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Dustin LindenSmith

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on 'practicing' nonduality

I’ve considered myself a student of nonduality for a number of years now, but I have to admit that for much of that time, my understanding of nonduality has been mainly intuitive. When I would read teachings by Ramana or Nisargadatta or from the more esoteric Zen traditions, those teachings would resonate strongly with me; and yet, if I were asked to explain nonduality to someone else, I would always have trouble doing so. I suspect many others are like that, too.

My great friend and teacher Jerry Katz recently wrote a book about nonduality (amazon.com | amazon.ca) that I believe he hopes would explain it to laypeople -- to the masses, as it were. In it, he lays out the common nondual threads that run through numerous spiritual traditions, and provides a place for various perspectives to reach a common understanding of nondual reality.

But this too can seem a bit abstract, and despite my love for philosophical discourse and debate, I've still been on the hunt for practical means to cultivate nondual insight, and for ways to practice nonduality in everyday life. A recent interview that Jerry gave to a new site called Authors Audio provided some great insight to me on these counts. (The audio for the 30-min interview is here, and the Authors Audio website is here.) Some notes I took from the interview are below.

Where duality means "two-ness," nonduality means "not two," or non-separateness. It's the sense that a person is not separate from something that is greater than themselves, from a deeper, more meaningful reality than that which we experience in the everyday world.

Everybody has had that sense that there is something deeper than what's on the surface of our everyday lives. Nonduality is the recognition that we are not separate from that Reality, and the practice of nonduality is the absorption of our attention in that fact. In very simple terms, there is a three-step journey to full nonduality:
1.) We perceive that there is something more meaningful, more complete, and deeper than our everyday reality.

2.) We value that perception -- we desire to know more about that something that's more meaningful, and we place importance on developing a more constant connection with that Reality.

3.) We pursue that non-separate Reality -- we undertake spiritual practices to abide constantly in that non-separate Reality.
The interviewer, Jake D. Steele, commented that the human condition is one in which we're constantly falling back from that nondual reality into the dual world of pain and suffering and so on. To that point, Jerry replied:
That's true -- this is the human condition; it's called suffering. But some people do get a glimpse of something greater -- they sense that because they are imprisoned, there has to be a space of freedom. That freedom they can call Truth, they can call it Nondual Reality, or they don't have to give it a name at all. All they have to know is that it's there. So when people sense this place of freedom, this something greater, more meaningful, this nondual reality, some people will actually value it and it will become important to them, so that they desire that freedom. And that desire fuels their pursuit for the freedom they can have from suffering. The way out of suffering is to pursue nonduality.
Jake comments, "Jesus said that unless you become as a child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Is nonduality in the way we're talking about it the kingdom of heaven?"
That's the kingdom of heaven. When I said the perception of something deeper, of something more meaningful, vaster -- call it the kingdom of heaven. It doesn't matter what you call it, you just have to know it. And it can be a wordless knowing. But people know it. There's people listening who know it, who sense it, who intuit it, who feel it, who experience it.

People have experiences of nondual reality. I can remember my mother going on periodically throughout her life, every couple of years or so, about an experience she had in her late 20s when she was walking through a park, and suddenly everything became peaceful; an entire peace surrounded her, and descended upon her. And she walked in this peace, and it lasted awhile, a number of minutes. So there's an example of that first phase of nonduality, that perceiving that there's something greater, whatever you want to call it, the kingdom of God of whatever. She valued it, but I don't think my mother ever desired it to the point of pursuing it -- most people don't.

This is why I speak of three phases. A lot of people -- millions of people -- can identify with the first phase of the journey to nonduality, the perception, the sense, the feeling, the intuition that there's something greater than their everyday reality of paying taxes and going to bed and going to work. Millions of people know that. But I just go a step further and say, "Value that." Value it! Make it important in your life, that sense you have of something other. Don't forget it, don't just talk about it every couple of years like my mother did -- value it. Value it now, and value it constantly. The valuing is fuel for the pursuit, and once you value it, and say it's important, then you start pursuing. The pursuit comes in any number of ways, any number of practices. You can read a book, go on the internet, whatever. Just start the pursuit. The pursuit takes you. I have no advice about the pursuit.
To close the interview, Jake asked Jerry to read something from his book to illustrate some of his points further. Jerry chose to read portions from Ramana Maharshi's work. He began by saying that there are three ways to pursue nonduality, according to Ramana. One is the direct knowledge. That's when the sage speaks, and that just by speaking the truth, you hear it, and you get it. The second way is through a practice called self-inquiry. The third way is through surrender: surrender to God, or to formless reality. Here are the excerpts pertaining to each way:
On direct knowledge: There is no reaching the Self. (The Self is nonduality.) If Self were to be reached, it would mean that the Self is not here and now, but that it is yet to be seen. What is got afresh, will also be lost, so it will be impermanent. What is not permanent, is not worth striving for. So I say the Self is not reached -- you are the Self. You are already That.

On self-inquiry: Self-inquiry is asking yourself, "Who am I?" When thoughts arise, one should not pursue them, but should inquire, to whom do they arise? It does not matter how many thoughts arise; as each thought arises, one should inquire with diligence: to whom has this thought arisen? The answer that would emerge would be, "to me." Thereupon, if one inquires, "Who am I?" the mind will go back to its source, and the thought that arose will become quiescent. With repeated practice in this manner, the mind will develop the skill to stay in its Source.

On surrender: Feeling helpless by myself. God alone is all powerful, and I throw myself completely on him -- there is no other means of safety for me. Gradually developing the conviction that God alone exists, and the ego does not count.

It's the valuing of the perception that there's something greater than our everyday lives which resonated with me the most strongly. When people with a spiritual inclination are struck by this insight, it's difficult to assign enough importance to that insight to turn the pursuit of it into a practice. There's simply too much going on in our everyday lives all the time. But if we can give ourselves permission to value that insight, to make it important enough in our lives to seek it out and to let our awareness abide in that insight in a conscious way, then we're on our way to embodying an enlightened ideal in everyday life. That's just what will arise naturally out of that pursuit. And until now, this just hasn't struck me hard enough to make it stick.

(x-posted to nonduality)

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willowing November 8th, 2007
thanks for this. :)

i too feel non-duality intuitively, but can never explain it, i always have to rush to wikipedia for a 'definition'.

btw. do you listen to alan watts? i think you may appreciate his stuff. can download it on the podcasts.

iamom November 9th, 2007
Thanks, Tam. I have actually been on the hunt for some good nondual podcasts, and have listened to all the Alan Watts stuff that's currently available. I do enjoy it, too, and it's among the best stuff out there right now. But it's a product of its time, also -- the way he speaks isn't quite modern to my ears right now. It would have been tremendously enlightening at the time, but isn't quite so striking for me now.

Now I'm on the lookout for Ram Dass podcasts. I think he might be a bit more current, I dunno. Amd I might continue to find good scriptural stuff to record myself, such as I have been lately.

jaipur November 8th, 2007
Thank you for posting this!! It is a good reminder.

Part of me still itches at the term "nonduality", maybe because I'm not sure the opposing view is really a commitment to "duality". But "nonduality" is a good term--"unity" would be misleading, "integration" similarly so. "non-duality" merely says what it is NOT, not what it IS. You have to pursue it (phase 3) to come to grips with what it is...

iamom November 9th, 2007
Yeah, you got it. And it's part of the allure of the term nonduality, because it's a totlaly new word. Did you know that it's not even in the dictionary yet?

jaipur November 9th, 2007
Is "duality" in the dictionary??

Heh--I started reading a translation of Nicholas of Cusa's _Vision of God_ today, and he's already pointing out that God is altogether both rest and motion, up and down, and several other dichotomies I can't remember right now. Non-duality from the 1400's....

baal_kriah November 9th, 2007
But "nonduality" is a good term--"unity" would be misleading, "integration" similarly so. "non-duality" merely says what it is NOT, not what it IS.

That's a wonderful insight. When Maimonides set out to describe God, he found that he couldn't say what God is, only what God is NOT. I like one way that Nisargadatta put it: "Assertions are usually wrong, and denials right. Only by denying can one live. Assertion is bondage. To question and deny is necessary. It is the essence of revolt and without revolt there can be no freedom."

jaipur November 10th, 2007
I keep running into that in theistic contemplatives throughout the centuries... What God is NOT, is so important.

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