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Dustin LindenSmith

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Deepak Chopra on the radical teachings of nonduality

Jerry Katz's edition of Issue #4045 of the Nonduality Highlights includes a really interesting dialogue about nonduality involving Deepak Chopra. Jerry introduces the exchange like this:
As nonduality stands on the brink of a presence in major media, let's look at how Deepak Chopra addresses a question about why he has held back on delivering the full teaching of nonduality. The bottom line may be strictly commercial. However, ask yourself whether the times are a-changing and whether major media can absorb the full and diverse teaching of nonduality.
These are interesting questions. Certainly, the concept and discussion of nonduality is becoming more prevalent on the internet: dozens, if not hundreds, of individual seekers have created blogs and other forums which outline their expanding awareness and insights into nondual reality. Googling the word "nonduality" in 1997, when Jerry Katz first initiated Nonduality.com, yielded nearly nothing on the topic. Now, it yields 83,500 results.

In all of the higher levels of attainment possible in the major contemplative spiritual traditions, there has traditionally been a certain guru-disciple relationship and a particular path that is followed in order to attain enlightenment. (Now of course, in radical nonduality you learn that there is no separate self and therefore nobody to attain that enlightenment; however, the apparent self in the form of the physical body-mind does seem to be drawn towards the state in some cases.) The impetus for this guru-disciple relationship is that full realization of nondual reality can be a bit mind-blowing, to say the least, and can easily have the effect of either making you question your very existence, or else making you drop responsibility for your thinking and your actions because there's no individual self anyway. There are other ways that someone with insufficiently mature spiritual and moral foundations can interpret the most radical teachings, but that gives an idea. And furthermore, the most radical teachings are usually incomprehensible to most laypeople anyway.

I say all this as preamble to the exchange I'm about to quote with Deepak Chopra in relation to Jerry's initial question above: Are the major media, and by extension, the broad general public, ready to absorb the full teaching of nonduality? As much as I might like to think so and as much as I think that the ground is becoming increasingly ripe for it, I'm inclined to say "not yet." I don't believe that lay practitioners or lightly-interested parties can really soak up the deepest insights available from nondual teachings. Without some sort of pre-existing insight or well-grounded spiritual practice which has trained the mind at least partially to reside in stillness and not to be completely enmeshed in the stories of our individual personalities, I don't think that the radical teachings of nonduality are too helpful.

Having said all that, I do believe that the most lucid and poetic expressions of nondual insight can have profound, awakening effects on absolutely anybody who reads them, if the reader is sufficiently self-aware and open-minded. I also believe that the solution to all of the world's various problems, no matter how seemingly intractable, can be found by viewing those problems through the prism of nondual reality. So for those reasons, I would hope that the insights derived from nondual teachings can indeed be more widely disseminated and shared in the coming years, and I hope against hope that these insights may help to lead some people towards developing more impactful solutions to those problems -- even if only the smallest personal ones. Of course, it really doesn't matter one way or the other if that happens, it's just that I feel a pull towards that kind of thing "myself."

I'm going to excerpt from the excerpt below, but the full question and answer from Deepak Chopra can be found here.
Joe writes:
Having been a seeker for many years I have been through everything.
The seeking has not been particularly fun. Bouncing around from teacher to teacher, system to system, wasting much time not to mention money.
Everything came to a halt when the raw truth, the raw black coffee was presented through expressions of advaita.
The false self center is revealed and THIS completely demolishes every concept.
Everything was exposed as false and misleading- food for the seeker for a future time that will never ever ever come. The illusion of time itself. The mind trembled with fear- terror really… Thoughts pop up and try to regain ‘control’ but once it is seen as false ALL BS it comes up with fade quickly….
So, of course this brings me to a question for you: Looking at your body of work and apparent past I am curious as to why you aren’t more direct- why don’t you tell these seekers that there is no individual and this appearance is all arising in the present moment?

Deepak responds:
First of all, congratulations on your growing awakening. The essence of your message is the same as the basic message of advaita Vedanta—that individuality is universality, Atman is Brahman—and this is the teaching of unity consciousness that I have talked about for the last 25 years. What I would add to your description of the falsity of the self is that it is false insofar as it conceives of itself as a separate, isolated entity that acts independently. The disappearance of illusion world is the dissolution of the conceptual world we have built out of those false premises of who we are. The experience of the wholeness through individuality remains. Wholeness does not negate individuality, and individuality no longer negates wholeness. The drop of water in the ocean can still have the perspective of being a drop of water while it knows it is one with the ocean of water.
And while this insight is powerful and transformative to you based on your life experience, the reason I don’t spend all my time on this message to “dynamite the masses” as you say, is because this is a not the most useful message for most people who are aspiring to spiritual freedom. In fact it can be spiritually counterproductive to many people because it can confuse and disorient them. Especially if they misinterpret it as: “Everything I know myself to be is false, meaningless and wrong. It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do, nothing matters because I don’t exist and neither does anyone else.” It can make them morally confused and take away their sense of purpose and productivity which are still important for spiritual growth at that point.
When one is ripe for this knowledge of unity, then you feel liberated, blissful and powerfully engaged with all of life within and around you. You are everything. When you aren’t ready for it, it and you try to adopt the teaching intellectually, then it can make one’s behavior unnatural, artificial, or apathetic.
(to read the full exchange, see here)
(Cross-posted here to nonduality)