NONDUALITY AND DUALITY Charles Day* charlesday1@mchsi.

com (Note: The repetition in this essay is intended to help the reader move from intellectually understanding the concept of nonduality to realizing it as the underlying timeless presence of all dualistic experience.) A beginning student of meditation and Buddhism said he experiences some control over his life, though realizing most things happen outside his control. He said he experiences separateness as a reality because he and I are different individuals with different thoughts, and things outside his body are obviously not him. Many students question for years whether these shared, common, and ordinary experiences disprove Buddhism's fundamental concepts of nonduality, selflessness, and the illusion of separateness. From a mystical, enlightened, nondualistic point of view we live in an infinite interdependent universe which functions as an undivided unified whole. Everything mental and physical is interrelated with and caused by everything else. But since any experience can only be experienced dualistically - an undivided whole cannot experience itself - we erroneously conclude that the experiencer is separate from the experience, and we are independent, autonomous individuals who control what we think and do. Ideas that individuals differ, have different thoughts, and experience autonomy and independence are dualistic thoughts used to express the individuated parts of an undivided whole and cannot be considered separate from each other. ("Individuated" is used in this essay as an adjective to imply indivisible interdependence as opposed to the adjective "individual" which suggests the reality of a separate existence.) The unified whole, of course, manifests itself in unique individuated way e.g., no two snowflakes are alike, no two personalities are alike - but for the mystic, the subject-object relationship, the primary sense of dualistic separateness, is seen though as an illusion. Science now validates what spiritual mystics have said for centuries: All physical and mental phenomena are inextricably and interdependently

related. Everything exists as form or energy in a causal relationship with everything else throughout endless time and infinite space. While we don't subjectively experience reality or ourselves at subatomic levels, even the grosser physical and mental forms of our direct experience are interrelated. For example, you identify with the whole body, not its interdependent internal parts, unless a part calls attention to itself because of injury, illness, or aging. And you may be reading this on a computer manufactured by workers in China, shipped by planes and flown by pilots from different countries, distributed by wholesalers, and sold by retailers throughout the US. Or perhaps you're reading this on paper made from trees, nourished by soil aerated by insects, and dependent for growth on the rain, clouds, sun and the entire cosmos. Everything is related throughout space. And you are related throughout time to your parents, ancestors, and evolution all the way back to the big bang or whatever you believe was the cause of existence. Everything and everyone is interrelated throughout endless time and infinite space. Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh calls this reality "interbeing." Why should we want to realize interbeing, nonduality, or enlightenment? Because, according to the mystics, the suffering, frustration, restlessness, and boredom that often arise in experiencing only the duality and impermanence of life will be dramatically diminished, if not entirely overcome. What appears as reality is just a thought One way of understanding nonduality is to contemplate that reality is never actually out-there. Reality is always experienced as just a thought in the mind, using the word "thought" to refer to any and all mental constructs, events, and contents of consciousness: thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, perceptions, cognitions, images, dreams, memories, altered states, parapsychological phenomena, all mental experiences. These mind experiences arise and continually change as a result of the interaction between an individual's genetic predispositions, past experiences, and the physiological internal and external circumstances occurring in the present moment.


Furthermore, a so-called complete thought composed of different words, as well as the sequencing of thoughts which occurs in thinking, conversing, listening to music, observing a sunset, or writing an essay only appear to occur over time. Time itself is a mental construct. There is only the content of consciousness in the moment of its experience. Thoughts about past and future occur as present-moment thoughts. Moreover, there is no awareness of a thought until after it occurs. The mind can only experience what has taken place after it has already passed. If one is truly in the present moment, there is no one or anything to be aware of. Even mindfulness is dualistic when interpreted as the act of intentionally giving one's full attention to present-moment activity without judgment, commentary, or reactivity. In nonduality there is no separation between awareness or mindfulness and its objects, between thinker and thoughts, between past and present. Are you ever aware of a complete thought before you begin or end it, unless of course you intentionally memorize or rehearse it? Or are you ever aware of a perception before it occurs or after it disappears in the mind? Each perception is continually replaced by another perception that also arises and disappears. Words and thoughts are spoken, heard, and interpreted as having meaning because of conditioned beliefs in memory, time, and cause and effect, which themselves are just assumptions or thoughts unconsciously taken for granted. Thoughts and other mental formations always occur as part of an unfolding interdependent whole within a body-mind entity that is itself an interrelated part of that same nondualistic whole. Thinking, thinker, thought, and the objects of thought are interdependent; one does not exist without the others. There is no universal reality. Each individual's thoughts and mental formations constitute one's uniquely perceived reality. From the mystical standpoint of nonduality, if these multiple realities were realized as mere products of the mind, compassion would arise to reduce the harms caused when different individual, religious, ethnic, and national realities clash. Individual differences in judgments, opinions, values, and points of view would still appear, but they would be accepted rather than fought over. We would agree to disagree. And whenever differences did provoke individuals or groups, out of ignorance of their interdependence, into verbally or

physically attacking others, those attacked would defend themselves in compassionate rather than angry or punitive ways. Everything is a manifestation of the One Mind or pure awareness Every being, thing, object, thought, and experience is an event that happens in the One Mind - a term referring to undivided pure awareness or consciousness. From an ordinary dualistic and experiential point of view, the One Mind is composed of billions of separate human minds. But there is only the nondualistic One Mind which includes the dualistic minds of the multiple individuals that have learned to separate it into its individuated components. This is the basis for the expression: "God looks through seven billion pairs of eyes," an expression which considers God synonymous with the nondual unified whole. An individual mind, of course, consists of the specifically conditioned mental experiences that constitute an individual personality. But all socalled individual bodies, personalities, and minds developed as a result of their relationships to each other and everything else. Just as a wave is not separate from the ocean that manifests it, the individual mind is not separate from the One Mind that manifests it. Each of us is an individuated manifestation of the ineffable One Mind, the undivided whole, pure consciousness or awareness, ground of being, nonduality, oneness without an opposite, or God. These are but a few of the expressions used in different traditions to express the mystery underlying the experience of existence Dualism is perpetuated by the "I thought" How does the sense of control and ownership and of being a separate, autonomous, and independent self/ego arise, and why is transcendence or dissolution of this sense of separateness so difficult? What has been called the "I thought", which includes the variants of "me", "my", and "mine" is expressed so often in thinking, speaking, listening, reading, and writing that it conditions the sense of independence, autonomy, control, and ownership, all of which contribute to what we call our self, ego, or personality. And we are taught to cherish this self as an enduring and fixed entity that is special, unique, and separate from everyone and everything else, rather than to realize its underlying selfless, interdependent, and impermanent nature.

The pronouns related to "you", "yours", "it", and "its" similarly condition the sense that other beings and objects are separate from us and each other. And perhaps the biggest illusion reinforced by language is that the thinker is separate from the thought, the observer is separate from the observed. Infants experience a reality that precedes dualism From the standpoint of the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path, an infant can be viewed as experiencing a partial aspect of Right Wisdom. Because language and the "I thought" have not yet been learned, the infant experiences "what is, is" (more about this later) without the dualistic labeling, judgment, commentary, and reactivity that will be learned throughout life and will often change, distort, and defile the immediate perception of what is. Infants, however, are not considered enlightened, precisely because they are unaware of being aware and have not yet learned the skills associated with Right Thought, Speech, Action, and Livelihood. Nor have they mastered the practices of Right Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration that lead to realizing fully the transcendent nondual Wisdom that enables living compassionately with minimal suffering in a dualistic world. True compassion and true wisdom occur spontaneously as a result of the nondual enlightened realization that "I am you" and "you are me" and are no longer driven by learned morality or any sense of a separate self that needs to strive to cultivate them. Until such realization, however, skillful living, compassion, and wisdom are intentionally cultivated by practicing the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path and the teachings of other spiritual and humanistic traditions. Ordinary mind consists of conditioned response patterns We identify with what is called our ordinary mind or the conditioned attitudes, values, habits, and response patterns we learn to help us live harmoniously in the relative world of duality. Until transcended, this ordinary mind obscures the realization of the ever-present One Mind or absolute reality that underlies and manifests as the undivided interdependent mental and physical universe. This unified whole includes the multiple ordinary minds with their illusions of self and separateness.


Ordinary mind is a product of our parenting, education, and socialization. We are taught to think of our self and others as being autonomous, independent, and responsible entities with separate selves, egos, and personalities. Our personality is the aggregate of our unique conditioned response patterns. And we define our self as and strongly identify with "my" personality, just as we identify others with theirs. Acknowledging the extent to which conditioning leads us to automatically identify with our thoughts, roles, relationships, values, expectations, and habits can help pierce the distinction between duality and nonduality. We think we are our story with its past, present, and future. And we identify with our personality, our conditioned response patterns, our ordinary mind, rather than with the eternal now and nondual pure awareness out of which our story continually manifests. Each of us and all our experiences can be considered simply thoughts in the One Mind of absolute reality. Even when developmentally capable of thinking rationally and abstractly, we are not taught that the sense of being an independent, autonomous self might just be an illusion that was critical in early development but is no longer necessary. To even suggest that an individual is not really in control of his or her life generally evokes fear, lest it be used as an excuse to rationalize inappropriate, irresponsible, and unacceptable behavior. But mystics agree that full realization of our interdependent nature, that I am you and you are me, leads only to loving and compassionate responses and precludes acting in ways that are inappropriate or harmful. You are pure consciousness, not its contents A few individuals report realizing instantaneous and complete enlightenment. For most of us, however, the spiritual journey is experienced more as a gradually increasing shift from identifying intellectually with a separate ego or self to ultimately realizing the infinite, unmanifest, unborn, deathless, formless, pure awareness or consciousness that manifests as individuated beings and objects. We start by identifying with the contents of our consciousness and shift in glimpses and spurts over time to identifying with pure consciousness, until finally there is no sense of a separate self to identify with anything, including pure consciousness or awareness.


Buddhism refers to this pure awareness as emptiness, voidness, or no/thingness, i.e., empty of any/thing than can be considered separate from the rest. Ultimately the distinction and apparent paradox between the manifest and unmanifest, between duality and nonduality, between emptiness and fullness must be transcended. The Buddhist Heart Sutra expresses this transcendence exquisitely in the phrase, "Form is emptiness and emptiness is form." Religions fail to teach what the mystics realized Parenting, education, religion, and socialization are the institutions intentionally aimed at producing psychologically mature individuals capable of functioning harmoniously in the dualistic reality of creation. In doing this, they fail to acknowledge, much less give critical importance to, the possibility of realizing right now the timeless presence and transcendent nondual reality that underlies life. Different religions developed in different cultures to help deal specifically with the suffering inherent in life and its ultimate expression in the nearly universal fear of death. They do this primarily by advocating compliance with their particular belief systems as the best, if not only, means to assure a good life now and secure a better one after death - in heaven rather than hell in the Abrahamic religions and in a happier reincarnation into another life in Hinduism and Buddhism. Furthermore, religious fundamentalists tend to externalize and anthropomorphize God as the one omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent creator. Equally problematic is the assertion by a few contemporary spiritual teachers that we are God or co-creators with God, giving internalized and still anthropomorphic form to the formless. Of course, one can benefit from personalizing God while realizing its ineffable and formless nature. In the process of studying Hinduism and Buddhism I rediscovered my Christian roots, which I had intellectually rejected in college. I now intuitively appreciate and understand Christianity in symbolic, metaphoric, and metaphysical ways that I did not, perhaps could not, while growing up. In ignoring the teachings of the mystics in ancient scriptures, those revered throughout history, and those living today, religions perpetuate the illusions

of separateness, time, sickness and health, birth and death, God and other, this life and an afterlife. And they teach prayer, meditation, devotion, and other spiritual practices as means primarily to help accept and endure pain and suffering, rather than as profound mystical practices that can lead to transforming and overcoming all suffering. Religious clergy, rabbis, gurus, and spiritual teachers should be encouraged to study and share mystical teachings and practices with their parishioners, followers, and students. Several of them have told me this was not encouraged in their training. They felt such teachings would be considered too abstract, misunderstood, or of little interest, except as fables or myths, to most persons. Some clergy feared losing parishioners if mysticism were emphasized. And a few expressed doubts that they or most lay persons were even capable of becoming a mystic and experiencing the enduring happiness or equanimity that is not dependent upon belief systems, past experiences, or the internal or external circumstances of the present moment. This is the peace that surpasses understanding, proclaimed by mystics as available to everyone on an enduring basis. Individual spiritual interests are accelerating In the early twentieth century, psychologist Carl Jung pointed out that spiritual interests often emerge or reemerge in later life as an advanced stage in psychological development. He observed that this stage typically manifests after middle age when the preoccupations with growing up, getting educated, working, parenting, and achieving one's goals in life have been satisfied or at least diminished in intensity. In contemporary times, there appears to be an accelerating number of persons, regardless of age and other differences, who are developing their own individual spiritual paths. And they're doing this outside of traditional religious affiliations, perhaps because institutional religions are failing to address the mystical nondual spiritual yearnings of their parishioners. What is, is. The Buddha taught that suffering is inherent in life because we want it to be different than the way it is. He also said the way to transcend suffering was

to recognize the impermanent and selfless interdependent nature of life. What is, is. That's the way it has always been and will always be. And "what is, is" keeps changing - on a relative experiential level, though not in absolute reality where time is not existent. "What is, is" has long been my personal mantra. I use it to facilitate recognizing and accepting present-moment sensory experiences as distinct from the subsequent thoughts and reactions they trigger. It brings me closer to the immediacy of perception experienced in infancy that I referred to earlier. Buddhist Master Shunryu Suzuki calls this way of perceiving "beginner's mind." "What is, is" refers to the instantaneous and spontaneous image or event in the mind that occurs in the present moment. This immediate perception is increasingly and automatically reacted to with what Buddha called a proliferation of thoughts, perceptions, feelings, judgments, opinions, and values based on one's conditioned response patterns and previous dualistic experiences. Once these proliferating reactions are seen as resulting from memories of a past that no longer exists and projections into a future that has not yet arrived, one experiences the freedom to respond in different ways. Realizing and accepting that "what is, is," that it's always been and will always be that way, liberates the individual from wanting it to be different than the way it is. Acceptance, of course, does not mean approval or disapproval, which are discerning thoughts that may well be triggered by the immediate perception. Such thoughts constitute the "what is, is" of that moment and may trigger in the next moment a "what is, is" choice to respond in a particular way or not to respond at all. "What is, is" occurs only in the present moment and appears to change in each succeeding one. But this apparent succession of moments occurs outside of time, according to Eckhart Tolle, who says there is only the eternal now or timeless presence that underlies the experience of change. The illusion of time and its passing is created by the memory, which relates present moment experience to remembered ones. Everything occurs in the present moment. A philosopher once mused: "If there is a past, show it to me."


In realizing that "what is, is" and the illusion of time, one transcends the sense of being a separate self and experiences every moment with an underlying and enduring equanimity and nondual timeless presence, regardless of how it presents itself in consciousness, whether as positive, negative, or neutral. We can change our conditioning The aim of this essay is to facilitate realizations that we live in a dualistic world; thoughts and mental formations create our reality; the ubiquitous "I thought" reinforces the sense of a separate ego/self; and we do not need to identify with the habits and response patterns conditioned by our parenting, education, socialization, and past experiences. In realizing life as an interdependent nondual whole, we overcome our former suffering and experience life with underlying lovingkindness, compassion, altruistic and appreciative joy, and equanimity. Buddha said we all possess these four divine and innate virtues. In experiencing the world dualistically while realizing nonduality, we recognize and accept experiences as they arise and fall in consciousness, rather than habitually desiring some and resisting others as we've been conditioned to do. We simply don't desire a second helping of a delicious dessert if we want to lose weight. It's perfectly all right to cancel a planned picnic because it starts raining. And we're content rather than impatient while waiting in line or when put on hold for the next available operator. Preferences and hopes remain but because attachment to them doesn't, there is no frustration when they are not fulfilled. And any lingering thoughts that arise of wishing it were different are allowed to pass away without reacting to them. The proverbial "no problem" and "no complaint" become honest responses to experiences that were formerly perceived as negative by the illusory sense of a separate self. We appreciate the world as it presents itself in our mind from moment to moment. We accept that "what is, is" and recognize and let go of unwanted, inappropriate, or harmful feelings and thoughts which may at times spontaneously arise as result of previous conditioning. It's paradoxical that we appear to be calmer individuals who make more positive choices, but from the nondual perspective, there is no one or any control over doing so.

We no longer identify with our ordinary mind and react impulsively or compulsively to the thoughts and feelings that continuously create our world, especially those involving I, me, mine and other pronouns that previously reinforced the sense of living in a world of separate and independent living beings and physical objects. Mind doesn't necessarily change, but the relationship to it does It is noteworthy that after realizing nonduality or enlightenment we continue to live in the world pretty much as we always have, playing the same roles, and espousing the same values. Our ordinary mind doesn't necessarily change. Conditioned responses continue to arise, some are discarded, and new ones developed. Preferences and feelings remain. But the relationship to our mind is changed. In realizing that our ordinary mind and its sense of a separate self is conditioned, we no longer identify with it and are liberated from habitually reacting in previously conditioned ways. Our self or ego ceases to be identified with as an enduring and fixed entity and becomes instead a convenient operating principal that is useful, according to Eckhart Tolle and Thich Nhat Hanh, in explaining the continuity and uniqueness of individual behavior in a dualistic world. We continue to play our roles and accept responsibility for them while realizing such roles are being played by the one nondual mind. And we finally understand what mystics mean when they proclaim: We are already enlightened but just don't realize it. "What is, is" was so before enlightenment, and "what is, is" is so after enlightenment. But the relationship to our mind is changed. Our basic outlook on life and "what is, is" is transformed from experiencing the suffering, discontent, and boredom that arise when we want it to be different than the way it is, into realizing the enduring peace that surpasses understanding, even while dealing with life's inevitable problems. Nonduality is more than a conceptual issue Whether nonduality and duality, enlightenment and no enlightenment, exist as separate, interdependent, or the same phenomena and whether the physical world exists independently of consciousness can of course be debated as issues of metaphysics, philosophy, or semantics. But

conceptual discussions are based on dualistic language that separates ideas and thinkers from their thoughts. It may be that until personally realizing nonduality on a deep, intuitive, and enduring level, individuals will continue to intellectually question - out of inexperience, misunderstanding, curiosity, or doubt - whether separation and an independent self are illusions. On the other hand, it is difficult to dismiss the independent but shared experiences of mystics from different traditions across cultures and over time, including those alive today, that attest to the validity of nondual enlightenment and the potential for realizing it anytime by anyone. Not all individuals, of course, may articulate their spiritual experiences or realize enlightenment and nonduality in the ways presented in this essay. And those who do transcend dualistic separateness, whether we call them mystics or something else, are capable of discussing nonduality and enlightenment but do so knowing the issues discussed and those discussing them are merely individuated parts of an indivisible whole. Life becomes dualistic for 11 month old Evan The world of duality begins in infancy. Let me share an experience at a family dinner with my 11 month old great grand-nephew Evan. Before this particular meal, I had often observed Evan being lovingly breast fed by his mother and later spoon fed in a highchair by his mom and dad. And no matter what his behavior or how he responded, whether he dribbled, spilled, refused to open his mouth, or spit out the food, it was all dealt with patiently and lovingly by both parents. Sharing dinners with Evan was a joy because he was such a loving child who always seemed to be smiling. On one particular evening, things changed. Evan picked up his bottle, held it over the edge of his highchair, and dropped it. His mom picked it up, placed it back on the highchair, and said nothing. Evan did it a second time, and again mom picked it up and said nothing. From my point of view, Evan was learning and delighting in the fact that he could impact and control the world around him. He did it a third time while continuing to smile, but this time when his mom picked up the bottle, she said kindly, "Please don't do that again, Evan." Still, he did it again. I thought he might simply be ignoring his mom or possibly playing a game with her, or perhaps learning that he could control

his mom's actions. In any case, on the final dropping of the bottle, his dad, who had said nothing up to that time, said in a very stern voice, "Stop it, Evan." And Evan began crying. This event was just one of many in which Evan was being taught that he no longer lived in a world that would magically meet his needs with unconditional love. He was learning that the world had rules, regulations, and expectations, that it put boundaries on behavior, and that certain actions would be rewarded and others punished. He was learning to live in a world of duality, that relationships were interdependent and conditional, and that the world rewarded compliance, cooperation, and acceptable behaviors and punished their opposites. Before he could talk, Evan was being taught that the world was dualistic. And it would not be long before he would use language to realize and assert his separateness. To the occasional frustration of his parents, he will practice developing the sense of an independent and autonomous self by repeatedly saying "No," oftentimes for no apparent reason. He will have entered the developmental stage affectionately called the "terrible two's." We "experience" duality but "know" nonduality The world, relationships, language, and the sense of a separate, independent, and autonomous self are dualistic experiences. Suffering can be minimized by learning to accept this world of duality, that "what is, is" and then to transcend it and realize with the mystics that existence is an undivided, unified, interdependent nondual whole. Accepting duality without identifying with it leads to the peace that surpasses understanding - the enduring peace that accompanies the dissolution of self as a fixed entity and resolves the apparent paradox of duality and nonduality. What is, is. Mystics have noted that nonduality and enlightenment can't be "experienced" in the sense that an experience and experiencer are dualistic. But they agree we can intuitively and non-cognitively "realize" or "know" nonduality and its timeless presence while simultaneously and unselfconsciously experiencing dualistic life. Meditation, prayer, devotion, scriptural study, contemplative reflection, and mindfulness are the time-honored spiritual practices for attaining enlightenment and realizing nonduality. And in contemporary times,

meditation and mindfulness are promoted as secular practices with similar results. However, in the nondual sense that practitioner and practices, whether spiritual or secular, are individuated aspects of the interdependent whole, there is no one doing anything and nothing to be attained. Until realizing this, it may help to remind yourself occasionally that "what is, is" and you are not the dualistic contents of your mind that you've been conditioned to identify with. You are nondual pure awareness manifesting as the sense of a separate, independent, autonomous self with continuously changing life experiences. Who you think you are and what you perceive are but thoughts in the One Mind of absolute reality. You are the One Mind. But if that's what you "think" you are, you're still in the ordinary mind of dualistic relative reality, since the nondual undivided unified whole cannot experience itself. In the words of Buddhist Master Sogyal Rinpoche: At present, our body is undoubtedly the center of our whole universe. We associate it, without thinking, with our self and our ego, and this thoughtless and false association continually reinforces our illusion of their inseparable, concrete existence. Because our body seems so convincingly to exist, our 'I' seems to exist, and 'you' seem to exist, and the entire illusory, dualistic world we never stop projecting around us looks ultimately solid and real. When we die, this whole compound construction falls dramatically to pieces. He urges us now, before we die, to see through the illusion of separateness between body, self, and other; to transcend the dualistic nature of subjectobject relationships; and to realize the awe-inspiring nondual timeless presence that manifests as the magical display of creation. Hopefully, my great grandnephew Evan will someday realize nonduality. You and I need not wait. We are capable of knowing it and realizing enlightenment right now, in this moment, or this one, or this one. __________ Recommended Resourses - newer book editions may exist: Buddhadasa Bhikkhu: The Heart of the Bodhi Tree: The Buddha's Teachings on Voidness, translated by Santikako Bhikkhu, Wisdom

Publications, 1994. Matthew Flickstein: With One Voice, a DVD featuring 22 contemporary mystics and scholars from multiple spiritual traditions, Alive Mind Media, 2009. Bhante Henapola Gunaratana: Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness, Wisdom Publications, 2001. Thich Nhat Hanh: The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Broadway Books, 1998. Sri Nisargatta Maharaj: I Am That, Translated by Maurice Frydman, Acorn Press, 1982; first published in India in 1973. Sogyal Rinpoche: Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying, Harper Collins, 1993. Shunryu Suzuki: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, Weatherhill, 1970. Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now, New World Library, 1999. Robert Wolfe: Living Nonduality: Enlightenment Teachings of SelfRealization, Karina Library, 2009. ____________ *Charles Day, a retired psychologist, has been studying meditation and spiritual traditions for more than 45 years. He founded the Des Moines Meditation Group in 1994 and the Mitchellville Meditation Group at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women in 2000. Many of his essays appear at He welcomes feedback and can be contacted at Author's acknowledgement: I wish to express profound gratitude to Matthew Flickstein for being my friend, mentor, and retreat teacher for more than 15 years. (2-13r7-13)