There was a time when I would unreservedly have described myself as a partisan of non-duality. Today I regard it as potentially one of the more misleading forms of spirituality though I still believe it describes the basic truth of the universe. What has changed in my outlook?
What has changed is the fact that so many people now embrace (or even teach) non-duality in a form that would not have been recognized by its originators in India (Note: non-duality is found in many places but I take the Indian version as the principal source of the doctrine). So it is not non-duality that is the problem. That remains as pure truth. It is the distorted version of those who think themselves in the vanguard of spirituality but who dispense with God because of what can only be called lack of humility and intellectual arrogance. What these people don’t appreciate is that you should come to non-duality as the basis of your approach to God and the universe only after having fully traversed duality. For duality is real. It may not be the ultimate reality but ultimate reality comes only at the end.
Non-duality is a step beyond duality but that does not mean that it completely replaces it. Non-duality says that all is one. The division between spirit and matter is false, and you are pure undivided consciousness. All this is absolutely true, and actually pretty easy to understand as a concept and even to attain as an experience in meditation or, at least, to imagine one has attained. However what is equally true is that the duality of the soul and its Creator is a real one, even if it must eventually be transcended. But, and this is what is at issue, you won’t transcend it by denying it, rejecting it or pretending that it is not there. You must fully acknowledge it and all it implies, and then go beyond it. That’s the only way, and those who are encouraged to bypass the traditional approach, which is founded on wisdom and insight, by teachers of half-truths who lack these things, even if they have an intellectual grasp of that of which they teach, are being misled. Worse, they are being sidetracked from the true path and their spiritual development delayed.
You are pure awareness.
Such a simple statement to make, but how do you transcend the duality of subject and object and know yourself to be pure awareness? Not just by thinking so, that’s certain. And is pure awareness all you are? Because if not then maybe it’s not sufficient to take that, and that alone, as the basis of your spiritual practice.
One of the Masters’ simplest but most profound sayings was ‘Remember the Creator’. This is something non-dualists of the modern Western variety frequently fail to do. Usually brought up in one of the monotheistic religions, or a society still heavily influenced by that, they are eager to throw off their cultural baggage, which they perceive as outworn (and I am not saying that it is not in many ways), but they still crave some form of spirituality. A non-dualistic belief system fits the bill because, in its trivialized version, it makes relatively few demands of the lower self, and does not require one to bend the knee or incline the head. But spirituality without a recognition of a higher power is a temptation to be avoided, though very attractive to the ego that always wants to reap the benefits of spirituality without giving itself up. The true non-dualist always remembers the Creator (though he may not phrase it exactly like that) because he knows that he is part of God. For the false non-dualist it is the other way around. He is pure consciousness.
The Masters told me that prayer was essential for the spiritual aspirant, even the most advanced. Prayer is how you remember the Creator, and only if you remember Him can you even begin to approach His level. If you don’t reach His level, how can you possibly go beyond Him? Does the modern non-dualist pray? If not, why not? Here’s what the Masters said to me on the subject. Do you think yourself above prayer? Even the greatest saints prayed and, while meditation is necessary, you need the humbling experience of prayer also.
The great danger for the non-dualist is that he creates a mental version of ‘pure awareness’ and then bases his behavior on conformity to that. Right there you have duality. The idea and the attempt to become that idea. This leads nowhere except illusion to begin with, and falseness and hypocrisy if you persist in that illusion. Even if you experience what seems to be a non-dualistic state in meditation you must remember that any experience is always interpreted by the mind which is the very source of psychological division.
I think the problem is that many contemporary non-dualists and their teachers fail to grasp the distinction between soul and spirit. The soul is the individual consciousness, the spiritual self that remains on the higher planes when you incarnate (what the Masters described to me as the greater part of you), and it is that we should try to attune ourselves to in meditation. We cannot go beyond it, to the level of pure formlessness, until we have become one with it. If we try, well we all know what happens when you try to run before you can walk. But that is precisely what many modern non-dualist teachers are advising us to do. What is more some of them also seek to transcend the duality of the material world by, in effect, denying that it (the material world) exists. But it does exist and, let me repeat, you do not go beyond something by denying it. These teachers and their acolytes will have to come back to the physical world in a later lifetime and fully integrate both matter and spirit if they continue with their error. You cannot avoid the lessons of maya by denying her. She is not illusion. She is the Divine Mother who allows the formless Father to manifest. Without Her we would never have come into being.
I said in an earlier post that I am not a Christian in the strict sense but when Christ said no one comes to the Father except through me, he was speaking the exact truth. In one way he may have been talking about the chain of initiation that stretches from master to disciple and which cannot be circumvented, but he was also saying that you cannot know the Father (pure spirit, the uncreated world of formlessness) except through the Son which is the individual soul. You must bring the soul to perfection (symbolized by the Transfiguration) before you are ready for the crucifixion which is the necessary initiation before you can ‘go to the Father’. Thus the knowledge of non-duality can only come through the full experience of duality.
Nothing I say here is meant as a criticism of non-dualistic teaching in its traditional setting where it formed part of a whole and found its place as the culmination of a spiritual teaching. It is only when it is taken out of context and taught in isolation from its parent religion that it loses touch with reality. The flower will only bloom on the end of the stalk. If you cut it off it may still look beautiful for a while but it is losing its vitality and will soon be dead.
William Wildblood was born in London in 1955. After a period working as an antiques dealer, he left the U.K. He ran a guesthouse in South India for several years and then another in France where he was also an occasional guide at the medieval abbey of le Mont Saint-Michel.
He returned to England at the end of the 20th century since when he has worked for BBC magazines in various capacities, including seven years as an antiques columnist.
*Photography / Montage (Galaxy photo from NASA’s archive).