This is a work-in-progress non-woo-woo guide to non-duality. Over time this outline will get modified and updated. The articles will shape this outline and the outline will shape the articles. Eventually this might be pulled into a book. Send comments and suggestions. This is a work-in-the-open sort of a thing.
Last Update: Oct 10, 2020
This is a work of fiction. At best it’s an incomplete description of something that can’t quite be completely described. If you find yourself in your in a debate with one of the points ignore it and move on!
About the reader
This section explores the path by which most people end up asking these questions. This is the introductory section of this guide to non-duality.
- Who are you?
- This guide is for people who have some interest in meditation or the idea of meditation.
- Perhaps you’ve meditated and had some experience which makes you think that there is something of value in this practice. You’ve assumed that these experiences point you towards some answer. That one day these experiences will stabilize and you’ll live in the world from that perspective. Perhaps you think that is enlightenment.
- You might have encountered the word non duality. It’s possible you were left with the impression that non duality was enlightenment or that nonduality was the experience of enlightenment.
- You might be interested in contextualizing non-duality with other theories and concepts. After all traces show up in a variety of traditions. Do they all mean the same thing?
This section is an intro to the path that we seem to go through. Like most journeys it’s not quite a direct path. But it’s helpful to start with the basics.
- The treadmill:
- The discovery:
- Somehow we come to the realization that life isn’t working. Or as they say “The problem with the rat race is that even if you win you’re a rat”
- The “path”:
- The “quest”:
- The wakeup:
- The questioning:
What do we mean by Non-duality?
Could nonduality be right?
Clearly our understanding and experience of the world isn’t non-dual. We clearly perceive an independent entity navigating an external world. The people who expound non-duality speak of trippy personal experiences that make it all clear. We are told that this is the promised reward of a long meditation practice (or in some cases sudden enlightenment on a park bench). The feeling we’re left with is that we have to have this seminal experience. If we’ve had certain experiences we take it to mean that those were hints at a big-bang experience that will explode our world view. After all, we use fancy worlds like enlightenment, awakening, nirvana. This can result in the pursuit of certain meditative practices or an outright skepticism. After all we know plenty of reports of personal experiences that seem dubious (alien abductions). Perhaps the people promising this new perspective are in a shared delusion?
In reality non-duality is also our current experience. It’s just from a different level. Right in this moment as we are having our dual experience we’re having a non-dual experience. This is captured in the Zen saying Ordinary Mind is the way. A non-dual experience isn’t separate from our regular duality (it too is non-dual). Or as it is also said samsara and nirvana are the same thing.
This section explores non-duality from a different perspective. Can we chip away at the blocks of our understanding of the world from a non-dual perspective. Can we take on our assumptions and see if they’re real. Can we bring curiosity to the world around us and see the seams that we gloss over. See where there are some inconsistencies and could those inconsistencies give us clues.
- Epistemology: How our knowledge is skewed
- We think we are capable of having a rational and logical thought process about the facts we know. But our facts actually aren’t quite as immutable as we think.
- Everything we seem to ‘know’ seems to be in a continuum based on what we think we already know. A black swan is unimaginable until we spot one. Then it’s included in our world view for the future.
- How do we know anything? Hard is relative to soft.
- Relativity. What do we actually know?
- Everything is a continuum. We box things so we can name them, understand them, manipulate them.
- What is a living thing vs a non-living thing?
- We choose 3 attributes (eating, reproducing, breathing). This excludes a coronavirus from the world of the living
- What is an animal vs a plant?
- We think of an animal being a heterotroph (cannot produce their own nutrition). But then there are always interesting exception like the E. Chlorotica.
- Fronts/backs, tops/bottoms, long/short. me/you.
- What is a living thing vs a non-living thing?
- How do we communicate with concepts.
- Reductive reasoning
- Does decomposing things give the real answer
- It’s hard to communicate about this if we communicate experiences and concepts. How do we communicate the non-conceptual? Hard at first but we can once we have a concept for the non-conceptual. But it’s important to not mistake the concept for the reality. (map for the territory).
- Freewill, determinism and non duality
- Do we really not have free will?
- Free will in religion
- Free will in philosophy
- Free will and science
- No Self: Wait? If I don’t exist then who is this?
- What is the I experience
- Libet’s experiment
- What is true of the self experience.
- Mind vs me vs brain?
- Neural correlates of consciousness
- What happened to the soul?
- What happens after “I” die?
- What is the I experience
- Paradoxes, illusions, cognitive dissonance
- The seams show up as strange loops in our world.
- Looking back we find a looker and then a looker of the looker etc.
- We gloss over them and fill them in with assumptions. But pay attention to language and you’ll see the loops. For eg: “Freedom. But does that include the freedom from needing to be free?”
- Dark Energy: Space continually expands and creates new space. 70% of the universe.
- Zenos paradox
- How do you measure the universe? You need a ruler outside the universe to measure its length which means this can’t be the universe. So how do you measure the universe? This question doesn’t make sense. Since any measure will be short of the whole universe.
- Douglas Hofstader:
- Gödel, Escher, Bach.
- The I is a strange loop.
- Is this enlightenment?
- What is enlightenment? What does it “feel” like?
- It can’t be this simple can it? We miss it because it’s so simple. We’re like the beggar asking for alms in a bowl made of the world’s most precious gems.
- Buddha: “What did I get when I achieved supreme enlightenment? Absolutely nothing”
- Religious Experiences
- William James
- “The dark night of the soul”
- No-self and reincarnation
Ok. I’ll play along. How do I verify this for myself?
Until now we’ve examined non-duality with conceptual thought. We might have noticed how there are some gaps in our understanding of the world. Perhaps it’s made it now plausible to accept that non-duality might not all be nonsense. But it’s one thing to accept that it might not be wrong and another to start to see that it might be right.
In this section we’ll explore how one could get a subjective first-person experience of nonduality. We’ll examine the approaches in the world approaching them with the clarity of the work we’ve already done. We’ll see pitfalls and challenges.
- What is meditation? What is mindfulness?
- Is there a way to meditate for nonduality?
- I had an <insert adjective> experience once. Is that nonduality?
- Is that experience supposed to persist?
- But this runs counter to what everyone seems to say? Are they all wrong?
- What is meditation good for? Absolutely “no-thing”
- Pathless paths
- Subitism: Sudden enlightenment
- Psychedelics and drug-induced spiritual experiences
- DMT – the God chemical
- John Hopkins University research
- There are some maps of the “so-called” journey that practitioners undertake.
- 10 ox herding pictures from Zen
- Tibetan elephant taming
- What are pointers?
- All teachings are concepts. Concepts by definition are a description of the thing – not the thing itself (for eg: a map is not the territory. It may describe the land but it’s not the land. A menu describes the food but you can’t eat it and get the same result as eating the food).
- Pointers help you look at the right thing. It’s like the finger pointing to the moon. You have to look at the moon. But it’s easy to get caught up in the finger and comparing it to other fingers. Just look at the moon. And when you get confused come back and follow the finger’s direction back to the moon.
- Alan Watts article
- How to work with pointers.
- Pointers for the stages in the journey
- Ramana “Use this thorn to remove the first thorn. Then put away the thorn” These pointers help you look in the right direction.
- Gone Gone to the other shore. Upon arriving realizing we never left.
- Buddha: “Use the raft to get to the other shore then don’t carry the raft on your head”
- The Pointers
- Who is is that sees/hears this? Where does everything appear.
- Neti-Neti from the Upanishads
- Not knowing is most intimate
- Clay Pot (substance and form) (Upanishads)
- What is this? (Korean Son tradition contemplation)
- Silent Illumination
- Analogies. Help you think about what this is
- Mirror Mind
- Water and the wave
- Sky and clouds
- Background and the subject.
- Movie and the screen
- What is it like to be aware
- Shine the light back
- Glass as a mirror. You can see your reflection and through the glass. Both can happen at the same time.
- Ramana: woman who loses a necklace and finds it around her neck. There is a finding of something that was never lost in the first place.
Non-duality in Context
- Nondualism in religious contexts
- Kashmiri Shaivism
- The origins of Zen trace apparently to the Flower Sermon: where Buddha holds up a flower and Mahakasyapa smiles. Direct transmission of the teaching outside of scriptures is the way Zen is taught. Zen in theory focuses on the non dual aspects.
- Dzogchen: A part of Vajrayana
- Hindu Turiya vs Buddhist shunyata
- Hinduism posits the existence of the immanent (inherent) Atman as the substratum from which everything arises
- Buddhism posits anatman or the lack of any substratum. All there is no-thing (shunyata) (language fails us here. There is no-thing)
- Islam (Sufi tradition)
- Jewish: Kabbalah
- Meister Eckhart
- Thomas Merton
- Course of Miracles
- Other traditions
- The headless path
- Neo-Advaita (Satsang movement).
- Ken Wilber (where does he fit in?)
- Nondualism in philosophical context
- Non-duality and science
- Participatory Anthropic Principle: John Wheeler
- Particle-wave duality. 2-slit experiment
- Multimodal User Interface Theory (MUI) Donald Hoffman
- Science seems to aim for monism – an elegant theory for everything.
What are the criticisms of non-duality? Can you debunk this as nothing but made up words. Paradox is a clever shield for something inconsistent.
- Spiritual By-pass
- By focusing on no-self nonduality seems to excuse the individual of responsibility. Personal development seems to be unimportant because there is no self.
- Possible response: Nonduality is a description not an instruction manual. The effect of speed on time is real but unless you’re building a GPS system you don’t need to worry about it. You don’t need to consider quantum effects in everyday decisions. Ultimately there is no self – that could help you have less grief and less trouble.
- Nonduality as a religion
- As one starts to spout phrases like “I was never born and never die” is this becoming a religion. Isn’t this just creating a new concept and using it to say one is better than those meditators?
- Aren’t so called non dual gurus the same as the meditation instructors and even priests. Satsangs, retreats, youtube videos, blogs. Isn’t this a cottage industry that is building around the next thing?
- Experiential confusion
- Nonduality points to what-is. the entire mess of stuff. But when you try to point to it you’ve now got a dualistic philosophy of non-dualism. By definition anything that tries to get at it (this whole endeavor for instance) is dualistic.
- Buddhism criticisms
- Evan Thompson: Why I am not a Buddhist
“Living” with nonduality
So if this is it and there is nothing to do then what does life with nonduality look like? Does everyone rush out and start a blog and a youtube channel?
- Pratyekabuddha: Loners.
These people have pointed out the message of nonduality clearly. They’ve cut out the BS and stayed pretty clear to various degrees. The final message has no training wheels. Some of these folks use a framework of teaching to provide the message (to various degrees). But the important thing is to let go of the framework, the training wheels.
- Jim Newman
- Tony Parsons
- Alan Watts
- Richard Sylvester
- John Wheeler
- Ram Dass
- Roger Castillo
- Ramesh Balsekar
- Ramana Maharishi
- Joko Beck
- Joel Tollifson
- Sam Harris
- Dougal Hofstader
- Robert Adams
- Peter Dziuban
- Waking Dreaming Being
- Thinking in Buddhism: Nagarjuna’s Middle Way – Jonah Winters
- Non-duality in Buddhism and Beyond: David Loy