The teachings of nonduality are very popular in the West these days. One of the reasons I feel many people are attracted to these teachings is because they assume the teachings circumvent or do away with the idea of ‘God.’ I mean if there is only one thing here, one thing that truly exists, that does way with the troublesome God concept, right?
The word God itself is used and defined so variously these days as perhaps to be rendered useless anyway. However, when one examines the dual world of experience, there is one thing that cannot be denied. It seems to be put together and functioning in an intelligent manner.
We have various disciplines of science which seek to unravel the workings of the universe. We have various disciplines of science which seek to unravel the workings of the human psyche. We have all sorts of disciplines which seek to unravel and explain the workings of those things that we see around us. So what is all of that about?
When the fact that duality appears to function intelligently is pointed out to some who subscribe to the teachings of nonduality, with a wave of a hand, they may dismiss the entire world of name and form as ‘an illusion,’ and therefore not real or worthy of consideration.
And while it is true that in a certain sense it is ‘not real,’ still duality is the world in which we live and operate, and therefore I feel it is highly worthy not only of consideration, but also respect, and if appreciated, veneration.
Some of the ideas and beliefs offered by Judaism and Christianity, the religions in which we were raised and whose ideas pervade our society, are very often difficult and damaging ideas when embodied in the human psyche.
The idea that we are born bad, that we are sinners from the get go and have to be redeemed, the idea that there is a separate and punishing God living in some other local, that there is an intrinsic evil called the Devil who is out to get us, and a place called Hell which we may never get out of, are all very negative and damaging ideas, and are in fact contrary to the very nature of our being, which is ever free and ever perfect as it is.
Thus we live in a culture many of whose ideas are in direct opposition to our actual true nature, and this can make us psychologically ill as individuals and as a society in general. It is no wonder then when some intelligent people hear there is such a thing as a nondual reality, they grab onto that idea because there is no uncomfortable God figure to deal with, ‘…nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’
But going for that idea, and negating or discounting the world of name and form is in itself a type of spiritual bypassing, and without bringing in the world of name and form and making our peace with it, the idea of a nondual reality will never really provide satisfaction for we will always be protecting ourselves from the discomforts that duality presents.
So how to deal with duality in a way that is comfortable, that allows for peace and relaxation, and also accommodates the understanding that in the end, the being and reality of all things is nondual?
One way is just to look around and examine the intelligence that is manifest everywhere in the world of name and form. Rather than saying as some nondualists do, ‘It isn’t real, and it doesn’t matter that it appears to be functioning intelligently,’ honor the intelligence that is evident everywhere.
In honoring that all pervading evident intelligence we may begin to honor ourselves, and appreciate that we are not separate or apart from it. Our very bodies, our very minds, our very emotions and the ways they are functioning are part and parcel of that intelligent display.
If we begin to appreciate this, we may begin to feel more comfortable in our own skin. We don’t need to keep the world at bay. We may rather go out into it and enjoy and appreciate it.
Duality isn’t always nice. We may not always like what is happening, but by understanding that it is functioning intelligently we may start to relax into that appreciation, and begin to ‘let go, let God.’ And here we can bring in the ‘God’ word, and use it to label duality and the infinite intelligent display. And God includes us. This appreciation does not negate the truth of nonduality. It does not negate the understanding that the being of all things is one alone, but rather it enhances that understanding, as now nothing, not even a speck, is left out.
“Ashcarvat! What a wonder!” declare the Upanisads, the original scriptures which point to the nondual nature of all things.
What a wonder! Nonduality is a wonder! Duality is a wonder! God is a wonder! The teachings are a wonder! The teacher is a wonder! Indeed it is all a wonder, an infinite intelligent wonder! And wonder of wonders, you are that!
This is a very timely post that not only touches on the God question, but also gently nudges people towards understanding that, if the world around us is left out of our hard-gained, conflict-free lives of light and love and peace, then we still do not know the non-duality spoken of in Vedanta.
Every model which attempts to explain Reality is fraught with problems. It comes with the territory. But, rarely do we see a model’s own adherent admit to this, but goes on to defend it to the bitter end.
“Oh, Wonder, all is Wonder…” It is like saying that everything – every day, every minute – is a miracle. Now one can sit back and enjoy even a good novel or work of fiction (not I, yet) and any of the wonderful mythological stories (which are more than fictional) despite belonging to the world of mithya – they have all come from Consciousness and will go back to Consciousness (at the “time” of mahapralaya?). It is all there, a marvellous display! God, the gods and demons… Wagner’s tetralogy, Beethoven 7th symphony, Dante’s Inferno, Don Quixote, Shakespeare’s plays… and the unnamable mystery and source of Being and Intelligence that ‘Thou art’.
All this is just your mind playing with itself. We have no idea of what is happening or what will happen. We only know the past and all the images it conjures up. You’re just entertaining each other with all these stories. That’s fine as long as you don’t take it seriously.
I am reminded of the story of the Zen Master whose pupil rushed up to him excitedly one day proclaiming “I understand now. I don’t exist!” Whereupon the Zen master kicked him on the shin saying, “Now tell me you don’t exist!”
The story goes quite nicely with the Zen adage: “When I first took up Zen mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers. Then as my understanding grew, mountains were no longer mountains and rivers were no longer rivers. But when my understanding was complete, mountains were once again mountains and rivers were once again rivers.”
There is always a danger that you get trapped at the intermediate stage, so to speak, where you think “you” know the truth when “you” don’t. Instead you can be wrapped up in your own concepts believing you know it all whereas all you really know are those concepts.
I think it is easier to integrate the concept of non-duality once you understand the four Yogas. The Raja, Karma(Kriya), Bhakti, Gnana Yogas that is. People trying to “seek the truth” inevitably follow one of the four Yoga paths. Some do severe austerities to realize the Self. Some follow the path of devotion and love for God, in order to find the Self. People like You and I go seeking knowledge from books and Gurus to realize the Knowledge of Self. And majority of people are immersed in Karma yoga having dedicated their lives to their work, charity, family and other things meaningful to them, in order for them to realize their true Self. To each his own. There are different paths one can take to realize one’s Self. The goal is ultimately one. And when you, if at all, reach that point of Self-realization, the path taken is irrelevant. You only realize that everything’s is One. There is no duality. And that’s the Absolute truth.
And meanwhile, on your way to Self realization, if you enjoy what the physical world has to offer, then please do so by all means. Enjoy the Sunset, enjoy painting it on a canvas, immerse yourself in the wonders of this Universe. Who know what that sublime moment will bring forth upon you. You will probably forget the ‘I’ in you, and just be one with the universe at that moment. And that will become your Absolute truth, even if it was for a small moment.
Advaita teaches that only Self-knowledge (i.e. j~nAna yoga via enquiry and shravaNa) brings enlightenment. The other ‘paths’ are only to prepare the mind to be able to do this effectively, although devotion/meditation can supposedly allow one to gain mokSha after death (krama mukti).
Yes. Advaita stresses on Gnana yoga for Mukti, Moksha, Nirvana. But Gnana yoga is probably the hardest of all yogas. It depends on how much the mind-body can open up itself to learning. People who seek the truth via enquiry and shravaNa should get the right Master who is enlightened himself, which nowadays, is hard to come by.
I would like to add that I did come by such a Master. I haven’t met in person but have listened to his discourses , and boy are they eye-opening!! He is champion of Advaita philosophy and comes from the lineage of Chinmaya missions. His name is Brahmananda swamiji, and he is a delight to listen to when he talks on Advaita in my mother-tongue 🙂
Gita 12th chapter beautifully explains the 5 stages of bhakti (God orientation).
1. Sakama bhakti – desire ridden, asking God for something. God as Beneficient, Merciful etc.
2. Nishkaama Bhakti – desire free relation with God. Beginning to see God as one whose grace is required for internal/spiritual growth.
3. Vibhuti/Expressions of God everywhere – see the divine in everything (including rats, monkeys, cows and what have you)
4. Vishwa rupa – see everything in GOD. The Cosmic concept..
5. Bramhan as Isvara (GOD) – Aroopa – formless. (everything… the whole scripture is there to point to what Bramhan is..The timeless, unbound, etc etc universal awareness)
Upto the 4th stage, it is non-dual reality. It is at 5th stage, as per advaita, the nondual understanding is introduced. Dvaita schools still continue to enjoy Dualistic view, despite the concept of Bramhan.