On Beyond Nonduality 2: At the Shoreline of Belief and Contradiction
“If any attempt to become a non-dualist is doomed to failure, and any desire will guarantee failure then how the bloody hell does anyone ever become a non-dualist? ‘Only by not trying can you succeed’ is just so painfully paradoxical.
Even making no effort requires effort and we are repeatedly told about the importance of being earnest, but who is earnest and doesn’t that very earnestness negate our attempt to see the truth?
Help me Eric, I’m in a mental mess 🙂 ”
Believe me, I feel you brother.
But ask yourself, who becomes a non-dualist? Who sees that they are not the body? You may have asked yourself that already…
At some point (or many points) “you” let go of effort. Call it moments of grace and love.
Some talk about an “earnestness” that is needed. To that I would add, one must have an honesty in addition, a willingness, and a sincere interest. For example, one can appear to be extremely earnest, but holding onto beliefs very strongly (I’m not saying this about you, it’s just something I’ve seen …). It can take a certain amount of courage to look at what you really believe and feel. Human beings kill each other, either literally, or attempt to with words, over beliefs: mere thoughts! — thoughts attached to an “I”. That gives you an indication of how strongly they are held onto.
Think of nonduality as the background of all existence, your true identity. This can only be intuited, sensed, experienced as the-meditation-that-we-are. In the East they call sat-chit-ananda, but I don’t like to use all the foreign terms. Call it bliss awareness, call it anything you want. It’s just a bunch of words.
There are two levels to “the answer” you could say: one is the mental, the theoretical if you will, and the other is the experiential. Without the experience, you will be going around in circles.
To reiterate from my other posts, a paradox is an apparent contradiction.
The paradoxes — such as effortless effort or “not-knowing is knowing” of which there are many and I enjoy exploring — are reflective of the fact that one is at the end of the road of what the mind can do for you. The mind is just a dumb apparatus we, as Consciousness, use for getting around in the world. But we can also use it for celebration, and for pointing to Truth. We sometimes have to resort to metaphor, stories, illustrations…
One of the metaphors I like lately is a telescope: you can look from one end, from the mind towards Consciousness and see nothing but paradox and contradiction; but look from the Consciousness end towards mind and see there are only apparent contradictions and limitations.
So paradoxes seen from Consciousness are not contradictions, that’s why they are only apparent. We get glimpses of this, have an intuition of the vast unity and peace of reality, but cannot hold it in mind.
The good news is we don’t have to.
The more experiences you have of the basic goodness, the power that knows the way, intelligence of Life, and trust in life unfolding, and the more you get the garbage from the past (memories) out of the way — thinking and feeling tendencies — that were filtering your seeing clearly, and stop interfering with being yourSelf, the more you are free of being bugged by contradictions (apparent ones). It just becomes like an adventure and joyful curiosity about what’s next, what is Now. You’re running on faith now more than clinging to anything.
But some of us, like the author (intellectually oriented by birth or karma), still enjoy thinking and communicating, no matter where we are on “the path”. Nothing wrong with that. This is despite some teachers who say we have to stop thinking altogether: what we want to do actually is to stop identifying with thinking, and dissolve the psychological thinking — any personal thinking tendencies, the belief and feeling to be a human being — that are problematic, the party-poopers.
I use the word “faith” but without any ecclesiastical connotations whatsoever. It’s just naked faith. Innocent.
It’s like you’re in the army, and the boat that takes you to shore dumps you there, saying “Good Luck, Godspeed” and you’re on your own. You can’t take the boat with you, but it was a good boat for getting you there. However, when you get up on the beach you realize the war is over. Now what? Hmm, good question. Well, “now what?”, is: whatever you want! You’re now Self-propelled. So why not enjoy life? Heaven was never far off, it was right here all along.
At the end of the rope of thinking and feeling and all practices, when you’ve given up, and don’t know anything, then maybe something new can come in.
I recommend taking time to simply Stop, notice the gaps in thinking, and marinate in the feelingness of what you Are…
Thanks for the question.
I need metaphors, and you never fail to deliver.
I also think that foreign terminology gets in the way and makes it all unnecessarily mystical and esoteric.
I was talking to a friend yesterday who is extremely dedicated to his practices (as prescribed by his teacher), we are after the same thing of course but by the time he has saluted the sun, done his pranayama exercises, chanted Om 21 times, done a round of Mala beads and scrubbed his aura with sage there’s absolutely no room left for just sitting down and being quiet. Everything he does is about desperately chasing enlightenment – I’m sure most of us have been there and I’m equally sure it makes it impossible to see the truth.
He on the other hand is convinced that Neo-Advaita is a cop out for westerners or those who can’t be bothered to chant Om Namah Shivaya 108 times a day, and enjoy a lay-in, even on the Summer Solstice.
I’m very happy that you don’t feel it’s necessary to stop reading and ‘researching’ – it’s just too fascinating, rich and important a topic not to become intellectually immersed in but it’s something I really struggled with – until I was reminded (thank you) that stopping and sitting is the only truly important part.
I’m off to ‘marinate” (wonderful choice of phrase).
Thanks again Eric!
Thank you for the kindness, and I enjoyed the picturesque story about your friend scrubbing his aura with sage.
I too have friends who are deeply into practices and adhere strongly to beliefs about why they are necessary. They will see stages, or levels of consciousness, and feel their being needs purification or whatever.
A non-duality “teacher” (share-er of truth) friend once said that many people need to “chew on a spiritual bone”. Got a laugh out of that.
It’s also true that some Advaita friends are so intellectual, and have minds are so active and big that it is quite a bizarre spectacle to see the convolutions the ego will go through to protect blind spots. Whereas the yoga devotees twist their bodies into pretzels, the intellectual will get so lost in the maze of mind it’s like the centaur in the middle of the garden labyrinth, defending it’s territory tooth and nail. The hairy beast will eventually wear itself out, take a rest and be airlifted upward by Grace Helicopters, Inc.
Been there done that too…
All part of the show my friend. Enjoy. “All is well and unfolding as it should” as the marvelous sage Robert Adams always used to say.
For anyone reading all this, and just to be clear, I have nothing against practices. For one thing, they are useful for quieting the mind and being one-pointed (writing can be seen as a kind of practice, or any art form). It’s just that if they are a dead and boring repetition from the past, or an empty ritual, this boringness or dullness from doing something repetitive or mechanically isn’t a great path to truth and freedom. Liberation is in the direction of not going along with “the machine” we have programmed. And, if there’s a projection of meaning into objects, or chasing a future state, this is all a misdirection as it were. It’s like Cargo Cult Science. Why wait, and for what?
More fundamentally, doing a practice with the hidden assumption operating of thinking and feeling one is doing it as a person and for a person, is kind of like being on a spiritual hamster wheel.
Being serious is a good sign one is slightly lost in illusion too – who or what is there to be serious about? We’ve all been there…
Better to have a beer and listen to some music in that case.
So rather than mechanical practices, follow your, interest, love and enthusiasm.
I’m saying this not for you but anyone interested.
Of course none of this is meant as a “just do what you want” license to be a hedonist or be an asshole, as that has consequences all around too.
But if your friend (or you) is doing all this stuff and really enjoying it, why not? If it makes him happy, even if just for a short time, there is nothing inferior about any happiness. It may have drawbacks, but they have to learn in their own way, grow according to their nature.
Anyway I didn’t mean to lecture or preach, this is all by way of clarification and communicating what I see.
ADDENDUM – More Notes on Being Free, on-duality, Advaita…
“Thoughts and feelings are not real. Nothing is covering nothing. There are no coverings. There is no thing which is real and no thing which is not real. None of these things exist whatsoever. So the unreal is not covering that which is real. And why waste time working on illusions. Who is working on illusions? Who is wasting time? To believe you’re wasting time is an illusion. Who is doing all these things? It is yourself that thinks like this. Transcend the self that thinks this way. There are no covers. Thoughts and feelings appear real as long as you believe you are the body. When you realize you’re not the body there is noone left to be able to feel thoughts and things. Therefore there is no cover that is covering the reality. There is only the reality. There is only that which is real. Nothing else exists. ”
~ Robert Adams, satsang transcript “Existence is Not in Form!” 3/22/92
Sometimes people will get the idea that in spirituality or nonduality, there are some things that are sinful, bad, off limits, against the rules, that are not spiritual (like sex, eating meat, not meditating or doing yoga on schedule, going to the movies, drinking alcohol, making money, having a large house or a nice car, certain political or socio-economic views, whatever…). This is not true. How could anything be not spiritual, if It covers All, the absolute Totality of what Is? That makes no sense. Such a view is a shallow one.
It all depends on where it is coming from inside, and the totality of the situation. Is it coming from giving, from love and an impersonal seeing? Or is it coming from fear or desire, an echo of the belief to be separate, which has a different feel and different consequences than coming from immediate natural intelligence, insight, creativity, the spontaneous seeing of what is inherently true and free.
Non-duality is merely a description of what Is. There is Nothing personal.
However, this is all a subtle point, because the idea that “there are no rules” can be taken the wrong way, such as a license to do things against what one’s deeper nature knows is harmonious and best for all. Or “living in the moment” can be interpreted as being impulsive and “honest” about negative emotions. I’ve known students of Advaita that were carrying unconscious pain, fear and aggression, and who acted rudely, selfishly in the name of being free, accusing others of “spiritual bypassing” while not looking at their own feelings and where the reactions were coming from, nor their effect on others. Call it spiritual immaturity if you like (without judgement). This is why sages like Robert Adams always talked about “working on oneself”. Advaita is not about behaviors, practices or lifestyle, it’s about total inner honesty.
The point is, one just don’t know ahead of time what is “right” according to fixed rules. We are not computers. We are free beings at core. Perhaps yelling at a teen who is being cruel to a dog is the right thing to do in the moment. Perhaps killing is required under a certain circumstance, such as to protect a loved one in the moment, from a beast, or a crowd from a mass killer with a machine gun. Who knows. Perhaps eating meat is what the body needs to do if you are in the wilds and that is the only source of food, or your body is lacking a certain nutrient that can only be gotten from an animal. Perhaps frequent, artful loving sex is you way to a higher understanding of consciousness, at some particular phase in your life’s evolution. Who knows.
But if something is done from a contracted sense, a feeling of seriousness, a sense of lack, from the feeling or belief one is a separate entity (what is often called “ego”, but that word implies a persona already, so I avoid it), trying to repeat a remembered pleasure to get happiness, according to a dead memory, trying to get something, attain a happiness from an object, squeeze some goodness out of it, or are anxious from it’s possible loss, then you’re coming from the “wrong” place. It’s not wrong, it simply won’t yield the happiness you really want. It will be a very temporary, ephemeral experience, if anything. Then on to chase something else, or run from another feeling… That feeling of emptiness or fear or desire or contraction will come back, because it was needing some investigation, not covering over with more sensations, feelings and thinking, more experiences.
That feeling of emptiness may be the gateway to seeing deeper into what you are. If see for what it is, a phenomenon in mind, it can be allowed to come and go, dissolve into space, the space of quiet, of I don’t know.
“I don’t know” are the three most powerful words in the English language.
Regarding the photo (I took yesterday, from a camera drone): ironically, it’s all the fires in California that create the wondrous rays in the sunrise, from the smoke. Death and beauty go together.