True Nonduality And Neo-Advaita—Moving Beyond A Cognitive Realization

3.1) Compulsive Absolutization

The supreme Truth has been expressed in these terms (Mandukya Karika): “There is no creation, no destruction, no bondage, no longing to be freed from bondage, no striving to be free [from bondage], nor anyone who has attained [freedom from bondage]. Know that this is the ultimate truth.

Neo-Advaita insists on looking only at this absolute point of view, overlooking the relative truth of things, when convenient. In Buddhism, this is called “attachment to emptiness”, and it’s very hard to get rid of.

There is little meaning in uttering this truth if the person who speaks it does not know it experientially, and has only as an intellectual understanding or conviction. Likewise, there is little value in offering this as a teaching tool to an aspirant who doesn’t yet have the necessary preparation and structures to take it in. In some cases, this may create undesirable side effects such as pathological dissociation, apathy and loss of the will to live; or it destroys the motivation for spiritual practice.

Ancient masters do point out that a truth, misunderstood, can be harmful—the higher the truth, the more damage its misunderstanding can cause.

This cartoon speaks well of this trap—or “nondual sickness”, as I like to call it. Who wants to be the friend of the smart-ass philosopher here?

In some spiritual circles, this plays out as a constant policing of language by those that have recently understood this, towards those that are perceived to still be “deceived in duality”. I have seen this in several places, both online and offline.

If you say something like “I feel my life is flowing better lately” someone will stop you right there and “correct” you: “There is no ‘my’ life. You are life. Who are you, apart from Life, for it to flow better?”. Any sentence that has the words I, my, mine in it is vulnerable to these not-so-fruitful commentaries.

As pointed out by Timothy Conway, both the Hindu sage Shankara (c. 700 CE) as well as the Buddhist sage Nagarjuna (2nd century CE)— two great advocates of non-duality—made it clear that there are “two truths” (dvayasatya) or two possible levels of discourse: the conventional truth, which is the relative level of ordinary experience (samvriti-satya or vyâvahârika-satya), and the ultimate truth, which is the absolute level of discourse about nondual reality (pâramârthika-satya).

Bringing this distinction back to the current teaching is essential, if real “transformation” is what we are after.

Suggestions for balancing this attitude:

  • Be honest with your own experience. Recognizing the level at which you are naturally functioning, and then superimposing a concept such as “this is illusory” or “this is not who I truly am”, can be helpful and is recommended by many traditional masters. However, denying the reality of your spontaneous experience/perception is another thing, and I see no benefit in that. Superimposing, reinterpreting and looking deeper is one thing. Denying, suppressing, pretending—is something else. This is an important insight for both aspirants and teachers.
  • Don’t Advaitize others (yes, I made that a verb). Think in these absolute terms towards yourself, if it helps you attenuate the egoic mental tendencies, but don’t say it to others. Resist the temptation to correct others. If you are seeing others, you are not in the nondual state anyway, so your correction will come from that sneaky ego. If there is only Awareness, it is certainly not offended by you interacting with other people on the level of their experience. Let your experience sink deep within you, so your very existence speaks of the non-dual reality, rather than your tongue.
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