Duality and Non-Duality

“All behaviors that are guaranteed to amplify misery are the consequence of living a life that is making a big mistake, that happiness is going to come through acquisition of things, acquisition of a particular style of governance. It’s a complete myth.”

Thom Knoles

Episode Summary

The terms duality and non-duality are becoming more commonly used and can have different meanings in different contexts.

In ‘spiritual circles’ duality is often seen as a cause of suffering, or even the cause of suffering, but, in and of itself, duality is actually benign.

In this episode, Thom answers questions from listeners about duality and non-duality from different perspectives. 

He explains that duality and non-duality cannot be considered from an either/or point of view and that Totality is a more complete approach, taking both sides of the equation.

Thom also looks at how our fixations on one point of view over another might appear to cause suffering, but really are just highlighting the absence of baseline happiness.

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Episode Highlights


Q- Can you Make Comments on Non-duality, Advaita, and Vedanta?



The Truth of the Word Vedanta



The Tradition of Vedanta



Brahman – Totality Consciousness



The Problem With the Word Advaita



Q- Does Duality Brings About Suffering?



The Cause of Everyone’s Suffering



Behaviors That Amplify the Misery



Everyone Wants Freedom. Freedom to Do What?



A Fulfilled Person



Becoming a Very Ideal Citizen



Happy People are Safe to Be Free


Jai Guru Deva



[00:00:47] Q- Can you Make Comments on Non-duality, Advaita, and Vedanta?

Jai Guru Deva, Thom. This is Daniel from Metro Detroit. There are so many people and teachers who use this particular word or phrase all the time, and it’s become a particular kind of buzzword, and frankly, very overused. Everybody throws it around like confetti, and you, on the other hand, who I consider to be one of the, if not the, greatest teacher in the world, you never use it, and I’ve listened to a lot of your podcasts episodes, probably about 90% of them.

This word that everybody uses but you don’t really use is “non-duality.” There’s so many concepts and abstractions and projections surrounding this word.

It’s in the title of every YouTube video, and there’s so many different teachers of non-duality that just appear every day. Advaita Vedanta is another type of concept that gets thrown in there.

And it’s interesting with you; you don’t really use either of these words. I thought that it would be fun to ask you this and see if you can make one or two comments about this.

Jai Guru Deva. Thank you, Thom.

[00:02:06] The Truth of the Word Vedanta

Jai Guru Deva. Thank you for the compliments, which I accept. And I’d like to say that Vedanta is one of my specialties. Veda means that body of knowledge, that umbrella body of knowledge from which all of Indian philosophy, and Yoga, and Ayurveda, and Eastern philosophy, Taoism, and Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and all of those, find their origins in Veda.

Anta, anta means in Sanskrit, the end. And in fact, it’s the etymology of our word, end. By end, we mean the final conclusion, to what end. That type of use of the word end.

To what end? The conclusion, the final conclusion.

The Veda-anta, Vedanta. Vedanta. What is the final conclusion of the Veda? That is that there is one indivisible, whole consciousness field that undulates; it undulates.

And though it is one, indivisible and whole, it behaves as many. It behaves as many, and can appear as many, and does appear as many. This is the truth of the word Vedanta.

Now there are quarters in which the word Advaita, as you said, are used, but properly speaking, Advaita should be used with the prefix, Dvaita-Advaita.

Dvaita means plurality, and Advaita, as you pointed out, means non-plurality oneness; it means oneness. And Dvaita-Advaita is the way that one of the masters who’s the most famous promoter of the idea of Vedanta, Shankara…

[00:04:16] The Tradition of Vedanta

Adi Shankara who lived, irrespective of what modern Western historians say, he lived about 2,580 years ago. It was about the time he dropped his body, 2580 years ago from this time, which is the year 2022 for future listeners.

Shankara was amplifying a message that came from another master who preceded him by several hundred years, by the name of Vyasa. Vyasa, who was the writer of probably two-thirds of all that comes out of India, including one very important document called The Brahma Sutras.

Brahma is actually short for the word Brahman. Brahman, not to be confused with a social caste in India, which is Brahmin, but Brahman, Brahman means Totality; Totality Consciousness.

Sutras, the aphorisms; a Sutra is an aphorism, a formula, the formulae of Brahman, Totality.

So then, Vedanta, as spoken of by Shankara and by Vyasa, is knowledge of the conclusion, the final conclusion of the Veda. And what is that?

[00:05:49] Brahman – Totality Consciousness

Aham Brahmasmi. Aham means I am, and then Brahman, I am Totality.

In our tradition, which is the tradition that was supposed to be the tradition of Vedanta, that is to say, supposed to be, it is recognized as the tradition of Vedanta, our philosophy is not about Advaita, non-duality; our philosophy is about Totality.

Totality, that means all of relativity, all of the ever-changing world and all of the laws of Nature that govern the evolution of that ever-changing world and The Absolute, that is, the unmanifest layer of Being. The field of Being. Being unmanifest, and the world that issues forth from it, which we referred to as the relative.

One is absolute. One is relative. One is the unmanifest. One is the manifest. All of this can be encompassed in one awareness, which is known as Brahman. Brahman, Totality, Totality Consciousness.

[00:07:11] The Problem With the Word Advaita

So in my tradition, we favor the use of Brahman over talking about something which things are not supposed to be.

Advaita means, ‘A’ means negation, Dvaita means plurality, plurality, and so “not plurality.”

Now, if you want to be sure that someone thinks about an elephant, all you have to do is say to them, don’t think of an elephant. Think of the non-elephant, non-elephant, non-elephant, non-elephant.

The problem with the word Advaita is that one has constantly to refer to duality and then negate it by putting the word ‘A’ in front of it.

Non-elephant, non-elephant, non-elephant. What is the truth of the world? It’s non-elephant. Don’t think of elephants. It’s non-elephant. Like that. Anybody who tries this exercise is going to be thinking of more elephants than anyone else.

Elephant consciousness comes from non-elephant. Duality consciousness comes from Advaita, which then in its adjectival form is called Advaitia. Advaitia, that which administers the non-duality.

All such discussions all sound very logical. And they are kind of logical on the level of ignorance. This is the truth. The greater truth is Totality. Totality, all relativity plus the entire Absolute.

So speaking about it from different ways, all of the manifest world, plus the entire un-manifest field of Being from which all of the manifest issues, all of that can be there in one awareness, not just non-elephant. So this is the way we think about it.

Jai Guru Deva.

[00:09:22] Q- Does Duality Brings About Suffering?

Hello. My name is Zach. I’m currently residing in Flagstaff, Arizona. And I wanted to ask the question about duality, in particular if duality brings about suffering. I see at least in recent times that there has been this distinction between “us and them” and “good and bad,” and I think that this will bring about more prolonging issues. Thank you.

[00:09:54] The Cause of Everyone’s Suffering

Hi Zach. And a welcome to my neighbor, Flagstaff, Arizona is a very tiny town, as you know. And, you must live just a very short distance from me since everything in Flagstaff is a short distance from everything else. So nice for me to speak to someone who is a neighbor.

Zach, the thing is, duality on its own is not the problem. Seeing a breadth of reactions, seeing an entire breadth of possibilities from, all the way from one extreme to another extreme, from one pole to another pole, and everything in between, and the way that things seem to be moving away from a centerline and troubling nature of that lies in really the suggestibility, that is to me, the psychopathology of modern Western society.

Suggestibility, the gullibility about the idea that one particular, for example, political way of thinking is going to save one or save others, or save everyone from suffering over the other, which is going to cause everyone’s suffering, and each side believing that the other side is the cause of everyone’s suffering. Each one, each side, believing that their way is going to be the better way.

And the fact is, there is no way provided by any government or any politician that you can live your life that this is going to bring about an ideal society. What’s missing in all of this extreme, virtually religious fervor over politics, which is I think what you were referring to, what’s missing in all of this is baseline happiness.

[00:11:49] Behaviors That Amplify the Misery

Let’s talk about baseline happiness for a moment. You see, the thing is, it’s not happy people who rob banks. It’s not happy people who beat their spouses. It’s not happy people who shout at people in other political parties than their own, whether they’re shouting from one side or the other side; everyone seems to be shouting these days.

It’s not happy people who are terrorists. Never heard of, a TV series called The Happy Terrorist. Happy terrorists don’t exist.

All of these behaviors that are guaranteed to amplify misery are the consequence of living a life that is making a big mistake, that happiness is going to come through acquisition of things, acquisition of a particular style of governance. It’s a complete myth.

Happiness will not come about by virtue of communism, of capitalism, of monarchy, of totalitarianism. None of these things are happiness producing. That’s the fact.

Or people think happiness is going to come from receiving things. Maybe those who have less can receive more. And those who have too much have to have their wealth redistributed to those who have less.

And the fact is neither are wealthy people happy, nor are poor people happy. People are unhappy when they’re convinced that happiness lies outside of them. Happiness is a thing that you can acquire by doing something, or not doing a thing, or having a thing, or unhappiness caused by not having the thing of your desire; all of these things are not really the formulas for happiness.

[00:13:58] Everyone Wants Freedom. Freedom to Do What?

People always talk about freedom. I want freedom. During the different wars of the past, American presidents frequently were saying things like, “We believe in freedom and those other people don’t.”

Everybody claims that they want freedom. Al-Qaeda wants freedom. ISIS says, “All we want is freedom.” Americans, “All we want is freedom.” European Union, everybody, “All I want is freedom.” Communist China, “All we want is freedom.” Freedom, freedom, freedom, everybody’s saying, “Freedom.”

We have to ask the fundamental question, “In the absence of happiness, freedom to do what? You want freedom. Freedom to do what?”

When baseline happiness is in place, and baseline happiness is a very ridiculously simple thing to attain. You let your mind, during Vedic Meditation, settle down to increasingly subtle, quiet, more and more refined layers of the thinking process, and then the mind touches upon that transcendent field, that field of pure silence.

It’s silent for a reason. When we touch upon that field of pure Being, the reason why it’s silent, the reason why the mind falls mute, is because that state, that least-excited state of the human mind, is the state of bliss. It’s bliss.

When our mind experiences bliss inside, all of those other things that could potentially, you might think, bring you little waves of happiness, they’ll fade away in importance because you have bliss at your baseline. You’re experiencing happiness inside already. And when you experience happiness inside already, you’re not a desperado anymore.

[00:16:02] A Fulfilled Person

What do desperados do? Someone who’s desperate, desperate to get happy. “I’m convinced that if I do a thing, earn a certain amount of money, own some land, get a car, get something that I think is enviable, but people won’t give me.”

If I’m that desperate, I’m willing to cut right across the interests of the human relationship with Nature, so ecologically unsound behaviors. Or I’m completely willing to cut right across the interests of other human beings. I’m completely willing to do anything in order to do the acquisition that I think is going to make me happy. And this is where all the problems of society come from.

That desperate willingness to cut right across the interests of humankind’s relationship with Nature or cut right across the interests of other human beings in order to gain and acquire whatever the goods and services are you think are going to make you happy, which they don’t.

And so we’re left with no happiness, no matter what we do. Follow any kind of political system, unhappiness is the result, if you don’t have baseline happiness. Acquire anything, unhappiness is the result unless you have baseline happiness.

When you have baseline happiness, when you have that deep inner fulfillment, then you are a contributor to an ideal society because you are no longer a desperado. You are not a needy person who is looking to fulfill your neediness. You’re a fulfilled person who is bringing fulfillment to the need of the time.

[00:18:00] Becoming a Very Ideal Citizen

When you stabilize through regular practice of Vedic Meditation, you stabilize that deep inner transcendent baseline of bliss, that deep inner happiness is awake inside you at all times.

Then all you do every day is you take your happiness on an excursion; you take your happiness with you everywhere you go. And so you’re not trying to import happiness into your life from the outside world. You are exporting happiness to the outside world from inside you, and everywhere you go, you export fulfillment and happiness.

It doesn’t mean that someone who is established in this enlightened state is not going to be out buying food for their body. Of course, you keep the body healthy and buy food for it. Or transport themselves around. Of course, you move around, you want to take your happiness on an excursion.

One still continues to move. One still continues to look after oneself and one’s family in a very responsible way, but that desperation, “I won’t be happy until I get this.” That thing goes away. And such a person is a very ideal citizen whether the system under which they are being governed is communism or capitalism or monarchy or anarchy, or any kind of -ism or -chy.

[00:19:29] Happy People are Safe to Be Free

It’s when you have a life where you have awakened the fountainhead of pure creativity inside yourself; the bliss field is also the field of infinite creativity, it’s the fountainhead.

When you’ve awakened inside yourself that capacity of intelligence that can differentiate between anything and anything else with such great clarity. When you awaken inside yourself, that bliss field, which is the home of all knowledge, then you have knowledge, you have intelligence, you have creativity, but most importantly, you have happiness. And only someone who has all of that, only someone who has all of that, is it safe for them to be free.

Freedom is not a safe thing for unhappy people. Freedom is not a safe thing for unhappy people. Freedom does not grant bliss.

Freedom is just a way of permitting the full expression of unhappiness. So let’s get rid of all of our stresses. Let’s awaken the baseline happiness and then we’ll live a life in freedom. Bliss first; freedom should come next.

Jai Guru Deva.

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