Defining duality (the dualistic paradigm)
Duality, in the context of the spiritual search, implies the existence of a separate ‘me-entity’, which we could call the seeker. And the seeker, is seeking something, a goal of some kind, which we could call Enlightenment or Liberation. So here are the two principle elements of the dualistic paradigm, a seeker and a goal to be reached.
The seeker (or subject)
The seeker can go by various names, such as the separate self, false self, ego, egotism, the ‘me’, being a ‘person’, the doer, the body-mind entity, being a mortal, and so on, but all these terms refer to the same essential seemingly separate seeker-entity.
The sought (or object/goal)
Similarly the goal being sought goes by various names such as Enlightenment, Liberation, Nirvana, God, Spirit, Brahman, Self, Awakening, and so on. Now of course the the specifics of the imagined/projected goal differs depending on one’s conditioning and experiences, but for the purposes of outlining the principles of duality in the spiritual search, we can leave it at this rather than explore all the various notions of Enlightenment.
The seeking (or path/process/method)
These two basic elements of duality, the seeker and the sought, imply a third entity, namely a path to be traversed, a method or system of spiritual enlightenment. So we now have three basic elements of the dualistic paradigm: the seeker, the method/path of seeking, and the sought.
Dyads and triads
In vedanta, the two basic elements of duality are sometimes known as dyads (ie. subject-object duality), and the three elements are called triads (ie. subject-process-object eg. knower, knowing, known). Sri Ramana Maharshi in his short text ‘Reality in Forty Verses’ (Ulladu Narpadu in Tamil) wrote in verse 9 ‘Dyads and triads depend upon one thing: the ego…’)
What about non-duality?
What about non-duality? Well non-dual expressions or teachings point out that these dyads and triads are all in fact fictions. There is no seeker or sought, or you could say there is only the seeker (eg. ‘all this is Self’, Self essentially meaning ‘me’, or ‘You are That’), or there is only the sought (eg. there is only Liberation, Liberation being the goal being sought), or you could equate the seeker with the sought (eg. I am Brahman, My nature is the Buddha nature). In all the above cases, the idea is that the dualistic paradigm, as outlined above, is a total fiction.
Deconstructing the (false) dualistic-paradigm
Now, if you look at the above paragraph, you can see several related methodologies emerging, all of which work slightly differently to produce the same end results of deconstructing the (false) dualistic conceptual paradigm:
1) Denial of the seeker/sought or subject/object duality
2) Resolving/merging all into the seeker/subject
3) Resolving/merging all into that which is sought/the goal. This is another way of stating that the goal one is seeking is already fully here and already one with everything.
4) Equating the seeker/subject with the sought/goal
In the methodological path of Vedanta, we can see all these methods in operation. Here are some examples:
1) ‘There is neither dissolution nor creation, none in bondage and none practicing disciplines. There is none seeking Liberation and none liberated. This is the absolute truth.’ We find this verse repeated in the Upanishads (Amritabindu Upanishad 10 and Atma Upanishad 2.31) and it is also repeated by Gaudapada (Mandukya Karika 2.32) and Shankara (Vivekachudamani verse 574) in their writings.
2) In Vivekachudamani, verse 356, Shankara writes: Those alone are free from the bondage of transmigration who, attaining Samadhi, have merged the objective world, the sense-organs, the mind, nay, the very ego, in the Atman [the self, ie. merged everything into the subject], the Knowledge Absolute – and none else, who but dabble in second-hand talks.
3) ‘Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma’ is a vedic mahavakya (great saying) taken from the Chandogya Upanishad (verse 3.14.1) which means ‘All of this is Brahman’, Brahman being the goal being sought.
4) ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ is another mahavakya, this time from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (verse 1.14.10) which means ‘I (the subject) am Brahman (the goal sought)’.
In other teachings, we see one or more of these methods of deconstruction of the dualistic paradigm, but we can also see that some teachings focus in on only one of the 4 above methods. eg. some teachings focus on stating there is no limited entity (1) or all this is already perfectly liberated and nothing needs to be done (3). You see, any single method, taken all the way to its logical end, reaches the same goal, and the teachings themselves self-deconstruct. Only the words used differ.
Why do and must the teachings eventually self-deconstruct? Because they too are part of the dualistic paradigm, the paradigm that presupposes a seeker-seeking-sought triad or seeker-sought dyad.
Doctrines and dogma
However, if the teachings are not taken to their final end, in which they eventually self-deconstruct, then the seeker may be left with a belief such as ‘there is no seeker’. We can term these beliefs dogma or doctrines. They are concepts mimicking a genuine ‘direct realisation of non-duality’. One person may believe ‘I am everything’ while another person believes ‘there is nobody here’. One person may believe there is no path, no seeker, no enlightenment, while another may state the only way is to merge all phenomenal objects into the Self-Subject. Now, armed with merely superficial concepts, we can argue about which of these doctrines or dogmas is true. Now we have a group of various false selves, all caught up within the (fictional) dualistic paradigm.
Such are the various traps of conceptual teachings when the teaching itself is not realised to be within the dualistic paradigm. Clinging to the words without the genuine realisation they point to means that the menu becomes more important than the meal.
A truly non-dual teaching?
So we can see that ALL teachings are dualistic, even the so-called non-teachings, and ALL teachings utilize fictions, at least initially, and your favourite non-dual teaching is no exception!
It’s just a matter of degree: some teachings are far less dualistic than others and point the way out directly and efficiently, which doesn’t necessarily mean they are better teachings, whereas others take a different route, which actually may be more helpful than the more direct teachings at certain points on the journey.
-Pointing out teachings or descriptions of what-is and teaching of any kind all imply duality. What is being pointed out (subject), and to whom (object)? Non-duality doesn’t need a teaching.
-To compare different teachings to each other is dualistic.
-To call one teaching truly non-dual and another dualistic is itself dualistic and relativistic, obviously.
Not that there is anything wrong with apparent duality!
So either ALL teachings/expressions/non-teachings are dualistic….or alternatively one could say that ALL teachings are essentially non-dualistic, as non-duality is all there ‘is’!
To have it any other way would be dualistic, and duality is a fiction!
Another way of putting is that there are not really lots of different teachers and teachings at all – although that is how it may appear from within the fictional dualistic paradigm – there is only Oneness Being ❤
Not that which comes and goes,
But that which knows both comings and goings;
Not that which is confused or clear,
But that which sees both confusion and clarity;
Not that which is happy or depressed,
But that which knows both happiness and depression;
Not that which swells with pride, or is deflated by humiliation,
But that which sees both pride and humiliation, and their effects;
Not that which is damaged by disease or benefited by medicine,
But that which knows both disease and health;
Not that which has desires and fears,
But that which sees both attraction and aversion;
Not that which judges or is open-minded,
But that which knows judgement and open-mindedness.
Not that which thinks or acts,
But that to which both thoughts and actions appear;
Not the ear, tongue, skin, eyes or nose,
But that to which smell, taste, sensation, vision and sound appear;
That which, in our experience,
is always present,
and unblemished by experiences;
looks with constancy,
always seeing things as they are;
cannot be lost or removed,
is effortlessly present,
and is the innermost essence of your experience;
Know yourself to be that.
This is a beautiful and profound ‘vajra poem’. It was given spontaneously by Gendun Rinpoche, a late Tibetan Buddhist rinpoche (‘precious teacher’), during a talk to his disciples. A book of his teachings called Heart Advice from a Mahamudra Master is highly recommended and teaches all the essentials of Tibetan Buddhism from someone who has a genuine experience of the truth that lies behind the words. Sometimes expositions of Tibetan Buddhism become overly structured and conceptual, but Gendun Rinpoche has a way of not only teaching the concepts, but also of indicating that which is beyond concepts and is also immediate and vital.
Happiness can not be found
through great effort and willpower,
but is already present,
in open relaxation and letting go.
Don’t strain yourself,
there is nothing to do or undo.
Whatever momentarily arises
in the body-mind
has no real importance at all,
has little reality whatsoever.
Why identify with,
and become attached to it,
passing judgement upon it and ourselves?
Far better to simply
let the entire game happen on its own,
springing up and falling back like waves
without changing or manipulating anything
and notice how everything vanishes and reappears, magically,
again and again, time without end.
Only our searching for happiness
prevents us from seeing it.
It’s like a vivid rainbow which you pursue
without ever catching,
or a dog chasing its own tail.
Although peace and happiness
do not exist as an actual thing or place,
it is always available
and accompanies you every instant.
Don’t believe in the reality of good and bad experiences;
they are like today’s ephemeral weather,
like rainbows in the sky.
Wanting to grasp the ungraspable,
you exhaust yourself in vain.
As soon as you open and relax
this tight fist of grasping,
infinite space is there –
open, inviting and comfortable.
Make use of this spaciousness,
this freedom and natural ease.
Don’t search any further
looking for the great awakened elephant,
who is already resting quietly at home
in front of your own hearth.
Nothing to do or undo,
nothing to force,
nothing to want,
and nothing missing –
Everything happens by itself.
Here are some more verses from the Kunjed Gyalpo (The Supreme Source), one of the most important texts in Tibetan Buddhism and Dzogchen. These words point the reader directly towards Enlightenment. See my earlier posts on the Kunjed Gyalpo here and here.
In the except below the first section initially directs us to listen to these teachings and realise the inherent liberation that is already present ‘without needing to alter anything’.
The second section indicates there is no need for special practices, or to speak or act in a particular way in order to get this.
In fact, as per the third section below, in trying to find your ‘authentic condition’ (which is self-liberation), you deny it and prevent liberation manifesting itself.
As I am in the authentic condition,
all phenomena self-liberate in the fundamental nature.
Without needing to alter anything,
the teacher self-liberates in the fundamental nature.
Without needing to alter anything,
the teacher self-liberates in the fundamental nature.
Without needing to alter anything,
the retinue of disciples, too, self-liberates in the fundamental nature.
As all self-liberates,
there is no need to correct the body posture or visualise a deity.
There is no need to correct the voice or speech.
There is no need to correct the mind through meditation.
By correcting oneself,
it is not possible to find the authentic condition,
and without finding the authentic condition,
one cannot self-liberate.
In this way one does not achieve the state of equality of the fundamental nature.
Excerpt from The Supreme Source (Kunjed Gyalpo), Chapter 29
So, what are we to do? We are essentially told that ‘you are already realised’ or ‘you are already whole’, but perhaps we don’t feel realised or whole.
We are told that no practice can take us to where we already are, but then what do we do?
The Kunjed Gyalpo exhorts us to listen to these teachings, absorb them, and see their truth directly!
But how to do this, the spiritual seeker asks.
There is no how, for in asking how you have already posited and given reality to the separate self that is looking for answer, that is looking to get somewhere. By asking how, there is already the implication that this is not it. But this is it!
The Supreme Truth and the way to it cannot be described. Only wrong ways can be described, hence the language is of negation – ‘no need to correct’….’By correcting oneself…one does not achieve’. The scripture tells us what not to do, not what to do.
The ancient method is to first listen (sravana) to the teachings repeatedly, then secondly to contemplate them and think them over (manana). This helps to develop an intellectual understanding of the teachings first, following which meditation and integration of the teachings (nididhyasana) can occur. This can occur gradually, or perhaps suddenly, without warning, a moment of clear seeing arises and the teachings that were once theoretical suddenly spring to life.
Bright, bold, clear, unchanging,
The masculine principle.
Mysterious, shape-shifting, temperamental,
The feminine principle. Continue reading
The following excerpt is taken from the book “How to see yourself as you really are” by the Dalai Lama:
What makes all this trouble in the world? Our own counterproductive emotions. Once they are generated, they harm us both superficially and deeply. These afflictive emotions accomplish nothing but trouble from beginning to end. If we tried to counteract each and every one individually, we would find ourselves in an endless struggle. So what is the root cause of afflictive emotions that we can address more fruitfully? Continue reading
A few years ago I read some of the earliest Buddhist texts that we currently know of and was shocked at how different they are to what is generally taught as being Buddhism today. Even Theravada Buddhism, which has the claim of being the oldest surviving school of Buddhism, often presents its teachings in very different ways. These early teachings were direct, forceful and devoid of complexities and lengthy philosophising. They reminded me much more of the pithy statements of Zen and Dzogchen Buddhism, which is surprising as these Buddhist schools are chronologically much later developments that occurred roughly 1000 years after the Buddha’s time. Continue reading
“And yet, even as I speak, Subhuti, I must take back my words as soon as they are uttered, for there are no Buddhas and there are no teachings.”
Buddha, Diamond Sutra
I’ve been reading several blogs and other writings aimed at spiritual seekers who have everything laid out so clearly. They have the map to spiritual enlightenment all put together ready for mass consumption. They say things like you are Pure Consciousness or Pure Awareness.
All the concepts are lined up ready to be taught by the bearded guru and gobbled up by the next willing namaste-wielding student greedy for the big E. Here, let the Kunjed Gyalpo metaphorically kick the spiritual-seeker-in-you in the balls (if you’ll forgive my sexism): Continue reading