The Essence Of Non-Duality
Updated: Apr 6
"Because I am, everything is." - Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
While writing this post, I am sitting across from someone who is totally captivated by a movie she is watching on Netflix. The storyline is quite complex, the characters are various, and the drama is in full swing. As she screams, comments, and gets caught up in the pictures on the screen, as she grabs hold of her wine glass and curls up to the edge of the couch in anticipation of what might happen next, I can't help but think of how perfect this situation is for writing my introduction on a topic so dear to my heart.
If you are familiar with the teachings of Rupert Spira, or any authentic non-dual teacher for that matter, the analogy of an unchanging screen with changing pictures is one you might be familiar with. If you are unfamiliar with it, allow me to explain:
If you were to walk into a room and see your friend dreadfully captivated by a movie on the television, one of the ways you might bring him back to so called "reality" is to switch off the television and remind him that it's all an act--that the movie he is watching, though somewhat captivating, is displayed on a screen that itself has no content, characters, or storyline. The chances of him agreeing with you are undoubtedly high.
However, when you look at someone who is suffering in the waking state and tell them they're dreaming by pointing out that all thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions occur within an awareness that is, like the screen, unchanging, they are not likely to agree. And yet, that is exactly what's going on. Fortunately, you don't need book knowledge to understand this because the nature of experience doesn't exclude anyone. Investigate this for yourself:
When have you ever experienced anything other than the knowing of your experience?
It might be difficult for a conditioned mind to look into this at first. It might even seem like a heady question to begin with. But if you investigate this question as it is meant to be investigated, you will reach this stunning conclusion:
Regardless of what experience it might have been--abuse in childhood, a broken heart, waves of bliss after ingesting a psychedelic substance, waking your neighbor up while dancing to techno music, an intellectual breakthrough, hate, passion, or the feeling of awkwardness that occurs when you approach a brown-eyed Australian girl in a raw vegan restaurant--all of it has been known by an awareness that has not changed.
That awareness is divine consciousness, or, as Ramana Maharshi called it, "The Self." And there is nothing in existence but that. Everything that you perceive as outside of yourself, or separate from yourself, is, in fact, an expression of The Self. There is only the One. To realize that on an experiential level is to liberate consciousness from the dream of being a person.
That is the core of the non-dual teaching. And if you are willing to go that far, the nearness of liberation will shock you.
For there has always been the transparent and true Self, witnessing this beautiful mess called life. But it has been clouded by a conditioned mind--a mind which, unbeknownst to many of us, superimposes its limitations on the world. That is why, in order to understand the nature of reality, we must understand the nature of mind.
Until you understand the nature of mind, reality remains an enigma, or, as many people like to call it, "a mystery." Of course, If you have identified with a wave all your life, the ocean is always a mystery. Not only that: if you have identified as a wave all your life, everything else is seen from that perspective, that is, everything else is seen as a wave as well.
This is because the depth at which we understand the nature of reality depends on the depth of understanding the mind has of itself. If you think you are separate from the world, undoubtedly your experience will validate that. If you think there are objects in a world made of matter, you will participate in the world with that knowledge and face the necessary repercussions that come with it. Beliefs of the world have nothing to do with the underlying essence of the world, for all beliefs are of the mind. They are finite expressions of the Self's infinite creativity.
When you begin to abide as the infinite, however, the truth is blindingly obvious. It is so obvious, in fact, that you realize it has been blinding us with clarity for years! All you had to do was polish the mirror.
One of the polishing practices to help you realize the Self is called self-inquiry. In self-inquiry, you investigate the nature of "I"--or awareness--and go directly to the source of experience. That is why many people have referred to non-duality as "The Direct Path." It is direct in that it does away with the silly notion that you need time to understand what has always been here & now. All you have to do in order to abide as awareness itself is to ask yourself the question, "Who am I?" Provided you are intimate and sincere with the question, you go straight to the ground of Being--and there you are. No need for purification. No need for time. No need for progress. You are awareness. Always have been. Always will be.
This is something worth reiterating: non-duality, unlike many other paths, goes straight to the ground of Being. Instead of playing around in the branches, it goes straight to the root. This doesn't make it better; it just makes it direct. Once you have touched that ground, everything in your life begins to reflect it, including the body-mind, emotions, feelings, sensations, and perceptions. Awareness is formless, but it percolates through form, touching everything in it with love, compassion, and wisdom.
It is the source of life that seeps through and sets the world ablaze with a power that is both intimate and beyond it.
With all that being said, it is extremely easy to be lured into the dream again. This is partly because we have been so heavily conditioned for who-knows how long! The moment you identify with the feeling of sadness and anger, for instance, instead of acknowledging the "I"-- or knowing element--that has attached itself to those feelings, you are back in the trance, back in the dream. Anytime consciousness identifies with mind, it dreams. That is why it is vital to abide as awareness itself, instead of directing attention toward the objects of its experience.
When you do begin to abide as awareness, life becomes extraordinarily beautiful. For it is the source of life itself. Awareness, being itself, knows itself. What more of a miracle could you ask for?