|What Am I? Galen Sharp
Click here to go to the next issue
Highlights Home Page | Receive the Nonduality Highlights each day
How to submit material to the Highlights
The Nonduality Highlights - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NDhighlights
I came across a blog entry which basically asks, If nonduality is so wonderful how is it going to help me if I'm tied up and being tortured?
Comments were invited. In this issue is the original blog entry and responses from James, Jeff, David, Nora, and Yosy. Thank you for contributing. I am still accepting responses, which I'll enter into my blog at nonduality.org.
In the Nonduality Salon, comments were invited on the following blog entry from
I totally accept by this time, having read such a humungous shitpile of non-duality books, that everything without exception is utterly false, meaningless, pointless, transient, illusory, and bogus. You win! Hands down, in a cakewalk. Ok I surrender I got the message.
That leaves only one leetle issue:
Why can I still feel pain?
It's all very well to say everything is unreal, but if somebody strapped me in a chair and did me like they did to those backpackers in the Hostel I and II movies, it wouldn't be any consolation that everything is unreal. Yeah I know that some authors like to bs about how 'pain is mandatory but suffering is optional'. But I bet they still take novocaine if they have root canal work.
Seriously - pain is the real issue, along with deprivational pain also of course, such as extreme hunger in starvation. What good does it do us to be swamped with a torrent of words about how everything is unreal when we can still feel pain?
The only real exception to my point here that has some cred with me is not the fancy words the ND Masters try to sell you, but rather the famous case of the Viet monk who sat calmly while burning himself alive. There was a guy who walked the talk. Time magazine ought to have chosen that guy as their Person of the Century instead of Einstein or whoever it was.
Anyway, I conclude that non-duality is not so much wrong as it is useless.
Hey Jerry and Friends,
The telltale sign of what's happening in this person's case is in the last line where he/she says, "I conclude"...
This statement clearly indicates that although the person has read 'a humungous shitpile of non-duality books' he/she does not have an authentic understanding of nonduality. It is obvious that the person's understanding is limited to conceptualization that is further evidenced by what he/she has concluded/conceptualized which he/she states as "that non-duality is not so much wrong as it is useless"
In other words what's happening in this case amounts to no more than re-arranging the intellectual furniture.
The misunderstanding is clearly pointed to in this person's comments on pain; his/her statement "that everything without exception is utterly false, meaningless, pointless, transient, illusory, and bogus" can be supported by excerpts from nonduality books that speak about 'maya' and 'illusion' yet the understanding [and misunderstanding] of 'maya' is similar to the misunderstanding that many folks share about nonduality.
What is 'maya'?
Maya (Sanskrit): the cosmic power [your true nature] which renders phenomenal existence and the perceptions thereof possible
It is significant to understand maya as a phenomenon [phenomenon: an occurrence, circumstance, or fact that is perceptible by the senses] wherein there is truth behind the illusion.
Your true nature expresses itself; the expression flows into form, through form and out of form [this 'expressing' is motion; this is called energy by modern scientists; and modern science has irrefutably demonstrated that all forms of matter are materialized energy or energy-in-formation].
An example is conceptualization... reading a menu description of a delicious meal is a form of conceptualization; so is understanding the waiter's description of the 'special of the day' yet this conceptualization will not satisfy your hunger... in these examples
the conceptualization about the food can be said to be illusory yet it is very important to understand that there is truth behind the illusion.
Some other examples: holograms appear to be 3 dimensional yet they are flat; gold bracelets-rings-necklaces-etc. appear in different shapes and forms yet each is gold.
In all of the examples above there is truth behind the illusion/appearance.
How about pain - is it true?
Functionally there is pain... what is untrue/illusory is the experiencer of pain.
Pain is a manifestation of intelligence; it indicates that something is out of order; and it is very precise as the degree and location of pain reflects the nature/intensity of the disorder.
The experiencer of pain is akin to the examples of maya given above as the experiencer is ultimately untrue yet there is truth behind the 'maya' as the experiencer.
The experiencer is 'maya' as the I-entity or I-image [the Id-entity]. The truth behind the illusion is that energy can and does concretize in this form [this is clearly seen as the ego of a child becomes more and more solidified as the child ages and is conditioned by the dominant views of the society-paraents-teachers-etc.] The energy-motion in this case is repetitive conceptualization of identifying with name and form that manifests as the 'experiencer'.
And when an 'experiencer' reads books about nonduality and truth what reads and interprets the words is the 'experiencer' thus it is as I stated earlier 're-arranging the intellectual furniture'.
Whereas an authentic understanding of nonduality is akin to 'eating the meal' that the menu or waiter describes [it is also 'feeling the pain']. Authentic understanding is living understanding; it is 'remaining as awareness' where action unfolds as 'seeing is doing' as compared to re-action of the I-entity.
Authentic understanding is 'living' Advaita Vedante where Advaita means 'nonduality' [without duality] and Vedante means the 'knowledge of one's true nature that is before and behind all knowledge'... it is not this description; it is the living understanding itself, there is no 'knower' as it is it's own knowing [also it is not a conclusion as that is simply more conceptualization - it is simple Truth].
Non duality as a concept is wrong and
As enlightenment, the issue of use
is completely transcended
for who is left with an agenda
with the need to use?
As for pain...
Death wields the final nail into the coffin of pain.
Pain is not the point. Of course,
we feel pain.
It's the failure of language,
and the thoughtless smug use
of imprecise language by
many nondual realizers (and
intellectual pretenders) that
tightens the minds screw and
leaves early inquirers empty
The experience of nondual
realization that imparts a
seemingly 'new' ability to distinguish
the relative reality of duality
from the absolute reality of
nonduality, is the point.
It's impossible for words
to impart the experience of
nonduality. Words like 'illusion,
maya, unreal, false, and
secondary' are imprecise
and are necessarily used
metaphorically - but that is
typically not made clear to
early readers of nonduality.
It's the same reality - just
perceived from a different
level of conscious awareness;
one from a dualistic frame of
reference and another from a
Neither are 'unreal' but the
awakened nondual realization
changes the landscape of the
mind in ways that words cannot
convey precisely - even the
redundant use of words, like
in this post, to make a point.
This enlightened view is the
only perspective from which
words like unreal and illusion
make any sense at all.
Nondual writers often use
language that is understood
by nondual realizers (awakened,
enlightened) in a way that is
distinctly different from the
way it is heard by those who
have not experienced nonduality.
This has been a long-standing
complaint of mine - the errant
use of nondual language to an
audience of those who still
experience life from the
dualistic view, and are yet drawn
to inquiry about nonduality.
This ivory-tower use of language
is the genesis of 'the mind screw'
and the emptiness this blogger
wrote about (above),having heard
all the cliches about the material
world being unreal, and we're all
already enlightened, and such -
while dealing with the prospects
of a root canal.
My attempt at a value-added 2¢ worth.
:) well, this leaves one question: who/what
is this "I" you keep
unless the arising answer/direct experience wipes out all doubts and ideas,
your "nonduality" is just a mental speculation, however sublime.
In my experience, every question has an answer, but there is no guarantee that it will be the one you want to hear or even that you will be able to understand it. I'm no master of the nonduality subject, but perhaps some of my observations will be useful to you.
Nonduality will tell you that there are no wrong answers to your questions, though this isn't the same thing as saying that every statement is true. What is true is that all possible answers exist, including the answer of no suffering or no pain. I get this just fine, but my back and feet still hurt a lot most of the time, so I do understand your gripe.
But I also think you may be looking at a philosophy as a sort of "magic bullet," there to provide relief from all pain, mental or physical, and that certainly isn't my experience. However, while I have experienced instances of total awareness, I have not achieved total enlightenment by any stretch of the imagination, though I do have enough evidence of its existence and availability to satisfy my doubts, so find it worth pursuing.
During my experiences of awareness, even severe physical pain no longer caused me suffering. I was aware of the pain, but was truly not suffering in any way; in fact, I was deliriously happy at the sudden sense of peace and how joyful each moment seemed. For a long time, I had no idea what these experiences were. I didn't know if they were momentary spiritual awakenings/gifts or merely signs of mental derangement, but I did want to find out which.
I still don't know for certain and I've been a long time looking. This is because the experience and what the mind makes of the experience may differ quite a bit. In a way, I have to be honest and ask myself just what I want the experience to mean. If I have a mind set that attempts to pre-determine what the experience is, I may be pushing myself further and further away from it because I have found that the mind can override the experience if that is one's choice.
This is where I see the surrender part coming into play. I know full well that this experience of awareness is available at any given moment, yet I experience it only occasionally. What is standing in the way? That would be me. I am convinced that this is why the experience for me has tended to come, "out of the blue." It has to catch me at a moment when my guard is down and I am not subconsciously keeping it at arm's length. I am not mentally ready for a full disappearing act of my ego self.
Why would I fear or resist such a blissful experience? It's a very telling question. So far, I have concluded that regardless of the joy of the experience, there is no me in the normal meaning of the word. I cannot even say exactly what is experiencing the experience. This is fine while it's happening, but in my everyday life it doesn't make much sense. In my everyday life, there is always a "me" doing something, or at least it seems that way. And, as you point out, things happen to "you," like feeling pain or hunger. Are you willing to give up "me" to be free of those things if that is what it takes?
Nonduality, awareness or other "God experience" as I am sometimes inclined to say isn't something like an immunity switch you can turn on or off. You didn't mention in your post whether you had ever experienced a moment of this awareness, even if you didn't know what it was at the time. That would be helpful to know as a reference point.
I'm not sure I would have stuck with nonduality for more than a few days had I not had at least one of these experiences because there is no philosophy or religion that I had encountered which led me directly to it. Like you, I had done a lot of reading and searching, but not gotten anywhere, or so I thought. However, I had enough of a philosophical mind set that I recognized something extraordinary when it first occurred.
I was so not looking for anything good, or even marginally acceptable, that first time. I was in great physical pain and my life was not only falling apart to some degree, a doctor had recently told me to prepare for some horrendous surgery and a fairly soon and painful death no matter what they did.
With all this on my plate, I had numerous "arrangements" to make of the worst kind for me - mountains of paperwork, forms to be filled out, documents to be gathered (oh God, why didn't I have a better filing system), the list was long and ugly. To make matters worse, anything that helped with pain addled my brain so I had to go without adequate meds to do some of these tasks or drive. This is bad with severe pain because it's hard to get it back in check once it goes far enough. I had just finished a stop at yet another office at the local college where I was studying and working, and was heading back to the parking lot with, you guessed it, more paperwork.
It was a pretty ugly campus as that sort of thing goes, backed up to an airport on a former military base. And yet, suddenly I began to notice a certain sparkle and clarity as I was walking (hobbling) along. Everything I looked at was beautiful in its own way and the never-ending wind no longer threw dust in my eyes. Walking was effortless and felt more like gliding as if some unseen force had suddenly taken over the job of getting me from here to there. I had no sense of power, but felt completely safe as if it were not possible for anything to harm me or cause me pain. My mind was free of thought except for gratitude and wonderment. I have no idea how long this lasted as time never entered my mind. But, when the experience had ended, I still felt completely at peace as I now knew exactly how complete peace felt. Even if I could not experience it at every moment, I had confirmation that it was there all around me, available, palpable and waiting patiently to be noticed.
How one taps back into it again or finds it for the first time seems to vary quite a bit. If you are reading something on the subject and it either does not speak to you or make sense, move on to something else. I haven't seen any evidence that the experience of awareness permanently vaccinates a person against being a jerk, a bs artist or simply confused. Just as one can misuse any talent, one can misuse a spiritual gift, and some do, intentionally or not.
Awareness is not useless, although a lot of the writing about it is, especially the nihilist stuff. I can't do much Advaita stuff either; it obviously works well for many, but it is so esoteric that it doesn't speak to me very usefully. One of the worst aspects of pain is the feeling of utter aloneness or isolation; you are in the stormy ocean of pain and everyone else seems to be relaxing in the hot tub by comparison. And along comes some bozo to tell you that your pain isn't real?
Of course that doesn't work and it won't work until you're relaxing in the hot tub too. Not sure why I chose that analogy; I hate hot tubs. But anyway, what helps me is the realization that there is other than one's pain and you are connected to all of it as surely as your body pain is connected to you. Instead of allowing the pain to overwhelm you and block out all that is peaceful and beautiful, you spiritually reach for the lovely and open the connection to it.
The lovely is immense, infinite and your pain is but a tiny, tiny part of it. This immense connectivity to all that is beautiful, magnificent and expansive beyond your wildest imagination is what nonduality offers to me. Find your own way to connect with it; there are many ways. Some people are more doers than thinkers and I firmly disavow the "no doers" business; not because it is incorrect, but because it is exclusive of reality and "usefulness" in my view.
For some people, the most powerful connection they can establish is to help others, tend to the sick, feed the hungry, go pick up some trash or find some way to make another's day better, to make another feel loved. If you are the more solitary type, you may feel most connected observing nature in a quiet place, digging in your garden or tending a few pots on a windowsill, making or playing music, looking at beautiful art or creating some yourself, reading or writing or just calling a friend on the phone, going to a dark place at night to watch the sky or just bringing up some Hubble images on your computer. I can get lost in those for hours.
You can create your own celebration of connectedness any time, in any way you choose. The more you choose to be aware of it, the more that will be available to you in awareness, the more options you will have to put your suffering in a small place, a very small place, in proportion to all the rest. I don't know that suffering can be eliminated altogether, but it can certainly be diluted a lot.
The other important part of the equation, imho, is gratitude for the gifts that one has to choose from. If you take them for granted, you won't have enough appreciation to keep you happy and misery will win, hands down. Could I sit peacefully while burning myself alive? No way, not now, probably not ever. But if a monk can do that, it does show the possibilities that are available. If nonduality means that you cannot separate yourself from suffering, it also means that you cannot separate yourself from the alternatives. As I see it, nonduality not only does not negate the concept of free will, it celebrates it.
top of page