Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Reconciliation of duality and non-duality

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Understanding the nature of brahman, understanding what self-knowledge is, understanding how Vedanta reconciles duality with nonduality is not very easy. It is at the heart of the teachings, and I cannot claim in any way to be an expert. But I know that discussing the teachings is useful for mananam, so with that in view I begin.

Two things to consider at the outset are that the teachings of Vedanta do deal with a subject matter which at first appears to be paradoxical. How can I, who appear to be a body/mind/sense organs individual, be brahman, the unchanging self, and in reality the truth of all that exists? How is that possible?

And even if it is possible, what is all of this duality which I see, if nonduality is the truth of it? How can the duality, which I see, be reconciled with the nondual nature of brahman which the Upanishads tell me I am? So those are some questions which the jIva has.

Another thing I would like to say is that, from the point of view of duality, we cannot really reconcile duality and nonduality by using the same measure we use to explain duality from within duality. In the end, as much as is possible, we have to take the stand from the point of view of brahman, and then look at duality and explain it.

So from that point of view, what does it mean that a j~nAnI does not act, and from that point of view can the mind of a j~nAnI have thoughts and still be called a j~nAnI's mind?

When we look at a j~nAnI from the point of view of duality, what do we see? We see a body/mind/sense organs individual who is performing actions. I don't think we need to doubt the information that our eyes give us in this regard; I think rather we need to look at what the words, 'the j~nAnI does not act' are actually pointing out.

Those words are pointing to the nature of brahman, which the mind of the j~nAnI has realized the j~nAnI's true nature to be. Brahman never acts. Brahman doesn't move. Brahman doesn't change. Brahman is not bound by time or space.

When the mind of the j~nAnI has this cognition (which does occur in the form of a 'thought'), then the body/mind/sense organs of the j~nAnI do not change their functioning from the point of view of duality, but the apprehension of reality for the mind of the j~nAnI does change.

Thus the j~nAnI, now knowing without a shadow of a doubt 'I am that brahman', also knows that in reality 'I never act, and I have never been bound by time and space.'

What changes is that the j~nAnI's mind now comprehends what has always been true. So duality, time and space do not end. It is realized that for me (brahman) they have never been. It isn't that the j~nAnI ceases to act from the point of view of the body/mind/sense organs. It is that the j~nAnI realizes I (brahman) have never at any time performed an action.

Well then, how does one bring that understanding out into duality, as it were, and make sense of the information our senses give us? We cannot bring our dualistic understanding to bear upon the understanding of j~nAnam, rather it has to be viewed from the other way round. We need to bring the understanding that j~nAnam gives us to examine duality.

The teachings tell us that there is only, in truth, the nondual reality. So we have to examine, from that perspective, what duality is. Is duality, in the end, really dual? The teachings tell us that it is not. Well then, what is the dual world which the senses perceive? The teachings tell us it is brahman which, due to the power of mAyA, manifests as duality.

Now, if a j~nAnI has recognized that not only do 'I' brahman never move, but all of duality, which appears to the senses, is in the end really brahman, then this direct cognition does away with the apparent paradox of duality.

The ability to recognize at once the satyam in the mithyA world of change explains away in an instant the paradox of a brahman, which never moves, and a creation, which does nothing but move, being the same 'thing.'

The understanding which j~nAnam brings is the reconciliation of, and comfort with, seeming paradox. Thus, the body and mind of a j~nAnI continue to function as before, only now the j~nAnI's mind knows that 'I' brahman do not move. At the same time the j~nAnI's mind, knowing and apprehending that everything is in the final analysis brahman, realizes that nothing is ever away from brahman.

There is no problem with thoughts arising. There is no problem with activity. All is brahman. All is my self alone. Whether manifest or unmanifest, it doesn't create a problem for my mind, and that is the beauty of j~nAnam.

Wherever the body is in the creation, 'I' am at home, because first of all, brahman never changes, and secondly, within the changing reality everything is brahman. Everything comes from me, is sustained by me, and returns to me without affecting me at all. I cannot be away from myself because I am everywhere, and at the same time 'I' am entirely stable.

Lastly, there is a story which I would like to relate that is it quite relevant to this discussion.

In March of 2008 I had the good fortune to attend some talks which Swami Dayanandaji gave in Sydney Australia. One evening some musicians, who are closely associated with Swamiji, gave a small concert. They sang bhajans of Swamiji's composition, including a bhajan to mother Meenakshi.

Although I did not have the good fortune to be born a Hindu, nor do I know Sanskrit aside from a few words, the beauty of the bhajan touched me deeply.

Some of us accompanied Swamiji to the airport in Sydney prior to his return to India. We all sat together at a table in an airport café drinking coffee. I remarked to Swamiji how beautiful the Meenakshi bhajan was although I couldn't understand the words.

Sitting there Swamiji quietly began to hum. Then he began to sing a few verses in Sanskrit. Then in English he translated, "That very mAyA which brings forth the mithyA creation, gives liberation in the form of a mithyA vRRitti. The akhaNDa akAra vRRitti"

I know that my memory cannot do justice to the true beauty of Swamiji's words. With those words, the understanding and the bhAva they created in our hearts, and tears in our eyes, we accompanied Swamiji to the gate and he was gone.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012