Is Non-Duality the Key to Liberation from Ego? 

Is Non-Duality the Key to Liberation from Ego?  June 2, 2024

From “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”: Thomas Merton, pages 153-154 

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. 

What is wrong with the world these days? 

I have been exploring this question a lot in my last few posts. As an observer of humanity, privy to some of the most painful stories, I can boil a lot of problems we are observing to ego, fear, ignorance, and polarization. This week, I want to explore the notion of nonduality and how it can be a key to free us from clinging to our ego.  

What is non-duality 

From Sanskrit, we get Advaita which means ‘not two.’ In simple terms, the word means that there is no separation between you or anything else in your experience. Not limited to Sanskrit, we can find examples of non-duality in the Stoics and in Buddhism (Nirvana), Sufism (Wahdat al Wujud), and Christianity (Henosis).  

To explore this oneness, we must consider the question, “who am I?” When I have preached at funerals, I have always offered two ideas, that in death, we cease experiencing new memories with the deceased one and two, that the deceased one never truly existed until we encountered them. Who we are is only a story that we tell ourselves in our head. We at anyone time are someone to somebody and for many, this interconnectedness determines our financial securities, our loyalty to our tribes, our attachment to and with our children and spouses/partners.  

In the same way, we have an interconnectedness with God or the divine that again is just an illusion in our heads. Too often these days, we want to silo God into our camp and make Jesus our personal boyfriend/girlfriend. Folks, this is not high school, and this is not how mature relationships work. God cannot be siloed, and Jesus is a homeless dead Jew who died a long time ago. Our relationship with God is communal and God’s connection in my opinion is connected with all traditions and nationalities. 

Figures such as Richard Rohr, Willigis Jäger, Thomas Keating and Cynthia Bourgeault have argued that the Christian contemplative tradition shares many elements with the nondual teachings and modes of experience found in Vedic and East Asian religion. According to Rohr, “I am convinced that Jesus was the first nondual religious teacher of the West […] In his life and ministry, Jesus modeled and exemplified nonduality more than giving us any systematic teaching on it.” 

For Rohr, nonduality is an experience not a belief. I would add to this, that belief in God or Jesus is transrational and also an experience, not a belief and therefore subjective. With this idea in mind then, we can begin to close the perceived gaps we believe we have with those of different Christian and even other world traditions than our own. (see this article: 

Christian Unity  

We can turn to Paul to begin to orient our understanding of Christian Unity. Another place to really understand this is something I will explore in next week’s post – Jewish ontology. Paul tells us to “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The Spirit is the giver of unity. With the Spirit, Paul later writes, “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). 

Jesus was Jewish and if we consider this seriously, it changes how we live our Christianity today. In Judaism, there is a concept known as “Tikkun Olam” which means repairing the world makes this clear that Jews are urged to view their lives as a part of a greater purpose and find meaning and purpose in what they do. With this notion in mind then, Jesus looks around, sees how poorly his religious officials are doing things and he takes matters in his own hands and gets to work calling people out.  

Indeed, Paul is drawing on Jesus’s teachings, tikkun olam when he offers, “unifying love in the body of Christ includes a rugged commitment to do good for the family of God whether you feel like it or not (Galatians 6:10). But, as difficult as it is for diverse people, the experience of Christian unity is more than that. It includes affectionate love; not just sacrifice for those you do not like. It is a feeling of endearment. We are to have affection for those who are our family in Christ. “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10). “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). “All of you, have . . . sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).” (See ).  

Non-Duality frees us from Ethical Aloneness 

I started talking about this idea last week in my post ( ). If we take into consideration all that has been discussed here in this post, we can begin to piece together how cultivating a non-duality in our spirituality can free us from ethical aloneness. First, we must consider Merton’s idea of not seeing our separateness. Perhaps the best way I teach this in my work as a therapist, is drawing on the Lovingkindness meditation offered in the Buddhist tradition and written about by Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg. “May you be happy, may be safe, may you be ease” is the mantra that one uses to cultivate this awareness. In therapy then, I use this as a tool to help one accept their shadow selves and to release the burden of guilt and shame they feel when someone has done something terrible to them.  

If we as Christians are going to live the WWJD (I know it dates me, it was still cool) mentality intentionally, we must seriously consider tikkun olam and consider how our communities are true spaces of love and intentionality. As a behaviorist, one of many things that rubs me the wrong way is lack of consistency. Nothing keeps me up all night like a behavioral plan that is not working. Trying to get everyone on board is like my old first mate used to say, “like getting a drunken octopus to row a boat in one direction.”  

We do not exist for ourselves. Relational sociality as a defining quality of human existence is a way to avoid such egoism” (Simmons, p. 27). Non duality means ‘not two.’ In simple terms, the word means that there is no separation between you or anything else in your experience. We are one in Christ and in this oneness, we must understand that we are all one in Christ.  



Simmons, J. A. (2023). Camping with Kierkegaard: Faithfulness as a Way of Life. Wisdom Work. 



Browse Our Archives