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Languaging Non-Duality: Common Errors

   by Peter Holleran

   “A Hindu sage advised the Brahmin to let go of his scholarship first, then of his meditativeness, and finally of his non-meditativeness; then only would enlightenment come.” - Paul Brunton

   This essay is highly intellectual and conceptual. It is a consideration of polarities and their (inadvertently or unavoidably) misleading use in the articulation of non-dual teachings. It is not to be construed as a complete practice, an alternative to practice, or a statement of 'the way things are.' But it may be useful, especially for those with an active mind, to investigate and ponder some of the common preconceived notions of non-duality and non-dual realization to better serve our contemplation in random moments. The purpose of this essay, then, can be considered two-fold: to clarify and better articulate our languaging of such spiritual matters, and to stimulate the intuitive mind. For this some semantic analysis is needed, for how do we even know we are talking about the same thing if we do not define our terms?

   It is said that truth is neither contrary or contradictory; further

   “We cannot understand a man’s words unless we know both what he means and what he does not mean...."No intuition can ever do what only analysis of meaning can do.” - V.S. Iyer

   Please bare with us, this is still in the editing stages. We begin with a little exercise. You can skip it now and come back to it later if you wish.

   A dialectic on self and emptiness

   The concept 'no-self' is widely employed in non-dual teachings. To speak of 'no-self', we suggest, is as valid as speaking of 'self', inasmuch as the two terms are mutually conditioning. More useful may to speak of 'no-separate-self', but as the Dalai Lama has said, "we do exist in some way, it is just unlike anything we can conceive of," therefore perhaps better to simply find out what the self is rather than just assume it is not there. Similarly, both self and selflessness are opposites and relative to each other. A truer way to speak might be to say ’no-no-self', but, since even ’no-no-self' is still somewhat conditioned by the complementary nature of the previously negated opposites, we must posit a final 'no [no no-self]’ as the affirmation of a true transcendental reality. That is how Chuang Tzu handled it, although after much effort he lamented that he had doubt if his process of dialectic was of much value (as discussed further in "Maya Is 'Maya' " on this website). But it might be useful, even if only at a later date when one is perched on the verge of realization, so we try anyway, planting seeds within the mind. When truly meditated on, it might bring one to his knees, or even take ones head off.

   We then do the same with 'emptiness'. If we first posit form, and then negate that as not being the reality, we posit emptiness. But then, since 'emptiness - considered as 'no-thing' - is only emptiness relative to form - or 'some-thing' - we must negate that and posit no-emptiness. Finally, since even no-emptiness bears the conditioning of the previous two negations, we must make a final negation, affirming the reality, as no [no-emptiness]!  

   The Jewish saint of India, Sarmad, expressed this by way of four 'renunciations'. [ see Sarmad’s Renunciations] He said,

   ”First renounce this world;
   then renounce the other world;
   then renounce God;
   then renounce renunciation.”

   This, in practice, brought him to non-dualism. However, as this is still a dependent form of ultimate renunciation (dependent on prior negations), to be consistent with our prior formulations we might add renounce [renounce-renunciation] ! This more accurately leads to the non-conceptual and perhaps the farthest one can go with words as a pointer.

   We can also do the same thing with the notion of subject-object. First we start with naive realism that posits an object 'out there'. But since that is never seen without a subject or perceiver to perceive it we then posit a subject by and in which the object is seen. We don't remain stuck in subjective idealism like Bishop Berkeley, however, and realize that since even this 'subject' is an subtle object or arising to consciousness or awareness, we must posit no subject-object. Some say this is non-duality and the transcendence of distinctions. Lest one think this is the final negation, however, since this no subject-object is still conditioned by the prior negation of subject-object, we must then posit no [no subject-object]. In other words, the consciousness we felt to be the very ground of reality is also seen to be a concept and 'empty', and it gradually ceases to hold our interest and falls away. This final negation gives us 'rivers are rivers, and mountains are mountains again', as the Zen saying goes. Not in logic, not as before, but in reality. Fear of 'contamination' - by ‘the world’ - is gone. The Sun is shining.

   The sage Atmananda similarly spoke:

   “The positive always has a taint of the mind in it. When the world is negated as unreal, it does not mean that the Truth is positive. Positive is also a relative term, within the realm of the mind. Truth is beyond both positive and negative, and is the background of both. But the term ‘positive’ is first utilized as a means to eliminate from you all that is negative..When everything negative is thus disposed of, what remains over as the ‘positive’ no longer appears positive. Its relativity being lost, it stands in its own glory as the ultimate Truth. Therefore, the Ultimate is pointed to in a negative manner, as non-duality.” (Notes on Spiritual Discourses, #1166)

   He lets the cat out of the bag, however, in my opinion, when he explains how the use of argumentation ultimately works:

   “Of course the Guru makes use of certain arguments to extricate the attention of the disciple from the obstacles, and to direct it to the Truth behind. Here the arguments do not work by themselves. They are supported by a mysterious something which emanates from the Guru and thus accompanies them. That is love. That is light. In its presence the arguments penetrate so deep that they do not leave a trace of the obstacles left behind...When one is thus established in the Truth, arguments are of no more service. Still you may see a Sage, well-established in the Truth, sometimes expiating upon such arguments. It is a sweet recreation and a delight for him.” (Ibid, #1177)


   “The head and the heart are not water-tight compartments. They complement each other. It may be said that ‘It is a harmonious blending of the head and the heart in the ultimate Truth that is called realization.’ It may generally be said that one gets enlightened through the head, and gets established in the Truth through the heart. A thought, when deep, becomes feeling or in other words descends into the heart.” (Ibid, #1179)

   So true enquiry to be effective has always been more than just a verbal exercise.....

   Polarities within Relativity

   I was listening to a tape of Mooji sent to me by a friend. In it he spoke of the inquiry as a means to take one from "time to the timeless.” This is okay language as a pointer, but it can also be seen as an example of choosing one half of a polarity to be reality. Many sages have done this, as is shown by an interchange between Paul Brunton and Ramana Maharshi:

   "I said to Maharshi that a certain appointment I had was a waste of time. He smiled: "There is no time, How can you waste it?” (Talks with Ramana Maharshi, source misplaced)

   There is no time? Such is certainly an experience, and it can be argued only a construct of the mind, and therefore unreal, but it does not necessarily mean there is some thing called 'timelessness' - unless we allow this to serve as a pointer to what IS when 'time' is seen through. And such technique of superimposition and recession is a chief method in vedanta. We might also contrast the remarks by Ramana with the words of other masters who have stressed the need to 'make the best use of time' while in the precious man-body! What is time? We seem to know what that means, but how about what is eternity? If it is not 'endless time' (which is how the mind usually interprets it), then what does it mean? Upon inquiry it can be seen that it in fact has no meaning for us except in relationship to the concept of time. (But maybe it points to something true, however; that will be discussed shortly). Time and timeless, time and eternity, then, may be seen as conceptual polarities or ideas within relativity - as also are emptiness and form, temporary and permanent, conscious-at-rest and consciousness-in-motion, and many others that may be projected on or color our perception of Truth. Some of these are:

   Absolute/Relative (!), Nirguna-Saguna, Truth-Untruth (Sat-Asat), Real-Unreal, Consciousness-Unconsciousness, 'Beyond Consciousness'/Unconsciousness-Consciousness, Self-Not Self, Emptiness (not Buddhist emptiness)-Fullness, Unmanifest-Manifest, Brahman-Isvara, Silence-Sound, Stillness-Movement, Womb-Born, Unborn-Born, Being-Becoming, Being-NonBeing, Good-Bad, Spirit-Matter, Universal-Particular, Male-Female, Oneness-Multiplicity/Separation, Nonduality-Duality, Infinite-Finite, Eternal-Temporal, Unconditioned-Conditioned, Disidentification (pos.)-Identification (neg.), Identification (pos.)-Disidentification (neg.), Desirelessness (pos.)-Desire (neg.), Desire (pos.)-Desirelessness (neg.), Non Attachment (pos.)-Attachment (neg.), Attachment (pos.)-Non Attachment (neg.), Subjective-Objective, Self-Five Skandhas, Buddha Nature-Christ Consciousness, Self-Soul, Absolute-Divine, Perfect-Imperfect, God/Creator-Creation, Ajatavada-Vivartavada/Parinamavada, Impersonal-Personal, Potential-Actual, Source-Projection, Truth-Illusion, Vidya-Avidya, Dharma-Non Dharma, Transcendence-Immanence, Timeless-Time, Understanding-Not Understanding, Jnana-ajnana, Nirvana-Samsara, Spaciousness-Contraction/Focus, Presence-Mindfulness, Essence-Human Nature, Now-Beginning/End, Source/Cause-Effect, Egolessness-Ego, Independent-dependent, Karma-Neh Karma, Reality-Maya, Turiya-the Three States, Ground-Foundation-Emergence/Expression, I Am-Witness, Witness Consciousness-Observer/Self Conscious Center of Personality, Space Element-Form Elements, Presence-Absence, Effortlessness-Effort, 'No Mind'-Mind, Determinism-Free Will, Enquiry-Meditation, Meditation-Not Meditating, Entering-Leaving, Sudden-Gradual, Realization-No Realization, Without Limits-Limits, Wisdom/Prajna-Method/Technique, and undoubtedly many more. Placing emphasis on one or the other of these polarities will condition how we intuitively envision and understand realization, and many spiritual traditions and teachings are guilty of doing so, either as an expedient, as in some sense it can't be helped, or simply because of a partial vision. Yet all polarities are 'empty' and 'not It'.

   This is a list of distinctions that are often made where the term on the left is used to describe or name the transcendent Reality (absolute, nondual) and the term on the right a term or characterization of relativity. [A few of them have alternative orderings, such as Desire (for God and understanding) being considered positive, while Desire (for self-aggrandizement) considered negative. Similarly, Identification (with reality) is on the positive side, while Identification (with ignorance) is negative. Also, Disidentification (with ignorance) is positive, while Disidentification (with reality) is negative. All polarities are within relativity. This list is basically meant to indicate distinctions of this sort that in a pure nondual view would be considered problematic. They are instances of projecting attributes onto the nondual that in a radical nondual view would be considered part of relativity. In many instances they would be considered part of a subtle, often enlightened part of relativity, but not truly representative of the nondual 'itself', as that would imply that the nondual lacked the complimentary characteristic. Nondualism, it is suggested, is best understood as that 'truer' or 'deeper' nature of reality that transcends these distinctions, and the list represents especially those views held by many that continue to project various dualistic notions and experiences on top of a more pristine nondual realization.

   The Gist

   Summarily stated, any of these concepts or polarities represent thoughts or ideas, and as such are not the reality. In vedanta, it is understood that for teaching purposes only one may use 'one thorn to remove another thorn.' Thus, non-duality is a thorn to remove the thorn of duality; non-causality is a thorn to remove the thorn of causality; 'absolute' is a thorn to remove the thorn of the 'relative'; timelessness is a thorn to remove the thorn of time; Unborn' is a thorn to remove the thorn - that is, the wrong concept - of being born; etc.. Unborn has no meaning apart from the concept of born. Non-Being has no meaning apart from being. Eternity has no meaning apart from time. Therefore by itself these terms are meaningless, except in their use as thorns to remove other wrong views or thorns of ignorance. Truth, however, is beyond all these polarities. Brahman is opposed to nothing, to no 'second thing.'

   Sat-chit-ananda is another example of something placed in contrast to relativity, or relative modes of being, thinking and feeling. It has been used, says vedantist V.S. Iyer, to teach minds that are still at the stage of running after something pleasing or satisfying. The human mind, always craving for something, is promised ananda or bliss. But is our personal satisfaction the criterion of truth? Not really. This is why ecstasies are universally recognized as occuring at a lower stage of practice. So ananda is used as a goad to practice or pursue truth. The higher truth is not 'greater and greater' ecstasy as we conceive it, it is something else entirely, according to the sages. But until a certain stage is reached the mind has a problem accepting this, because it feels that what is being proposed as something higher is a lesser thing than its bliss!

   A Possible Solution

   As a CONCEPTUAL exercise, it is suggested that one try placing 'Absolute', 'Nirguna', or ‘Truth'' at the top of a pyramid and the other polarities on the two bottom corners to symbolically represent a vision of reality for us. But aren't, for instance, Nirguna and Saguna ('without attributes" and ‘with attributes') just two more of the relative polarities, one might ask? That was how we listed them. So can we even place the Absolute at the top of the triangle? In a sense, maybe we can. The final or fundamental polarity is the basic polarity between Absolute and Relative, Nirguna and Saguna, Truth and Untruth. But in this case it is different - it is a 'vertical' distinction, whereas, in a certain sense, the other polarities are 'horizontal', both sides making reference to some quality or attribute or principle within relativity, even while it appears that the left-hand quality is of the Absolute. Whereas the Nirguna/Saguna distinction, although clumsy from a pure nondual perspective, paradoxically seeks to indicate the difference between two modes of experience - one in which we make such distinctions and one in which we do not! Part of the crazy paradox of life is that we don't seem to be able to realize the significance of nondual realization, and to awaken to it, without making this distinction. Then, when we have transcended dualism and reintegrated this realization with relative experience, we can acknowledge the appearance and relative meaning of the distinction without buying back into it. This might be called a final ‘purna’ (‘full’ or ‘complete’) non-duality, the paradoxical actualization of enlightenment, the absolute, within relativity. 

   Further Considerations

   A not uncommon example of this tendency to project onto reality one or the other of the relative polarities is found in Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine) where there is the notion that emptiness or Brahman is a kind of Womb of unmanifest potential, and that the relative universes, worlds and planes emerges or are 'born' out of the primordial womb. The nondual is the Source, Womb, First Cause, etc., out of which everything/being emerges, and back into which they return. This is sometimes the view of the nondual as the Great Mother, that gives birth to the Relative, a view similar to the vivartavada or parinamavada schools of Vedanta, or even Sankara's higher and lower Brahman (considered to be a concession he made in some of his writings for those of lower intelligence who could not grasp advaita or ajatavada). A very tempting image, but still a problem. All kinds of problems. Not for you and me, perhaps, but definitely for a would-be sage. By it profound nondual realization, for instance, may be confused with deep absorptions on a mystic path where one enters 'realms' where the dualisms of time, cause and effect, birth and death, are transformed into higher perspectives where simple creation cosmologies like these are apparently transcended.

   In Dzogchen they cut right to the quick and say that to distinguish between the Self or the Reality and the 'Five Skandhas' as the sutra schools (Hinayana and Mahayana) do is a deviation or, at best, a provisional teaching, for in truth the Reality is the Five Skandhas - and even the 'five passions', and the 'three defilements' ! Nothing is excluded in the position of pure non-duality, in which all phenomena when seen correctly are 'self-liberating', therefore all methods to 'do something' about them are ultimately false - from the purely absolute 'view', which is not really a view but just the way things are. This is similar to Sankara's final position that the Self and the World are not two. [Of course, as we shall see, this position can easily be misconstrued or taken up prematurely with disastrous or unfruitful results. Chogyal Namkhai Norbu prefaces the 'non-practice' of ultimate abiding with the following words, "For fortunate practitioners of the supreme yoga who have appropriate karma, there are no view, no commitment, no level, no path, no sadhana”. (The Supreme Source: The Fundamental Tantra of the Dzogchen Semde, Kunjed Gyalpo (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 1999), p. 152). Nevertheless, it is worth considering the highest vision at any stage of practice to grease the wheels for the eventual stabilization of clear seeing. (And notice the paradox [karma- no karma], found wherever one looks in the wisdom traditions: the teaching which affirms that in reality there is “no such thing as karma”, only comes to those with favorable karma!!)

    Ultimately, if one sticks to the principle of emptiness, as contrasted with the concept, he may be forced to hold that the doctrines of ajatavada (non-causality, non-creation) and vivartavada/parinamavada (apparent and modified creation and causality) are ‘polarities’ within Vedanta. Strictly holding one or the other may be considered a form of linear thinking. Another way of saying this is that ajatavada, considered as the ultimate non-dual doctrine, may not be a radical enough example of non-dualism, precisely because it holds to one relative polarity only, that of non-causality! And some vedantists actually agree with this. They say things like, “it is not that we assert that non-causality is true, but rather that causality has never been proven (although we accept it as true for practical purposes in the empirical everyday world).” There is a difference. The latter is content to demolish a concept, while the other would assert the truth of another concept.

   Many theologians and pundits have been clever and came up with combination words like ‘First-Cause,’ ’Causeless-Cause,' or 'Groundless-Ground', but are these, then, really a 'Cause' or a ‘Ground' at all? Are not these terms contradictions, and only pointing to (or diverting us from) something more mysterious or more complete than that? What our little exercise has been saying is that the reality is beyond both cause and causeless, ground and groundless, and any other of the listed polarities, inasmuch as they are concepts and categories of the mind.

   Another commonly used example is “Permanent/impermanent.” The student classically is taught to detach himself from the impermanent to get closer to the “permanent”. But ultimately there is no such thing as a ”permanent” reality to be found outside of the seeker. This, too, is only ‘a thorn to be used to get rid of another thorn’- of objective reality falsely seen as permanent. But regarding Atman no names are appropriate, even permanence. The student is asked sooner or later to rise to the level of non-duality.

   One more example is jnana/ajana. Ramana Maharshi said:

   "There is no jnana as it is commonly understood. The ordinary jnana and ajnana are only relative and false. They are not real and therefore not abiding. The true state is the non dual Self. it is eternal and abides whether one is aware or not. The Self is often mistaken for the knower. Is there not the Self in deep sleep, i.e., nescience? Therefore, the Self is beyond knower and knowledge."

   In other words, the term 'jnana' is conditioned by that of 'ajnana,' and vice versa. When one is realized the term jnana looses its previous meaning in samsara. It, too, serves as a pointer to the real condition.

   These types of distinctions are not just hyper-philosophical nitpicking, but necessary to have a clearer picturing of true non-duality. If someone's intuitive and philosophical 'bodies' have these notions in them, even though their inner state of presence becomes liberated from these 'bodies' (in sahaja or jivanmukti), the ways in which the state of nondual presence is not yet fully integrated into the various bodies will put a spin on how their realization is actualized in relativity.

    This relates to the very nature of nondual realization and the questions of selfhood. Better perhaps to simply say, as Jack Kornfield and some other teachers are now saying, that we go beyond all notions of a 'separate-self', rather than 'beyond all notions of self', as some advaitins tend to say. Just because we feel an impersonal realization doesn't mean there is no 'self' there; it may be too subtle for us to perceive, or, again, our experience is colored by our expectation. And there is certainly the One, Unique Self. But even assuming that that is “One’ may be jumping the gun in our investigation. By simply using 'no-separate self’, therefore, we are not needing to assume anything about 'self' other than its ever deepening mystery. Because in a nondual world self and other are intertwined and inseparable. And 'who' realizes non-duality? Some kind of self or individuality, perhaps? Nondual realization excludes nothing. Non-dual realization or Nirvana, as well as samsara, are both in relativity and known to some kind of self. That self becomes ever more interconnected and non-separate, but it still is there, otherwise who could become liberated? Saying it is the Infinite, the Self, emptiness, enlightenment that realizes these same things is not much help, and can lead to misunderstanding of the scope and nature of Relativity.

   Samsara and Relativity are not the same.

   Samsara is bondage in Relativity. Nondual realization, occuring within Relativity, is the realization that Samsara and Nirvana are not separate, and it includes both a realization or perception of the existence of the Nondual Ground (which can not be said to be either realized or not realized, it is beyond all such concepts), but also of the implications of that nondual realization for us within Relativity, and this latter could go on almost indefinitely - including the post-enlightenment increasing of relative 'merit and wisdom' (understanding of impermanence, dukkha, increase of compassion, power, skillfulness, etc.) that began long before one realized non-duality, according to certain teachings.. And I think this is what many sages point to when they talk about this thing taking a long time to actualize, even though it is simple and direct in essence. We can find nondual realization to varying degrees while we are still increasing in relative 'merit and wisdom', as the Tibetans say, and even after more complete, direct realization of non-duality, the relative wisdom is now seen as interpenetrating and mutually influencing the absolute wisdom. Relative wisdom generally does emerge first and forms the foundation of spiritual development which eventually prepares one for direct nondual insight, but at a deeper level they come to be seen as fundamentally inseparable, two aspects of one primordial wisdom.

   In this understanding we posit indescribable Brahman, as the absolute or ultimate, and in which there are relative (Saguna) polarities: consciousness/phenomena (maya), emptiness/manifestation, impersonal/personal, etc.. Thus, the realization of emptiness and its inseparability from phenomena is a form of non-duality - but still a 'Saguna' or relative form, with attributes like 'Sat-Chit-Ananda. Nirguna non-duality transcends these characterizations. It is both empty and full, and neither empty nor full. Nirguna has no attributes. Some teachers superimpose 'unmanifest' on Nirguna Brahman. This is one of the most common errors that many nondual philosophers fall into. Nondual 'experiences' can come in all kinds of flavors, being conditioned by the relative aspects of a person's nature. For it is their relative 'self' which focalizes this realization within relativity as a 'nondual awakening' or realization or whatever. So that relative self, in its many layers, will necessarily condition how the nondual is experienced. So sometimes it will feel full, sometimes void-like, sometimes blissful, sometimes sublimely cool, sometimes transcendent, sometimes immanent. And all of these are 'true' and facets of a realization that includes and transcends them all. So it is not unmanifest.  That would be more dualism.

   Nirguna is simply not describable in human terms and has no attributes. This would be true emptiness or Shunyata, the Tao, and only experienced (a relative and inadequate word) in glimpses until a high degree of relative actualization of the non-dual vision is achieved. By this is meant becoming more and more refined and integrative of the non-dual vision with subtler and subtler states of the body-mind - either within or without the body - with more and more universal spiritual qualities like love, compassion, discrimination, and the like becoming part of one's character. This is to begin to live a form of 'enlightened duality' as a bridge to non-duality. In Sufism it is being available to the grace of a master or other liberating presence, and inculcating the virtues, each of which form a 'spiritual station', which is a permanent advance of the soul. It is also what is meant by embodying the Christ Consciousness, which exists in both individual and cosmic forms, as both one's inner conscience and guide (the higher personality) and as a universal enlightening presence within relativity.

   What we are taking about is basically that aspect of the soul, personal and universal, which seeks enlightenment or liberation, to be of service, etc.. At the highest levels of relative existence one's soul becomes in touch with what in many traditions is called Spirit (i.e., Atman) and becomes even more impersonal and universal and, being less veiled, imbibes the essence of the non-dual more directly. All spiritual traditions have this intermediate phase, means, and methods, bridging the relative and the absolute. All of the planes and bodies of manifestation are illusion from the standpoint of Maya, but reality from the side of the Absolute. The process is, in relativity, of actualizing the Absolute or non-dual. For most, it is a gradual process. There are relative laws which must be respected and also embraced within non-dual understanding. 

   Another point. Some schools maintain that non-duality has to be united, merged, fused, or integrated with duality. This can cause problems. Various stages of spiritual awakening, beyond the stage of awakening to even a little degree to the reality of the nondual, are really just, stage to stage, unfolding realization of the 'true' nature of the nondual. It does not require integrating or uniting nonduality with anything, as some schools suggest. That is just another explanation of what nonduality already means. Nonduality inherently integrates every conceivable polarity, including our own belief or experience that it is somehow different from anything else. So, for instance, if we have an internal nirvikalpa realization, then that is a type of nondual realization, but if our experience of it includes a sense that it is away from the physical world, or requires negating or transcending Relativity to experience, or that it makes us special, or that it is on another plane, and so on and so forth, then it is a limited version of nondual realization. Then, as we gradually ripen the realization, nondual realization 'integrates' with everything, not because it in itself needs to be integrated, united, brought down, or infused. But because our realization of the true nature of nonduality grows, it is experienced as doing all these things. But it is not. That is our story of how we are understanding what we think is happening based on our current level of realization of what nonduality is. But it is all just unfoldment of nondual realization. Imo, any belief or experience otherwise is a misunderstanding of nondualism. For instance, there is no need to unite nonduality with anything. The nondual is already nondual and not separate from 'duality'. The perception of nonduality as needing to be balanced with duality is a misunderstanding of the nature of the nondual. This is potentially a huge problem, and has a domino effect that can cause flaws in the rest of any such system.

   Much more could be said on this, as it is fundamental to an integral vision of spirituality.

   This may seem like a lot of intellectual effort, but it can have value in the long run - if one has an inclination for it, at any rate. It is certainly not required! We have so many unconscious cognitive preconceptions that cloud our vision, however (and which can influence not only our thoughts, but in turn our feelings and actions as well), it may be worthwhile to spend a little time in such an exercise to undermine them.

   To summarize, all sides of polarity, such as “timeless”, “spaceless”, ”causeless,” “immaterial/spirit,” are pointers to break one away from naive identification with the opposite concepts such as "time," "space," "causality," and "matter." The reality, however, is not a concept, no matter how exalted or esoteric. And this, of course, could have been said in the beginning, saving the reader much time and effort! But the process of working out these ideas and clearing all doubts has the supreme merit of exhausting the mind and turning it back on itself. Sometimes, as has been said, the way out of an impasse is through.

   Some practical polarities expressed

   Here we unavoidably find ourselves faced with such queries as: "Is enlightenment sudden - or gradual?" and "Is it a matter of grace - or self-effort?" Similarly it is said, "those who seek shall find," but also, "those who do not seek shall find." Or "God helps those who help themselves," but also "God helps those who do not help themselves" ! Self-power/Other power, self-reliance/self-surrender, goal/way, path/no-path, lower/higher, self-improvement/self-acceptance, evolution/involution, light/dark, within/without, Long Path/Short (or Direct) Path, are other polarities we must come to terms to, and for which there are no simplistic 'black/white' answers. However, it might be said that they are stage specific truths, as well as expedients to be supplanted as realization proceeds. For example, the notion that 'I am the body' is supplanted with the idea that 'I am not the body'. And this can be experienced in forms of meditation. However, the ultimate truth is neither, being beyond opposites and concepts. 'I am not the body' suggests that we are a soul or spirit as opposed to a material form. But this itself, being based on the notion that 'bodies' are real,' is therefore, as Chuang Tzu might say, contaminated by and not completely free from that identification. Sri Atmananda puts it this way:

   "Divest yourself of the idea that you are the body with the help of the contrary idea that you are not the body. It is also an idea, no doubt. Treat it like something to be abandoned when its work is done. The idea that I am not the body, when in fact, there is no such thing as body, it is but a state of mind."

   Indeed, Brunton suggests that, situated in Relativity as we are, for an enduring realization to be actualized there needs to be a balance achieved between these seemingly polarized categories in order for two different kinds of actual results to appear in us in a kind of alternating rhythm, in character, behavior, consciousness, and understanding. There are glimpses of realization, but also a gradual process of actualization.

   Atmananda further said, again echoing Chuang Tau:

   "Changelessness only means the absence of change. They are opposites. A taint of the change lingers in the very conception of changelessness. So I must transcend changelessness also in order to be in my real nature....Liberation is complete only when you are liberated from liberation as well. Liberation is only the end of bondage, or its opposite. As such, liberation carries the taint of bondage in itself and is relative. So you have to transcend the opposites, bondage and liberation, in order to reach the Absolute. Till then, liberation is not complete." (Notes on Spiritual Discourses (Non-Duality Press and Stillness Speaks, 2009), #692, 717)

   But this of course refers not just to an intellectual process. In brief, "the Tao proceeds by contraries," says Lao Tzu. And so, "the path is as beautiful at times as it is terrible at other times," says PB, and, "some people have to get better and some people have to get worse," as an acquaintance of mine once remarked.

   “When do you talk of non-duality? Only when you have the idea of duality. When you see everything as Brahman, however, then the idea and all thoughts of non-duality disappears. The latter is merely an idea which you use as a thorn to extract the other thorn of duality.” - V.S. Iyer

   “When body is still and ego-mind is at rest, there is peace, sometimes even ecstasy. But when both are active but I am not, when there is neither questing nor non-questing, there is unchanging stability. That is realization.” - Paul Brunton

   "Then we taste, then we are fed, then we become one with the truth. We no longer see the truth as an object outside of ourselves. The truth becomes us, and we experience it as intimately as the soul experiences itself." - Fenelon

   ADDENDUM The following contains some repetition of the aforementioned, but also much additional consideration and examples of how even good teachers use language the articulation of which can confuse levels. This is an earlier version from which some of the material for the above article was taken, but which, upon review, was considered important for inclusion.

   Preliminary considerations

   Transcendentalist, nondual type realizations and teachings have existed on our planet for at least a few thousand years, probably more. There are many great traditions that practice it and express it, and many individual realizers within these traditions and more independently. In many cases, what this considerable history of realizers have tried to express across a great length of time and geography, is essentially the same core realization. Yet we have numerous lineages and sublineages in many different cultures, all with their own spin, their own unique style of embodying and expressing this realization. And even within a given tradition with a common philosophy, each realizer has their own unique spin on the larger vision of that tradition. This is so because the realization itself simply cannot be expressed in words, or conceptualized philosophically by the intellect. So as soon as we enter the dimension of intellect and words, we are invariably distorting this essential realization, adding bias and relativity to something that transcends that.

   There are two kinds of nondual realizers - those without adequate integration of nondual presence with the mind and voice so that they still try to 'catch' the spirit of their realization at that level, conceptualizing it and articulating it. And there are those who are realized enough to understand that that is folly and can never be done. For the later, one can still 'use' mind and voice to serve the awakening of others, but without the illusion that what is expressed is 'it'. Concepts like 'atman', 'anatman', satchitananda, monad, soul, individuality, nirvana, liberation, dharmakaya, etc., are all tools. The experiences of these realities can only be known directly, and then one sees that different people have attached different understandings to the very same words, and that all are tainted by relative, dualistic understanding, and so, at that level, there will always be endless debate about what it all means.

   That does not mean we cannot try to do better to develop our tools for pointing at Truth. But we must remember their limitations, and that they are inherently biased and relative, and try to be balanced and integral in our understanding. So, if someone embraces one principle or relative truth like no-self, impermanence, choiceless awareness, silence, etc. and rejects the complimentary principle of individuality, continuity, intentionality, movement and so on, then they have a less elegant and artful way of trying to point at a more mysterious, elusive and transcendent reality than their simplisitic models and language can express.

   One application that is suggested for people to train their minds and intuition to be more permeable to nondual understanding is to make an intentional practice of studying the following list , and cultivating the understanding that this list identifies, among other things, ways that people can fall into biased interpretations (and even experiences of) more transcendent/nondual states. These would include:

   and many others.

   This is not a set of characteristics where one is Absolute and the other Relative. Both principles are part of relativity. So if one works in a affirmative or negative way with any of these kinds of principles in an attempt to 'describe' or explain nondual Reality, and in a way that ignores the complimentary principles, then one has fallen into philosophical dualism. For instance, the doctrine of no-self takes a negative stance on the notion of self, individuality, atman, and even presence or beingness when they are suggested to have an individual and not universal aspect, and so on. But what is the opposite of selfhood? That would be 'otherness' - i.e., self and other. This must be negated also and simultaneously. And if these is no selfhood in otherness, then there are no individual objects or principles or identifiable anything out 'there' either. Then why say 'no-self', when what we really mean is that all relative, dualistic anythings, even conceivable universal laws, principles, and characteristics, are also transcended in nondual realization. Then to be whole and complete and balanced and integral, we should not pick on the 'self'. We should reject all relative perceptions. But if we look closely at the majority of those who speak these ways, they do not. Which is not consistent. It is a lopsided, simplistic, biased attempt to describe the transcendental.

   So, when reading spiritual teaching, one will notice now and then, but actually pretty often, that at some point or another many writers will eventually say something about how the nondual (the Tao, Brahman, Emptiness, or Buddha Nature) is the 'womb of potential' out of which all things are possible. But this is a dualistic interpretation and false. 'Potential' and 'actual' are two poles within relativity. The nondual is not potential nor is the relative the manifest or actual. This is just more superimposition. Both unmanifest potential and manifest actuality are interdependent aspects of relativity, which are transcended in true nonduality.

   Another example: nondual realization, which is 'not-two', is often described as being 'One'. This is an implicit negation of dualism, diversity, individuality, difference. Nondualism transcends and 'includes' both. If it can be named, it is not 'IT'. Similarly - naming a principle and then negating it is not a 'good' description of 'IT' either!

   It is suggested, then, that people may find it useful to study a list like this, and practice noticing when peopleuse any of these loaded words or concepts, and be mindful of how balanced and enlightened is their treatment of that issue or principle. If one is going to talk about it at all, then the subtler approach, if it were to truly come closer to a more nondual treatment, should do a better job of avoiding these so very dualistic formulations. There is a philosophical/artistic/mystical/scientific/intuitive skill of rendering the transcendent into forms that serve awakening, and, frankly, many are found wanting in this area. This is not a damning judgement, and we should be grateful for whatever service rendered to us.

   To approach a more subtle understanding of nondualism, we need to extricate ourselves from thousands of years of biases where we ascribed different characteristics to God, Spirit, or the One Life. We have overlayed all kinds of ideas - The Omnipotent, The Infinite, the Universal, the first Cause, the Unmanifest, the Nothing, the Womb, the Darkness, the Creator, the Eternal, and so on. These are not good descriptions. So that is a starting point. Then it is good to train oneself to not only notice when others use these words (and attached concepts) in biased, non-nondual ways, but also, more importantly, to purge our own minds of traces of these biases.

   Bernadette Robert's works, for instance, stand as powerful personal journey, a case study of a personal awakening of a certain stage, but somewhat less mature philosophical/intuitive understanding of the state and process of nondual realization. Her discussion quoted below is filled with such terms as love, knowing, compassion, no-self, self, consciousness, non-experiential, and unknowing:

   "Once self or consciousness falls away, apart from pure sensory knowing, there is no way to account for the nonsensory knowing that is specific to the no-self condition. Where charity, unconditional love and compassion had characterized the egoless or unitive state, knowing is what characterizes the no-self condition. Apart from this particular knowing, nothing else really characterizes the no-self condition; all it is about is knowing. This particular knowing, however, is not omniscience, nor is it a scientific or rational knowing. It is also not “knowing by not-knowing”—which best characterized the unitive condition. The knowing characteristic of the no-self or resurrected condition is different yet. I call it the “cloud of knowing” in order to differentiate it from the “cloud of unknowing.”Where the latter unknowing revealed a psychological dimension beyond the rational or intellectual mind (a kind of third eye), the “cloud of knowing” has no connection with the mind or psyche, nor could it be called a “way of knowing.” Here, what is known is not connected with the mind, the brain or any physical structure; it is totally nonexperiential. Where “unknowing” had been first a negation and then a transcendence of intellectual knowing, the present “cloud of knowing” negates unknowing and is quite absolute without any unknowing about it. (Both unknowing and this new “knowing” may be called a “cloud,” however, because both are beyond the usual rational, intellectual or scientific mind and its way of knowing.)"

   "The reason for bringing this up is to affirm that beyond self or consciousness there is a particular knowing that is neither omniscience nor unknowing, nor a knowing that has any need of a knower. The proverbial question people ask regarding the no-self condition is “Who knows?” The question, of course, requires an answer in terms of self (a knower) or in terms of the same dimension in which it was asked. To respond, “There is no ‘who’,” could never satisfy a knower and its way of knowing. Obviously the mind cannot grasp the fact that beyond self or consciousness there is no “who” or knower - as said before, self cannot imagine no-self. But this is why, beyond self, such a question (who?) cannot possibly arise; instead, what immediately arises is the question of the true nature of “that” which remains when there is no self or knower."
(from Knowing Without a Knower, in What is Self? A Study of the Spiritual Journey)

   To reject some relative terms like self or consciousness and then use another relative term such as 'knowing', or 'cloud of knowing', seems inconsistent and arbitrary. Knowing is a dualistic concept that only has meaning in other contexts (as all words and concepts do) such as not knowing (ignorance) or even there being a knower. Why is it okay to affirm 'knowing', or a 'special kind of knowing', if we must reject other relative concepts like the 'self'? This seems both inconsistent and inelegant.

   Adyashanti writes, in The Way of Liberation:

   "The Infinite knows itself by a simple intuitive regard it has for every aspect of itself. Thus it knows itself as utterly unknowable and absolutely present."

   Here we see being used a concept - 'intuition' - which commonly refers to a human faculty beyond the discursive mind but lower than gnosis or direct 'insight', which itself is of the Soul and nondual, knowing both itself and its manifestations as non-separate - but used for the 'Infinite'. Adyashanti does refers to this nondual level of the Soul by 'presence' and 'being', the 'I Am', ‘our true nature’, 'in which all worlds arise and disappear.' Thus, the impersonal Soul knowing itself through pure awareness is nondual, no-thing, no-mind, no-self (not identified with ego) - but the Unknown and Unknowable Ground is not, strictly speaking, although as we shall see, its realization is.

   The Infinite is also characterized by Adyashanti as 'knowing itself as utterly unknowable', yet already we are in deep waters of confusion in assigning attributes to the Infinite (which has been shown to be an unsatisfactory word, being in contrast to the finite).

   Paul Brunton (PB) himself many times said that we live an' egoless life' when we realize the Overself or Soul, but also equally often said that the ego still exists and is not annihilated, and that 'a higher self' continues that 'knows' itself as a point in 'ultimate Mind'. [For the many such contraries and paradoxes, see also "PB and Plotinus: The Fallacy of Divine Identity”, and “Non-Duality and the Soul: Some Knotty Problems” on this website]. And finally, teacher Richard Sylvester says that the existence of ego is fine, but that there is no person (i.e., self), in apparent contrast to Robert's 'no ego but still self or personhood of an expanded kind in the unitive state'. So for the average person to wade their way through this morass of contrary views is quite a job. A lot of defining of terms is required. That we will not do here, all of this is just setting the stage for the discussion to follow.

   Anadi, similar to Ms. Roberts, talks of progressing from knowing to not-knowing to 'pure knowing', but, while acknowledging the impersonal qualities of the states of presence or awareness and of being, does not assign 'pure knowing' to the 'Ultimate', nor does he feel the necessity to reduce paradoxes, or be constrained against using terms like individuality or Soul, as some other teachers of consciousness are. How does one 'know' there is 'no self' or 'knower', but only 'knowing' in that 'non-experience'? How does one know it is just 'knowing without a knower'? Maybe it is just too subtle to see. Likewise, how does Adyashanti 'know' what the 'Infinite 'knows' and 'how it knows itself'? And, again, how can he assign a human faculty like intuition, which lies somewhere between the discursive mind and higher reasoning processes, but lesser than the direct insight of the Soul or Overself, to the 'Infinite'?

   In other words, has anyone ever seen an adequate response to this question: if, as all teachers and traditions do, we are to acknowledge that some people are enlightened, wise, realized or what have you, and others are not (otherwise, why are we even talking about all this), then how can it be that there can be this difference that something associated with one body, one person or individual can be called 'knowing', 'awake', 'enlightened', and whatever, but that in another person is not?

   [Some try to get around this merely by saying there isn't a difference, everyone is enlightened. One old Zen master, however, once said, "that part always confused me" !]

   Talking in this way, which every single teacher without exception explicitly or implicitly does, is making reference to an idea which we can, with great validity, call individuality, or selfhood. It is at the core of the very notion that one person can be awake while another is not. People have tried to address this issue in a great variety of ways, all of which are invariably biased, simplistic, inconsistent and, subsequently, and unsatisfying. Then it is simply argued that the mind cannot be satisfied, and you are 'doing it wrong' or 'just don't get it'.

   What the doctrine of 'no-self' really means, in our view, for instance, is that the notion of a hyper-individualized self, a separate, dualistic, egoic experience of selfhood, that does not have a profound realization of interdependence and suchness, is not only untrue, but is the source of suffering. So we should really just rename the doctrine as the teaching of 'no-separate-self'. Then we are more or less all right. But the 'self' is no more an illusion than illusion is an illusion.

   It seems that as soon as a person starts using words like self, knowing, consciousness, beingness, and so on, and getting very involved in a convoluted conversation of embracing some words and fiercely tossing out others, they are not likely to find too many resonating with their portrait of nondual Truth. On the other hand, it is not as though one can't, with a foundation of personal experience, sort through what they are saying and find what truth is in there. One just might not find it particularly lucid, penetrating, or artistically well conveyed.

   The nature of this thing

   In a few words, then, what exactly is nondual realization? Here we will not be proposing or examining the different paths or practices to attain or actualize it, that being already outlined and analyzed in several essays, such as "The Depths of This Thing", "Not a One-Shot", "The Primordial Ground", and others . Our purpose here is the more modest one of capsulizing the nature of the realization itself, and its relationship to the notions of individuality, oneness, and the Soul. Our intention was to be brief; however, after first drafting this essay it was found necessary to clarify some semantical differences among teachers as part of illustrating the confusion over this issue, and to re-frame it hopefully in a more practical manner.

   First of all, the words, 'nondual realization', as words are a pointer to a realization, by degrees, of something that is ultimately inconceivable and uncharacterizable and beyond duality or nonduality, being or non-being, time and the timeless. And for this reason some teachers - such as Adyashanti - appear to have been distancing themselves from the word 'nonduality' when referencing that which is 'beyond' relativity and cannot be spoken of, be it called Nirguna (our preference - if we have to choose), the Absolute, or the Infinite, etc. - although, as we have seen upon closer examination, one finds them often reverting to using 'relative' language in referring to it! Calling universal Being the Unborn is not so incorrect, but calling the Uncharacterizable Nondual Ground the Unborn is.

   We have to distinguish between the 'nondual reality', which is the absolute, the ground, Nirguna Brahman, Emptiness - on the one hand, and 'nondual realization', on the other. Nondual realization takes place with in relativity. It is the arising within relativity as a state of realization that directly perceives the nondual ground, and realizes the implications of this nondual realization in relationship to relativity. The nondual ground itself transcends both nondual realization ( Nirvana) and the illusion of dualism (samsara). Nirvana and samsara both arise within relativity, and the nondual ground transcends them both. The state of nondual realization, by directly perceiving the nondual ground, subsequently realizes all relative phenomena as having the same nature as the nondual ground.

   For immediate practical purposes it can be said that nondual realization is the realization that there is no relativity to get out of - it all always was the nondual ground, and we simply did not realize it. Whether we buy into dualism or not, it is 'still all the Tao'. Relativity is that 'aspect' of nondual ground that experiences the apparent dualistic story of falling into ignorance and awakening. Talking about it all from a more relative point of view, we can say that there is such a story, and, of course, we certainly feel the suffering and want to awaken. Viewed from the point of view of nondual realization, we recognize the appearance of the relative points of view of dualism, and even the primary dualism of absolute and relative, but at the same time we realize the great paradox that it is and always was nondual. We cannot say that the nondual ground has no realization, or has realization - it radically transcends these categories. At the same time it is the complete and total nature of everything we call part of the relative universe. All this sounds crazy, paradoxical and even mobius-strip like - but when realized and contemplated with intuition and higher realization - it is said to be lucid, clear, obvious, even humorously so.

   Nondual realization is so nondual that it does not negate or reject anything, including individuality. In fact, nondual 'realization' requires individuality as a focus. Only 'individuals' can have nondual realization. Thus the term 'Soul' has value for our understanding. It is not just a separate self, an ego-self, nor a mere mental concept. We would call it Atman.

   The claim that “Atman and Brahman are One” is a stumbling block in the debate between advaitic schools and those that posit the reality of a Soul. It is even imbedded in some of the Upanishads, where the two are often confused. Many advaitists claim that through inquiry one realizes the truth of Atman or Brahman. Yet, why have two words if there is not a distinction? While it is in one sense true to say that Atman is different than Brahman, in yet another sense, nothing is different from Brahman! The way we would like to articulate it, however, begins by asserting that Atman is the essence of, and also beyond, the five koshas, and is the first level of self-nature that has as its foundation a direct realization of its identity with Brahman. On a path of inversion or ‘ascension’, Atman would be on the fifth plane (i.e., Sach Khand in Sant Mat). Yet as all planes intepenetrate, yet without comingling, the nonduality can be said to be the reality of the subjective essence of all planes or modes of the individual being. Atman is still ‘individualized’ - PB calls it Overself ('individual but impersonal') while anadi calls it Soul ('subjective individual impersonality'), but it is a type of individuality that realizes all is Brahman (the all-inclusive impersonal Universal Subjectivity and its manifestations). Brahman is the totality, and 'an Atman' is an individual locus of nondual/Brahman realization. It is an Atman that knows 'All is Brahman.' So looked at from one point of view, they are the same, and from another, they are different.

   The essence of the very nature of individuality at higher 'levels' is that they are based in the realization that all relative phenomena and truths preceived are nondual in their nature, but without eclipsing any of them. Individuality, universality, eternity, time, space, love, bliss, Shiva, Shakti, karma, Sat Purush, forms, bodies, planes, elements, realization - all these and more are realized as nondual in essence, and simultaneously illuminated by this realization at a relative level in a way that does not erase them, but instead reveals increasingly profound and subtle insights into the vast interdependence of all these relative realities. There is no need to negate individuality, but only continually deepen our realization of its transcendental and mysterious nature, deeper and deeper. At a certain stage of this realization it becomes apparent that the 'presence' of the experience of individuality does not obstruct this endlessly deepening realization, but is basic to the experience of nondual realization within relativity. 

   So we do not get rid of the self or individuality, but rather go deeper into more profound realizations of what it 'really' is, outgrowing lesser, more limited, more superimposed understandings. 

   Nondual realization is nirvana, the end of the experience of a separate self that can feel lack, being alone, desire or suffering. One has been reborn in a new type of individuality which has as it very foundation or essence an nondual understanding of relativity. So one is now an enlightened part of relativity, no longer in a state of samsaric consciousness, and one sees and participates in relative phenomena while resting in a state of realizing the nondual nature of all that arises - self and world. Upon this new foundation, one will continue to evolve in one's individualized actualization of the implications of the realization of nondualism within relativity, which implications are vast and endless and so provide a evolutionary 'future' that goes on as far as we can see.

   Let us examine further the notion of nonduality extending to all of the planes of manifestation within relativity. There can be said to be a type of individuality on every plane of existence, but beyond the mental plane it takes forms rather unfamiliar to humans in a physical body. Even the true nature of astral and mental consciousness and experience is a greater form of identity (traveling from one location to another by thought, communication by telepathy, synaesthesia, and so forth). But the nature of individuality in each higher plane becomes more 'realized' and deeply interdependent with everything. And the levels of Sat Lok and beyond include a direct perception of the nondual nature of everything as well.

   On paths in which inversion is a significant aspect, in terms of 'initiations' corresponding to the basic elements and 'vertical' inner planes - as well as 'horizontal' Buddhist stages of stream-enterer, once-returner, non-returner, Arhat, and Buddha - at the fifth 'initiation' (i.e., Sach Khand in Sant Mat, or its equivalent), personal suffering is over. At the third, one gains access to a deep ground of inner peace and equanimity, and has access to nondual contemplation in meditation, although as yet intermittently during normal life. One is not yet in a condition where he or she is able to stabilize the 'Glimpses'. At the fourth, this equanimity is very profound, and extends even to the inner worlds. One is already more or less liberated here, but there are residual mental ('third plane' or 'body') karmas. Yet one is in a basic state of sahaja samadhi so that one is not really conditioned by these karmas. At the fifth these karmas are exhausted, allowing the intensity of the nondual realization to shine even more brightly through ones personality. But from a basic point of view, even by the fourth (Arhant) the sense of individual separation has ended. And then individual karma ends at the fifth, having been finally exhausted. After that comes 'entry onto the way of higher evolution', as the Tibetans have said. So even the third stage is getting pretty close to liberation, and since it is 'the nonreturner', it is, in fact, liberation from the physical world. But the fourth brings one to the point of directly 'reflecting' the nondual light, and the fifth brings one to more fully 'being' the source of the light - two subtly different states. This is independent of whether one is in mystic trance or ordinary consciousness.

   In the same way that when one adequately 'integrates' nondual realization with the body it will finally liberate into the Body of Light, not to be seen by ordinary humans, so too if one adequately integrates nondual presence with the verbal level, it will be liberated into the Voice of Light/Nada/Shabda-Brahman. Only the Nada comes close to expressing the Word that is nondual presence 'described', so to speak. And so too with the 'philosophical body', which will be liberated with adequate integration, then never to be seen again on the plane of philosophy!  The most important point is that the idea of endless evolution within 'relativity' does not mean endless participation in samsara, or the state of dualistic suffering, which is essentially a state of mind. One realizes the state of nondual realization or nirvana within relativity, and then for that person, samsara/suffering ends.

   In Sant Mat they talk of an eighth stage, Anami (the nameless), 'beyond' the Atman. Can we say there is an individuality there? Well, consider - how could one pass into higher states/planes like Sach Khand in Sat Lok and beyond, and be 'led' anywhere 'higher', and have this result in growing spiritual attainment, if there were no individual that this is happening to? Whether the 'drop merges or dissolves into the ocean' or the 'ocean merges into the drop', the drop, according to anadi, amazingly knows what it is dissolving into. So yes, some do believe there can be a type of individuality there, but then again these states are so lofty and 'remote' from human physical consciousness that it is pretty impossible to retain memory or understanding of these states when returning to the body, and virtually impossible to ground these states in a body as a steady state. So it becomes a more subtle issue how to explore them, and bridge understanding back. It is said that higher limits or ceiling are not visible from either human physical consciousness on this planet, nor from great masters exploring these questions on higher planes and communicating their findings to us at this level, at the present time. Some have expressed that the dimensions of such eternal realization are unfathomable.

   Our best understanding is that the nondual ground of being is not at the top of a hierarchy of planes, but rather is the essence of which all planes are made. So it is possible on various planes, not just on the highest, to realize a state of consciousness that directly appreciates this ground since it is omnipresent. So the nature of the highest plane is not that it has a monopoly on direct nondual realization. This is not what distinguishes it from planes below it. Because of that, realization can also be had on planes below it. Instead, they have to do with the expression of the actualization of nondual realization in relationship to different dimensions or aspects of relativity. The lower set of planes appears to primarily have to do with the microcosm. So attaining a certain level of self-realization is primarily about realizing nondual realization in the context of the human idea and the microcosm. Higher octaves of higher planes appear to have more to do with integrating or actualizing nondual realization in the context of planetary, solar, and increasingly more macrocosmic contexts.

   A number of contemporary teachers are certainly onto nondual realization. We do not say they are totally wrong at all. There will be somethings that definitely sound the same, but we would argue that the overall approach of many is simplistic, reductionist, and/or dismissive of aspects of existence. The 'whole thing' is much more subtle and complex than it is often suggested. Multidimensional reality is not so easily swept under the rug or bypassed.

   We feel, in sum, that spirituality is developmental. One grows through various stages. It is a bit analogous to learning something like math. And so one goes from arithmetic to algebra/geometry/trig to calculus and advanced math. You can't skip over arithmetic and learn algebra. Its foundational. Intuition also grows in stages. If one tries to understand things beyond one's developmental stages - one simply will not see it clearly and their will inevitably be misunderstandings. Similarly, if one tries to oversimplify nondual understanding and make it seem 'easy' and rather accessible, this can only really happen by offering a lopsided, limited, immature version of it, which will cause many problems for people. Many problems. That does not mean that some teachers have not had a degree of real awakening - it just isn't often matured and integrated to an adequate degree to give rise to a sound and effective transmission to others. But there will be elements of actual nondual 'truth' in the insights, only perhaps not in a context that is rich, balanced, and integrated.

   The value of working with 'virtue'

   People can often gain some value by studying and contemplating nondual teachings. But for the vast majority - the accessible, practical, relevant juice will be in working with virtue. Cultivating qualities like equanimity, endurance, acceptance, awareness, service. Its not as sexy as talking about nondualism and quick and 'direct' awakenings, but it is more real and actually addressing the reality of what people are doing when the path is working for them at that stage (which is where most people are at). Our cultivation of these qualities of presence can be strengthened by use of many practices like mantra, visualizations, nada, breathing practices, and so on. But a basic part of the essence of what we are doing is cultivating these qualities. And either through past life effort and/or grace, the fire is awakened which gradually transforms karmas/challenges into virtue and relative wisdom. Sometimes, once the fire is burning, we don't even need to do much of anything to sustain it. We just have to endure the process, live a noble ordinary life with patience, understanding, and compassion. Eventually, enough karma/elementals are transformed that the quality of awareness arises that can see what has always been right in front of us - the nondual ground nature of reality. Then increasing the path is about nondual contemplation - stabilizing and maturing this realization, which is simple in its essence, yet vast and complex in its relative implications. The work largely changes from something done by a person to something done on him, by his letting be. Luckily, the relative aspect of this realization does not need to be perfect for it to result in jivan mukti, because even attaining a basic stability in direct realization will lead to personal liberation from suffering. But the greater richness to come after that simply expands the scope of our expression of this realization as love and relative wisdom and skill, so that our field of enlightened service and our skill is expanded more and more, all the while, paradoxically, actualized from within a state of realization in which we see all that arises as nondual in nature.

   'Virtue' isn't essentially about being good, or measuring up to an external standard, pleasing the teacher or God or anything like that. The function of virtue it that it is simply a description of the nature of being when we have learned enough from many lives about what will really make us happy and bring us closer to liberation. Virtues are pointers towards awakening. They are not 'commandments' that we must follow or be excommunicated! And one of the most important virtues is to be compassionate, patient and understanding with ourselves. We are slow learners, unfortunately, so extricating ourselves from ignorance and unwholesome activities and desires is a gradual, humiliating, challenging process.

   A 'nondual truth' of this reality is that we are always doing our best.

   "Hafiz, there is no one in this world who is not looking for God.   Everyone is trudging along with as much dignity, courage and style as they possibly can." 

   No one ever wants anything other than to be as happy as they can be, and tries to pursue that with as much skill and wisdom as they can. Why would we do anything else? We are always (mostly not so wisely!) trying to improve our situation to the extent that we can. If we could do more, and do it more wisely, we would. So, when looked at retroactively, all actions that have already happened are seen in a more nondual light as having been exactly and only what could have happened. There was no other possibility. If some condition had been different, then a particular action we took may have been different. But it wasn't. So it was what it was and could not have been different. We can only avoid an action, for instance, when we have enough wisdom to see for ourselves, adequately, that we just don't want to go there. If we only see it part way, but not enough to stop, then we keep doing it until we do have enough wisdom to stop, which is gained by doing it! Someone may point it out to us, but this can only add to wisdom we already have, and if that was not enough, then we just aren't ripe. That is simply how it is. So, strictly speaking, we can feel the pain of past karmic actions, and that is necessary, and we can learn from it and say 'I do not wish to create that suffering for myself in the future', and this is valid growth and wisdom too. But we cannot say 'I should not have done that', or 'it could have been different'. If we were ripe, we would have been different. And if it did happen, then we were not ready to be different. And the experiences that we did have were necessary to getting that wisdom.


   "The glimpse is the beginning; recognizing it for what it is, is a further and extended operation...For us who are philosophically minded, the World-Mind truly exists. For us it is God, and for us there is a relationship with it - the relationship of devotion and aspiration, of communion and meditation. All the talk about non-duality may go on, but in the end the talkers must humble themselves before the infinite Being until they are as nothing and until they are lost in the stillness - Its stillness." 

   "He enters into a state which is certainly not a disappearance of the ego, but rather a kind of divine fellowship of the ego with its source...He loses his ego in the calm serenity of the Overself, yet at the same time it is, mysteriously, still with him...It [the Overself] is a kind of impersonal being but it is not utterly devoid of all individuality....The dictionary defines individuality as separate and distinct existence. Both the ego and the Overself have such an existence. But whereas the ego has this and nothing more, the Overself has this consciousness within the universal existence. That is why we have called it the higher individuality....He as he was vanishes, not into complete annihilation and certainly not into the heaven of a perpetuated ego, but into a higher kind of life shrouded in mystery....The actual experience alone can settle this argument. This is what I found: The ego vanished; the everyday "I" which the world knew and which knew the world was no longer there. But a new and diviner individuality appeared in its place, a consciousness which could say "I AM" and which I recognized to have been my real self all along. It was not lost, merged, or dissolved: it was fully and vividly conscious that it was a point in the universal Mind and so was not apart from that Mind itself. "
  - PB

   Note: some will argue that this is a penultimate stage of realization. That the identification with the I AM known as non-separate from God still contains a subtle identification with ‘self.’ Christian contemplative Bernadette Roberts felt this was the fruit of the mystic unitive life, with the ego lost but still an identification with our true self or Christ-self remaining. There is still a polarity, but the self-pole is, as it were, ‘hidden in God’ (that is to say, in a veiled manner self exists in a God still conceived as an objective ‘other’, albeit unconsciously). This is not yet, she assert, the ultimate subjectivity of God itself. To pass into this stage requires a falling away of all self-identification, which she termed the realization of no-self. According to her, to allow this as a full realization and not a transient glimpse, the unitive state must be lived until abiding purity is attained. That is, until full ripeness. Her assumption is that the realization beyond self is permanent, the self dies, and nothing besides God alone is ever experienced again.

   Interestingly, a similar view from a vedantic perspective is given by Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj (master of Sri Nisargadatta) in the book Master of Self-Realization. He explains that after eliminating the limiting adjuncts of the physical, subtle, and causal bodies - the latter represent the void state of ‘forgetfulness,’ (perhaps similar to the ‘cloud of unknowing’ of the Christian mystics) - one then stabilizes in the Great Causal Body, which he calls our True Self and SatChitAnanda. This is a state of pure Knowing - and which he calls the ‘forgetting of the forgetting.’ (This may find its equivalency in Robert’s’ somewhat awkward notion of passing from ‘a cloud of unknowing’ prior to the unitive way to ‘a cloud of knowing’ afterwards.) Lofty as this step is, however, it still represents a subtle veil on the (ultimate) Self. Siddeswarameshwar says even the Great Causal Body needs ‘scrubbing’ and ‘polishing’ to allow revelation of the Self. Other more emanationist traditions, such as Sant Mat, speak similarly of a ‘super or supra-causal state where one exclaims and is attuned to the ‘hum’ of ‘aham brahm asmi’ (‘Oh God, I am of the same essence as Thou’), but have yet to reach Sat Lok or the realms of Truth. The questions remains, “is there an eternal Soul, as some traditions affirm, or is there only the one unique Self as Vedanta maintains? Or in a radical non-duality might both be true?

   But, notwithstanding that even the penultimate state mentioned above is a rare and glorified realization, we are getting ahead of ourselves and beyond the scope of the languaging or articulation of non-duality. These further discussions are developed in the next article in the series: “Non-Duality and the Soul: Some Knotty Problems.”

   Note: the reader should know that I had much help with this article, but my co-writer chooses to remain anonymous at this time.