Duality, Non-Duality, and Beyond (Part 1 of 2)
It has been my experience that many people, including deeply spiritual people, are unfamiliar the term ‘non-duality’. To the best of my ability I explain that it is simply a frame of reference from which one can examine the deeper meaning of life. It is the seed of truth buried at the center of all ancient wisdom traditions – a non-contextual espousment of what has been offered, in one way or another, by all of the great mystics and sages that have realized it for themselves.
Non-duality, as a mode of expression, carries the simplest and most direct message imaginable; while at the same time perplexing the mind with such a degree of paradox and absurdity that it is hard to comprehend. Indeed, the mind is so busily trying to make sense of things, and incorporating every new concept into its conditioned world view, that this one thing – this one fundamental quality of reality – is nearly impossible to grasp.
While similar, in many ways, to a variety of mystical, metaphysical, and new age spiritual belief systems, its subtleties and nuances tend to be mischaracterized by those who remain bound to an intellectual understanding of our true nature, and by those who tend to use their own existing belief systems for the purpose of contrast and comparison. Which is, of course, what makes realization of the Truth, without hesitation or qualification, a difficult endeavor.
But rather than try to isolate this conversation to an explanation of what non-duality ‘is’; it’s far better to do exactly what the mind wants, and offer something else alongside it to enrich the potential for understanding. Because non-duality, itself a frame of reference, is not actually the final piece to the puzzle – it’s just a tool to extract the poison of our confusion, which must, itself, also be set aside.
With this vague and confusing invitation now firmly established, I will offer a trifecta of spiritual pronouncements which are, themselves, limited by the very play of duality that they hope to dissolve. We will discuss the nature of duality and its root cause, non-duality and its common insights, and then make an effort to go beyond both in a manner that helps us understand the true aim of spirituality.
Whether you agree or disagree with what I am saying here is of little relevance or importance. Agreement is not required – and disagreement is not judged. Whatever you are meant to find here, including the proposition of finding nothing at all, is perfectly as it should be within your own experience of being. I only offer what I have found to be true within myself – the rest is up to you.
Hello, ‘my’ name is Bradley. And ‘you’ are? This is duality. But this may be too simplistic of an example to take root. In fact, no explanation of what ‘duality’ ‘is’ will be complete until we enter into our discussion about non-duality and going beyond. But let us suffice it to say that duality, the notion of two, of subject and object, is an illusion created by the mind.
We are born into this world, conditioned by external influences to perceive the world a certain way, live our lives in accord with these conditioned views, and then we die. Notice here the emphasis on conditioning that is present between birth and death – what we call our experience of life. This conditioning is the root cause of misperception – which is the root cause of all suffering.
Here we will focus on the basics of our conditioned notions; the play of thought and the presence of mind – and our tendency toward identification with the body-mind experience. It’s all very innocent quite frankly – a function of nature if you will. Something that we will explore more fully in our discussion regarding non-duality. But this is the heart of the matter – or at least a good place to start.
When we are born into this world, we are born with a clean slate, with a clear mind. It is the first time that a parent says to us, ‘this is your foot’, ‘this is your nose’, ‘this is a bowl’, ‘this is a kite’, ‘this is right’ and ‘this is wrong’ – that is when our conditioning begins. It continues with family and friends, school and work, television and media. Every social interaction that we have, over the course of our lives, adds another layer of conditioning.
Eventually, all of these layers of conditioning give rise to the egoic manifestation of an ‘I am’; that is not. We begin to believe that we are ‘someone’ who must be doing ‘something’ – and in this we find ourselves lost. Lost in words, concepts and ideas; models and notions; stories and beliefs. A mind-made conceptual reality that reflects the qualities of mind that we’ve chosen to adopt as a result of our conditioning.
It’s actually quite fascinating to see just how entrapped and enmeshed in our thoughts we really are. Constantly taking every external input, cataloguing it against an internal frame of reference, and giving it meaning based on the stories we tell ourselves; all in an effort to make sense of, and to control, our experience of life. That we choose to believe what our minds tell us is a form of insanity – but since we all do it – it’s considered ‘normal’.
Or, is what we perceive as ‘normal’ simply another aspect of our conditioning? What is ‘normal’ these days anyway? What kinds of things do we tend to agree on? What are the collective social stories that we are telling ourselves so that we can find some sort of safety and comfort in the world? Is it possible that even our most fundamental beliefs; our very notions of ‘self’ and ‘other’ are somehow misinformed by the collective, perceptive ignorance of humanity as a whole?
Let us consider for a moment the nature of a ‘chair’. We look at a chair and we see a chair because we call it a chair and we know what a chair is for – we have assigned the value of ‘chairness’ to it. And yet, could you sit in front of it and place things upon it, using it as a table? Could you stand on it and call it a ladder? Could you put one on top of another and call it art? Could you toss one in the air and make a child smile? Could you melt the chair down and turn it into something else entirely?
What was the chair a thousand years ago and what will the chair be a thousand years from now? Is it still just a chair? What is the chair if we stop assigning the value of chairness to it? What happens if, instead of seeing a ‘chair’, we see a unique, distinct object with no story – just a form? Does the form now serve a purpose, or represent the potentiality to serve a purpose? To serve any possible purpose imaginable. Suddenly, that which we once called a ‘chair’ becomes an infinite range of possibilities.
Again, we’ll revisit this and take it to another level as we step into our conversation about what non-duality is, but there is an important question to ask here as we expand our scenario a bit more. If your conditioning is what makes a chair a chair, then what about everything else that you’ve been conditioned to see a certain way, to label and give meaning to? To separate, isolate, and differentiate? A cup, a bowl, a clock, a flower, a bird, a human being? Even ‘empty space’? Is it possible that it’s all just a story?
We make so many assumptions without ever considering the basis for them. In fact, our entire experience of the world – each and every moment of our lives, is being experienced through a filter – the filter of duality. Through sense perception, we experience ‘something’, and the mind then reacts to that something with an immediate response that is, and can only be, a reflection of what has been formulated by the mind itself; a conceptual overlay of language, interpretation, and meaning that is based on our conditioning.
Now let us turn our attention back to the more challenging question of what this ‘means’ to you as a human being. When you began to learn about the world – as you were taught what things ‘are’, you were taught to identify yourself as a human being, a separate and distinct entity that is apart from everything else. You were taught how to be someone who must be doing something – and given a mission in life; a notion of how things ‘should’ be – and then you were set lose upon the world.
But if everything you tell yourself in your mind is a story; if you can understand how your perception and conditioning play together to create your experience of reality; why would this particular story – this means of identification – be any different? Are you really who you ‘think’ you are? Is the world really what you ‘think’ it is? Who would you be without this story? Who would you be without any stories? Who would you be if every story vanished into the silence, stillness, and quiet of your true being – or, if, at the very least, you stopped believing all of your stories?
Before we delve much further, it’s important to acknowledge any resistance that may be coming up within you as you read these words; because, interestingly enough, you are just telling yourself a story about them. Whatever you may be feeling, based on what you are reacting to and how you are reacting, is just a symptom of believing your story. The depth of impact is directly correlated to the depth of resistance. It’s just a thought though.
The thought “I am happy” is just a thought.
The thought “I am sad” is just a thought.
The thought “I like this” is just a thought.
The thought “I don’t like this” is just a thought.
The thought “I need this” is just a thought.
The thought “I don’t need this” is just a thought.
The thought “I am fearful” is just a thought.
The thought “I am courageous” is just a thought.
The thought “I am a human being” is just a thought.
The thought “I am a spiritual being” is just a thought.
The thought “I am oneness” is just a thought.
The thought “I am emptiness” is just a thought.
The thought “I am someone” is just a thought.
The thought “I am no one” is just a thought.
The thought “I am enlightened” is just a thought.
The thought “I am not enlightened” is just a thought.
The thought “I am” is just a thought.
Thought is just thought.
You are not your thoughts.
And that too is a thought.
…Part 2 coming soon