Arriving at the Embassy Suites Hotel, San Rafael, California, I was worried. Very worried. My first sight of the people milling around the lobby was of those sporting dreadlocks, sandals, and orange T-shirts with the ubiquitous Om symbol emblazoned on the front.
Yet another Mind Body Spirit Festival. My heart sank.
Then my companion pointed out they were associated with the catering van outside the hotel. I was ushered to the registration desk where a very polite, well-dressed assistant asked me to collect my identity badge whilst handing me a batch of glossy fliers, conference particulars and an assortment of stationery. The fact that the bag containing such effects was orange and had Om emblazoned on it now didn�t seem to matter that much.
Running concurrently with the Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy Conference, which is already in its tenth year, the Science and Nonduality Conference (SAND) is very different from what you would expect, given its brief. The worldwide phenomenon that is �nonduality� has seen many disciplines hijack the concept for its own purposes thereby rendering any exact definition defunct.
Nevertheless, conference organizer, Maurizio Benazzo of Neti Neti Media is undeterred. A willowy, self-effacing Italian, he outlines his vision on the SAND website: �So what is nonduality? We are well aware that in the exact moment in which we use words, our concept as an attempt to describe nonduality � automatically fall[s] into a world of dualisms ... no word will ever describe what is beyond time, beyond space, beyond a sense of I, beyond a sense of self.�
He goes on: �... the scientific research of quantum physics, neuroscience, cosmology, biology and mathematics are giving us theories and results, which increasingly and curiously are comparable to the conclusions reached by the ancient spiritual masters.� Thus Maurizio�s mission, as he sees it, is to reconnect these seemingly opposite worlds in a synergic event.
With presentations from some of the world�s leading exponents in their fields � scientists, philosophers, psychologists, nondual teachers � the SAND conference offered a smorgasbord of ancient and contemporary thinking: the enigmatic Stephen Wolinsky and his workshop, �Experience the Teachings of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj: The Primordial Advaita�; Greg Goode�s practical and humorous presentation, �Stumbling Block to Nondual Realisation�; and a lecture by the impressive Marilyn Schlitz, inspiration for one of Dan Brown�s protagonists in his latest novel, �Consciousness Matters: Mapping the Process of Transformation and Nondual Awareness�; not to mention screenings from the Cin�ma Nondualit� Film Series, an �Experiential Room�, and the obligatory �meet and greet� parties to finish it all off.
Indeed, the choice was almost overwhelming; the fact that so many of the events were run concurrently was, retrospectively, a blessing in disguise. By the end of the conference, I felt as if I couldn�t take anything more in. So what, then, is nonduality? After hearing so many viewpoints � some intellectually mind-blowing, others exquisitely simple � it feels even harder to offer a precise definition. But then, perhaps, that�s the point.
To quote Maurizio again: �There are many shades of meaning to the word nonduality. As an introduction, we might say that nonduality is the philosophical, spiritual, and scientific understanding of non-separation and fundamental oneness. Our starting point is the statement �we are all one,� and this is meant not in some abstract sense but at the deepest level of existence. Duality, or separation between the observer and the observed, is an illusion that the Eastern mystics have long recognized and Western science has more recently come to understand through quantum mechanics.
�Dualities are usually seen in terms of opposites: Mind/Matter, Self/Other, Conscious/Unconscious, Illusion/Reality, Quantum/Classical, Wave/Particle, Spiritual/Material, Beginning/End, Male/Female, Living/Dead and Good/Evil. Nonduality is the understanding that identification with common dualisms avoids recognition of a deeper reality.�
Further articles and interviews will be published about the conference over the coming weeks.
Return to Science and Nonduality Conference Menu