Thursday, October 09, 2008

Robert Masters - The Non-Nonduality of Nondual Teachings

Adastra posted this in the Robert Masters pod at Gaiam -- a great essay by Robert. He has a way of cutting through the BS and getting to meat of things, which makes him one of our most important integral thinkers and teachers.

From Robert Augustus Masters' blog (May 3, 2007)


Before launching into this blog — which is still veined here and there with the rant that it once was — I’ll toss in something about the nondual, risking that my doing so will muddy rather than clarify my topic, given the severe limitations of language in trying to describe what transcends description.


To nondual being, the inherent inseparability of all that exists is neither a concept nor an experience, but rather an obviousness beyond understanding, consistently recognized to not only always already exist, but also to be none other than the consciousness that “knows” it. (This may be paradoxical to the mind, especially the rational mind, but is not to the heart.)

That is, not only is awareness naturally aware of itself here, but it also is obviously not apart from whatever may be arising, be such manifestation gross or subtle, ephemeral or long-lasting, peaceful or fearful.

No dissociation from phenomena, no strategic withdrawal from life, nowhere to go, no one to be, while “showing up” as all form, forever and everywhere and everywhen — such phrases, blooming with mind-transcending paradox (and the debris of exploded rationality), point to the unimaginable yet ever-present reality of the nondual, and point with unavoidable inaccuracy, given that there is not a fitting language for the nondual (because of the inevitably dialectical nature of language, not to mention the need for an ear that can “hear” and appreciate nondual statements).

The reality of non-separation is never not here, never not available, ever “inviting” us to awaken from the entrapping dreams we habitually fuel and occupy. We may conceive of it as a place, a stage, an achievement, a reward — but it is simply what we forever already are, already transcending (and simultaneously including) every would-be “us” that would attempt to assume the position of self.

The personality is no longer the locus of self, but it still persists — and why shouldn’t it? If one is at home “in” (and as) the nondual, then personality, like everything else, is but one more non-binding expression of nondual being, asking not for annihilation, but for recognition and acceptance. To the realizer of the nondual, everything, everything, is God — anger, joy, duality, personality, clouds, wonder, fear. There is only God, only the Self, only the Real, only the One, only the hyperbole-transcending reality of what we truly are. So what problem is there, really, if fear or any other undesirable state arises? From a nondual perspective, such arising is, to put it mildly, radically nonproblematic.

In the nondual, fear is not what is transcended; what is transcended is what was done with fear in nondual states or stages.

Okay, so here we go…


Some of the more rigidly dualistic — and dehumanizing — approaches to spirituality can be found in nondual schools, nondual paths, nondual practices and perspectives.
Behind the nondual half-smiles perhaps ever so gently flickering across the faces of more than a few nondual teachers — or sometimes self-proclaimed non-teachers, as what they teach cannot, they often insist, really be taught — something very personal, something decidedly non-nondual, something with measurable egoic emissions, may be seeking unmuted expression, which of course cannot be openly permitted (unless perhaps it’s clearly positive or pleasant), as it might taint or screw up the proceedings (exposing, for example, the attachments or anger or less-than-noble desires of the teacher).

But wouldn’t something other than recycled, far-from-fresh nondual — and more often than not obsessively impersonal — pronouncements and unrelentingly detachment be a huge relief?

Where has the wildness, the rawness, the full-blooded yes, of spirituality gone? Must it be caged, drugged, homogenized, reduced to squeaky clean teacherliness for hungry seekers? Must we play vigilant zookeeper to its edginess? Must we dehumanize it?

The spooning out of nondual pablum — pre-chewed for us — assumes that we have no teeth, no bite, no need for uncooked truth, and just need to keep our bibs on. Spiritual etiquette. Mind your manners if you want another spoonful of the understanding. But just because it’s easy to swallow doesn’t mean that it’s easy to digest!

It’s enough to stir up some revolutionary rudeness. If being off the path can be part of the path, then why so much emphasis on being spiritually correct? Equanimity sometimes is just sedation in spiritual drag. Who’s that behind the serenity shades?
Just as much of contemporary art has become more about the intellectualization — or, better, over-intellectualization — of art than about art itself, so too have many contemporary takes on nonduality fallen into the same trap. Many of those claiming to teach or offer nondual spirituality may cover their tracks with nondual wordplay — displaying, yes, attachment to the label “nondual” — but no matter how they say it, their separation from and refusal to truly explore and get down into (and it’s only “down” to preconceived “up-ness”) the dual, the personal, the idiosyncratic, the shadowy, and, yes, the unrepentantly egoic, keeps them (and their followers) up to their eyeballs in good old dualism, clinging to the idea (or ideal) of nonduality.

Premature claims to abiding in nondual awareness run rampant in modern spiritual circles — making spiritual real estate out of a moment of light — and how could they not, given that they arise in and are embedded in a culture slavishly devoted to getting it right now? Given the inevitably contingent nature of manifest existence, what else would you expect?

When we try to make too much out of a moment of genuine awakening, what we’re mostly making is just more of the very selfhood we are so eager to transcend.
We like our heroes to be a bit above us, so we can cut them down to size after we’re done romanticizing them. Having a nondually-oriented teacher telling us that we already are what we ache to be, and that our not getting this is just part of it, etcetera after predictable etcetera, may temporarily ease us, because it quiets our mind for a bit, but in most cases it’s really not very helpful and in fact tends to distract and strand us from the work we truly need to do, including facing, working with, and integrating our shadow elements (our fear, despair, aggression, promiscuity, greed, and so on).

The shadow of most nondualism is its unacknowledged dualism, the key symptoms of which include spiritual constipation, ego-transcending egoity, and resolute aversion to acknowledging the need to do any shadow-work.

An almost-universally acknowledged sage of the nondual like Ramana Maharshi spoke and acted from a nondual perspective simply because he couldn’t do otherwise. Just as importantly, he wasn’t looking for immunity from the raw stuff of life, and he sure wasn’t busy being clever or verbally elusive.

We don’t need any more regurgitated nondual teachings. We need the original thing, the firsthand transmission, the industrial strength dosage minus the usual mixers, but only if and when we are sufficiently ripe. And how do we get ripe? By living, really living, getting right into the messy stuff of Life, including that dualistic awakener and unparalleled exposer of neuroses and personal bullshit known as intimate relationship.

Just as scientific methodology tends to select for those who find comfort in the promise of a consensually validated remove (or emotional distance) from the object of study, nondual teaching opportunities tend to select for those who find comfort in the promise of a consensually validated (or emotional distance) from the personal. But the truly nondual nonproblematically includes — and not just in theory! — the dualistic and personal, and is not a solution to it!

Nondual teachings point out the pointlessness of searching for what was never really lost, but often overlook or underemphasize the fact that the search is not experienced as pointless until it actually has been undertaken.

So we might as well jump in, getting messy, getting attached, getting hurt, getting involved — we’ve made, and are making, an appearance here as humans, so let’s get into it! Only when we’re really in it and truly involved, can we leave it, and then, and only then, can we realize with our totality that where we were and where we are is precisely the same locationless location.

Those under the thumb of nondual teachings might say that there is nothing to do, because there is no one to do it, etcetera after colorless etcetera, thereby creating a philosophical dead-end (or hermeneutic drainhole) masquerading as spiritual wisdom. However, the non-doing of the true sage is far from the non-doing of the rest of us, and needs to be recognized as such.

And thus ends this piece, with a deep bow to the true teachers and embodiers of the nondual, in whose presence and love my words stretch beyond themselves, and in whose wisdom my arrogance evaporates, leaving nothing but What-Really-Matters.

- Robert Augustus Masters


gregory said...

ah, i am so happy ... after years of satsangs and spiritual discussions and ashrams and gurus and a dozen years in india, i have graduated!! i cannot understand a bloody word of this post, and don't give a shit about it!! yea!! freedom from spirituality, at last!!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a more angry version of a book I just picked up: The Wisdom of Imperfection: The Challenge of Individuation in Buddhist Life by Rob Preece. An excellent read--highly recommended.

I disagree with this however:
"Those under the thumb of nondual teachings might say that there is nothing to do, because there is no one to do it, etcetera after colorless etcetera, thereby creating a philosophical dead-end (or hermeneutic drainhole) masquerading as spiritual wisdom. However, the non-doing of the true sage is far from the non-doing of the rest of us, and needs to be recognized as such."

At the point I am at on the path, the teaching of "there is nothing to do because there is nobody to do it" is quite refreshing, real, and helps the process of inquiry and insight continue on. On the other hand, this teaching was completely unhelpful until about a month ago!