Non-duality is a pretty popular concept lately in spiritual circles. My introduction to it was through meditation teachers and philosophers like Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Gary Webber, and Tony Parsons (who’s my favorite philosopher).
They advocate the classic Hindu philosophy of advaita vedanta (as outlined in the upanashads), which literally means “not two.”
In advaita vedanta there is a clear abdication of all to a greater “everythingness”, or what’s classically called Brahman.
Nisargadatta explains it in the analogy of a church window. The self is a church window that watches light go through it and interacts with dust to give the illusion of reality. But, the source of all this happening is the sun, which is everythingness.
Tony Parsons describes it as everythingness hiding from itself. And it all shares a bit with the traditional concept of an omnipresent God, except without the anthropomorphized dude with the long white beard.
Of course, this is one of the biggest splits between Buddhism and Hinduism, and is actually a very important part of the Buddha’s story.
Like his story in the Sandaka Sutta the Buddha set out to prove other philosophies incorrect.
A few of the prime separations were:
As a secular Buddhist I’ve spent a lot of time trying to arrange these concepts in the “right” perspective, meaning holding them in the middle path.
For myself, a person who is addicted to knowledge, and a person who holds knowledge as a self definition, one of my most important tools to combat ego has been the Catuskoti, or what’s sometimes referred to as Diamond Slivers, or the Two Truths.
To boil it down, anything that can be taken as true can also be taken as not true, and inversely that then too cannot be taken as true, until infinity.
I tend to use this line of thinking when I feel too strongly about a belief or concept and want to hold onto it too firmly. It’s a way of tempering my need for knowing.
This is becoming more and more important as I examine spirituality and spiritual philosophy.
Which is correct – nothing or everything? While it’s fun to debate the truths of either, I’d rather use different “scopes” of reasoning, a way of thinking outlined by Kenneth Folk. Or also Byron Katie’s The Work.
First , taking a step back, who knows the answer to this question? Who answers it?
Attachment to thoughts is, in my opinion, a prime attachment that one must examine to understand their suffering. Clinging to thinking, knowing, and understanding as a way of self definition is fool hearty.
Mainly, how can one know truth? The simulated reality concept, or Plato’s The Cave are prime examples of this. Even in the most solipsistic way, our realities are limited by the interpretation of the senses. It is literally impossible to know what is beyond them.
That includes any and all forms of scientific experimentation which are always skewed by anthropomorphic problems, as well as observer effects.
And growing from that, understanding is limited by the interpretations of the human mind.
Don’t cruise so fast over that fact. The human mind is flawed. Our ability to understand is created by the human mind. Therefore understanding is always flawed.
And without diving too much into it, referring to the human mind almost as another thing that exists, is implicitly stating that the thing that thinks (the brain) and us is somehow different.
So before even diving into the question, it is flawed. Life is but a koan that we must live in a state of confusion and unanswerable and unknowable questions (while also living with a thing, the brain, that must solve everything).
And in that dynamic the right view of nothingness and everythingness is found.
As simple as possible I’d propose that there is no answer, and only the obsession on knowing the answer is suffering.
Even a step further is that the only reason nothingness or eveythingness matter is in how it progresses your practice. If nothingness resonates more than everythingness, then why does it (and vice versa)? The examination, and practice, is where the gold is to be found.
Why does this mind find the need to associate with one over the other. What belief, fear, memory, trauma, or emotion is entangled with something that means absolutely nothing.
Once untangled, then who cares. It’s just words and symbols that are used to explain an ephemeral nothing as everything.