The Duality of Non-DualityPosted: August 26, 2012
Have you ever felt sick and tired of non-dual teachings? I do, especially when I hear people talk about it as if it was a Truth in itself, a somewhat ‘deeper’ and ultimate reality. I call them ‘spiritual carnival barkers’. To me they represent those poor souls who didn’t get what the Buddha meant when he said that the finger which points to the moon is not the moon itself. For the irony about any form of non-dual teaching is that it completely depends on the concept of duality. Which means, ultimately, that, it is a game without the slightest chance of any form of resolution, ever. Thus, non-duality as understood as the attempt to replace duality is as futile an endeavor as fighting with one’s own shadow, or removing a thorn with another thorn. Instead of freeing oneself of concepts about reality ‘barkers’ create yet another dichotomy, another layer of mind-made fantasy. Sometimes they talk about the absolute and the relative level of reality, not realizing, though, that they are just buying into (and consequently selling) another dualistic idea of reality. They may have had great realizations and awakenings about the unity of things, but, tragically, although they think they ‘got it’ (while they obviously didn’t) they suffer even more than before. Bodhidharma must have had them in mind when he said that “those who have great realization of delusion are buddhas; those who are greatly deluded about realization are sentient beings”.
You may ask what it is that ‘spiritual carnival barkers’ haven’t ‘got’ yet. Let me explain.
Our minds are instruments of discernment and logic. Their job description is to dissect and separate, to judge and evaluate, which, ultimately, forms the fabric of the (subjective) realities we live in. Our minds are so good at doing their jobs that we, otherwise physically rather feeble living beings, have become the dominant species on the planet. The mind’s power, however, is at the same time our species’ biggest weakness. Our ideas of reality are the cause of fear and desire, resulting in aversions and grasping with all its consequences for the wellbeing of ourselves and our habitat. To counteract this weak spot of ours, (spiritual) philosophies have been developed to undermine our concepts of reality.
One of these philosophies is Buddhism. Since our subjective realities are the sum of our concepts and believes, in some of its most famous statements Buddhism points to the realization that all conceptualizations of reality are mere products of the mind (e.g. “it neither is, nor is it not”, “not one, nor two”, “emptiness is form and form is emptiness”). Accordingly, in Buddhism, the ultimate goal, Nirvana, is ‘entered’ into by means of permanently transcending the minds power (called maya) to create the illusion of a conceptual reality. Once we realize that reality is ‘neither like this nor like that’ but simply what ‘is’, we are liberated from the bondage of our own concepts.
Hence, if we get ‘stuck’ in the conceptual duality of non-duality we haven’t ‘got’ it yet. Once we have removed the thorn of concepts with the thorn of anti-concepts, we have to drop the latter to be free. There is no need to carry our boats on our backs anymore when we’ve reached the other shore!
Let’s look at it from yet another, more modern philosophical perspective. If we look more closely at concepts we see that they are based on pairs of opposites like good or bad, right or wrong. When pairs of opposites are embraced (e.g. it is both right and wrong or neither right nor wrong), concepts collapse. Thus, according to the famous Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung, who thoroughly studied Eastern philosophy, the pathway to psychological health and wholeness, which he called individuation, is the ‘alchemistic’ reconciliation, or ‘union’, of opposites. Similar to the perennial philosophies of the East, Jung makes the point that we are only able to creatively hold the tension of the opposites if we realize that the opposites themselves are manifestations of what he called the ‘Self’. In other words, only if we realize the ‘Oneness’ of non-duality do we have the tool to collapse our concepts by reconciling the pairs of opposites that support them.
Again, the anti-dote is ‘non-dual realization’, but non-duality is not meant to be a new life support system. We should stop taking the medicine when we have recovered from our dis-ease or we risk poisoning!
How come ‘awakened’ people get stuck in the duality of non-duality?
According to Jung, when we start working with our unconscious beliefs and the opposites first get constellated, there can be wide oscillations between the two polarities; this can at times feel like manic-depression (“I got it; I lost it”) or even lead to nervous breakdowns (“Zen sickness”). If the person does not have a strong enough sense of self, which is to not have a strong enough ‘alchemical’ container to withstand the tension of the opposites, they will split-off, repress and project out one of the pairs of opposites and identify with the other. This will create opposition to the other side of the polarity and it may be an explanation why some people start “nestling in the stagnant waters of emptiness” (Zen). Awakening, thus, can make one more polarized and even more miserably struggling to bridge the (non-)dual polarity. Instead of a reconciling wholeness arising, egoistic symptoms result. For example, one may start considering the world to be foolishly ‘ignorant’, or developing fantasies of ‘healing’ or ‘redeeming’ the world or of dropping out of the world altogether, etc.
The teaching of the Eastern philosophies and of Jung are that all (yes, ALL!) of our stories of right and wrong are but reflections of the yet unreconciled polarities that make up our ego’s. To ‘free’ ourselves from our constricting beliefs and make peace with ourselves and the world, we have to learn to embrace and bear apparent paradox (more on this in my next post). Jung, thus, compared individuation, the process of becoming whole, to incarnation, for to the extent that we claim our wholeness we allow ‘God’ to incarnate in this world.
“When people begin their practice of seeking to attaining total Enlightenment, they ought to see, to perceive, to know, to understand, and to realize that all things and all spiritual truths are no-things, and, therefore, they ought not to conceive within their minds any arbitrary conceptions whatsoever.”