almost at the steering wheel. And when she drove she gripped the steering so tightly her knuckles would be white. As a result, she was incredibly hesitant in her driving and constantly second guessed herself. The effect of this was that she was a hazard to other drivers because her reactions were unpredictable.
So, I counselled her to relax. That there were things that she couldn’t control. That, her believing that if she stayed in absolute control she could ensure that nothing bad happened was a fallacy.
This helped her relax a little and as she did, her driving became more confident.
However, imagine if she were to say to herself, “well, control is an illusion and everything is inevitable so there is no point in me even holding the steering wheel.” That’s a guaranteed car crash waiting to happen.
If you wouldn’t relinquish your hold on the steering wheel of your car each time you get set to drive, why are you so determined to relinquish your hold on the steering wheel when it comes to your life?
I think part of the draw of non-duality is that it offers a respite from a culture of obsessive control. The postmodern ideal of “taking life by the horns” and being “masters of our destiny” has infiltrated so deeply into our culture and psyche that it has turned us into neurotic creatures constantly seeking to control each and every little detail of our lives. Consumerism has inundated us with so much artificial choice in the forms of products and services that are marketed as “essentials”, that we are being faced with having to make “critical” decisions thousands of times a day.
Take a person who is drowning in that sort of culture and tell them, “You know, it’s all an illusion. There is no real choice in any of this.” And it feels like a hand literally reaching down and yanking them out of the water. It is no wonder that they then swing to the other extreme of attempting to relinquish all and any control over their own lives. It is the fear of drowning again that prevents them from being willing to even get their feet wet.
Claiming “none of this is in my hands” stops no one from gripping the steering wheel once the car gets moving. And if it did, they most likely never lived to talk about it.
Conclusion #3: “Time is an illusion, thus cause-and-effect are an illusion. So, since no one can know why things happen, it’s best to reserve judgment about what happens.”
This is a famous strategy that many non-dual practitioners use to avoid dealing with the shit side of life. No one wants to be seen as being “judgmental” as if showing judgment is somehow a BAD thing.
No, judgment is crucial. It’s what stops you from eating a rotten apple and picking a fresh one instead. Asserting one’s judgment and saying, “this is a rotten apple”, isn’t being “judgy”. It is demonstrating common sense.
However, there is good judgment and poor judgment. And good judgment is simply the ability to discern things accurately while poor judgment is discerning things inaccurately. And good judgment develops with experience and the wisdom that emerges as a result of that experience.
The Serenity Prayer goes,” God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Wisdom lies in “knowing the difference” i.e. good judgment. The cynic is one who sees rotten apples even among the fresh. The fool is one who claims that there are no rotten apples. Both show poor judgment.
Non-dual culture, in its reaction to the extreme cynicism of the world, has swung to the other extreme of encouraging a foolhardiness in people by relinquishing their basic common sense. Rather than encouraging people to show “good judgment” it instead encourages them to show none at all. And the effect of that is that followers of this philosophy turn into something like adult infants: helpless, indecisive, taking no accountability, hoping to be cared for by their guru, their community, “life” or whatever.
Conclusion #4: “Everything that happens, good or bad, is simply part of “what is”. So, there is nothing that needs to be “done” about it.”
Hitler was an animal rights activist, a vegetarian and an environmentalist who established many of Germany’s progressive conservation laws.
Gandhi was a controlling husband, a negligent father and often slept naked in the same bed with his nieces in order to “test his own self-control”.
Mother Teresa remained a vocal anti-abortionist till the very end and claimed that women who chose that path were soulless and going to hell.
Stalin was a doting father who always took the time to play with, educate and read stories to his children.
Paradoxes are uncomfortable because they require us to hold polar opposites in the palm of our hand. It is much easier to simply think of Hitler as demonic and Gandhi as heroic, Mother Teresa as saintly and Stalin as a monster. Yet, in reality even demons can be compassionate, even heroes can be perverse, even saints can be heartless and even monsters can show love.
But, that’s simply too complicated to bear. We want it simplified. We want good guys and bad guys. We want people we can love and people we can hate.
This is how the general public responds to the paradoxical nature of life. By reducing it into a binary, black-and-white format.
The non-dual practitioner’s response to paradox is something different altogether. Taking a black or white stance would immediately subvert their assertion of non-duality. So, they escape the paradox by claiming that it is all simply a manifestation of “what is”.
Now, on the surface, this looks like a kind of acceptance, whereas in reality it is a subtle tactic of avoidance. We are uncomfortable with the paradox, we don’t want to take a polarized stance on it, so we just sweep it under the rug of “what is” so that we don’t have to actually face it.
This attitude of avoidance breeds a culture of disengagement from one’s surrounding and what is happening in it. We begin to progressively cloister ourselves into our communities, our communes and our bubbles, all of which act as echo chambers of denial. And through this distancing, we gradually become desensitized to the suffering of other people, losing the empathy that is a natural aspect of what it means to be human.
To truly accept paradox means to engage with it. To be willing to CONDEMN an action without condemning the person. To be willing to COMMEND an action without commending the person. To fully face events and use one’s judgment to traverse them without reducing them out of a desire to have life simplified, nor avoiding them out of fear that one might be hurt as a result of showing poor judgment.
Simplicity is not simplification.
Conclusion #5: “There is nothing to achieve, there is nothing to realize, there is nothing to actualize.”
This is another statement used by many to rationalize away their feelings of disappointment, confusion, guilt and sense of feeling lost. While the rest of the world is off pursuing this or that in the belief that achieving those things will enhance them in some way, seekers on the non-dual path swing to the opposite extreme. By asserting that one cannot be “enhanced” in any way since one is already complete, there is no necessity to achieve, realize or actualize anything.
Again, this is a misguided conclusion to arrive at. One has no choice but to achieve, realize and actualize things as one moves from one moment to the next.
When one is hungry one “realizes” one needs to eat, one sets out to “achieve” that meal, one “actualizes” the meal by preparing and eating it. One then “realizes” one is satiated, one sets out to “achieve” some rest, one “actualizes” the goal by taking a nap and allowing the meal to digest.
Now, if on the other hand one is actively trying to OPPOSE that process. Then when one is hungry one STILL “realizes” it, yet one sets out to ignore that hunger and thus “achieves” a state of starvation, one “actualizes” ones denial by manifesting an emaciated and weakened form. This is essentially the dynamic in anorexia.
So, the question is not “whether it is necessary to realize and actualize”. There is no way to short-circuit that process. Realizing and actualizing is happening anyways whether we want it to or not. The question is “what” we realize and “how” we actualize it.
If you engage with an open heart in the suffering of others you will actualize empathy. If you turn away in denial you will actualize apathy. There is no “third” option.
“Realizing” things with greater clarity will lead to the “actualization” of realities that are more balanced and authentically aligned with who we are. One may argue, well what does it really matter? But that is a bullshit argument.
There isn’t a person alive who isn’t glad that they “realized” that one shouldn’t mess with fire. And the proof is in the fact that they haven’t “achieved” third degree burns all over their body. Instead, they have “actualized” a healthy, intact form.
Non-duality, as a philosophy, seeks to examine the nature of reality, not prescribe how human beings must live. That is something each of us must determine for ourselves on our own; by fully facing our circumstances, by learning to bear the tension that paradoxes present – rather than resorting to polar perspectives or washing our hands off them altogether. Denying the existence of our own separation and manifestation as an “individual” form, even if we are united in our essence, is the ultimate cop out.
The attitude I have learned to take in my own life, is succinctly captured in this quote by Robert E. Howard, author of the Conan stories:
“Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is an illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and I am content.”