“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinion for or against. The struggle of what one likes and what one dislikes is the disease of the mind.”
~Zen Scholar Sengstan, from the Hsin Hsin Ming poem
The word “non-dual” means not two. It is used to describe the true nature of reality which is undivided, unified, and inherently whole.
Yes, we look around and see separate forms. There is this and that. I am here and you are over there. We perceive an amazing diversity of people and objects.
But when the layers of thought that divide and separate are seen through, the true direct experience of reality is just pure, formless, timeless aliveness…completely at peace with itself.
Yet, somehow we all know what it’s like to hold the idea of “other.” This means that we believe something is separate from ourselves. The other could be an object, a person, a category of people, or even our own thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
What we make into the other feels different, foreign or strange. We conclude that it’s “not me,” therefore it’s something else, something other than me. We may even add in a judgment about how what we’re calling other is wrong, bad, or less than.
And this is the source of a whole lot of trouble.
So here’s an essential question: if the true nature of reality is undivided, how does division happen?
How do we end up on different sides of an argument? How do we come to define ourselves or others as less than or better than? How do we divide ourselves from our own experience?
And most importantly, how do we convince ourselves that we—and others—are separate from the divine nature of all of life?
The roots of separation begin to take hold when we identify ourselves as the one who lives in the physical body.
Our true nature is boundless and free, but if we think of ourselves as limited to the body, then we’ve immediately created a sense of other.
Simply said, it’s our thoughts that create division. The human mind is designed to think…that’s what it does..and what an amazing tool it is.
But when we believe the content of our thoughts without questioning them, we leave the oneness and intimacy with all things and enter the world of judgment, comparison, and right and wrong.
Here’s how it works. If you believe you’re right, then the other must be wrong. If you believe yourself to be inadequate, then others must be better than you. If you like something, then you don’t like something else.
These functions of the mind help us to organize our experience. If we categorize people and things, then we know where we stand. But can you feel into the pain that arises from division?
Take away the mind’s distinctions, and what’s revealed is the bare experience of reality. Right here and right now, things are as they are. And feeling into it even deeper, the idea of separate things begins to melt away.
What is? Aliveness…here…pure being…everywhere…with no division.
And how would you create division again? Start thinking.
The mind can’t conceive of the true nature of reality. The infinite, all-inclusive spaciousness—nondual reality—can only be known by direct experience. It’s beyond language, palpable, real, so alive.
The mind tries to capture this knowing…by describing it, remembering it, or imagining it. And, ironically, when we believe these thoughts, we feel separate from it. We take what is, the endless peace of the present moment, and go into our minds to make it wrong, lacking, or not okay.
These are signs of a mind in charge. Turn away from these thoughts, and what do you discover? There’s no problem to be found.
Reflect for a moment on your experience of “other.” Be meticulous in your exploration to see what thoughts you believe that may not be true. How does separation feel?
Then try this experiment. Don’t believe what these thoughts are telling you, ground yourself in presence, and come back to experience the world deeply knowing the undivided nature of reality. How does that affect your view of yourself? How does that change your view of others?
Maybe, like me, your heart is touched endlessly…
Note: If you’d like to listen to a reading of the full Hsin Hsin Ming poem (highly recommended!), please click here. This is a lovely rendition read by Ram Dass.