I’ll be honest with you, dear readers: I don’t get “Non-Duality.” At least, I don’t get it in the same way as the people who try to explain it to me.
So, given that HologramPress exists to facilitate Existential Question-Asking, I’m going to leave the comments section wiiiiiiide open on this one, and invite you to respond to the following essay with your innerstanding of Non-Duality. Or if you’re really feeling impassioned, submit an essay to HologramPress and I might publish it 😉
But first, let me tell you my innerstanding of Non-Duality.
Most of what I know about it comes from imperfect messengers and in highly specific contexts, as most ideas do. So I’ll start by addressing what I’ve learned about Non-Duality via osmosis in spiritual subcultures, then build my own innerstanding of Non-Duality from there.
Please bear in mind that I am not an expert on the topic (but in fairness, I don’t think most of the people who use the term are, either 🙃).
Non-Duality is exalted in spiritual subcultures, particularly of the neo-Eastern variety, as an ideal perspective to have — the most evolved perspective, even.
When faced with the problem of Evil, “Non-Duality” is prescribed to remedy the resulting discomfort. The implication is that the Real Problem is not Evil itself, but one’s belief that there is such a thing as “Evil” at all.
Apparently, The-Big-Secret-Truth-that-Only-Enlightened-People-Understand, is that Good and Evil are actually the same. It may not seem like it from this vantage point, but “take on a higher perspective” and you’ll see that ~there actually is no Duality~. Or so I’m told.
(But wait, if there’s no Duality, then isn’t the “higher perspective” also the “lower perspective”? Anyway.)
I can accept the fact that there will always be concepts beyond my understanding, as it is impossible (I think?) to know how much one does not know.
However, being committed to my Guiding Principles for Exploring the Grey Area, this blasé presentation of Non-Duality irks me to no end. I have not yet found someone who can give me an adequate answer to the OBVIOUS question of where ethics fit in the Non-Duality framework.
This is where the issue remains unresolved for me. (Content warning: I’ll be using “child trafficking” as my go-to illustration of Evil throughout this essay.)
If you were to ask me what The Most Evil Thing is, I would say the trafficking of children. Period. I can think of nothing more vile and depraved than that.
And when I ask a self-described Non-Dual friend if Non-Duality means child trafficking is, from this elusive Higher Perspective, okay, I get one of 2 answers:
1. Souls choose their incarnation before birth, so if they’re born into a trafficking ring, they chose that experience.
My immediate rebuttal to this is, “Prove it.”
Can anyone prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, that all victims of child trafficking volunteered for the experience before being born? This would first require proving that we have souls, proving that we have free will, proving that we reincarnate, and proving that we choose our incarnations. How would one even go about proving this?
While I do personally feel convinced that we have souls, we have free will, and we reincarnate… I’m not so convinced that we choose our incarnations. At least, not “freely.”
Judging by the massive score of Near Death Experience reports wherein humans are tricked, coerced and manipulated into reincarnation under duress, we only “freely reincarnate” on a technicality. Yes, we “choose” using our “free will,” but if we’re being lied to by trickster extradimensionals about why humans should incarnate on Earth, then the choice can barely be called a “choice.” This paradigm places the weight of responsibility entirely on the victim of trafficking, and none whatsoever on the traffickers.
Sidequest: John Lamb Lash has an essay critiquing the idea of "karma" as it pertains to reincarnation, and I love love looooove it.
Plus, there’s the plain fact that just because something is chosen freely, that doesn’t exempt it from moral examination. MAYBE souls do choose to incarnate as trafficking victims, to “learn lessons” or whatever. But then that raises the question: Why would their traffickers choose to incarnate as traffickers? What “lesson” might there be in that? Anyone ascribing to the idea that being-trafficked has intrinsic spiritual value, is also implying that being-the-trafficker has intrinsic spiritual value. Yikes.
People freely choose to do destructive things all the time. “But should they?” is the question that I, as a Utopian, am more interested in.
2. Non-Duality is simply learning how to see the Good in the Bad.
^ This argument is usually made by people who have personally experienced extreme forms of evil, like being abused. In order to heal from their trauma, they employ mind-over-matter tactics of interpreting their trauma as a covertly positive catalyst for their evolution, sometimes even seeing it as necessary. For example, they might say, “If not for all the horrible things that were done to me, I never would’ve learned/changed/grown/healed!”
And it’s like… well, yeah. If not for the trauma, there’d be nothing to heal from. But that doesn’t mean the trauma itself was Good.
Furthermore: How can you know that you “never” would have bettered yourself as a person, if not for your trauma? How can you be so sure? Maybe the probability of a radical life-change was high due to extreme circumstances, but that neither guarantees a long-term positive outcome from trauma (as evidenced by the millions of damaged people walking the Earth right now), nor excludes the possibility of arriving at a positive life-change via one of the many other non-traumatic means of learning.
As a utopian, I wholeheartedly reject the notion that struggle is “necessary” to human evolution. Why do we glorify lessons learned through pain and suffering, when learning can just as effectively be done through grace and ease?
Astrologically speaking, this seems to be a consequence of living within the orbit of Saturn. Saturn’s rigid, brutal “teaching style” has the masses deluded that there’s something noble about their suffering — something intrinsically valuable to it, that justifies its existence & simultaneously gives them a compelling narrative to identify with. The repeated experience of pain and suffering then becomes a pattern, which becomes an expectation… Thus, the existence of suffering remains unexamined and unchallenged — taken for granted as something that must exist. (I’ll return to this point later on.)
This “seeing the Good in the Bad” may seem Enlightened at a cursory glance, but it may simply be a deceptive trick of the trauma-influenced mind. Trauma-bonding can happen with the trauma itself. Identifying with one’s life circumstances is the definition of Ego, and maybe I’m wrong, but I thought spiritual people were supposed to dissolve their Ego, not display it like a trophy?
More on deception: “Seeing the Good in the Bad” is not necessarily a noble endeavor. Especially when it comes to something as wretched as child trafficking, the existence of which has barely even been acknowledged by the world. And we’re already glossing over it with positive stories about “soul growth” and “free will” and this other spiritual-bypassing nonsense? Come on.
Seeing the Good in the Bad might be what Non-Duality is.
But how about Seeing Things as They Are? With this clarity and commitment to Truth, there’s no need to “interpret” a Bad experience as being actually, secretly, somehow, maybe, sort of, in a way, Good… ish.
When you’re willing to See Things as They Are, the Bad is just Bad.
Child trafficking is just child trafficking.
It’s not a “life lesson” or “necessary evil” or “catalyst for growth.”
It’s just wrong.
No lying-to-the-self required. And no spiritually bypassing on anyone else’s pain, for that matter.
Moving right along!
The whole “tricking oneself into seeing Good where there isn’t any” was one version of “Non-Duality” I’ve encountered in spiritual subcultures. So let’s address another one:
The idea that Good and Evil are necessary to each other’s existence.
Obviously I am of the strong conviction that Evil (for example: child trafficking) does not need to exist on the Earth plane (or any plane). Evil has no intrinsic value or function, and it cannot be justified even from a “higher perspective.” And here’s why I think Good can exist without Evil:
The notion that Good and Evil are necessary to each other’s existence, is predicated on the concept of Contrast.
Light/Dark. Black/White. Yin/Yang. Right/Wrong. Good/Evil.
According to this line of thinking, Non-Duality is not a matter of perceptually blurring opposites together into one big Grey Area blob. Instead, Non-Duality is the acknowledgment that they are merely opposite ends of the same spectrum, thus, holding space for both simultaneously.
And while I can appreciate the fact that Good and Evil currently happen to exist together, what I question is whether they have to exist together.
Anytime I hear “must” or “should” or any phrase that implies Cosmic Necessity, I get suspicious. Who is making up these Imaginary Rules? And why are we following them?
When people say “Good can’t exist without Evil,” what is their scope of reference? Is it personal? Is it interpersonal? Is it Universal? (If it’s Universal, how do we know that we know the laws of the entire Universe?)
On the personal/interpersonal level:
Certainly, there are Good households where the children are loved and nurtured to fulfillment. And certainly, there are Bad households where the children therein never know a moment of goodness in their brief lives. So right there, we know that Good CAN exist without Evil on the personal & interpersonal levels.
On the Universal level:
Does the abused child ~HaVe To~ exist in order for the non-abused child, somewhere else in the Universe, to receive Love? Why do we assume that the Universe is ultimately Balanced? If all children in the Universe were to receive Love right now, would the Universe’s “Balance” be tipped into some Danger Zone where there’s “too much Love!!! Stop it before it gets out of control!!!!!!”???
Sounds absurd, if you ask this Utopian right here.
Good has intrinsic properties that continue to exist regardless of the existence of Evil. An apple is an apple whether or not oranges exist to compare them with. Light is light whether or not there’s darkness around to provide contrast.
All things in existence have intrinsic properties (an essence, if you will) that cannot be tainted by the other forms around them. This is why Men aren’t Women, and Night isn’t Day.
Sure, there might be nuances and ambiguities, but these occasional perceptual challenges do not necessitate that everything is inherently Grey.
I reckon that Duality is merely a perspective, and that perspective is the (arbitrarily limited) notion that Evil MUST exist in order for Good to exist. It’s the (questionable) assumption that Balance is this Universe’s operating Law.
In other words… I think people are describing their commitment to a Dualistic perception but lazily labeling it Non-Duality. Hell of a mental trap, eh?
That’s the thing about words that are used as stand-ins for complex ideas. The simplicity of the word gives one a false impression that the meaning can be deduced reflexively. “Non-Duality? Oh that probably means ‘thinking in a non-binary way’!” But as we know from other deceptively simple words like “feminism” and “God,” it takes a bit of effort to truly innerstand something instead of assuming you do.
So! For all the reasons outlined above, the only definition of Non-Duality that would make sense to me, is Non-Duality as freedom from arbitrary limits — even those limits we see as “cosmic givens” or “self-evident” or “Laws of Nature.” (I’m even starting to wonder if the axiom “As Above, So Below” is necessarily true. Maybe in this realm it is. But all realms? Not sure about that.)
I’ve said my part. Now: