Tag Archives: non-dualism

The Trap of Dualism – The unanswered questions.

14 Feb

When the monk Malunkyaputta decided to ask questions to the
Buddha ‘These theories have been left unexplained by the Lord,’ and he
asked them all dualistically arranged. He expressed them this way, “Is
the world eternal, or not?” Almost binary in its dualism, the answers
must be dualistic. As they speak to relative reality, one reason often
cited as to why the Buddha would not answer these questions is that
any answer, regardless of what those answers were, would reinforce
dualism: me-you, space-time, object, and subject. So, Buddha not
only left his answers “undeclared” because they would set back the
unlearned practice with notions of duality, but also because they
have no validity nor benefit to achieve Awakening,
Attaching to relative reality and duality is one of the causes of not
Instead, at a non-dualistic level, one knows Oneness.
Oneness or the concept of Emptiness is about all things —including
every atom in the “infinite” or the “non-infinite” universe (whichever
it is.) The apophatic tradition emphasizes the unity, wholeness,
interdependence, and interconnectedness of all things.
In distinction from the dualism of the unanswerable questions, there
are intuitions about realities that transcend the systems of categories
in our human thought and language. They are matters which, in St
Paul’s words, ‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man
conceived’ (I Corinthians 2:9). Instead, apophatic theology refers to
the subject matter of these unanswerable questions as mysteries, as
matters that are beyond human comprehension and expression. Also,
they recognize that the endless pursual of logical and rational
thinking about these mysteries is useless and instead, makes it
impossible to attain Awakening or Emptiness.
The sciences are left to do their own legitimate study of finding out
what the physical universe is composed of, and how it works.
However, the Buddha would not have endorsed any attempts to
aspects of physics or scientific cosmology, as a new form of natural
theology leading ‘from science to God’. In another essay, I explore
more in-depth why that is true. ‘Both the physicist and the mystic
want to communicate their knowledge, and when they do so with
words their statements are paradoxical and full of logical
contradictions.’ Beyond Language, Fritjof Capra.
Nor, would he have supported the struggles of theologians over the
centuries, who have developed complex Cataphatic systems of
doctrine about the positive attributes of God. For the Buddha, all
such dogmas come under the heading of speculative views, the
pursuit of which is not relevant to finally understanding our
immanent relationship with Awakening.
It is remarkably difficult for human beings to overcome the
illusion of dualism. Mostly there is very little promoted to
break down the dualistic mindset which is so detrimental to
the interior, mystical, and experiential faith. “In ordinary life, we
are not aware of the unity of all things but divide the world into
separate objects and events. This division is useful and necessary
to cope with our everyday environment, but it is not a fundamental
feature of reality. It is an abstraction devised by our discriminating
and categorizing intellect. To believe that our abstract concepts of
separate ‘things’ and ‘events’ are realities of nature is an illusion.”
— Fritjof Capra
The ultimate reality is unknowable and beyond the scope of human
conceptualization. The non-dual state or emptiness ceases to
make distinctions, and non-dualistic awareness can see inwardly,
subtly, feeling and experiencing and loving with unconditional
kindness, truth, wisdom, and compassion. Being, living,
experiencing without cognitive borders is pure awareness. It is a
radical awareness, an understanding, a transformation of
When we listen deeply to our intuition, the internal sense, all is a
seamless unity, despite the appearance or teachings to the
contrary or the commonly held assumptions and mindset that
we live in a dualistic creation. The challenge is to give pure
awareness to the present moment, to personal, interior
experience, to the ‘simple’ presence of the now, the only place
where we can be in the truth, immersed in and infused with
discovering how to be fully alive. The negative way opens a path to
non-duality. “Immeasurably exalted is His Essence above the
descriptions of His creatures… Far be it from His glory that human pen
or tongue should hint at His mystery, or that human heart conceives
His Essence” (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet to Hashim. GWB XCIV:192)
Importantly, meditation practices cut through even the most subtle
clinging to concepts, including all clinging to religious ideas, beliefs,
practices, and spiritual experiences as if they were ultimate. This
clinging to a religious tradition as if it were an ultimate occurs if
religious training does not provide the means to uproot fully the
subconscious tendencies of conditioned grasping to human
conceptualizations that obscure the unconditioned and nonconceptual Awakening or emptiness.
An innate, pure, non-dual awareness uniting the wisdom of beyond
grasping to dualism with compassion for all still caught in such
grasping is conveyed by Buddhism through its teachings and
practices. The fruit of this path is the actualization of Emptiness:
non-dual, non-conceptual awareness, tranquility, equanimity, all-
inclusive compassion with activity on behalf of all alienated beings.
The Buddha saw in the wisdom of non-conceptual, non-dual
awareness, a path that is capable of non-attachment to even the
subtlest attachments. For Kitaro Nishida, perhaps the most
significant and influential Japanese philosopher of the twentieth
century, pure experience is:
‘To experience is to know facts just as they are, to know in
accordance with facts by completely relinquishing one’s own
fabrications. What we usually refer to as experience is
adulterated with some sort of thought, so by pure I am
referring to the state of experience just as it is without the
least addition of deliberative discrimination. …Pure experience
is identical to direct experience. When one directly
experiences one’s own state of consciousness, there is not yet a
subject or an object, and knowing and its object are completely
unified. This is the most refined type of experience.’
Mental training in Buddhism and apophatic theology is based on an
empirical perspective; that experience is the ultimate criterion of
truth. With the penetrative insight of Awakening, the Arahant,
meaning worthy or noble person who has attained enlightenment
because of listening to and practicing the teachings of a Buddha, sees
through the commonly proposed ultimate validity of concepts. For
the Arahant, all concepts are transparent and are not grasped
dogmatically. They are not regarded as ultimate categories, concepts
are “merely worldly conventions in common use, which an Arahant
makes use of, without clinging to them.” (D. N. I. 202) One’s entire
conceptual blueprint must be released—though gradually—and in
the final awareness, even those concepts that have given us the
greatest help in our spiritual practice are given up.
The Buddha used the raft simile to illustrate this; “In the same way, monks, I have
taught the Dhamma compared to a raft, for the purpose of crossing
over, not for the purpose of holding onto. Understanding the Dhamma
as taught compared to a raft, you should let go even of Dhammas, to
say nothing of non-Dhammas.” (Sutta-pitakaMajjhimaNikaya 22)
The common human condition is to be attached to the cravings of
egotistical consciousness, and yet this dualistic consciousness
deludes us of the awareness of the flow of reality. The Cataphatic
religions provide languages, symbols, and practices that alert us to
the compelling deceptiveness of egotistical consciousness with its
illusory character of separation and relativity of pain and
pleasure. However, it has been a tragedy of religion, that while
pointing toward an Awakening from dualistic dogma, it entangles its
practitioners in a dualistic consciousness which experiences the
ego/self as Soul.
Indeed, this common version of moral and metaphysical duality undermines and confuses any capacities for trueself-kindness, humility, compassion, and Awakening.
In many religions, there is an implicit non-duality in the often promoted imagery of love. It uses a vocabulary that expresses the intuitive primacy of love, peace, and compassion accompanying the
non-dual, non-conceptual awareness. However, any commandment
to love will remain encumbered by one’s own egotistical will.
Marguerite Porete was someone who understood that clinging to
religious ideas, beliefs, practices, and spiritual experiences did indeed
serve as an impediment to the annihilation of the final obstacle of a
permanency idea. As Marguerite Porete said, “One who remains in
will is often in such a war, whatever good works his will might do.’
Through the disciplines of asceticism, there is a lifestyle that
reduces material aspects of life to a minimum and to a high degree of
simplicity. This can include simple clothing, sleeping without a bed
or in nature, and eating a minimal amount of food. Then there are
the harsher practices that involve body mortification, torturing
one’s body, and self-infliction of pain.
The will is remorselessly dominated to renounce its attachments, but
the will often resist and is strengthened by those techniques because
of the maintenance of the dualistic foundation of subject/object, and
egocentric structures of the mind remain intact. However, just as the
the truth about divinity is not apprehended by more accurate
conceptualizations, the release of the will is not accomplished by
painful joys and sorrows but, instead, by letting it go with attaining
pure awareness or nothingness.
As Rumi wrote, ‘Your worst enemy is hiding within yourself, and that
enemy is your nafs or false ego.’ In a mystical way, Rumi is effectively
instructing us of the need of purifying our consciousness from the
falseness and dualities that are embedded in the sense-based life.
Therefore, Nafs or False Ego(نفس (equals any egotistical inclination.
The last hindrance of achieving awakening for the Buddha was
understanding impermanence and co-dependent arising and then
letting go of craving and attachment to everything leaving pure
awareness and No-thing.
Mistaking Words for the Truth
In the pre-enlightened mind, language is intimately linked with
not only the dualistic subject/object illusion but also with the
objectivist concept of a chasm between symbol-system realism and
truth. there is a fallacy of the use of language as a descriptor of an
objective, static ‘world’ experience. Words, and all concepts, are
mental constructions of the internal and external world. They are
abstractions, not the objective reality they try to capture. As Rudolf
Carnap stated, ‘[…] The formulation in terms of “comparison”, in
speaking of “facts” or “realities”, easily tempts one into the absolutistic
view according to which we are said to search for an absolute reality
whose nature is assumed as fixed independently of the language
chosen for its description. The answer to a question concerning reality
however depends not only upon that “reality” or upon the facts, but
also upon the structure (and the set of concepts) of the language used
for the description.’ In Buddhism and apophatic theology, a language
is a tool for communication and for pointing to the truth, a means to
help us attain Awakening and Nothingness. However, to mistake
words for the truth is almost as ridiculous as mistaking a finger
pointing to the moon for the moon itself!


25 Oct

To be Enlightened or Awakened…

22 May

The Apophatic Fall from Paradise

14 May

Heaven On Earth

10 Aug

Enlightenment of Awakening

17 Dec

When our actions are based on empathy and compassion we naturally want ourselves and all other sentient beings to be well, happy and free from suffering. This intention of goodwill to all men, women, and creatures is based on the natural state of being without ignorance. This natural state of mind and emotions can be accomplished through the gradual and progressive transformation of dis-identification and non-attachment to the pragmatic, relative yet necessary conceptual world. After transcending the attachments and identifications to conceptualization and objectification and the duality of the subject/object, one can and will continue to participate with others in the construction and origination of these images and stories while, at the same time, knowing that it is all a sort of magic show, thereby, give up the attachments, dogma, and identifications with the stories and characters that are created in our minds. This is the Enlightenment of Awakening to seeing things as they are. This is understanding the non-substantiality of all forms.