Beyond Right or Wrong: Non-Duality Explained
Non-duality can be a hard concept to wrap your head around if you‘ve never encountered it before – but here you are. Some part of you seems to be ready for it!
Typically, we are raised in a dual belief system. This simplifies things at first, but if it‘s all you ever believe, your soul cannot awaken to the deeper cosmic truth.
By now, I‘m sure you already started sensing that the world consists of so much more than just black and white. There are infinite shades of grey in between (not just 50, as popular literature suggests).
So welcome to your non-duality for beginners class – or, in other words, a humble attempt of passing on what I learned and understood about non-duality since I first came across this beautiful spiritual philosophy.
Duality vs. non-duality explained simply
So, to best understand the meaning of non-duality, it helps to understand duality first.
Growing up, we quickly grasp the concepts of good vs. evil, dark vs. light, wrong vs. right.
This is duality. It assumes that there are two opposite extremes and it‘s either one or the other.
And as humans, we loooove putting the world around us into categories. Labeling things as good or bad helps us to quickly make decisions and to keep our worldview in order.
The problem is: Our assumed dualities are not always correct. (In fact, they pretty much never are.)
To move away from perceiving the world through the lens of oversimplified judgment, we need to move away from duality and towards non-duality.
Non-duality sees everything as interconnected.
And when everything and everyone is connected, how can you judge them?
You will start to understand that your neighbor whose loud music annoys you only does so because he does not want to hear the domestic abuse next door which only happens because of old childhood traumas which only prevailed in the family because there was too much shame and so on and so on.
In the end, there is no right or wrong. Only a big, interconnected web of cosmic interactions.
And you are a part of it all. Not separate.
Understanding the Buddhist Philosophy behind Non-Duality
The principles of non-dualism derive from Buddhist philosophy and have been taught for over a thousand years.
The Sanskrit word ‚Advaita‘ literally means ‚not two‘. Not dual. So non-duality is the simple Western translation of an ancient Eastern concept.
Buddhists believe that in our essence of being, pure consciousness, we experience no dichotomies.
The principle of pure interconnectedness (=oneness) expresses that you are one with the universe, with nature and all living beings.
The individual soul is no different from the Brahman, the ultimate source.
Yes, you heard that right:
You already carry the pure awakened consciousness within you.
The problem with your mind – it creates duality
So what‘s stopping people from realizing non-duality? Well, enter the stage, our minds.
Our tricky little thoughts stop us from observing and experiencing the world as it is – we constantly create judgment, creating duality in our minds instead of oneness.
The antidote is pure presence.
The reality we perceive is nothing but an illusion. It is a construct created by our minds and senses.
I‘m sure you‘re familiar with situations where you were in the same room with a friend or family member and as you recount your experiences later, you realize you perceived the same situation entirely differently.
Your perspective of reality is entirely created by you, influenced by the perceptions of reality around you.
So you could say nothing is real.
What is real if not reality?
Yes, I can hear you desperately clasping your hands over your head now. Is everything a lie? Did someone just say reality is not real?
I know the feeling. It can be crazy to process when you start thinking about it.
But hey, that‘s exactly the problem, thinking.
Beyond the reality that we know, there is a deeper reality. A collective consciousness that vibrates within all of us.
There are many words for it, some call it consciousness, others call it Brahman, the Source or God.
It is the ultimate reality.
And as already said, each one of us carries this true nature of life within. It is the one truth that unites us all – way beyond dualism.
Non-duality in the Yin Yang Symbol
This is a little excursion, but since I only recently understood the Yin Yang Symbol, which directly relates to the principles or duality, properly, I wanted to share it.
For a long time, I viewed the Yin and Yang symbol only as black and white / feminine and masculine / light and dark coming together.
Yes, I saw it as a symbol of balance, but I still saw it through the lens of opposites.
In Taoism, however, dichotomous moral judgments are not real, they are only perceptions of the human mind.
So, actually, the duality of Yin and Yang is not a duality after all – it is an inseparable entity.
This principle of duality manifests in all areas of our life. We witness darkness and light, how things expand and contract, order and chaos.
However, all these opposing energies that our mind likes to perceive separately are ultimately one.
How to experience Non-Duality
Some part of non-duality can be processed intellectually, but ultimately, you have to feel it. This is when you truly know non-duality.
Non-duality is a state beyond thinking and ego, only experienced in the absence of our monkey minds.
In this expanded state of consciousness, you will be able to know the true nature of reality.
How to Practice Non-Duality in Your Life
If you want to go deeper in your journey, there are a few ways to understand non-duality more deeply than I could ever explain here.
Reflecting on non-duality can become an important part of your spiritual practice and you will slowly witness how it transforms your life.
Well, I guess you‘re not too surprised to find this one on the list.
Meditation is the portal to accessing the spiritual part inside of you, to go beyond the mind – and in this space is where you will find non-duality.
If you have tried meditation before, you will know it is not easy to access the state of pure consciousness. Maybe you have gotten a glimpse of it or maybe you haven‘t been able to experience it at all.
Make a habit of meditating regularly. Little by little, you will gain more understanding of what‘s at the core of your existence.
Find a spiritual teacher
In Eastern philosophy, having a spiritual master, a teacher, in your life is absolutely essential. Even the masters learn from the masters before them.
In Westerners, this idea often raises skepticism – am I at risk of blindly following a charlatan?
But to truly understand non-duality, you will continually have to deepen your practice and learn to cultivate the presence of oneness in your life.
I believe having a teacher can indeed be very valuable for this undertaking because their spiritual wisdom goes beyond what most of us can fathom.
This doesn‘t mean you need to now go to India and dedicate your life to spiritual studies (unless you feel called to it). A teacher can also come in form of a book. A conversation with a stranger. A moment in silence.
We all need a little guidance sometimes.
Let go of your beliefs
Non-duality is all about moving from believing and judging to purely experiencing.
Once you experience a state of oneness – whether through meditation, psychedelics or purely coincidental – a lot of things in your life might not make sense of you anymore.
This might cause an intense shift in perspective and identity.
Your ego will not like it. Which makes perfect sense because non-duality threatens its existence. It may feel like you‘re losing your core identity.
But really, what you are gaining in return is so much more. Understanding. Love. Empathy.
Even if you only overcome a couple of dual beliefs, you will view the world with a lot more inner peace.
Embracing duality in our daily lives
As I was talking to one of my closest friends about non-duality, he made a good point that I wanted to include in this blog post as well.
Learning about non-duality might leave you with the impression that duality does not serve us and we should try to move away from it.
However, the human experience is dualistic at its core. We are having those experiences to learn from them and to evolve.
Ironically, even writing this I had a dichotomy in mind – duality and non-duality. But again, it‘s not one versus the other.
Even when we start understanding the principles of non-duality, duality still will be present in our lives.
And the best we can do is embrace it.
I don‘t think the goal is to permanently live in a state of non-duality (unless you want to skip straight to enlightenment).
We have been blessed with being part of this ever-ongoing play of opposing forces, so we might as well enjoy it.
A lot can be learned from simply accepting our existence as it is – full of seemingly irreconcilable contrasts.
Continuing the journey of non-duality
Explaining non-duality is not quite simple, but I hope I could give you an insight into the world beyond dichotomous thinking.
Understanding this principle has affected my life deeply. I more and more find myself not being able to take a standpoint since I perceive many perspectives at once.
I started seeing more shades in life than just the labels we give it.
And it can be confusing because we are conditioned to crave that certainty duality promises us. Finding yourself in a space in between can be overwhelming at first.
You may be confronted with questions like ‚what even matters then?‘ or ‚why are we even here?‘.
You may experience intense emotions like feeling upset because certain things matter so deeply to your ego that you find it hard to let go of them.
Non-duality is quite something to process, but it‘s also incredibly freeing.
So dare to go deeper within yourself. Get a glimpse of what lies beyond.
There is a lot of peace to be found.