Non-Duality and Suffering
A Dialogue with an Unknown Source
Q: What's your real value, at the end of the day, after years of seeking and suffering and finding, and all you’ve inquired into and seen and practiced over the decades? Is it worth anything, or just empty at the end of the day?
Seems to me all this non-dual talk by so-called Neo-Advaita, and sometimes regular Advaita, or the Zen-like teachers, is a bit suspicious. Seems to invite solipsism, or narcissism, or escapism or nihilism or all kinds of -isms bad, neutral, and otherwise. Sort of like mental masturbation in the end.
And seriously, you can't on the one hand say there is suffering, or be suffering, or talk to or encounter suffering in someone or some animal, and say there is nothing to do, because there is no one here, or no one there who is real that is suffering! That's cruel, compassion-less, cold.
A: Let’s take the “What’s my real value” utterance first. What you are really asking is, not what is “your” value, what is anyone’s value, but what is my value. Right?”
Q. Um, well… yeah.
A. So the question is, what do you mean by this “me”, and what do we mean by “value”?
I'm not saying they don’t exist, I’m simply asking, since you seem to know. I hear an implication, an assumption behind the question, and from some of our previous discussion, that one should be doing something valuable in the world, or for the world, such as of a tangible nature, such as building something, making art, making improvements to conditions, or making a contribution to society like an art form or scientific discovery, or even merely pursuing fun in the outer world, like travel and relationships, am I correct?
Q. Yes. Or at minimum, at least raising a family, being married and having a nice relationship, making some partner happy. And you know, doing some investments and buying us a house and all that. Like my brothers and sisters and most people I know have done… even though they aren’t very happy. Most of them are putting on a good show. I mean, maybe I could be happy and do both: the investigation into my true nature and have all the outwards things too.
A. Sure. But you didn’t answer my question about the “me”. Let’s look at that, shake it loose a little. [pause]
Now as far as the doing, it’s true one can do both, the inward investigation, the self-inquiry, the philosophical quest, the investigation into true happiness independent of circumstances, the so-called “spiritual” life, and do all the other thing at the same time. It’s not a contradiction. Let’s put all that aside now though, because the inner, real question is about this "me "you seem to know about. All is falls out, follows, emerges from that assumption. Because I'm still hearing an inner conflict, a doubt from you, in you.
Q. Yeah, like I haven’t done enough, or don’t have enough…
A. If you had done more, would it be enough? If you had more, would it be enough? I can’t ask these questions for you. You have to ask them of yourself, in all inner honesty. You have to be truly, really honest with yourself. Look in your experience.
You love or enjoy photography, right? And each time you’ve upgraded to a new camera, or a new girlfriend, you were excited and thought when that new camera came it would change your life and you’d be happy, right?
Q. More or less, yeah. Was like a fantasy. I guess. I did have fun though. For a bit.
A. Right, for a little while it was fun. Like a kid opening a package, Oh Boy, whiz Bang, New Thingy… and playing with the new toy, seeing what it can do… then getting bored, wanting to try something new with it. Or bebcoming mad, frustrated, unhappy aboiut it, judgemental, afraid, whatever.
Q. True, but isn’t that always the case – I mean, doing new things is part of life, part of the adventure, the fun and discovery and creativity, the openness and life. Finding the beauty.
A. Absolutely. So where is the dissatisfaction?
Q. Uh, well it’s the sense sometimes that I’m never “there”, like never settled in with the new things and just enjoying and relaxed and in the flow, instead of next thing, next thing, next thing… getting it all arranged.
A. Yes of course, the hungry mind, the mind wanting things right and perfect or getting it all set up. For the future. To enjoy in the future. Yes?
Q. Mmm, right. But there have been times where it was fantastic, like out in nature, just hiking around or sitting, or having fun taking photos, where it’s perfect and amazing … but it’s just a moment in time, gone in a flash. Just a memory now.
A. Yes, in the past, which is a memory in the present. And you want to reproduce that. Get back to it. Or get forward to it. Make it happen again. Set things up. Gets things all perfect.
Q. Yeah. And the artist and engineer, designer in me wants things a certain way. And the mind wants more of the same, the same experiences, since that’s what it does, it’s like a reproducing machine? But at the same time, always wanting something new. Like a greedy dog that wants more to be fed!
A. Yes. It believes that by setting up a perfect arrangement, like it has briefly experienced, it will experience the same experience. It thinks the perfection came from outside. And the mind is ever-hungry, is a movement of new and old, a child of time. And time is a child of mind. What is the daughter and what is the mother?
The mind can never understand happiness or peace – the real ones – because it has no access to them. It can only understand objects. By objects I mean objects of consciousness, awareness, the ultimate experience-er, or God, or nature, the unified field, the real intelligence, whatever you want to call That what you are, what everything is, in essence. The Real McCoy. Mental objects of time and space appear in Us, in This. Here now, timeless Us, This. Of which we are unable to speak or put into words or a limited object.
Have you ever noticed how you can be eating a fine meal, a really good tasting dish, and you are also reading or watching a video, and then right at the end you get up and go “Wow, that was a good meal” and realize you weren’t even aware of it, of what you were eating, the taste, the smell, how good it was while eating? It was in the background, but now it’s just a memory.
But even if you consciously enjoy it, and put everything aside and concentrate on that meal, the tastes, smells, textures, the atmosphere of the dining room,.. all of it, and appreciate it - even then the pleasures are effervescent, only last for a flash them are gone.
Q: Same for sex.
Now let’s expand the example, from a new camera, to everything, and say you had all the things you think would constitute happiness and peace of mind: a pile of money, were sitting in a big house, had a beautiful loving partner, a fancy car, and bunch of kids running around. Some friends over. Are you happy? Permanently happy and at peace?
Q. Well, um, yeah, it depends. I mean, I might be, for moments, the glow from the praise of the loved one or friend, or giving them a hug or loving comment, or having a few laughs with them, a few moments of warmth and love with the kids, enjoying driving the car, the comforts of the home. If I was in a good mood [laughs]. So, yes, I see it’s very ephemeral, doesn’t really depend on outer things. Like uh, even on the outwards side, now I have the same kinds of moments, of enjoying wonderful laughs with friends or strangers, of warmth with friends and animals, of enjoying driving my car even though it’s an older model – I actually find the older of my two cars more relaxing to drive. And I frankly would not want to have the friends they have, at all. I like my chill friends and their kinds of interests – so I’m not missing anything really that someone with more money would have, and in fact I have more peace and joy than my upscale relatives, from what I’ve seen. More beauty in my life. And I work on more interesting, cool projects than they do. When I feel engaged or interested anyway. Or not overwhelmed and bored by too many projects and busy-ness.
A. Do you notice something about all that you are describing.
Q. Uh, yeah. It’s just a feeling sometimes that I should do more, like a worry. Do more, be more, have more…
A. More implies not enough.
A. Why is it not enough – what is the feeling, the real sense, the experience, now – not the story, not the mental imagination going off on the same old tricks, tracks, pictures. What’s the raw, direct experience, right now, of sensations, perceptions, thoughts that is really driving the “not enough” sense? Close your eyes and see.
A. There’s plenty of time. You have nothing else you have to do, need to do now. Just look. We aren’t going anywhere. It won’t kill you. Remember, no story. Just the facts. Listen, look, feel.
Q. Well, I hear various sounds – the birds, the refrigerator, the neighbors running their water, the chattering of my thoughts, a mild buzz in the ears, and see vague images behind my closed eyes ... and things pop up in the imagination, all vague and meaningless, passing junk, and various sensations in the body, vague tensions in the face and stomach, tingling or vibrations all around on the skin. .. It’s like I’m scanning and checking or noticing things.
Q. So… what is the point of this? Where is it going?
A. You tell me. Where is it supposed to go – you told me you had a sense there should be more, implying it was not enough. What more do you want?
Q. So that’s it? Just sitting contemplating one’s navel?
A. What do you want?
Q. Um. Well. Right. Good question. [long pause] … Everything I think of that I might want, I immediately see I don’t really want it. It was just a passing thought or impulse, or habit from the past, something I picked up from the culture or whatever.
Q. So … now what?
A. Can you see that there was a someone wanting, a person, and entity, a lacking entity, at the seeming center. A shadow entity there. Like if you see shadow in the street, and look at the image of a shadow, and you say after a second, “wait, that’s my shadow, that’s me!”
Is it really you? Is that really true?
Is any of it really you? The images, the thoughts, the reflection in a mirror, the sensations from parts of a body appearing in a mind – any of it – you are so certain it’s really you. I am not saying it’s not, I am simply suggesting that over time, or right now, whenever you are ready, to really look at that. Because now you seem to know. Like you know that the shadow is you.
Q. Huh. OK. well that’s interesting. [long pause]
Well I don’t know, all I know is I want some kind of state of, I don’t know, like bliss or peace, or something really special and amazing!
A. Ah. Like continuous pleasure.
Q. Yeah, or like amazement and those vibrations of feeling so incredible you just want more and more or don’t want it to stop.
A. Like one big orgasm.
Q. [laughs] Right. [laughs] Or at least that amazing peace that nothing disturbs.
A. So what disturbed it? Besides the orgasm.
Q. [laughs] I don’t know. I got busy, it faded, went away. I don’t know.
A. Where did it come from and where did it go?
Q. Hmm. That’s the puzzling thing. I can try and do the same things that brought about the amazing sense of peace, like visiting the ocean – or the sense of mind-blowing beauty in certain locations, or feeling of love with a friend – by doing a meditation with them... or the bliss from an amazing experience in nature or with a drug. But even if I manage reproduce it, it doesn’t last.
A. Why do you want to reproduce something that’s gone already, or make something last that passes away. Again, what’s wrong with right now. What do you want?
Q. Oh. I’m still wanting more experiences, more phenomenal experiences, states. I’m wanting states, good states. States I like. What do you call that? Spiritual materialism? Still wanting objects as it were, but a different kind?
A. All you are saying it that if you don’t like the current state you want a different one. The current one isn’t good enough. Not adequate. Not up to snuff. Doesn’t pass muster. Unless it’s one of those highs or the one you like. The peace or bliss or joy or beauty or love states, whatever.
Q. Right. So now what?
A. All I’m saying is that that is rather boring, rather trivial. You don’t like the current state so want a different one, and want to change things. You want to change the world or change yourself or change the state somehow. Right?
A. And that is simply the state of the world. If you look at the news or listen to almost anyone talking or complaining, or at politics, or psychology almost any spiritual seeking, it comes down to that. Wanting to change something. Get something better or feel something better. Even economics and the pursuit of wealth is that. It’s not really about survival, it’s about wanting more, a sense of lack, of not good enough. Of so-called progress, and of destruction, really. Frustration, dissatisfaction.
Q. Not much I can do about that.
A. No, but you can do something about yourself. Question it. You can do it.
Liberation is possible. Is available.
It’s not common, yet is utterly free. In a sense.
In another sense it’s not free because it seems very far and very unavailable.
But I’m telling, you, such distance is an illusion.
It is not hidden. It is here and now and as far away as your own breath, your own inner smile and your own vision.
Q. OK. I’ll take your word on that.
A. Don’t take my word.
To put it simply, the problem, and the solution, is knowing what you are.
You think you know – in either a positive or negative sense – and that’s the problem.
The solution is seeing what we are not. Very simple, but not so easy, usually.
You cannot see what you are, because you are the seeing.
At this point, it might sound like a cliché, if you are at all familiar with non-duality. You’ve heard it all before.
But it can be useful to hear it re-stated in different ways, in ways you haven’t heard before, because we get stuck with certain mindsets. The mind falls into these comfortable little valleys in the habitual mind-space. But they get old and toothless and wrinkled, and need some sparkle of new life.
Can you see that they are the same thing: this habitual nature of mentation, and ephemeral, passing nature of pleasure, as well as your merely passing experience of happiness and peace, and seeking more of it… as it has been so far?
Q. So, the sort of disquiet, dissatisfaction – you are saying at the root of them, of all these manifestations, the seeking, the wanting, the pleasure that comes and goes so quickly, the boredom of the mind ... it’s the deadness of the machinery. So to speak?
A. No, the machinery is fine. It is, or can be, useful, depending on how it is used. The problem, so to speak, again, is identification.
Q. The deadness is in the identification?
A. Not exactly. The deadness is in the lack of awareness. It’s dead because the seeming object sitting in the dark, unloved, so to speak. A plant sitting in a dark closet may have some inherent or potential beauty, but it isn’t showing it, living it, until it comes out of the closet into the light, the illumination of awareness.
Q. Like a photographer that never shows his work to anyone, at least while he’s alive.
A. Yes but that’s still just a metaphor, even though it may be true that allowing one’s fellow beings to see one’s work may be a fruitful, a good thing, a happy experiment, spreading the love, whatever. We are however not talking about a social process per se. Nor is it anti-social. It is by nature non-dual, therefore crossing all categories.
Q. Not sure I’m with you. What are you talking about, as far as, like … an experience?
A. It is easier to say what it is not. But to try and say something positive, it is a seeing, but neither a subjective or objective seeing, since there is not a subject and not an object. Just seeing itself.
A. It’s alive. It is life itself, free, beyond life and non-life, beyond life and death, so-called. Call it consciousness, call it whatever you want. It has no name. It is Being itself.
Q. So it’s not about negating the person, or the body, or getting rid of the person, or the body. That would be a mistake – the mistake of identification?
A. Yes, exactly, in a different form. It would be interpreting, or misinterpreting non-duality, or the wisdom teaching, as implying something like the body or the ego or the person has to be destroyed, is real, in the first place. Nothing has to be destroyed that never existed in the first place, as a separate entity. It is simply seen for what it is, and there’s a little laugh and a smile and a moving on and enjoying life. If you are destroying it, you are glorifying it in a way, saying it’s real and important and a big problem or bad or terrible or whatever. Giving it life, giving what is not some kind of thick or heavy existence. A kind of egotism you could say. Depression is a big ego trip, and suicide is the biggest ego trip of all, if it’s done for psychological reasons.
Q. I see. So those people trying to kill the ego via psychedelic drugs, are in a way making the same mistake, or are under the same delusion as those trying to kill the person by suicide?
A. In a way, but we have to be careful here, because there are many distinctions to be made, such as the real underlying motivation. There could be a drive for transcendence, for a love of discovering or uncovering one’s true nature hidden behind that notion of trying a psychedelic for what someone has called “ego death”. We have to be careful of generalizations. Or, someone could be suffering from an incurable disease and in great pain, with no hope of a cure, and that is different from some kind of ego-driven, psychologically-driven suicide.
I am not pre-judging anyone’s motivations here, based on behavior or what they say, per se. I was merely pointing out the possibility of a fundamental error, a mistake in perception, that leads one to target the wrong enemy so to speak – an illusory enemy that one is actually legitimizing and potentially maintaining in that error and that activity. The “me me me” activity, the self-importance of the depressed seeming-person. You see? We already talked about this whole topic of depression at length before.
In summary, let’s just say “It’s not that nothing exists, it’s that no thing is everything.”
Or to put it another way:
“Nothing is not no thing.
It is something
Q. Haha, yeah, OK. Yes.
Reading this article literally brought on a feeling of wanting to kill “myself”. Yes, in the suicidal sense. I’m not laying the blame at your door, of course. I have a history of depression. That’s “my” stuff, “my” taking life too seriously, “my” history. Nothing “you’ve” done. But then presumably you don’t mind “me” writing this because I’m just a goddamn illusion anyway, right? And presumably you also wouldn’t mind if I killed “myself”, because I never existed in the first place. Great. Would “you” mind if your house was robbed and you got beaten up? Or if someone punched you in the face? Does me writing this make “you” angry or defensive? I honestly hope not, it’s not my intention. And if it does, isn’t “your” anger just illusory anyway?
So my suffering is an illusion, so it doesn’t exist. Apart from the fact that everything is one, including the sense of my suffering. But that aspect of the oneness doesn’t count? Doesn’t that make it two-ness again? Excellent.
You are something. Just not what you thought you were.