Is Non Duality The End of The Spiritual Journey?
by Stephen Williamson
I was a spiritual seeker who came across non duality. Reading the books and listening to speakers on non duality, it seemed that in all the speakers and authors there was a revolutionary moment when they ‘got it’, when non duality ceased to be an intellectual theory and became a reality.
Then one day I too ‘got it’. There was no self, no separateness, no doer. My state was recognized by one of the leading speakers on non duality in the UK. I had joined the elite few who no longer sought awakening, but were actually awake! I felt important.
As I adjusted to my new state I began to observe in myself and others an inconsistency. I got to know many non duality speakers. Whilst some of these speakers claimed to come from a space of no self, their actions seemed to come from the self. Character traits of self-importance, ambition and indignation, usually associated with the ego, were seen. This indicated a lack of freedom rather than the liberation they talked about when speaking. If I challenged this, I was told that importance appears, ambition appears, but it has been experienced by no one because there is no one, the self does not exist.
I was not too sure about this. All I could do was investigate and reflect on my own experience. I came across writings on Tibetan Buddhism where non duality is regarded as a stage along the way to full enlightenment. This resonated with me. I had previously thought that non duality was “the end of the spiritual journey“. It was the top of the spiritual mountain. No where else to go.
I now see that my coming to non duality was the end of one journey called spiritual seeking —but it was the beginning of another. What is the nature of this journey? It is the integration of the non dual perspective into every day life. I do feel insecurity, ambition, self importance and all the other effects of the appearance of a separate self. But, as the process of integration continues, these characteristics have less and less hold on me.
What is this process?
It is the development of non-discriminating, non dual awareness from moment to moment. It is resting in the emptiness of being from where all the thought and feeling energy of the mind ceases to have importance. This is done without effort. It arises spontaneously, but not all the time.
Is there anything that I can do?
Yes I can get out of the away, allow the process to happen, not get entangled in the illusion of reality that the mind creates.
A year or two ago I started a blog called What is Non Duality? to explore the non duality perspective. I have recently started another one entitled LifeField, which looks at why we get caught up in separateness, how to see non duality, and what to do with that realization.
Stephen Williamson is from England. He spent many years as a spiritual seeker. He was a Theosophist and member of the Esoteric School before spending time in India studying under various spiritual teachers in search of the truth about enlightenment. He later became interested in self-development but found himself asking the question: “Is there a self that needs developing?”
This led him to non duality because it seemed to answer the question. After understanding non duality he made the video What is Non Duality? starring Tony Parsons [and others] which has been seen by over 30,000 people on You Tube (you can watch this video in our player on right hand side – ed). Stephen lives a quiet life in Lancashire, England. So far, he does not teach or speak formally on non duality.
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LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the main header pic! That’s what first caught my attention. It’s down to earth, beautiful, classy, pure and simple -yet sophisticated in such an arty way -both the picture and the text accompanying it!
You are doing such a great service with your site – the most beautiful one I’ve yet seen (and such rich content)!!
Much Love from your Maren
August 22, 2010 at 1:50 am
Nice post from Stephen Williamson,
I identify with where he finds himself (thinking originally that the awakening to Presence was the end), now I am one of the awakened ones; only to find that there still seems to be a person here experiencing anxiety, anger, longing, etc.
It starts to be seen (at least from here) that letting life move at its own pace and direction seems to be the only real possibility.
Take care and stay in touch,
August 22, 2010 at 8:28 pm
A rather “iconoclastic” sort of rant below:
Enlightenment and non-duality subjects are the most maddening, insane, intangible Chinese- box-like trips anyone can ever get into.
Having been through so much of it, I now see that there is no awakening to presence – the only presence there is, is you, just as you are now and always have been – regardless of what you may be thinking or feeling.
What’s the problem with the sense of being a person? You are consciousness experiencing itself as a person. There is nothing in the experience of personhood which imprisons or makes you (consciousness) unfree, qualified or “descended” anyway.
Consciousness loves being a person – that’s why we HAVE people..
Look into everything you are as a person right now – you’re still always just “you” – consciousness – whatever qualities or tendencies you may find – there’s no bondage, no problem at all in it…
If you want to change a part of your manifestation – simply consciously work to change it.
If you feel desires, why is that a problem? Follow them or don’t! If you feel anxiety, anger, etc, why not, as consciousness, using conscious mental investigation, seek to see and understand what’s causing those states and emotions, how they arise?
Do that, and you’ll unlock and dissolve whatever “problems” appear real, and you’ll also find that THERE IS NO PROBLEM – you’re consciousness, consciously and creatively free.
The mind and conscious use of the mind are no problem – the mind is the extremely powerful and non-limiting tool of consciousness itself – meaning YOU, the simple you (exactly as you are now) to whom I am writing.
You speak of letting life move… Does that preclude YOU initiating something, desiring something, pursuing something you may want to create? Do you imagine that some bogeyman called “the ego” would actually be the evil genius behind that? Are you leaving it to “life” because you have no faith, no confidence at all in any sense of your OWN direction? Is there any “life” which is a more primary universal principle than YOU – consciousness, always just there, exactly like right now?
“Non-duality” is just an ordinary little fact about the common nature of everything (consciousness)- but the whole POINT of this universe is to be FREELY part of the PLAY.
Rant over; thank you for your time…
August 24, 2010 at 5:04 am
A couple of years ago I experienced a fairly “classic” non-dual awakening in which it became apparent that I and the universe were absolutely one – there was (and is, essentially) “no other.”
However, now – some other kinds of “realizations” having occurred – my experience and understanding is that non-duality is a state/perception of only an aspect of an integrated manifest whole. “Enlightenment” is the most delusive and intangible subject in the world, essentially, I see now, because it doesn’t exist. “You are consciousness” is just a sheer, never absent “unattainable” fact under all circumstances anyway. I believe that many spiritual searches and “realizations” are products of the failure to consciously apply the mind as understanding to one’s life and apparent problems.
Experience teaches me that “non-duality” as an assumed entire life-basis often expresses itself as an abandonment of initiative and responsibility… however, it’s time for dinner, so no more now!
August 23, 2010 at 1:19 am
…but oftentimes people are only talking about themselves.
Did you abandon initiative and responsibility?
It seems that casting a wide net by saying, essentially, “enlightenment shows up as that in every case” doesn’t reference the fact that it was presumably a personal experience for you.
At one point, did you feel like you were caught in a transcendental “stuck-ness” –where life was pushed away?
If so, would you share? or how did you “see” out of that? Many might benefit from hearing it.
If there was a “stuck-ness” for you, it may have been just a phase, but one should not confuse that phase with enlightenment or even nonduality, would you agree?
August 24, 2010 at 7:54 pm
I don’t have time to reply properly at the moment, but I will.
Suffice to say for the meantime that I believe the whole enlightenment non-duality preoccupation is inherently and irretrievably “stuck” because it is, in effect, “waiting” for some change, some insight, some “egoless” state or vantage point to emerge.
There is, however, nothing WHATSOEVER to be realized that is not true of us this very moment, all we need do is understand what is motivating the whole “spiritual” search itself.
What is the way out of being stuck? To look into what the damned “apparent” stuckness really consists of!
We are NOT stuck – beyond our ideas, there is nothing there at all.
“Stuckness” may often manifest as an amorphous, suspended kind of “double-bind” – a rather formless sort of “hanging around,” an endless “process” in which one is terribly dedicated, perhaps, to a “truth” which is somehow always as yet not entirely revealed.
Perhaps “life” or “the universe” is assigned the responsibility for revealing that truth.
It can’t, it’s too late… the truth is always already the case…
This stuckness is (while understandable) a wholly unnecessary, voluntary, performed activity.
One is oneself – consciousness – already always anyway. Seeking, spiritual conceptualizations, paths, preoccupations with enlightenment or “non-duality” are secondary, false and delusive; one was, is, and always will be consciousness, quite irreducibly – just as is the case right now for everyone reading these words, without changing or adding A THING.
Above all, how about we start to consciously LIVE this, create and play?
That is the POINT of this entire game!
August 25, 2010 at 10:38 am
I’ve noticed the same thing, Geoff. Really the problem doesn’t seem to be that nonduality is made as a life basis, the problem comes from generalizations about life or nonduality being a certain way, when really people are only talking about personal experience. Not everyone experiences lack of initiative and responsibility. If some of these posts and other comments, even TEACHINGS, were expressed from a personal standpoint, using “I” language, like “I experienced a lack of responsibility,” it wouldn’t cast such a wide net. Then we could learn from each others experience without making broad generalizations that what happened for “me” somehow applies to everyone else in every situation. People are only talking about themselves.
August 25, 2010 at 7:26 am
Having said that, Lee’s comments are so needed and so appreciated here. Certain teachers now are talking about BEING a person “in the end,” that nonduality really is about LIFE and life is a play. I’m a character. Otherwise, nonduality becomes an abstract concept.
So I was wondering Lee, you said that you saw through separation. This means that at some point, your identity did shift from being a separate person to something else. That seemed to be necessary in order for you to have this “later” seeing that the person is consciousness.
Are you saying that people should abandon the pursuit of nondual realization? I don’t think you are saying that.
It would be like riding a boat to the other shore, realizing that you are already there, on that shore, and always were, and that frees you. But would you turn around to all the others who want to reach the shore and say, “Turn around. It’s no big deal. Just be a person with all your seeking and suffering!”
To me, that would be a HUGE oversimplication
August 25, 2010 at 7:30 am
Please understand that some of my assertions
above (re initiative, responsibility, etc) lack supportive detail, subtlety, acknowledgement of exceptions, etc.
Because of the amount of time I have available and this format, I am just dashing things down and “quoting myself out of context,” so to speak. As such, innumerable potential criticisms of what I said are (and will continue to be) valid and justifiable.
The bits that I haven’t said complete the picture – for me – but the outward communications are sometimes just “some of the bricks in the wall.”
I did have a “classic” complete seeing-through-separation experience, but this, in itself, does not give a complete understanding of the integrated nature of manifest being and the simplicity of consciousness.
I DO say, emphatically (and this will “rip a few nighties,” as they say): abandon all “pursuit” of non-dual realization! That which you pursue, you will NEVER attain, because what you seek is merely an ill-defined projection of the mind.
The truth is not sought; it is now, exactly “as is.”
This is not a “huge simplification…”
I can however, suggest what you do instead (of
pursuing non-dual realization).
First of all, let me draw your attention to what you MAY have felt when I suggested we abandon the pursuit of non-duality. Did it (in essence) have a structure anything like “but if we abandon that pursuit, where does that leave us? – back with the same old conflicts, benighted, identified with transient illusions, desires, a false “I,” apparently separated, suffering, failing to realize our true state?
If you feel that anything like that would be the case, then that’s rather interesting in itself, isn’t it?
I haven’t much time right now, but here is what I recommend: Imagine for a moment that you were A-OK already,(you are) that you were inherently and inescapably “complete,” free, in a perfect “position,” so to speak (nothing “essential” to realize or seek).
Now, taking that as read, “import” that consciousness into wherever you actually find yourself now in thought, in feeling, in contradiction, befuddlement, external circumstance – the entire present array of your existence, and say:
“I’m going to go from NOW; If disturbance or
confusion arises, I’ll seek to see it, UNDERSTAND it as best I can, as I move along.
I’m going to allow all that arises in me – desires, fears, nameless intellectual, spiritual or existential double binds and suspensions, etc – whatever – and I’m going to bring to FULLY CONSCIOUS ATTENTION the unresolved questions, spiritual or other confusions and conflicts I may have.
Insofar as they seem to matter, I’ll live with (and even pose more of) these questions as need be, and see what answers arise. As far as I can, I’d like to understand whether my spiritual and other ideas are necessarily true at all.”
In this way, LIVE, and consciously understand
your own game thoroughly; if you truly do so, you will see, even very early in the game (even right now) that YOU are always already conscious freedom itself – the mind, personality, body, your apparent “differentiatedness” are all perfectly integrated and coexistent with, and in, consciousness …there is NO problem, nothing to be feared in any of it.
“Non-duality” is just a little fact about you; it DOES NOT invalidate, falsify or make “illusory” any of the magnificent
fully-immersed-yet-totally-free PLAY of the
“Differences”(the full experience of variety) are unaffected by non-duality!
And THAT – is all you, (whoever’s reading) just as you are now …even when you think otherwise.
So, there you go…
August 26, 2010 at 7:54 am
Oh, Ezra, I should have added – the problem is somewhat more complex in that the others are all standing on the shore with you already, insisting they’re back in the damned boat!
August 26, 2010 at 8:10 am
You are correct that non-duality is NOT the ultimate state of spiritual awareness. But then again, you have all of these teachers of “non-duality” like Jeff Foster, Peter Fenner, Sailor Bob Adamson, Jerry Katz, Tony Parsons, Bentino Massero, Wayne Liquorman, etc… that are at this level and teach that non-duality (or non-dualism) is the highest.
I myself have been in the state of “non-dual Awareness” many times, but have intuted that it is not the highest, because the ego (the seperate, induvidual sense of self associated with the mind-body organism) has not yet been destroyed and hence, transcended. The state of non-duality/non-dualism is only an intermediate state – or more specifically, a pseudo-enlightened state of consciousness or spiritual awareness. You have to go further, which means that you not only transcend duality, but also transcend non-duality as well, and hence, transcend both duality and non-duality simultaneously. The Self (i.e. God, Divinity, etc…) is beyond both duality and non-duality, as per the Adhvuta Gita of Lord Dattatreya in Hinduism.
What you realized is what I realized back in November 13, 2012 when I first experiened bonified “non-dual Awareness” or “non-dual Consciousness” for two and a half days, and I congratulate you on recognizing the error that many spiritual seekers make, some of whom become spiritual teachers, including that of Enlightenment and non-duality.
Have a great summer and stay cool!
May 24, 2013 at 2:59 pm
Thanks again for your insight and for allowing another voice to be heard. In my experience one needs to be careful of putting too much weight behind words [such as ultimate, this level, highest, and bonafied] and one’s definitions.
Some folks experience just a glimpse of [what some call] liberation/realization or awakening etc. Some stay for a while and some oscillate back and forth, but yeah I get what you are saying. It’s not really crystal clear on what some of the “teachers” overall stance is because you are usually just reading a blog post by them, a short article and or attend a single meeting or something similar… Which, hardly sums up everything about that person or all there is to know or do. It’s not really fair to them – but I see both sides.
There are a lot of websites, blogs, writers/authors out there who do not consider themselves teachers at all. The lines are blurred and because of this a lot of assumptions are made. Some good some bad I suppose.
At the end of the day I think most folks mean well and are out to help others and lastly, most Western “disseminators” have a different method or communication style compared to Eastern perhaps.
November 6, 2013 at 8:20 pm
All of these people have realized non-duality (i.e., Oneness and/or emptiness), and yet, somehow think that they are “Enlightened” or “Awakened” and have therefore, dissolved and transcended the ego. That self-delusion right there that with the realization or awakening to non-duality, that they have somehow dissolved and transcended the ego and realized the Self (i.e., God) as their true nature, and in turn, somehow think or believe that they are “Enlightened” or “Awakened”, means that they have not yet reached/become/attained Enlightenment, but rather, an intermediate state or stage leading to Enlightenment.
What Stephen Williamson says in this piece is that even in the “non-dual state”, or rather, in the “state of non-duality”, there still exists the ego or sense of self. That to me is a BIG red flag which means that even the state of non-duality (i.e., Oneness and/or Emptiness) is not the highest, and that you have to go even beyond non-duality to realize the Self (i.e., God) and thereby become Enlightened/Self-Realized/Awakened. My own personal experience back in November 2012, and from what I observe with a lot of these teachers of modern or contemporary non-duality movement, confirms this to me clearly.
These same people that I mentioned, who are associated with this modern or contemporary non-duality movement, also equate “seeing through the illusion of separateness”, including a separate self, as the end of the ego via its dissolution and transcendance. Actually, all this really is is seeing everything as “empty” (i.e., empty, impermanent and dependently originated/arisen) because it lacks “inherent existence”, according to Madhyamika (Middle way) Buddhism and its main proponents, Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti. However, seeing the emptiness of everything, including the self (body/mind/ego) DOES NOT negate their existence, which would then result in falling for the dualistic extreme of nihilism.
Unfortunately, however, it is not true that seeing through the illusion of separation, including a separate self, ends the ego’s existence. All you really did is to go from one illusion of the ego, which is that of separateness, including a separate self…….to another illusion of the ego, which is that of egolessness…….that the ego has somehow ceased to exist and has been transcended, when you saw through the illusion of separateness, including a separate self. Since both of these illusions are based in the ego itself, you really have not gotten anywhere at all, but are going around in circles, thinking that you have made some sort of “spiritual progress”.
Given all of this, what Stephen Williamson says makes sense…….the only thing is that you have to go even beyond non-duality, and hence, beyond both duality and non-duality in order to truly realize the Self (i.e., God) and become Enlightened/Self-Realized/God-Realized/Fully Spiritually Awakened or Realized with the COMPLETE dissolution and transcendence of the ego.
April 19, 2014 at 1:07 pm
Interesting comments on nonduality. Non duality resonates with me more so than other spiritualities that still promote the idea of separation (to varying degrees). Non duality is much simpler and does lead to more dissolution of the ego. We are One and part of the same God Source, Ocean of Consciousness, Spirit, whatever one wishes to call it. There is no separation and life in the physical realm is a game of Form, with the illusion of separation. I do agree with some of the comments mentioned in this thread. The very idea of wanting to transcend the ego is the Ego itself. Because the person still thinks they need to get somewhere or transcend something illusory in order to be Complete or to be Who They Are in essence.
This is where a lot of spiritual teachings, religions, “teachers”, etc miss the mark. They believe that we are individual ” people” who are not complete and need to get somewhere, seek or achieve/obtain something in order to be One with God, spiritually “whole” or “enlightened”. The notion of enlightenment is ego driven. Since we are already One with God/Consciousness, ” enlightenment ” is what we are, Now. There is nothing “gurus” have that the rest of us don’t have. There is no separation. We need not look to the outside to remember who/what we are and live that.
Spiritual teachings are also quick to judge different emotions/thoughts experienced here in the physical realm (ie anger, jealousy, hatred, sadness, upset,etc). They tend to be labeled as “bad” insinuating that as long as those emotions crop up I’m our life, we are not “enlightened”. That is a judgment based on societal conditioning and ego. All emotions and thoughts are not ” ours,” to begin with as we are Consciousness witnessing all of this. Secondly, who is to say that such emotions have no place in life? Life is awake and we are One with life so how can we not be awakened/enlightened already?
Another illusion is when people think that once you “become enlightened” that life in this realm is a bowl of cherries everyday, every moment and there is nothing but pure bliss. I find this very hard to believe….Since we are already enlightened in essence, we are happy, sad, joyful, peaceful, angry, Impatient, blissful, etc…experiencing all the Divine emotions of this world, knowing they are not ours. So having said all this, we just need to Be. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to be, nothing to achieve. When the body dissolves, we simply merge with the Source again. Life becomes ever so simple.
June 14, 2015 at 2:00 pm
This article doesn’t actually make sense in reality. Duality is a part of your experience and most certainly a part of us becoming conscious or awakening spiritually. You have to follow your intuition and listen to what nature is telling you. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do to start healing and getting back to reality. We have to rediscover our connection to nature and continue learning and growing to make the changes that are important to us as a species and on a personal consciousness level. We can’t skip any part of this alchemical process we must experience it and follow it and learn the best we can.
This article doesn’t make sense. Saying that you’re not conscious or awake and you don’t get it until you become non dual? This is ridiculous nonsense. Duality usually begins after these experiences. You either get your connection to consciousness and intuition and you begin to understand it clearly or you don’t get it at all.
August 25, 2015 at 2:35 am
Unless my perception is messed up and I’m actually confused here
I do see where the author is coming from now I just had a stupid moment sorry. I think i understand this state you’re explaining that sometimes comes spontaneously but not always. The state of being completely one and at peace. Or the I AM moments. Realising you are a part of it again and feeling the harmony. I think what we need is more of us to come together positively and start working together.
August 25, 2015 at 2:43 am