The term “nonduality” may be used, rather loosely, to refer to a broad spectrum of teachings and practices that attempt to express and/or reveal the nondual nature (or aspect) of reality. It may also be used to refer to the unitive insight or nondual reality, itself–THAT toward which so many of the saints and sages of the world’s wisdom traditions seem to be pointing.
Before I proceed, let me make clear that (in what follows) I am neither affirming or denying the legitimacy of any kind of metaphysical system, other-worldly hope, or supernatural revelation. Nor am I interested in any of the occult or paranormal powers (or “siddhis”) that this or that guru or mystic may purport (or be reputed) to have (or to have had). I have no knowledge or experience of such things–nor do I desire them.
Nor am I suggesting that there is some state of mind that can be developed over time by virtue of this or that spiritual practice (though I would be the last person to tell anyone to abandoned such practices if they seem authentically helpful). Rather, I am pointing to something that is hidden in plain sight– here and now –and which can be seen easily enough when one grows tired of looking for enlightenment or fulfillment elsewhere.
As a Christian, I am inclined to call this the light of the world or the mind of Christ. And if pressed to discuss it further, I might even be inclined to employ quasi-Trinitarian modes of discourse to help describe the dynamic spiritual community that seems characteristic of that which is seen, simultaneously, to be One Life, Divine.
On the other hand, it must be stressed that there is no reason to believe that this vision is restricted to Christian believers (or, for that matter, that any particular belief is prerequisite to this kind of seeing). As indicated above, it seems to be universal–the light that lights everyone who comes into the world (cf. John 1:9; Psalm 36:9).
In retrospect, one sees that this light is– just as Jesus is said to be —with us always; and remains, indeed, always the same–yesterday, today, and forever (cf. Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:8). Looking back, I can remember catching glimpses of this many times over the years, but because no one had explained what to look for, I misunderestimated and promptly ignored it. Again and again I looked away (or somehow overlooked it) in my desperate search for something more. And all the while the light of the world continued to shine in my soul– just as it has in the soul of every human being –from the beginning.
For example, a very strong intimation of this was seen as I first read these lines from the Upanishads in 1993 or ’94:
“Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the individual self and the immortal Self are perched on the branches of the selfsame tree. The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes. The individual self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he recognizes the worshipful Lord as his own true Self, and beholds his glory, he grieves no more.” ~ Mundaka Upanishad 3:1:1-2
While these lines gave me a jolt and helped to inspire an additional 15 years of study as I continued to explore various religious and philosophical traditions, I had no frame of reference in which to place the insight therewith associated–and there was no one else in my life to whom any of this seemed particularly meaningful. As such, I continued to search–searching for something, I knew not what…
Fifteen years later– in the middle of an excruciatingly painful period of personal and family trauma –I was introduced to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle and watched the online archives of what were, at that time, his very recent webcasts with Oprah Winfrey:
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
If I remember correctly, this was early in 2008 and I was only vaguely aware of Eckhart Tolle at the time–vaguely aware of his name, that is, not his teaching. Moreover, I don’t think I have ever watched an entire episode of Oprah in my life, before or since! But those webcasts were the occasion of my seeing, once more,the light of the world. Only now it was seen in such a way that I would never look elsewhere for it again.
This is not to suggest that I was perfectly “stable” or “established” in this seeing (or that my ego “died” or was “dropped”). I made no such claims then–nor do I today, some five years later. I simply realized, there and then– and continue to realize here and now —that there is no need to look elsewhere. HERE is where the action is… NOW is the accepted time…
From those webcasts, I learned to look beyond the painful circumstances of my life to the “aware presence” or “alert stillness” in which any and all circumstances unfold. Eckhart Tolle helpfully distinguishes between “the egoic” mind (with its running mental commentary) and the light of awareness (which he sometimes refers to as “unconditioned consciousness”). I immediately associated the former with “the carnal” mind (or the mind of the flesh)and the latter with “the Spiritual mind” (or the mind of Christ). He also makes reference to something he calls “the pain body” which is more or less equivalent to the idea of the demonic in the Bible. I mention these points of contact with traditional Christianity, not because Christian beliefs or modes of discourse are essential to this insight, but because Tolle has been so unjustly criticized by so many well-meaning but ultimately misguided believers.
The take-home lesson from all of this is NOT that Eckhart Tolle should be promoted or that his teachings should be believed… Nor that we should seek to understand his teachings in relation to any other teaching or conceptual scheme… Rather, the good news– if and when we are ready to hear it –is that we are not merely the body that we see when we look in the mirror… And we are not merely or even primarily that which we think ourselves to be–not the “mind-made” sense of self that suffers so… Rather, we are the light of aware presence or the field of alert stillness in which any and all phenomena appear… Indeed, walking in this light, it can be seen that we are both this field of awareness and all that appears therein… In short, we are the NOW.
As such, there is no need to search for– indeed, no possibility of finding —completion or fulfillment in the future. How wonderful simply to be— simply and innocently to be –here and now. Take no thought for tomorrow… Old things are past away, behold all things have become new… In aware presence, one no longer approaches this moment primarily as a means to some future end–one no longer feels the need to manipulate the turn of events…
In the course of time, one seems to grow more established in this insight as the “ego” assumes its proper role. No longer sitting on the throne of our heart, the egoic mind is now content to be a servant– the servant of awareness —our servant. No longer the slaves of a self-absorbed and tyrannical director of a largely fictitious drama, we now recognize ourselves to be the light of the world and, by virtue of this recognition, enjoy the peace that passes understanding.
Moreover, it turns out that the light of awareness is the source of a much deeper and much more profound intelligence than the cleverness of the egoic mind. As such, once we learn to lean into this moment– to bring all our problems into the light of aware presence rather than attempting to magically escape them –intelligent solutions often appear of which our impatient and desperately evasive ego would have been totally oblivious (if, as in times past, it was attempting run the show exclusively by and for itself ).
While all this may sound complicated, nothing could be more simple. No extraordinary aptitude or effort is required to see this. Indeed, there is little or nothing one can do beyond being honestly and lucidly aware. And even that is the gift of God, so to speak–not of works lest anyone should boast... But for those who so desire, there are some basic exercises that many find helpful:
- Listening to Stillness
- Practicing Breath Awareness
- Practicing Inner-Body Awareness
- Self-Inquiry (“Who am I?”)
— a silent inquiry…
— a non-conceptual realization…
- The Headless Way “experiments”
This article by Leonard Jacobson also offers some practical instruction:
In the course of the last five years, I have (from time to time) practiced all of these exercises until they have become more or less habitual. In addition, I have continued to explore diverse ways of describing and communicating this unitive insight (aka nondual realization, but sometimes referred to simply as waking up or seeing). While it easy enough to see that Reality is One— or, at any rate not-two —there would seem to be no single way of articulating this insight which is clearly superior to all the others. A lot seems to depend on an individual’s temperament, cultural and educational background, and particular circumstances. While there is no guarantee if and/or when this insight will begin to take precedence in the life of any apparent individual, it’s hard to deny that there is some correlation between awakening and having an interest in and/or exposure to some kind of spiritual teaching. Here is a partial list of several rather popular teachers that I have also found to be especially helpful:
When time permits, I hope to post additional links and resources pertaining to these and other teachers, as well–including some who are not so well known, but who are, for that reason, much more accessible to those who might wish to contact them personally. In the meantime, search the names, above, on google or on YouTube and/or check out the podcasts, below…
[ Note: If you feel drawn to spiritual teachings, but do not find any of these resource helpful, please have a look at The Perennial Philosophy and/or Christian Vision sections in the menu, above. I also recommend The Reality of Being, by Jeanne de Salzmann, Gnosis: Book One, by Boris Mouravieff, and Meditations on the Tarot, by Anonymous]
Has Spinoza informed your monist thinking in any way?
Yes–Spinoza was my first love in philosophy. Here is a favorite quote:
“[All evils] seem to have arisen from the fact, that happiness or unhappiness is made wholly dependent on the quality of the object which we love. When a thing is not loved, no quarrels will arise concerning it — no sadness be felt if it perishes — no envy if it is possessed by another — no fear, no hatred, in short no disturbances of the mind. All these arise from the love of what is perishable . . . But love towards a thing eternal and infinite feeds the mind wholly with joy, and is itself unmingled with any sadness, wherefore it is greatly to be desired and sought for with all our strength. . . . The chief good is . . . the knowledge of the union existing between the mind and the whole of nature” (“Essay on the Improvement of the Understanding” — aka “Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect”).
He concludes his major treatise, “The Ethics”, with this observation:
“I have now completed all that I intended to demonstrate concerning the power of the mind over the emotions and concerning the freedom of the mind. This makes clear how strong the wise man is and how much he surpasses the ignorant man whose motive force is only lust. The ignorant man, besides being driven hither and thither by external causes, never possessing true contentment of spirit, lives as if he were unconscious of himself, God, and things, and as soon as he ceases to be passive, he at once ceases to be at all. On the other hand, the wise man, insofar as he is considered as such, suffers scarcely any disturbance of spirit, but being conscious, by virtue of a certain eternal necessity, of himself, of God and of things, never ceases to be, but always possesses true spiritual contentment.”
Here is a link to his complete works, translated by Samuel Shirley–if the link doesn’t work, check the address in your browser and be sure there is a period at the end:
Nice. I love the first Spinoza quote. I have found him difficult to read and even more difficult to comprehend. I’m interested in the intersection of Spinoza’s philosophy and process theology today. If only Spinoza wrote less like a mathematician and more like Nietzsche. Maybe Shirley’s translation helps less astute readers out, though it is hard to say because the link provide does not work:
The item you have requested had an error:
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which prevents us from displaying this page.
Anyway, if you have more favorite Spinoza-ism or you have a resource for comprehending Spinoza’s arc without actually having to read him, or a good Spinoza annotated guide I’d be interested.
Sorry about the link–for some reason, our browsers aren’t picking up the period at the end of it. If you cut and paste the link (or simply add the period and reload the error page), it should work. If not, google “Spinoza complete works pdf” (without quotes) and you should be able to find it.
I have a “quick and dirty” summary of Spinoza and Kant that I share with my introductory philosophy students. I will email it to you (it includes the quotations indicated, together with a very simple outline of his basic ideas, comparing and contrasting him to and with Kant). Also, it is worth keeping in mind that (for lack of a better word) the “mystical” element of his philosophy is quite distinct from an intellectual understanding of it. People study him for years and understand him well enough, conceptually, but may have little or no intuition of “the union that exists between the mind and the whole of nature.” On the other hand, reading the first few pages of “The Treatise on the Emandation of the Intellect” may be all that is necessary if the penny is ready to drop. Thank you for your comments and feel free to stay in touch if you are so inclined.
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Such clear, lucid writing.
Thanks, Dirk–glad it hit the spot!
Wayne, thank you for this. I lack time to analyse it and engage with it in the depth that it deserves and that I might otherwise like.
But in light of our recent exchange, I feel like emphasising that I really can see Tolle as an exponent of the profound wisdom of the first arcanum.
If one could stay only with the greatness he has to offer _strictly_ in terms of that first major arcanum, one could gain very, very much, I think.
Alas, after struggling with these things for many years, it seems to me that Tolle cannot see and therefore ends up negating, explicitly and implicitly, so much that follows the first arcanum and that Tomberg is expressing in terms of love, Christian, personalisation – and TEARS.
That was what I was trying to get at.
The deeper one goes into MotT and maybe particularly if one has a background in Anthroposophy, it becomes apparent – I think – that Tomberg (and Steiner) are pointing to the fact that _everything_ changed on Calvary. (What Steiner called the Mystery of Golgotha.)
Thus whilst Steiner and Tomberg both honour pre-Golgotha spirituality, but they also warn constantly about its dangers too.
Thus I posted my bit about losing the capacity to cry, something I do imagine is quite advanced indeed in Tolle.
I will also paste this in from the Fourteenth Arcanum, adding a little emphasis of my own with stars ***.
“Now, the “gift of tears” is a ***comparatively recent spiritual phenomenon*** in the history of human spirituality.
In the ancient world one wept only ritually, i.e. through verbal lamentations and through prescribed gesrures of mourning or grief. and it was amongst the chosen people, Israel, that real weeping began.
It was as a manifestation of the share that the chosen people had in the mission of preparing for the coming of Christ-who wept at the time of Lazarus’ resuscitation and who sweated sweat and blood the night in the Garden of Olives — that real weeping came to have its ***rudimentary origin*** from the womb of this people. And to the present day the Jews preserve, cultivate and respect the “gift of tears”.” (MotT 388. And so much else in book relates to this, e.g. 36, 126-127, etc etc.)
I emphasised “rudimentary origin” as I believe that what Tomberg and Steiner are both getting at is that full and real tears, personalisation and love only emerge with the Resurrected Christ.
I don’t imagine that Eckhart Tolle would see that, though, and therefore so much that he says tends, again, I think, to explicitly and implicitly negate it.
The capacity to cry, it seems to me, has as much to do with temperament as it does spiritual practice. In any event– as I said earlier –my eyes (at the very least) are no dryer than they were pre-Eckhart Tolle (and perhaps I cry a bit more freely even). In any event, I think you are mistaken about his being a (merely) first Arcanum insight. But even so– even if that is the case –what a gift to our popular culture, eh? Thanks for your comment, Roger!
p.s. if you listen to Tolle’s talk, “To Think or Not to Think?”, you will hear him describe “the reflection of the pure act of the first Arcanum up to the point where it becomes “book” . . . Or, in other words, how “Wisdom builds her house” (see Letter II, pages 29-30).