Non-Duality for Dummies: An Introduction to the Teachings of Non-Duality.Feb 22, 2020
Human beings are concerned with two fundamental questions in life:
Who am I?
How do I become myself?
How we answer these questions determine which hands we shake and which we don’t; what rooms we walk into and out of; what we’re attracted to and repulsed by; whether we see opportunities or impasses in front of us; what we’re interested in and ambivalent towards.
When we have deeply satisfying answers to these questions, life feels meaningful and on track. When we are confused by these questions, life feels stuck and without purpose.
We cannot use the scientific process to answer these questions, nor can we appeal to authority. In some ways, we’re on our own to find the answers. We might contemplate these questions in solitude, or join social/spiritual/religious groups to discuss them. Ultimately, the only truly satisfying answers to these questions come from within ourselves, from the contemplation of our own experience.
This is where non-duality can help.
Non-Duality for Dummies
Non-duality is an ancient Eastern philosophy that means not two. It refers to the nature of existence consisting of one interconnected whole, rather than many separate things cobbled together.
Due to culture and upbringing, most people enter adulthood with a set of predictable answers to the question, Who am I?. They think:
I am my body
I am my thoughts
I am separate from others
I am separate from the creative force that made me
For many people, these beliefs are so embedded, they feel like facts. The question, Who am I? seems obviously answered.
The problem with these answers is that they are not satisfying. As long as I believe that I am my body, then I will spend my life worried about what happens to me when my body no longer functions. As long as I believe that I am my thoughts, I will identify with their content, which is often combative, adversarial and counterproductive. As long as I believe that I am separate from other people, I am okay being at war with them. If I believe I am separate from the creative force that made me, I feel like a puppet at the whim of some benevolent or evil guardian.
None of these beliefs helps me live a fulfilling or enriching life. They don’t help me form healthy relationships, resolve conflict or reach my goals. In fact, they keep me pretty stuck.
Non-dual philosophy helps me arrive at a more satisfying answer to the question: Who am I?
In relation to the above beliefs, non-duality asks:
If I am my body, what is the boundary between my body and everything else? Is it my nerve endings? My skin? What is the boundary of my skin? My brain? My heart? My hair? What about the hair that falls out of my head? What about the air I breathe in and out? What about my cells that are constantly regenerating?
If I am my thoughts, how come I witness my thoughts coming and going, yet I remain steady? What about the moments when I don’t have thoughts--do I cease to exist?
If I am inherently separate from other people and the world, how come I am in constant interaction with everything around me? How come I can’t separate myself from my environment and exist in a vacuum?
If I am inherently separate from the creative force that made me, where does that creative force exist? Wouldn’t that creative force and myself need to coexist in a larger space that contains both of us in it, thereby inseparably connecting us together?
By contemplating these questions, I arrive at a more functional answer to the question, Who am I?
Non-duality helps me see that I am part of an undistinguishable whole, and that I cannot separate myself out from the world, other people or my creator. I am not, at my essence, my mind or body; I am the witnessing presence that experiences my mind and body, and that experiences everything else in existence.
This new answer is much more satisfactory. It means that I don’t need to worry that I will someday completely disappear. It means I don’t have to feel left out or ignored or not considered. It means I’m never truly alone, even when it feels like it. It means that I don’t necessarily share the limits or the destiny of my body. It means that everything is ultimately as it should be, because my story is not the story of an individual person living in this space and time; my story is the story of the universe, of existence itself, of which my body is just one small part.
When this answer has been experienced with clarity, life becomes more peaceful.
Nuances of Non-Duality
The contemplation of the question Who am I? and the subsequent clarity that the non-dual answer brings is not something that can be achieved in the time it takes to read one article.
For many people, it takes a lifetime of contemplation to understand that all things exist in one interconnected whole, and that all separation is a myth.
In this section, I will attempt to dive into some of the nuances of non-duality, the common hang-ups that people experience on their path to answering one of life’s biggest questions.
If I am not separate from others, how come I don’t know other peoples’ thoughts?
My existence is not limited, but my mind is. My existence knows all thoughts in all minds across time and space; my mind only knows my thoughts. This is a critical distinction to make.
What proof do I have that I am part of an undistinguishable whole?
I don’t have proof that I’m part of an indistinguishable whole, but I do have proof that I am not separate from anything I have an interaction with.
In order for me to have a relationship with something--with a book, another person, a cup of coffee, a car accident--we both must exist in a common environment that contains those things.
Non-duality helps me broaden my perspective so that instead of regarding my body and mind as the ultimate reality of my being, I start regarding the space within which my body and mind appear as the ultimate reality of my being. This space is the same space that contains the book, other people, a cup of coffee, and the car accident. By identifying more with the space and less with my person, I acquire a deeper understanding of how things play together. I’m less confused, outraged or upset by the state of the world because I’m able to zoom out and see life unfolding from a higher vantage point.
Is non-duality a belief?
It is if I choose to believe in an answer without verifying it for myself. Everything that non-duality teaches can be verified directly through contemplation. No outside source is needed to reach this conclusion, although teachers are often helpful to work through confusions or objections.
Blind belief will not create a satisfying answer to the question, Who am I?
In the process of answering the question, Who am I?, we are likely to bump into confusion as we try to reconcile this new worldview with how we’ve been taught to view the world.
Most of the leading non-duality teachers teach in question and answer format, which allows people to go through the process of investigating, assessing, becoming confused and finally, asking a question. These sessions are often filmed and uploaded online, providing access to students all over the world.
Non-Duality Youtube Channels
While non-duality is an ancient Eastern teaching, there are many living teachers who grew up in western culture and work with western audiences. My favorite non-duality teachers are:
Rupert Spira - Rupert uses logic and precision to simplify non-dual teachings so that they are accessible to the modern person.
Francis Lucille - A career physicist and Rupert’s non-duality teacher, Francis approaches his teachings with the specificity of a scientific mind.
Mooji - For those who are more spiritually inclined, Mooji approaches the teaching with reverence and a slightly religious flair.
Quick Link: Non-Duality YouTube Playlist
With some progress made on the first question, Who am I?, the next most important question becomes, How do I become myself?
The first question is foundational, as it clears up any misconception we have about the fundamental reality of our being. Once we are clear on that, we can move towards the more practical question of becoming oneself. This question pertains more to our relationships, careers, interests, contributions and so-forth, attuning us with situations and opportunities that produce the most joy and fulfillment for us.
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