A reader on Facebook recently asked me:
How do Eastern and Western non dualism differ?
So here’s my reply…
It’s a great question and I’m not sure anyone can truly answer it. Not only are there profound cultural, philosophical, and theological differences between eastern and western wisdom traditions, but also subtle but real differences in the ways that meditation is taught and practiced. Finally, even if someone tries to master both “eastern” and “western” approaches to contemplation, the person’s personality, values, and world-view will always be fundamentally shaped by the culture in which he or she was born and grew up. I know people who have been Buddhists for thirty years now, but they were raised as American Catholics and they realize that they will never totally overcome their social and cultural conditioning as Catholics to fully enter into the heart and mind of Tibetan or Japanese or whatever culture their dharma teachers are from. And the same limitations work in the other direction as well.
So having said all that, I personally believe that pure non-dual awareness, at least in theory, takes us to a place beyond language, beyond syntax, beyond social and cultural conditioning: a place of pure presence, unfettered by the limitations of the logical/cognitive mind. But does anyone — even an enlightened master — ever reach that level of purity? Probably not. But if someone could attain that level of pure non-duality, then I suspect it would be the same for an easterner as for a westerner. But we could never even talk about it, because as soon as we attempt to put it into language or concepts, we’re back into the filters and limitations of our particular cultural context. So on a very deep level, it remains a mystery.
The reader followed up:
Yes, also ,if we were to explain non-duality it would no longer be non-duality. It is the same as trying to explain God. If we think we know God, then in fact we know Him not. I asked someone about Eastern non-duality, but he couldn’t answer. I was disappointed, but he was right in his non-response. It is something which he can feel within himself, because it has been revealed to him, and he is wise to not explain it. Also, thank you for your response. It helped me understand.
Later, this reader asked one more question…
How do you think that non-dualism is related to single mindedness?
I think for me, the two words point to two different dimensions of conscious spiritual practice. Single-mindedness has to do with attentiveness, with focus, with what Jesus refers to as “the single eye” or the clear or healthy eye (see Matthew 6:22). Single-mindedness has to do with the watcher, while non-duality encompasses all that is being watched. Non-duality is just what is, freed from our tendency as human beings to make our normal discernment and judgment into something more concrete than it really is.
Sometimes someone will ask me, “does non-duality mean you reject the distinction between good and evil?” The answer: not at all! Good is still good, and evil is still evil. What non-duality recognizes is that everything has being through the grace and mercy of God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about how God sends rain on the good and evil alike, and allows the sun to shine on both the righteous and the wicked (see Matthew 5:43-48). In describing this, Jesus instructs the hearer to “be perfect” as God is perfect (Mt. 5:48).
That ‘perfection‘ is the suchness of non-duality. Non-duality is simply “learning to see as the mystics see,” which basically means seeking to see as God sees. When we embrace that fundamental non-duality, good and evil do not vanish, but they also lose their power to affect our rootedness in God. We celebrate the good, we counteract the evil, we serve those who suffer, we rejoice with those who thrive, and all emerges out of the one love, the one love of God. That’s non-duality. And single-mindedness is simply learning to pay attention so that we can see just what it is God wants to show us.
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