Jerry Katz: On the “ever-expanding” World of Nonduality
by Matthew King
Jerry Katz started what may be called “popular” nonduality. That is, he took the teaching of nonduality out of the ashrams, out of university departments of philosophy and religion, out of scriptures, out of the hands of gurus, and put it on the common sidewalks where anyone and everyone could access it freely.
The earliest vehicles for his efforts were:
The email forum called the Nonduality Salon
The website Nonduality dot com
Please join me as I converse with Jerry about the current landscape of the nonduality movement.
Tell us your view about the “ever-expanding” world of nonduality.
The world of Nonduality is always changing, and by the world of nonduality I mean any and all activity around nonduality — the people, the perspectives, every expression of nonduality, and the way information is delivered. These make up the landscape of nonduality.
Nonduality itself doesn’t change. It doesn’t even exist since the word means “not two.” Who, then, is there to see nonduality? Nonduality is exactly what we are. It is so intimately what we are that it cannot be seen. Anything said about nonduality is nonduality at play and play is the dualizing nature of nonduality or consciousness.
The world of nonduality is to be approached, received, and delivered seriously but not to be taken seriously. “Done seriously, not taken seriously,” much as you would hold a door open for someone in a lucid dream (the person doesn’t exist, the door doesn’t exist, the building doesn’t exist, and since you are dreaming lucidly, you know you are sleeping in bed rather than a person walking into a building). The non-existent dream character holds the non-existent door open for the non-existent person out of the integrity of the act, because of the respect for the apparent forms. In the same way, waking life and the forms upon the landscape of nonduality may be approached.
I encourage people to play with the landscape of nonduality. Start Facebook groups, in-person meetings, write books, write emails, write blogs and don’t feel you have to incorporate the current crop of nonduality teachers into your world. Find people and subjects that interest you and show us how they express the teaching of nonduality. Maybe your subjects are carpenters, hikers, bricklayers, parents, watch makers, who knows? Create your world and in that way the world of nonduality will keep expanding.
The landscape of the ND “movement” has apparently changed over the years, what do you attribute this too and can you throw out some general observations please.
It has changed because of technology. The Internet has allowed people to express themselves freely, to meet each other, to engage, to congregate, and to form groups that [in their wholeness] can act as a guru; I call that phenomenon, where the group is itself a force for dispelling ignorance, the hologuru. I’m sure that many people have experienced the hologuru. However, the hologuru is still to be questioned, as is any authoritative force including one’s inner authoritative voice.
Most of us are aware of the nonduality movement in the Internet era, however in the West it can be traced back to the late 1800’s with the advent of Christian Science, the Sacred Books of the East, and the introduction of Yoga and neo-Vedanta by Swami Vivekananda.
Of course the Holy Bible itself is nondual, however Christianity and Judaism tend to see God as “out there” and separate. Nondual Christianity and nondual Judaism have never not been around, they only haven’t been obvious to the mainstream of practitioners. In the last five years, however, they have been freshly brought to light and set forth especially by Richard Rohr and Jay Michaelson respectively, but by other notables as well.
To mention a few other lights on the timeline of the larger nonduality movement, in the 1930’s there was Paul Brunton (who introduced Ramana Maharshi to the West). J. Krishnamurti and D.T. Suzuki (who introduced Zen to the West) started teaching and writing in the 30’s and became especially popular in later decades. Dr. Jean Klein and John Levy were first teaching in the 50’s and 60’s. The Beat poets introduced nondual teachings in their own ways in the 50’s. Alan Watts pretty much commanded 60’s nonduality. In the 70’s — Rajneesh, now know as Osho, started his own movement. Also in the 70’s Da Free John (aka Adi Da), was a powerful teacher. Some of the teachers in the 80’s became well-known once the Internet era started in the late 90’s but many were lost and need to be re-discovered. I’ve mentioned a very small handful of influential people and sub-movements on the timeline. There are thousands more.
And while there are thousands more known people who could be placed on the timeline, there must be many more unknown thousands who could never make themselves widely known because they did not have the communication skills, the technology, or the great desire to express their realization. If the Internet was around in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and so on, there’d be thousands more confessors and expressers of nonduality. If we guys of the Internet era can hold our own when it comes to nonduality, it has certainly been true for the last hundred years in the West, and throughout the world in all nations and times.
I encourage everyone to express themselves so that we don’t get lost like multitudes of others. However, let’s keep in mind that the collecting and cataloging of “nondualiana” is only a human interest and no different than collecting and cataloging stamps. Let’s not imagine we’re doing anything other than working at what is natural for us. We could just as easily be fixing cars, farming, or handing out donuts at Krispy Kreme. This “nonduality stuff” is only work.
I read a quote somewhere that author/teacher Scott Kiloby called you “the forefather of modern, internet nonduality” — how does that sit with you? I thought that was pretty cool and applicable!
Yes, Scott said that. Chris Hebard has called me the “Grandfather” of nonduality. Maybe these guys are just saying I’m old, I dunno! But if these monikers bring attention that would allow me to encourage, invite, support, and welcome the spreading out and further leveling of the playing field of nonduality — I’m in favor of them.
I was apparently the first person to create a place — that is, an email forum and a website — where people could speak freely about nonduality without being beholden to the teaching of a single guru, academic approach, or tradition. That was a novel idea in 1998.
In other words, my view was to welcome all the givers of nondual knowing while being based in none in particular. Also I recognized so-called ordinary people as realizers and confessors of nondual truth and placed them on the same plane as the most famous and legendary spiritual sages of all time. I saw no difference. I see no difference.
So my contributions to nonduality, which have perhaps earned such monikers, include the introduction of the concept of free and independent online places, namely websites, email forums, blogs, etc., the promotion and encouragement of people and teachings in the nonduality field.
How does the Eastern Vs Western nondual perspective/viewpoints compare these days? It appears America still loves it’s McDonald’s “fast-food” versions.
The fast food version of nondual realization says there is no you, nothing you can do, you’re already “it.” Since anyone can quickly realize that for a few seconds, it can be called a fast food version of nonduality.
The Eastern traditional approach, especially Advaita Vedanta, is “slow food” because it says you need to study in a formal and methodical way under a teacher or Sadguru until the intellectual becomes experiential. This takes great effort, study, and investigation, and could take many years. Traditional Advaita at some point confesses the fast food slogan that there’s no you and nothing you can do, but it doesn’t start at that point.
Therefore, you can get the fast food version in the West and experience it momentarily. But can you keep it? Can you value it? The Western approach is hit or miss, it’s the wild west — it’s a disorganized Disneyland of nondual teachers, groups, and institutions.
The Eastern traditional approach is for people who want immersion into an ancient and proven methodical teaching with a single teacher to whom one is committed as a student for a long time, if not a lifetime.
I have no hard evidence, only impressions, and my impression is that the line between the two is fading. I feel that the effect of the Eastern traditional teaching can be experienced by immersion into the fast food culture, into the unrelenting novelty of its forms, and into the good company of self-realized people where you may listen deeply to discussions, ask questions freely, and mingle with seekers, non-seekers, and realizers themselves until nonduality shifts permanently from the background to the foreground of your moment to moment perspective.
How can we promote the message of nonduality in a responsible way? For some there is “much to do”, of course, for others — there is “nothing” to do.
As far as the world of nonduality, the responsible way to promote and teach nonduality is to check yourself to make sure you are not giving people anything to hang onto, including your personality and your teaching.
Openness upon openness is the hallmark of a responsible teaching of nonduality. In other words, be open and check your openness. As teachers we are constantly drawing lines and creating duality, therefore the responsible act is to erase those lines as we draw them.
It may be taught that there is much to do and it may taught in the next breath that there is nothing to, but something else must be taught as well to give context to those statements, and the context is awareness or consciousness.
Giving teachings without giving the context of awareness is like handing out salt and describing its taste. Salt needs liquid to dissolve and to be tasted and known. In the same way nondual teachings need to be dissolved in the context of awareness to be tasted and known. And we can tell which teachers are just teaching and which are teaching in a way such that the dissolution happens and we can taste and know what is being communicated.
*I see that you were invited to speak at the recent Paradoxica Nondual Psychology Conference. Tell us about that please.
I was honored to be the opening keynote speaker at the Paradoxica Conference held at the University of Lethbridge, in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. Lethbridge is about a three-hour drive south of Calgary.
The organization, the quality of the speakers, the commitment of the attendees, were all superb. What really impresses me is not just the annual conference itself but the entire academic program of which it is a part.
The program was conceived and is run by Associate Professor Dr. Gary Nixon. He demonstrates that one person can change the landscape of nonduality. The program consists of the conference, a journal, an addictions counseling training, a graduate degree, coursework, psychotherapy, group therapy, and one on one interaction with Gary which could be called a guru/devotee relationship (Gary and his students might disagree with the terminology).
Anyone interested in the nondual side of psychology has to investigate what’s going on at the University of Lethbridge. I also recommend the conference to anyone interested in nonduality, not just psychologists. You’re going to hear a lot more from Gary Nixon in various ways in coming years. I continue to work with Gary as senior associate editor for the Paradoxica Journal of Nondual Psychology and as a member of his Board of Reviewers. I’m really pleased to be involved with the group there.
Also you were at the Science and Nonduality (SAND) conferences in California. I’ve heard both positive and negative comments about folks’ experience there [mostly positive]. Is this the right type of environment and or time for this?
Oh yes, SAND is essential to the nonduality scene, I feel. The joy and the problem with SAND is the large number of people. It’s great having 600 nondualists milling around, each with his or her own take on nonduality. There is a problem with having so many themes and speakers from which to select. Having 5 or 6 concurrent sessions makes it impossible to see every speaker. However, every year will be different and should serve attendees more effectively. I know that the organizers strive for that.
I was one of the four original developers of the SAND and we all agreed that both a great openness to the varieties of nondual expressions was needed along with the stabilizing presence of scientifically valid approaches. We don’t want it to turn into a New Age Nonduality Faire. SAND is about quality, substance, and freedom and diversity of expression. What you’ll see more of, I hope, is interactivity between speaker and audience and more experiential opportunities.
Another concern about SAND that is going to be addressed is one of orientation. New people to nonduality are overwhelmed by the choices available at the conference and they need some assistance and getting situated. I believe that is going to be addressed in the next SAND in October, 2011.
So yes, I feel the time is right. The positive aspect of the conference is the energy generated by having so many hundreds of people milling around and the diversity of speakers and attendees. You can meet so many people and there’s a chance you can be a speaker if you have some background in a facet of nonduality and write a good proposal. Primarily you can see major speakers and nondualists. The organizers work very hard to bring in prominent speakers.
I want to emphasize that a big part of a large conference such as SAND is simply hanging out with everyone. I recently interviewed Chuck Hillig, who has been to the previous two and I asked what he likes most about them and he said it’s meeting all the people and talking and seeing what’s going on. Of course he’s also been one of the most lucid presenters.
Will these types of gatherings ever make their way to mainstream America? Meetings, retreats and Satsang events seem to always take place in the usual spiritual hotbeds in the U.S.
Yes they will migrate to various corners and niches of North America. For example (as I mentioned earlier) Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, is a global center for nondual teaching, training, and research. Who ever heard of the place?
We’re having meetings here in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. We’ve attracted people who are sincerely interested in nonduality and they come again and again to our meetings.
What’s most important is a vision. A vision is different than an idea. You need more than merely an idea to hold meetings on nonduality or to start a website. You need to be driven by a vision or a calling. Otherwise nonduality will spit you out pretty quickly. I’ve been spit out myself when all I’ve had are ideas. I’ve started websites and forums that have died because they were nothing more than cool ideas. I’ve also been spit out of groups where I didn’t fit. That’s going to happen. But visions tend to manifest. And there has to be a fit. However, don’t be afraid to try stuff in the world of nonduality. I’ve had some successes and lots of failures.
As long as people have visions for some of kind work in nonduality, those visions will manifest wherever the visionaries live and work. They don’t need to be in Marin County or Byron Bay or the hotbeds in Germany or The Netherlands.
William Samuels, teaching back in the Sixties, was based in Alabama for gosh sakes! He was a teacher’s teacher; Masters came from around the world to sit with him in Ala-freaking-bama. The message then is to work from where you are and only if you have a true vision.
Is “non-duality” a good word, definition and or tag for this movement? It is unique and hard to tag and or classify, since it resides outside of religion(s), New Age movement, self-help industry etc.
I don’t know if it’s the good or not. It’s good for me. I bend the meaning of nonduality to suit my vision and I made up the term “Nonduality Movement.” There’s no finality or ultimate truth to what I’m doing. I’ve made up my own brand of nonduality. Since it isn’t tied to anything and invites reinvention and its own demise, it’s going to be hard to classify. You’re pointing to the hallmark of the current Internet Era of the larger Nonduality Movement: it can’t be classified; you can’t grasp it.
In addition, I use the word nonduality as a branding device. Some people prefer the terms singularity or totality. I use nonduality as my brand and everything I do has the word nonduality in it: Nonduality.com, Nonduality Highlights, Nonduality Street, Nonduality blog, Cinema Nondualie’, my meetup group is called Nonduality Satsang. My Twitter name is Nonduality. My book is One: Essential Writings in Nonduality. When people think of nonduality I would like them to think of what I promote, which is a free and independent nonduality in which they could partake and which they could shape.
Having exposed my personal reasons for liking the word nonduality, there are other reasons that I see: It’s still a new word, hence it is fresh and [fairly] free of nebulous and negative connotations; the word nonduality is a key which, when entered into search engines, opens worlds of discovery. Nonduality is a buzzword and not a bad buzzword; if you’re talking to someone and both of you know the word nonduality there is immediate common ground and potential bonding. Also the word nonduality is like the red pill in the movie The Matrix. Recall that in the movie The Matrix, Neo was offered either a blue pill or a red pill. The blue pill would have returned Neo back to his dream world whose unreality he sensed but did not understand. The red pill would have awakened him to who he really was, which would have begun his journey through life and to the source.
The word nonduality could work as a red pill if you value its meaning enough to follow it as deeply as you can. When Neo was being given his choice of pills, his teacher and mentor Morpheus explained to him:
“This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I’m offering is the truth, nothing more….”
The word nonduality can be like the red pill.
How do you see this same flowering of expression in say the next 10 – 20 years?
Technology will make access to the teaching and to teachers even easier than today. We’ve seen how Facebook makes teachers very accessible. Google+ may take that accessibility to another level since it’ll be easy to get together on video. The separation between teacher and student will continue to narrow.
As well, more people will become exposed to nonduality. As they become exposed, they will find it easier to both notice nondual expression around them and to introduce nondual meaning into activities around them. In these ways the flowering of nondual expression will carry on further.
In very recent years we’ve seen the advent of such terminologies and fields of endeavor as nondual psychotherapy, nondual Judaism, nondual Christianity, nondual science, nondual spirituality, nondual inquiry, nondual awareness, nondual philosophy, nondual comedy, nondual cartoons, nondual knowledge, nondual wisdom, nondual healing, nondual teachers, nondual tantra, nondual presence, nondual pointing, nondual perspective, nondual contemplation, nondual coaching, nondual counseling, nondual parenting, nondual design, nondual brain, nondual retreats, nondual Yoga, nondual ecology, and I’ve even seen nondual Tweeting.
When I started popular nonduality, I don’t even think the word nondual was recognized as an adjective. The “non-dualizing” of everything will continue over the next several years.
Is the traditional Satsang model helping more folks and or just extending the obvious/inherent clichés that this model represents? I respect the tradition, but I am not a fan of sitting in a room with a bunch of folks and or listening to someone speak on a pedestal with flowers sitting all around them!
There’s nothing wrong with that model, but it’s no longer the primary form in which nondual encounters happen. Nondual encounters happen on Facebook with an ad for Groupon instead of a vase of flowers, and with a pop-up saying that someone poked you instead of a portrait of Papaji. They happen on the phone, on Skype video, on conference calls, and through other technologies. They happen at Starbucks.
However, the traditional Western Satsang model can be helpful. There’s still a time and place for it. The photos and flowers are gestures of respect. In that kind of setting it is implicit that the teacher is enlightened and the people in the audience are not enlightened. Some people benefit from that kind of dynamic.
When they appear in-person, many teachers these days simply sit in front of a room and talk, invite discussion, and entertain questions. They’ve done away with the flowers and photos.
I like what happens in small settings with a dozen or so people where there is no “front of the room.” People sit in a circle, around a table, or in a restaurant. There may be one or more leaders of the conversation, but there is not a teacher who is the ultimate authority. I like that approach and practice it in our Nonduality Satsang meetups in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Attendees tend to pretty quickly get what nonduality is about and they return to enjoy the company, the teachings, and the conversation (and the food). We have potlucks. We also rent a store space for the evening and everyone chips in to pay the rent.
Do you think that some “seekers” out there mistakenly make THIS [attending countless meetings/retreats/intensives/buying lots of books] their full-time occupation?
Devoting one’s time and energy to an investigation of the source of thoughts and conditioning isn’t a mistake unless it interferes with other natural commitments to family, health, finances and employment. But if you don’t need to work, if you have no family ties, need very little money, and aren’t overly concerned about your health, why not spend as much time as you can reading nonduality books, going to retreats and satsangs, and immersing yourself in the culture? You gotta do something in this life and if that’s your overriding interest, go for it.
Now there are non-seekers who spend their lives pursuing nonduality for the joy and curiosity of it, and there are seekers who pursue nonduality out of desperation to become something, to gain something, to resolve some burning question related to existence.
Neither kind of person is making any mistakes as long as their natural commitments in everyday life are not violated.
Speaking of books — tell us more about your “One – Essential Writings on Nonduality” title from Sentient Publications.
“One” was an extension of my website, Nonduality dot com.
My intention was to present in book form the spirit of Nonduality.com. Hence there is a variety of writings from different traditions and fields of endeavor. It’s a good introduction to nondual writings and perspectives.
The book shows that the teaching of nonduality is universal and it implies that the teaching can be found wherever you look. At one time [for a couple of days] the book was ranked number 300 on Amazon.com.
We are definitely living in some amazing [yet strange] times, how can the message of nonduality help most folks? And does this message have the capacity to reach those on a global scale? If so — what will it take to get it there? It seems like most teachers and or authors are oftentimes focused on helping individuals or small groups perhaps.
The teaching of nonduality has a reach as global as the technology and it is capable of being heard and understood by multitudes more than currently receive and understand the teaching.
The way nonduality is useful to a person is that it exposes a perspective which makes living life more effective, more spare, more direct, more natural.
However, there are two sides to nonduality. One side consists of the shedding of excessive action — drinking, drugs, too much partying, all our addictions and self-indulgent habits — and the shifting of attention from outward distractions to a realization of one’s nature as I Am. It is this side of nonduality that would be most useful to most people.
The other side is radical and consists of the shedding of even the I Am. If this happens spontaneously a person can be left in great freedom and great confusion for some time.
I don’t think any studies have been done to confirm this, but anecdotally it seems more and more people are becoming aware of nonduality throughout the world and since technology is making access to the teaching easier, this awareness will continue to grow.
Many thanks for your time and service. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Matthew, thank you for your contribution to a free and independent nonduality. I like how you go outside the box to find artists and others to feature on your site. I feel that’s important because it can be easy to interview only the current crop of accepted nondual personalities. So keep up the good work and thank you for inviting me to appear on your website.
Jerry Katz grew up in Paterson, New Jersey and Santa Monica, California, and for the last twenty years has resided in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He earned an M.S. degree in biology from the University of New Mexico where he conducted the University’s initial research into the pineal gland.
Some of his interests and pursuits include:
The Nonduality Highlights: a letter published daily since 1998.
Nonduality Satsang: monthly meetups in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Nonduality Street podcast
Senior Associate Editor of Paradoxica: Journal of Nondual Psychology.