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Yoga's Nonduality

Nonduality is the belief that entities do not exist in opposition to one another or separate from one another. Nondualism ("not two") is another name for unity. The concept of nonduality arose within ancient Indian thought as far back as 1000 BCE in the Vedas. Later writings known as the Upanishads expounded upon the teachings of the Vedas and tell us in a very concise way that the soul and nondual awareness are the same thing, and both are identical to the entire universe.

You may find it interesting that there are nondual paths within Hinduism, Daoism, Buddhism, and many indigenous traditions, as well as Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Are science and nonduality compatible? According to the conventional modern scientific worldview, reality consists of a physical universe composed of energy and matter behaving according to objective physical laws. In contrast, the mystics from the world's major religious traditions teach that reality is ultimately nondual, i.e., that all distinctions are imaginary, including the distinction between subject and object, consciousness and universe. Thus, nonduality would appear to undermine the existence of an objective physical world, independent of consciousness. Where does this leave science, and the objective world? Is it possible to reconcile science and nonduality?

The following interview with Tom McFarlane explores this question and a possible resolution to this apparent conflict.

In the yoga tradition, this one nondual reality is referred to as Brahman. It is said that Brahman cannot be fully understood or described, but can be known through experience. This "knowing" is often called "self-realization." The practices of yoga were created to open doorways through which we can access this state of Brahman.

Later writings came to reveal that when things appear, exist, and then disappear, they are actually arising from and within Brahman, existing in an illusion that makes them seem separate from Brahman, and they will eventually dissolve back into Brahman.

One such text is called the Ashtavakra Gita, most likely composed between 500-400 BCE. This text offers instruction for achieving "self-realization" or coming to an understanding that we are all aspects of Brahman. Some say that the Ashtavakra Gita is the most direct path to self-realization and one can achieve it by following these three steps:

(1) hear or read the text again and again

(2) reflect and understand it (clarify, test it, and through this process dispel any doubts)

(3) meditate/assimilate/realize and let this realization inform your daily life.

"So long as the sense of "me" and "mine" remains, there is bound to be sorrow and want in the life of the individual."

- Anandamayi Ma

Imagine what the world might be like if you recognized every other person as another version of "me." Let's look at it another way. What are you denying when you use the term nondual? What happens to the polarity of good/evil, rich/poor?

Rich and poor seem to be two different concepts, but if you think about it — you can’t have one without the other, so they are not truly separable! You cannot understand the meaning of the term "poor" without understanding the meaning of "rich", and vice versa. This may sound like abstract logic, but if the most important thing in your life is to become rich, it also means that you are preoccupied with poverty or afraid of being poor.

Purity/impurity is a good example of how seeing the world in terms of bipolarity creates problems for us. One could spend an entire lifetime in avoidance of whatever is considered to be "impure." It’s one of the ways we “bind ourselves without a rope,” to use the Zen expression. Consider also the harsh self-judgement and shame associated with making a "wrong" choice.

Perhaps the most problematic version of bipolar concepts is good vs evil, because, again, you can’t have one without the other. Good vs evil has historically been the fundamental polarity of many religious traditions. This has resulted in a perpetual struggle between the "forces of good and evil." This type of polarity has led to heresy trials, burning witches at the stake, the suppression of "other" as demonic — you get the point!

"True purity is to live beyond the duality of purity and impurity.”

-Hui Hai

We need only to contemplate our relationship with time to understand that we are not things. We are collections of physical and mental processes. If we can become one (nondual) with these processes we see that we/they are occurring in the eternal NOW; that the past is not gone, and the future is not coming. It is always simply the one (nondual) NOW. We blindly grasp at things that we think will fill our sense of lack, always rejecting what is now for what will be in the future. In doing so, we are missing our lives!

Consider nonduality and Nature. We are part of the earth. Our bodies are composed of the same elements that compose all other living and nonliving beings on this planet. Homo sapiens is just one of the many ways that the earth manifests. We need to wake up to that truth and allow it to inform our relationship with all that is - here and now, moment to moment.

What would the world be like if we removed all polarity? How do we start? Each person must begin with their own self-realization.

Thanks for reading!



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