If you’ve been on the spiritual journey for a while, you must have heard the term non-duality. The non-dual teachings are the highest forms of spirituality, reserved only for the most advanced students, taught only by the most established teachers. So what does non-duality refer to, what is the ultimate teaching in all of spirituality?
The term non-duality comes from the Sanskrit word advaita which literally means not two, or non-dual. These teachings appeared in the end of the texts of the ancient Vedas, so they collectively became known as Advaita Vedanta. It is essentially the mystical part of Hinduism, just like Zen is the mystical tradition of Buddhism.
So, is non-duality a religion, a philosophy, or a mystery school? It is neither of those. Non-duality refers both to the true nature of existence and to the set of practices meant to comprehend it. But it’s not enough to understand it theoretically, Advaita Vedanta accepts only first-hand experience. Knowing about the true nature of existence and knowing the true nature of existence are two very different things.
So, is non-duality basically the same as oneness? Yes, it is basically the same, but not exactly the same. Oneness is a positive term, while non-duality is a negative expression that refers to the same thing, which is not even a thing by the way. When you say one, it automatically implies two, just like when you say day, you immediately think about its opposite: night.
But non-duality is exactly about the lack of opposites, the lack of pairs, the lack of duality. That’s why these ancient masters thought it’s better to express it in negative terms, saying that it’s not dual. Every word is a definition, and every definition is a limitation. So, expressing the infinite with words doesn’t do it justice. Words are perfectly fine for the dualistic world, but they lose their meaning in the realm of absolute reality.
Speaking of words, non-duality is synonymous with oneness, liberation, moksha, enlightenment, samadhi, nirvana, existence, reality, God, truth and realization. Non-duality is a worldview, a way of perception, a state of being, and it’s the only real worldview, perception and state, all others are rooted in ignorance and illusion.
I hear you asking: But how could everything be just one, when everything is so different? Yes, they indeed look and feel different, but their difference lies in their forms and names and not in their essence. What you are speaking about is the world of maya, the veil of illusion, the world of duality. But this is just a worldview, and the goal of Advaita Vedanta is to overcome it.
In this episode, I won’t go specifically into how to do this, because I have several other videos describing ultimate reality and detailing various spiritual practices. Here, I would rather continue with one crucial implication of non-duality. Namely that if everything is one, and you are part of everything, then you are also one with everything, or in other words, you are everything.
Now that’s something to digest! Not only is the world “outside of you” one, you are also one with it. The duality of inside and outside lose their meaning, as your self becomes non-definable, limitless. It turns out that what you perceived yourself to be was also just a worldview, equally limited and false.
You can experience this in two ways, and both are valid and true. One, you may perceive that everything is happening only in your mind, which happened in my case. Your self becomes so big that it contains the entire universe and you will feel that only you exist.
Two, you may perceive that even your body and your mind are outside of you, so your self shrinks so much that in the end it becomes a no-self. But the perception that only you exist and that you don’t exist at all imply the same underlying reality.
In traditional Hindu texts, they speak about this in terms of Atman and Brahman. In Dvaita or dualistic Hinduism, Atman is different from Brahman, just like in classical monotheistic religions, man is different from God. But Advaita Vedanta famously says that thou art that, you are that, Atman is Brahman, the personal self is the universal self, the personal soul is the universal soul, man is God.
God is in everything, and in everything there is only God and nothing else. Thus, everything is God and God is everything. If you perceive anything else that is not God, then that perception is illusory. If you think about anything that you think is not God, that is also God, because even the thoughts belong to God. Your thoughts are God’s thoughts, your perceptions are God’s perceptions, your body is God’s body, and your world is God’s world.
You are not, only God is. You are God, and only you are. No matter how you put it, you can express the same underlying reality of non-duality. But this is not just a play of words, not just a belief system, not just an outlandish philosophy. Non-duality is the fundamental nature of reality that I experienced directly, that many others experienced directly and something that you can experience directly as well.
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