Non-duality is a paradox there’s no two ways about it. On the one hand we have the stark simplicity that non-duality is a realisation of the undivided nature of all in which there is no sense of self. On the other hand, well what do we have? Ancient teachings in Sanskrit and Pali, mystics through the ages, Vedanta, Advaita, Neo-Advaita, modern teachers on all continents (except Antarctica as far as we know).
We have people saying God is all, people saying there’s no God, people taking about no self, people talking about true self, true nature, over-self, ultimate self; people saying it’s all awareness or all consciousness and apparently creating another self out of these – the list is endless. How can anyone make sense of all that?
So we go online, do a little research, maybe join a forum or two and what do we find? Lots of people claiming to be awakened or that their teacher is, all arguing, splitting hairs and getting bogged down in semantics. Put off yet? I think we’ve all reached the point at times where we’ve slammed the lid of the laptop, determined not to read another non-dual teaching for at least a month!
Okay, don’t despair. As with so much of this human experience, the way it appears isn’t necessarily the way it is. Firstly, on the point of language and semantics, never lose sight of the fact that all teachers and teachings are pointing to a single truth. There can only be one ultimate truth, right? The challenge is each of us has our conditioning culturally, socially, geographically etc. That affects the way we say things, the way we express ourselves. Also, English is not a particularly helpful language to use, it’s very secular and the few words that we can apply come with centuries of baggage. So we have to make an effort to get past all of that, to get behind the words and to find the meaning.
On the plus side, because all teachers are pointing to the same truth, it doesn’t really matter which one we choose, just go with what speaks most clearly to you. I would say by way of a small caveat that all teachers do not see equally clearly. They may all have had an awakening, but the degree to which that has led them to, as Adyashanti puts it, ‘abiding non-dual awareness’, varies. That aside they all have something to offer as long as we don’t end up deifying them rather than using their words to help us see.
In terms of language as used in this blog and in many other writings please bear in mind that it’s not quite accurate to say a person awakens because at the point of awakening the sense of self, the sense of there being a separate person is seen through. So keeping that in mind disregard any language here or anywhere else that makes use of personal or possessive pronouns, it’s just that it’s tricky to write anything without using them occasionally.
Let’s go back to basics; what do we mean by awakening or to give it its full title, awakening to non-duality? Awakening happens when it is seen or fully realised that in reality there are no separate things including no separate self. Maybe that’s a lot to take in, I don’t know. If you’re still not sure that’s even possible, I understand. I mean it’s one thing to consider that a venerable teacher such as the Buddha achieved enlightenment or awakening (Buddha means ‘the awakened one’) and perhaps we might consider Jesus had the same revelation, and maybe even a few saints or revered monks, but you and me? How can we do it?
The simple fact is we can and the modern non-dual movement is all about, with the greatest respect to those that have gone before, rescuing awakening from the dusty pages of old books, the mystical and technical language of ancient and modern commentaries and making it available right here, right now in simple terms. So yes, you can awaken.
When it is seen, the utter simplicity of it will hit you. Of course simple doesn’t mean easy. Climbing a mountain is simple isn’t it? You just point yourself at the top and put one foot in front of the other till you can’t go any higher. It’s simple but it’s not easy, it takes effort and persistence and support at times.
When Whymper conquered the Matterhorn no one could believe it. It seemed and it was a singular achievement. Now thousands of people do it each year. If you follow the standard route there’s a sign part way up that says ‘No Mountain Biking’.
We need to shift our perception of non-duality away from something steeped in history, religious hermeneutics, abstruse concepts or technical language. We can read and perhaps take inspiration from any of these and maybe gain some insights along the way, but in the end it all comes back to you. You have to investigate, to look deeply with courage and openness and you have to be prepared to fully and unconditionally accept what you see and then move past it and keep looking deeper.
Because what’s on the surface is all about separation, that’s the way it appears to be, we all know that. But that’s not how it is and to see how it is we have to go deeper. When we do, when we get right down to it what do we find? A lot of concepts, beliefs, what I like to call stories; our stories, the stories of this personality and its likes and dislikes, its hopes and dreams and fears. Aren’t those real? They’re real as stories, but there isn’t a ‘me’ that’s real behind them.
When we really look we see that what we’d like to be a solid self is really very changing and not solid at all. Our personality changes depending on who we’re with, where we are, what’s going on around us. Just think of how you behave in a range of different circumstances and you’ll see this for yourself. No one’s denying there is a personality, it’s just that the personality might be nothing more than a complex set of conditioned responses to events that doesn’t have a separate controller at the helm. Of course we only see this when we start looking deeply into it.
That wasn’t my path however. I didn’t start by trying to realise that there is no separate self. I wasn’t aware that awakening was a thing that could happen at all in fact. That didn’t stop it happening. I was busy at the other end of the spectrum looking at what appears to be the objective world. First came the realisation that all is constantly changing. This led to the revelation that there are no such things as nouns because nothing is ever fixed, it’s all just processes happening. Then the realisation that these are only known through the senses and never known or experienced directly in their own nature. Then I saw that all of our moment by moment world view is created through the senses being interpreted by the action of perception and subsequently attributed with qualities and connected into other thoughts as part of consciousness. Then on the back of that I realised it’s all just one field of awareness in the moment so there are no things or separation, and if nothing out there is separate then what about in here and, oh!……
And I didn’t know what had happened, but there was a frankly massive ‘pop’ or shift. It felt like I’d gone from being in a tiny confined place to being in infinite space without boundaries; centreless. A completely centreless experiencing.
I won’t go on more about it, it’s hard to put into words but the point is it happened. It happened to the guy who can’t buy anything in the sales because he’s so completely average that my size always sells out first. The archetypal Mr Average. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be overly self-deprecating, it’s just that I’m nothing special. I’m normal. Awakening can happen to normal people. You don’t need anything else, you already have all you need to see this.
It’s your looking that will lead you to awaken not the information in a book or from a teacher. Your looking, all the time, or as much of the time as you remember to do it. When it happened to me I was on a lunchtime walk at work, not in an ashram. I work full time, I have a partner and family. You don’t have to give these things up and move to the Himalayas. You can do it right here. Because the truth; the way it is is always right here, right now and nowhere else.
So back to the point I was making; I have the greatest respect for spiritual teachers, teachings, gurus and religious traditions. If they help you, if you feel they’re leading somewhere then great, make use of them. But don’t let yourself believe you need them. You just need the tools you already have. Maybe a teacher can speed things up, I don’t know, I never had one. But I do know that in the end it comes down to one thing – your seeing. You’ll see it if you look long and hard enough. You’ll see it because separation is an illusion and no illusion can withstand constant scrutiny. You’ll see through the appearance of separation, and you’ll lose everything along the way. If I forgot to mention that part, I’m mentioning it now. Human beings don’t awaken, the universe awakens from being human.