When nondual inquiry lapses into a mental exercise of trying to understand these words or that insight we can overlook the lived experience. But isn’t that really at the heart of this inquiry? If our words or thoughts don’t match our lived experience then we’re missing something vital. If we speak of a centreless experience where nothing has meaning while experiencing suffering what value do those words really have?
I’ve posted the conversation below, taken from a post and subsequent comments on a forum, not as a complete discussion or reflection but as a starting point for one. So if it raises questions for you or you’d like to comment please feel free to.
Post: It’s already here – those three simple words were uttered by a much missed friend when trying to come up with a name for the little group we founded to explore nonduality and spiritual awakening. Essentially, that which knows, which apprehends these words, the knowing presence that has always been there is the very end of your path.
It is a path of no steps, for every step takes you away from source which is the beginning and the end. So it really is already here and although linear thought can’t comprehend this, the silence can. So you’ve heard the sage advice: be still, and know.
This realisation comes only from silence. A silence that sees in every step: not this, not that. That remains Unborn as the knowingness of eternal Now.
Q: Thanks Andrew, wise and helpful words.
I agree with pathlessness and that we are already and ever the unborn. This is a profound teaching. However I have spoken to some individuals in the past who claim that they are enlightened and are clearly under the sway of ego. As they believe this teaching on an intellectual level they believe that they do not need to do any spiritual work for example. They will even be happy to eat meat or turn a blind eye to cruel conditions because ‘everything is an illusion’ or empty etc. So it seems to me on one hand that there is a kind of spiritual trap whereby the ego tricks people into a kind of spiritual laziness whilst still craving/having defilements/false ego.
On the other hand there are people who fall into the opposite spiritual trap of ‘ever improving’/’ever evolving’. Again the ego has ticked the person into an attitude where it will continue on unchallenged.
In my view these 2 spiritual traps are caused by a bias/misunderstanding regarding existence/non-existence.
Those with a conceptual bias towards non-existence give up spiritual purifications/work and consider themselves enlightened when they are not and so on.
Those with a conceptual bias towards existence become lost in a maze of spiritual practices, evolutions and endless purification.
The Middle Path calls for a twin approach: (a) spiritual practices, compassionate diet, purifications and so on and (b) pathlessness, ‘it is already here’ and so on. Kind of a paradox.
To take the Buddha as an example he was a self realized master with a nondual understanding but he also taught a range of other techniques and lifestyle guidelines.
Do you agree that our true nature is beyond both existence and non-existence? If so we should, in a way, neither be attracted nor repulsed to either existence or non-existence ie a conscious neutrality?
A: Thanks for your thoughtful response. I think a good starting point is to use our own experience as a guide to help us see clearly that: there is the way things appear to be, and there is the way things are. What I mean by that is we have to careful when apparent insights or observations arise for us in thought. Sometimes these can seem true and right but until full awakening there will always be a degree of bias, based on conditioning, of all views, thoughts and ideas. It takes quite a lot of subtlety to notice this at times.
I say this to start with because spiritual rules or guidelines can be helpful to us and support us but when we grasp at these the mind easily runs to absolutes. We can imagine perfect but in practice there is no perfect, and it’s important to see that.
In terms of the ‘do nothing’ vs ‘spiritually evolve’ stances it’s very helpful if we can track conversations and viewpoints in terms of their frame of reference. For example from the point of view of the Absolute, or what in Zen Buddhism might be called The Unborn, then yes there is nothing to do, nothing to attain, nothing is broken, nothing needs fixing. All of this is true – from that perspective. But we all know that this human experience takes place on a number of levels and we are required to adopt a range of perspectives. So if we look at the day to day experience of people suffering cruelty or injustice then these insights are no help at all. In this case what we endeavour to do is lead an ethical and moral life as this will have an effect on everyone with whom we interact, and also to conduct ourselves in ways to do our best not to support cruelty or oppression for example by how we vote, how we shop, the day to day lifestyle choices we make.
It’s not entirely true to say that none of these choices and actions have any impact on our spiritual life and awakening. They do and the reason for that comes down to our motivation and intention. If we seek awakening but act in a way that supports the ego or ‘self’ over the needs of others, then even though from an absolute perspective there are no ‘self’ or ‘others’ the principle we’re applying is still tending to benefit ‘self’ and so reinforces this viewpoint. Whereas if you think about it, ethical conduct has its basis in the realisation that ‘all is one’ and self view tends to be less present in these actions, which in turn weakens it and support the process of awakening.
However, what about the conduct of others? Well it’s worth taking time to inquire to what extent the judging mind is attempting to set us and our principles above those who appear to act differently – this tendency reinforces the ‘me’, or can we simply observe, ‘I act this way, you act that way’, without any judgement? It’s true that we’re all in this together but we can’t make rules for the conduct of others. Their actions reflect their degree of clarity/awakening and so for that to change they need to see more clearly; to be more awake. So how can we support that? By being awake ourselves and by living that.
You’re absolutely right that from the awakened perspective there is not a preference for the Unborn over the conditioned as such, it’s not that one is better, one worse. They are both aspects of This, of this human experience. But there is a tendency for awareness to remain as Unborn or perhaps we could say a tendency for it not to be born. So as we chant in Buddhism the awakened one ‘is not born again into this world’, but this does not refer to the birth of a baby, but to the tendency to be born into the conditioned experience as part of that, taking a position relative to it.
This tendency to the Unborn is not something forced or acted out wilfully, it’s simply the way things unfold; it’s the way awakening unfolds. Now interestingly, what happens in practice is that life brings us less conflict and adversity as we slip back from the ‘born’. So then hypothetical situations about, ‘what would an awakened view of this be?’ aren’t as applicable as they appear because although it may appear that such things could happen, in practice we find they don’t tend to. Mind wants to grasp this but that’s just mind doing it’s thing, it’s what it does, and we see this and let it go. Quite a lot of this is about noticing the movement of thought: seeing it and letting it go. Much of the rest is the quality of patience – right now, it is this way. This is not a resigned acceptance that means we cannot act, but it is a realisation that our actions don’t need to be the result of resistance to the way it is, but instead can flow from seeing clearly how it is.