What is Nonduality: Perspectives on Nondual Realization

Nonduality may be presented as an idea or a philosophy but it’s not just that; as an idea or a conception, it’s simply a form of expressing a living experience: the experience of nonduality, or nondual realization. A good example is the experience of love. No doubt there are useful definitions and theories of love, certainly a philosophy and/or a psychology of love. But none of these, however precise and articulate, can help someone know what love is. Love is an experience. The descriptions are means of communicating it. So, one who learns all about love through definitions and theories in psychology or philosophy, will never know love; but one who’s experienced love without even reading or hearing about it, knows it in its fullness and has no need of those theories to enhance their experience of love.

Nonduality is very much like that. We can read and speculate it about it all day, and that’s totally fine; but that’s not nonduality. And I’d like to present this as good news because nonduality is not something we either believe in or not and can never really verify or prove it. Nonduality can be experienced, by anyone and at anytime, an experience that removes all doubt, so one must strive to experience nonduality rather than doing mental gymnastics with it.

How nonduality is experienced is another matter and beyond the scope of this post. All we can say is that there are various paths to it, some through spiritual traditions, and some that have been developed independently of any particular tradition, and also some paths that have emerged from within philosophical traditions. The beauty of it is that there are various paths suited to people of various temperament and intellectual dispositions. There are path for people of sentimental or religious temperament, and then there are paths for purely scientific mentalities or hardcore atheists. So, perhaps research and experiment would be the best way to find what works best. But I’ll try to put together a summary of some of these available paths in either another post or a youtube video.

All paths will, and should, lead to the experience of nonduality, an experience that by its very nature will look the same for all people. What is this experience? Well, it’s absolutely impossible to describe it, not so much because it’s private and too subjective but rather because it’s beyond both subjective and objective, and hence not susceptible of any conceptual or linguistic apprehension. But we can perhaps say a few things about what it’s not.

It’s possible to think or feel a connection with the universe that one may substitute for the experience of nonduality. As valuable as such experiences may be, they are not the end. Nondual experience/realization is neither a mental attitude nor just a feeling of oneness. It’s a direct and self-evident experience much like seeing is a non-ambiguous, vivid experience. Nondual experience in fact a seeing of a higher order in comparison to which our normal seeing is sheer blindness. But how do we know if we’ve arrived at it? Simple answer: you’ll know! Being a nondual experience, i.e. devoid of parts or moments, it’s not something ambiguous or open to interpretation, something that we have to think or analyze in order to understand it; it’s self-evident and immediately recognized for what it is at first sight. So, one will know it when one sees it, and one will know and recognize it as the final and ultimate experience. The finality of nondual experience is impossible to grasp by the mind because the mind can’t conceive of an absolute end much like it cannot conceive of an absolute beginning, so the mind can’t and won’t comprehend the nondual experience in advance of it; therefore, it’s highly encouraged that seekers try to realize nonduality instead of pushing to much to understand it first; and once it’s realized, it will be understood without any doubt.

Since the mind cannot conceive of a moment that has neither an after nor a before, the mind cannot possible conceive of a state that has no parts, whether temporal or spatial. In general, the contained cannot encompass the container, so the mind which belongs to the fabric of duality is not capable of encompassing nonduality in terms of its categories and concepts. This general structure of the consciousness shouldn’t surprise us as we see its hierarchical structure even within duality: a mind trained only in basic, classical physics won’t be able to comprehend quantum physics. Only after spending time to learn the new physics and letting go of old conceptions, the new physics will reveal itself to the mind in the form of a new and higher understanding.

Another indication regarding nondual experience is the absence of subject-object duality. This should be obvious since nonduality entails absence of ANY duality, be it of subject-object or consciousness-phenomena. So, there’s no phenomena experienced apart from pure or transcendental consciousness. There’s no me and you, no I set up against a world. So, it’s in that sense that it’s a non-worldly experience and not an other-worldly experience. There’s no such thing as another world; everything is here and now but only concealed by an apparent diversity of phenomena. In fact, the experience of being-human-in-the-world is nothing but a notion, a sheer idea having the same nature as that of a daydream; this very notion has apparently blocked the seeing of nonduality which is right in front of us and always present and available.

So, one can realize the nondual state right here and right now. It doesn’t need qualifications, no commitments to certain sets of beliefs or ideas (in fact such commitments only obscure vision), no adherence to any tradition or monastic order, no moral or ethical qualifications, etc.. Nonduality, like the sun, is free and for all and shines on all equally.

In fact, what has obscured our vision, what’s keeping us from realizing the nondual state, is our very identifications, be it identification with a general persona or our human veil, or identification with a particular culture, set of beliefs or convictions, etc..

And this leads to a more fundamental aspect of nonduality: nonduality is not an experience had by a human individual. It’s not me or you as an individual who is having a nondual experience. In fact, insofar as phenomena such as experience, individuality, human, world, etc. exist, nonduality cannot be realized and is kept hidden from view. In other words, nonduality is not an experience of any individual person. It has no agent of experience. It’s rather the ground experience upon which concepts such as agency, subject vs. object, are apparently superimposed. And this is the beauty of it: nondual experience belongs to no one; no one can take credit for it. One who realizes it, has at once abandoned his/her individuality and agency.

Nondual experience is neither someone’s experience nor an experience of something; it just is.

Aligned with what’s been said above, another obvious trait of this nondual state is that it has no duration; one cannot say it lasted this or that much; it’s a state that has neither a beginning nor an end. And here’s the paradoxical situation when one attempts to talk about it: when there’s the experience of nonduality, there’s no such thing as an individual, let alone the desire to talk about or express it; there’s no need for it. But once the individual is back, he/she cannot help but try to understand it in terms of their individual mind, so mental categories can’t be avoided. From the individual perspective, they may conceive of the nondual experience as having lasted a certain amount of time; in fact, they cannot conceive of it expect in terms of some duration. But that very individual knows very well that from the point of view of the nondual experience, the state has no duration. It’s altogether outside temporality and spatiality but at the same time contains them as its moments. But the one who’s realized this state, has also realized the limitations of mind, so they know the nature of this paradox and are not bothered by it as much as people who haven’t realized it.

One last thing regarding this nondual experience is that it’s not experienced as a new discovery or something they hadn’t known before. Once the individual transitions to this state, the nondual state is realized as one’s very own, as home; it’s experienced not as a novelty but as a return home as if our worldly experience as an individual human-being-in-the-world was simply a case of momentary forgetfulness of our true state, our true Self. Similar to when we momentarily lose ourselves to a daydream but can return to and find ourselves where we were without being at all surprised by the finding, nondual realization is an experience of coming back to our own true Self (of course not the limited individual being we think we are) which we have already known in advance. I think this is the most profound aspect of this realization, that our nondual state is not something we just find out about through this realization but rather it’s the truth only momentarily forgotten and masked by our very self-apprehension as an individual human person inhabiting a world.

There’s always so much one can write about on the topic but one can sometimes say too much, for perhaps too much indication can only introduce misconceptions or misleading anticipations in the mind of the aspirant, so it’s important to remember that all such talk has only two main purposes: first, to reassure seekers that there is an experience to be had, and that it’ll remove all doubts, so one should always keep striving. And secondly, that some of these indications may help seekers to unlearn and drop conceptual obstacles and perhaps pull out of false paths or dead-ends.

True paths to nonduality require unlearning and letting go, mainly of our conceptions and ways of seeing the world. Paths to nonduality should not be about acquiring new concepts or theories, whether from sciences or philosophies; it’s not about compiling new perspectives or adding to our vocabulary but it’s about dropping all that we’ve assumed and naively accepted to be true. Nondual realization is never a matter of addition but only of subtraction.

2 thoughts on “What is Nonduality: Perspectives on Nondual Realization

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