This is a transcribed, edited and adapted talk on the Dharma of Non-Duality. 2760 words. Eight-minute read.
Christopher gave this Dharma talk during the retreat at the Waldhaus Zentrum, near Andernach, Germany on 26 October 2022.
We are mindful of the duality of life and death. The shift from life to death can take place in a single moment or a gradual fading away over of life over weeks, months or even years.
The Buddhist tradition reminds us to explore these dualities of life. We face the dualities in worldly/conventional ways. Each duality deserves exploration. We have the potential to understand duality in a spiritual, enlightening and liberating way.
Reflect on the circumstances of our existence in the dualities of the pairings, such as the left hand and right hand. The dualities in daily life include gain and loss, praise and blame, success and failure, having and losing, being with and no longer being. We experience pleasure and pain, health and sickness. You and I are familiar with each of these dualities; there is this and there is that. Obviously, we prefer happiness, health and success and not the opposite.
Love knows no duality in these teachings. There is the movement of our life – we move with intention, and we move without intention. We have the heart’s wish for it to be a certain way. But we may be facing that which is not this way, not the way that we want. This easily leads to self suffering. As human beings, we need to develop and prepare to accommodate those dualities. When we can’t accommodate the self suffers. The events, in and of themselves, do not cause us to suffer. They contribute as a condition for the arising of suffering.
Why are we dependent on outcome of what we do? Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, referred to intention and its importance with action or inaction. Intention moves into an action, which brings about the outcome. We forget we are not in control of the outcome. It’s not possible. Thank goodness. It’s not possible for human beings, for us ,to always get what we want. No matter how noble, beautiful, spiritual or secular, what we want might be. The world would be finished if we all got what we want.
Dualities of Daily Life
Be clear, as much as possible, with the dualities in your life. Are you vulnerable in any of areas of duality? Which are the most challenging? There are people in your life important to you. The world of duality is a vulnerable place to live in. With deep love, we would rather die first than lose somebody important to us – a family member, beloved friend, or partner. What will contribute to staying steady due to presence or absence, starting or finishing, coming, or going?
Amid immense challenges for men, women and children facing on this earth, we need to co-operate together for insights into dualities. I hear of people who get angry with themselves for not taking notice of the signals around pain, addiction, behaviour of another, stress and more. The anger weakens confidence to take one day at time.
A person might think “How could I have let this happen?” A person experiences remorse and guilt. In highly intense situations, we need a person to keep us steady when going through intense times. The person acts as our anchor so we can stay steady in the face of whatever we go through.
In English, we use the language of love and hate, as if they are opposite. Deep love abides liberated from any duality. We do not have a word opposite to hate. Hate is a very intense form of disliking. The experience of the opposite to hate reveals a very intense form of liking, of intense attraction, as an opposite to aversion and hate. These inner forces can seem magnetic with a pull towards compulsive attraction or aversion. The two forces of wanting and reacting against have an extraordinary impact upon existence, sentient and insentient. We need to give them attention. Love exists outside the spell of this duality, a different order for the human being from duality. Authentic love has power and the capacity to embrace dualities.
Let us find ways in our day to go deeper, so that we are not afraid to address the seissues. The words in the Spice Girls classic song give a reminder of the risk with desire, with really, really wanting.
So, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
So tell me what you want, what you really, really want
If you want my future, forget my past
If you wanna get with me, better make it fast.
What if you don’t get who or what you really, really want?
Loss of peace of mind? Self-blame? Blame somebody else? Despair?
Is that what you really, really want?
Let us be clear about the potential consequences of the other side of the duality – of not getting who or what we really, really want.
Photo shows Spice Girls performing on stage
To take a small example. It is hard in the Buddha’s teachings, to find the word hope. We told we need to have hope. Christianity speaks of faith, hope and charity. Buddha is not a fan of hope! We think we all need hope. No, we don’t. if we cling onto hope then be prepared for the duality of losing hope. You could experience bitter disappointment. Hope builds up. Then there’s a crash.
Some people say, “I only have hope to hold onto.” Hope is not a compensation for clarity of heart and mind about the present and future.
A Christian, a man of deep faith, prayed with his congregation in his church, for God to heal his teenage son’s cancer. Spending hours playing computer games, the young man wanted to meet Bill Gates. His father drove his son to London and met Bill Gates. A thoughtful gesture of support from Gates The father deeply hoped the power of prayer, the power of the congregation, would bring his son to God’s attention, so the boy would be saved. The son died months later. I heard the father lost hope in prayer, lost his faith in God. He went through a religious crisis. Let us use the language of hope lightly. This is a teaching of non-duality. We forget the shadow in what we build up. That what arises can collapse, can fall apart including hope. Wisdom and love can handle rise and fall.
Let us explore duality in the spiritual life. We listen deeply facing difficulties/challenges in the spiritual world, – meditation, working on our self, deep experiences, service to others, immeasurable acts of kindness, and more. Exploration on the path and doubts about potential for an awakened life. The challenges appear in the metaphorical and dual language of path and goal. It is not easy to stay steady with this duality until they dissolve in a liberating and wise way – not disillusionment.
People engage in noble tasks. In these precious tasks, there is a significant place for non-duality. Spiritual includes a dedication to service – school teachers, therapists, social workers, actions to protect people and the environment. There is dedicated support to the family with a duality of self and other.
The Spell of Self and Other
We can end up in a spell around self and other. The spell might be the need for recognition, the need to feel loved or the need for approval. The engagement matters, The giving matters. as the action takes priority over the spell. We want something back. We want status, recognition or reward. The other(s) are self-preoccupied taking little interest in us, the giver. That person doesn’t know how to express gratitude. Maybe that person sees one fault in us, or in the work and just sees that. The other person cannot see, the kindness, the effort and the research. That’s the person’s pattern. We feel hurt forgetting the wisdom of the action and instead depend on the view of the other.
The judgmental mind, plus the doubts and the view of other, overshadow the quiet beauty of your action, of what you offer. The teaching of non-duality refers to self and other. Do we want something from the other? Do I need to give myself approval? Do you want to feel good about yourself?
Take no notice of anybody who tells you should feel good about yourself. It’s a recipe for not feeling good about yourself. The more you want to feel good about yourself, the more you will feel good about yourself. The more you’re looking for self-esteem, the more you feel a lack of self-esteem. It is a duality. What goes up comes down. If you forget, go and buy a tennis ball and keep throwing it up to remember, what goes up will come down. Self-esteem goes up, it goes down, and then goes up and down again. You might come to far more insights using a ball tto throw up and down than practising meditation!
We learn to move with the ups and the down of self-approval and self-blame through developing equanimity. The Buddha gave his first discourse of 10,000 discourses on the duality, the extremes of the self. The self can keep moving between these two, towards oneself., such as: “I really did it. It really worked out well. I’m so happy about myself. I got what I want.” Then the mind swings to the other side of the duality -finding fault with oneself, low self-worth and feelings of failure.
Where is the middle ground? Trust in your action matters. Trust in ethic. Trust in the principle. Stay true to it. Never mind if others approve or not. Never mind reactive thoughts in your mind. We might find ourselves in a public role or facilitating a meeting. You share. You communicate your understanding. You stay steady, not seeking to be liked or disliked.
Self and Other
I’ve had had wonderful co teachers on retreats. Participants listen to their wise voices. Most teachers feel comfortable to prepare the talk beforehand. I know one teacher who spends time most days for two weeks putting together a 40-minute talk. I’m far too lazy to spend time preparing talk. Other dedicate time and energy to the preparation. I never sit beside my co-teacher. when she or he gives a Dharma talk. People look across to me to see if show approval or disapproval. I sit near the back of the room and behind somebody so the teacher can’t see me. The teacher might look to see if my face shows approval or disapproval. I enjoy lending an ear.
Sometimes the teacher say to me after the talk: “I didn’t give a good talk. I wasn’t clear. People were bored. I’m not like you who gives spontaneous talks. I read from a prepared talk. I sound dry and intellectual.” I respond with a simple observation. “I didn’t realise you were giving the talk for yourself.” My second response is “What the hell does your judgement matter. It’s the people who listen. It is they who matter. The next day the teacher often comes to tell me he or she received appreciation for her talk from some of the participants.
I was co-leading a Yatra in France years ago. The talks in the marquee were simultaneous in English/French. Lots of people were bilingual. They had to listen to the same talk twice. Others needed an interpreter. One of the bilingual listeners said to me after the talk. “Christopher, the talk in French was much better than the talk in English.” I never recovered from the shock.
We never know what the outcome will be when people listen to us. This is the non-dual of speaking without dependency on self or other. We trust in our communication and our intentions. One definition of mindfulness includes being in the present moment without being judgemental. Here we explore the duality of the judging mind and non-judging mind about the past, present and future.
Sometimes we take a real interest in an issue. Look at your two hands. Left hand and right hand. Seeing the sameness, seeing the differences. What do the hands reveal?
The Zen tradition encourages to see outside the box of same and different. The teachings point to the non-dual, to the emptiness of clinging to one or other side of the duality. This means to know reality outside the body. To give a small example. I love meeting Dharma teachers from different traditions and practices. I wrote a couple of books on teachers I interviewed.
Meeting with a Zen Master
I met with Da Soen Sa Nim, a Korean Zen master, resident in Boston, USA. We sat in front of each other and exchanged a few words. Then he picked up his watch and said “What is this? if you say it’s a watch, you’ve got an ordinary mind. if you say it’s not a watch, you are stupid What is it?
These issues never came up in my personal practice. I said, “It’s ten past four.” He bowed. I bowed.
Then he said to me, “If you see a dog and your think that is what it is, you have an ordinary mind. if you say it’s not a dog you are stupid. What is it?
I said “Woof. Woof.” He bowed. I bowed.
The Zen Master wanted us to touch something deep within, an original response.
A year or two later, I heard about an amusing incident which happened at Boston Airport. The same Korean Zen Master with his attendant met a famous elderly Tibetan lama with his attendant. (Both Buddhist teachers have departed from this world.) The tough Korean Master met the gracious, kindly and gentle Tibetan lama. After they exchange pleasantries, the Zen Master picked out of his should bag an orange and showed it to the Lama. He said: “If you say this is an orange, you have an ordinary mind. If you say, it is not an orange, you are stupid. What is it?
The Lama turned to his attendant and said to him, “Has he got mental health problems?” Ah, the apparent duality of two Masters.
The Vast Middle Ground between Yes and No
We face the dualities of yes and no, good and bad, right and wrong. We wish to be liberated, to be awake. And engage in the exploration of that. We take a deep interest in non-duality experiencing a silent abiding free from pressure one way or the other. In the silent abiding, sometimes something deep emerges free from right and wrong, good and bad. Ongoing teachings impart knowledge, insightful and supportive for our liberation. Receptivity comes with meditation. Silence and teachings work together to contribute to a deep knowing of the unfolding truth of things. In the absence of the spoken word, we experience the silence.
The Zen Master points to the middle ground between dualities. The middle ground is a vast field for uncovering truth, for discovery. The middle ground provides the key to liberating insights. Let us look at duality in another way. You have a choice to make. Is it a duality. What is the Dharma view? Both choices are ethical. It does not matter which you choose. If it’s ethical or unethical, you have no choice. You stay true to the ethical. If both choices are unethical, you have no choice. You develop the ethical. There is no question.
Dharma duty informs us to follow the ethical. That’s our practice. We feel the freedom to trust in the ethical. Our life might go one direction, it might go in the other. It doesn’t matter because both directions confirm a caring heart and mind.
I’ve listened to you all during the days here. Several of you have choices to make so the duality appears in consciousness. Life is short. Are you conservative? Which choice is more challenging? Take the risk. Step into the unknown. See what that’s about. Some of you are here for the first time. You face the challenges to free up your being. You can find a sense of the middle way, of the non-dual, of a liberating wisdom.
Knowing the non-dual means knowing it well, knowing it deep as it is not as a theory, not an ideology. We do not have to be trapped in the world of profit and loss, success and failure or praise and blame. The dualities do not have to intrude into consciousness. This is what liberation is all about. We still attend to approval and disapproval of others, but we are not suffering.
Recovery of Clarity
We’ve stopped giving authority to others to have an impact on our inner life. We’ve recovered our power and with calmness and clarity remain vigilant with the dualities of life. We recognise this remarkable and beautiful potential for us, as human beings, to live a life, not imprisoned into duality including dualities of secularism, religion/spirituality. There is no suffering over the reality of being in a relationship or not being in a relationship, being a parent or not being a parent, having a job or not having a job, having a home or not having a home. This is non-duality.
These dualities have ceased to put us in their grip. Out of freeing up, love comes, an immense sense of care and service to others, who struggle dealing with the grip of dualities of life, including life and death. We have recovered our power. We are not so impressionable.
We want to deal with the real, not the impressionable.
Let us explore.
Thank you for lending an ear.
May all beings live with love
May all beings live with wisdom
May all beings realise liberation through non duality