Emptiness/Fullness and Nonduality/Duality

Following are some thoughts on emptiness/fullness and nonduality/duality in response to email questions from a meditator exploring the differences between dualistic and nondualistic philosophies:

From a "nondualistic" point of view, one must be careful not to consider the perceiver/conceiver and the perceived/conceived to be separate from the whole. There is only the indivisible, undivided unified whole, without distinction between nondual and dual, between emptiness and manifestation, between self and no-self, between subject and object, between knower and known, between perceiver and perception, between me and you, between the individuated Atman and the indivisible Brahman. To talk about "it" suggests there is a non-it; language separates and categorizes, creating the illusion of distinctions, differences, and separateness.

Awareness is aware of itself. There is nothing other than awareness manifesting as an indivisible whole. What is perceived and a perceiver are individuated parts of that unified undivided whole. The illusion of a difference arises when we separate the whole into so-called individuated parts, forgetting that the "we," "the act of separating" and "calling one interpretation real and another illusion" are not different from but are in fact merely parts of an indivisible unified whole.

Spiritually speaking, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts; only humans have decided otherwise because they perceive themselves as standing outside the whole without realizing that they and their perceptions are just being conceptually separated out as individuated parts or manifestations of an otherwise undivided whole.

Admittedly, the drama, the game, the play of life as we know it, and have been conditioned to know, experience and think about it, and to take that conditioning literally and seriously, definitely does not comport with our spiritual reflections about an eternal now or presence, an indivisible whole, emptiness, and nonduality. Our parenting, socialization, education, and life experiences all aim at producing the sense of a separate and mature self that perceives and conceives in consensually agreed upon ways of physical and mental objects as separate and distinquishable from one another, assisted, if not entirely based upon, the evolutionary instinct to survive. And language is an intrinsic part of facilitating these psychological and social developmental processes.

Dualistic thinking and living is how the vast majority of us experience conventional space/time reality. A proponent of dualism who claims never to have had an experience of nonduality - an experience that is characterized by mystics in all religious traditions as transcending the dualistic ego and its experiences of form, time, birth, and death - might contend that such is really just a unique form of dualistic experience. Dualistic thinkers can ask whether dualism is the illusion or is nondualism the illusion, are both illusions, or are neither illusions? And this brings us full circle.

According to the mystic, until nonduality and egolessness are deeply experienced, the person with the sense of a separate self or ego raises these issues and questions as debatable or unanswerable out of inexperience, misunderstanding, skepticism, or doubt. The nondualist mystic, on the other hand, who has transcended the sense of separateness, may participate in a discussion about emptiness/fullness and nonduality/duality, but it will be with the realization that the issues and those discussing them are merely individuated parts of an indivisible whole.

Philosophy and theology deal with different conceptual points of view, sometimes emphasizing differences, sometimes reconciling "apparent" differences. Zen Scholar Alan Watts and nondualistic Buddhist and Advaita Vedanta philosophies try to reconcile them, as is my inclination, as well. From a nondual point of view, there is only the timeless, formless, birthless, deathless unity, the whole, the oneness without an opposite, that contains simultaneously all dualities, opposites, dichotomies, divisions, and differences. Robert Wolfe calls it "presence" in his excellent book "Living Nonduality: Enlightenment Teachings of Self-Realization." See http://www.livingnonduality.org/.

In conclusion, I remind myself and I caution you to remember that Buddha repeatedly emphasized not becoming too attached to any concept, point of view, opinon, or judgment, to anything I've said or to anything you think. As stated in the first verse of the Third Zen Patriarch's Faith Mind poem: "The way is not difficult for those not attached to preferences."