Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

D. B. Sleeth, Ph.D.

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Getting in Touch with Who You Really Are, as Based on the Spiritual Revelation of Adi Da Samraj


Western orientations to the self rarely speak of the self in terms of God. However, an orientation to the self that seriously considers God and self to be the same runs through both Eastern and Western spiritual traditions: nondualism. Yet, even to speak in these terms is to commit blasphemy in certain spiritual traditions. Nonetheless, a compelling account of the identity between God and self exists: “Radical” Non-Dualism, the spiritual revelation of the nondual sage, Adi Da Samraj. Traditional accounts of nondualism provide no means whereby manifest beings can be understood to emerge from the underlying ground of unmanifest divinity. But two crucial mechanisms appear in “Radical” Non-Dualism whereby God can be said to transform into human beings: the Illusion of Relatedness and the Grid of Attention.


This paper attempts to answer an extremely perplexing question, which most people would say is pretty important: “Who am I?” Psychologists believe that somewhere around the time people reach their adolescence, they begin to ask this question. Up until then, they really aren’t too concerned about it. More pressing concerns occupy their attention, like school and friends, getting their hands on candy, finding more time for play, especially by getting out of doing their chores; things like that. However, as our intelligence begins to develop to the point where we can look down the road and consider our future, we start to wonder about other things—what’s in store for me, especially after I die; where did I come from and how did I get here; and, most of all, just who in the world am I?

Historically, this very same inquiry first appeared in the West among the profound works of the ancient Greeks, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Yet, other great minds also grappled with the fundamental nature of human beings at this time. Along with the important centers of learning present in Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, two other great civilizations existed on the other side of the world: India and China. Both of these countries worked out an even more impressive and subtle account of human nature, which, unfortunately, seems to have been unknown in the West at the time. These texts have come to be known as nondualism.

Although an extremely difficult spiritual doctrine, nondualism can be summarized this way: as people become aware that there is some larger, spiritual reality within which they live, it is possible for a two-fold discovery to be made:

  • they feel that they are in some way intimately connected to this larger reality, and
  • they then feel that they literally are this larger reality—so much so that their ordinary sense of being a separate self disappears completely.

As can be seen, one is more inclusive than the other. The difference could perhaps be illustrated this way: whereas the latter is a diamond, the former is a diamond in the rough. Although, to an ordinary stone, the distinction might not seem like much, to a jeweler it makes all the difference in the world—it is precisely the former with which one fashions a resplendent jewel. Transpersonal psychology aligns with the former: “in which an individual’s sense of identity appears to extend beyond its ordinary limits to encompass wider, broader, or deeper aspects of life or the cosmos—including divine elements of creation” (Krippner, 1998, p. ix). Maslow (1964) spoke of this as “peak experiences,” in which one’s awareness of reality is suddenly heightened and ecstatic experiences begin to appear. Other accounts, such as the Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition, speak of the divine rapture possible in one’s relationship to God.

However, clearly, the second position goes beyond even these extraordinary levels of experience. In fact, the first position might even be called pseudo-nondualism, or transitional to nondualism. Consequently, it makes sense to augment transpersonal psychology with another field entirely: transcendental psychology. The difference between the two could be described this way:

This does not mean that the mystic lost all sense of separation from ultimate reality or was so united with ultimate reality as to feel dissolved into it. Some mystics have spoken in this way, claiming that all difference vanished; but other mystics have not… (Carmody & Carmody, 1996, p. 12)

Yet, mysticism is often spoken of as if a single state of being, the same for all fortunate enough to enter it. Nonetheless, there are two realms or stages to the mystical state, with the latter even more inclusive than the former. In the case of nondualism, no sense of separation exists whatsoever between the person and every other part of reality. This is precisely why this spiritual realization is called nondualism, because reality is no longer experienced as being split up into parts, or consisting of a duality of difference pieces—such as self and other, for example. There is only one single reality in nondualism, and this reality is literally who we are. Nondualism can be defined this way: “Nondual wisdom refers to the understanding and direct experience of a fundamental consciousness that underlies the apparent distinction between perceiver and perceived” (Prendergast, 2003, p. 2).

However, nondualism is not merely a description of what happens to one’s sense of self in this profound state of consciousness. More to the point is the experience of this state of consciousness, or what it feels like. Indeed, for many, this feature of nondualism is the most important. Adi Da Samraj speaks ecstatically about nondual spiritual reality:

True God Is Love-Bliss, Unsupported, Free…. Stay with Me, and you can afford to be quiet. Do you ever get quiet—just quiet? Talking the cool blueness, the full moonlit night, consciousness attendant to the Divine, all energy flowing, even running out of the top of the head like a fountain.

What you would have in Communion with Me is a cool, watery, full moonlit night, cooled of stress, and desire, and consolation, Awake to “Brightness”. On that basis, visions of clarity and peace. And then moving beyond them to My Love-Bliss Itself, without the slightest image, without the slightest object, without the slightest fear, without any “other”—not even yourself an “other”.

Be still. Be washed…. Be mindless. Bodiless. Sublime. God Only…. “We are Home now, Lord”…. That is it. Do not leave. (1994, pp. 271-278)

One way to describe this nondual awareness of reality is by paraphrasing the old story of Robinson Crusoe, who suddenly found himself shipwrecked on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere—not unlike our own shocking realization that we have been unexpectedly born into this completely unknown world we call earth. Over time, Robinson Crusoe had to learn how to survive in this strange new land, setting up a shelter and managing to grow and catch food to eat. However, one day, he noticed footsteps in the sand on the beach and became aware that he was not alone on the island. Soon, he began to notice other signs of this presence on the island, and he kept a close eye out for the impending encounter. Robinson Crusoe’s finally meeting the other person, whom he named Friday, is analogous to the first position mentioned above—feeling part of some larger reality. However, with nondualism, or the second position, a slightly different outcome would be the case: during the meeting, Robinson Crusoe discovers the other person is actually himself—and so too is the island, and the ocean, and even the entire universe! And more, all of it is awash in the delight of love-bliss!

Obviously, this changes the meaning of the story entirely. Now, Robinson Crusoe exists in a state of happiness and awareness beyond anything he could otherwise have ever imagined. Of course, the fact that this extraordinary state of consciousness is our fundamental nature does not mean it is something of which we are typically familiar. Quite the contrary, in fact! Many of us rarely even have peak experiences, much less the extraordinary rapture of love that comes when we get in touch with the deepest part of who we are. Such resplendent states are typically realized only by accomplished spiritual masters, or else profound spiritual aspirants. Yet, this fundamental nature is still the case anyway, despite our typically being unaware of it. It is for this reason that the doctrines of nondualism recommend specific spiritual practices, in order to help one develop an awareness of who they really are.

But, precisely because this extraordinary state of consciousness is so unfamiliar for most people, it is necessary to spell out exactly what nondualism is, especially “Radical” Non-Dualism, in terms that can be easily understood. Yet, it should be noted that nondualism is a very difficult spiritual doctrine, precisely because it refers to a level of reality so unfamiliar to most of us. Consequently, this paper uses a particular methodology. Nondual reality cannot be comprehended by reason, but only apprehended through intuition. Therefore, this paper suggests or alludes to nondual reality through the use of imagery and argument, engaging reason for the purpose of awakening intuition. Once awakened, reason can drop out altogether and intuition followed to its source: the sublime nature of God, or nondual reality—one’s own ultimate presence. Something in the way of a blind person seeing color, it is one thing to know of the existence of nondualism, but you cannot really understand it until you have had a direct experience of it.

“Radical” Non-Dualism

Adi Da (2000, 2004) refers to “Radical” Non-Dualism as the immediate and direct condition of Divine Existence. In this state, all conditionally manifested events and objects are spontaneously and inherently recognized to be illusory or merely apparent modifications of the Divine Fullness of Being Itself. However, this account can be contrasted with the way in which nondualism is sometimes regarded as it is imported into Western cultures from the East, especially in terms of psychology: “In time and without any conscious effort or intent we become like stained glass, more adequate forms for the transmission of light. Our individuality is liberated and enhanced as we knowingly share this common ground with all beings” (Prendergast, 2003, p. 10).

Yet, speaking in terms of “liberating or enhancing one’s individuality” is misleading, for this is precisely the illusory state that is actually at zero in nondualism. Likewise, becoming “stained glass” is also an inadequate way to account for nondualism, as the point of such imagery is to suggest some type of form or definition for the individual—as might be illumed by the light. But the state of nondualism is better understood as this: the very Light Itself (Adi Da, 2004). Indeed, according to Adi Da, rather than illuminating the glass, the process can be thought of as Outshining (see Adidam, 2004, p. 1340). In this case, body, mind, and world are no longer even noticed—but not because Divine Consciousness has withdrawn or dissociated from manifest phenomena. Rather, the ecstatic recognition of all arising phenomena (by the Divine Self—as a modification of Itself) has become so intense that the “Bright” love-blissful radiance of consciousness now simply Outshines all phenomena. As a result, phenomena become immediately and directly recognized as not other than the Divine Condition Itself.

In this way, the ultimate nature of the relationship between God and human beings can be put this way: they are the same. Of course, for many spiritual traditions, to even make the suggestion amounts to blasphemy. Indeed, only the spiritual tradition of nondualism seriously considers the possibility that human beings are God. Yet, all of the axial religions have nondual adherents among their mystics. For example, a notable Christian monk, Meister Eckhart, exhorted spiritual aspirants to the following realization: “In this impulse I receive wealth so vast that God cannot be enough for me in all that makes him God, and with all his divine works. For in this breakthrough I discover that I and God are one” (1980, p. 218).

But Meister Eckhart was severely chastised, indeed, even condemned by the Holy Roman Church for this spiritual revelation. Clearly, equating human beings with God represents a provocative claim. However, the difficulty does not reside so much with its impudence as its inability to provide any convincing account of how it could be the case, especially given how contrary to our ordinary intuition it seems to be. Although Eckhart, not to say all other nondual sages preceding him, was unable to offer such a convincing account, the “Radical” Non-Dualism of Adi Da Samraj does. That is, “Radical” Non-Dualism does not merely make the observation that these realms of reality exist—divine and human—or even that they are in fact the same, but offers an account of how they get from one to the other: the Illusion of Relatedness and the Grid of Attention.

The Illusion of Relatedness

It is often remarked that spiritual reality is ineffable. Indeed, the famous Taoist text, the Tao Te Ching, begins with the following line: “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao” (Tsu, 1972, p. 1). Certain Hindu texts speak of reality as “neti, neti,” which means, “not this, not this.” This is ineffable in the common sense of the word, by which two meanings are expressed: simply that something exists, and what it is not—yet, not what it is. Nonetheless, ineffable can be understood in an entirely different manner. It is not the case that speaking of spiritual reality is impossible (clearly, even the Tao Te Ching does that), but something else entirely: no one will understand what you are talking about when you do—unless, of course, they already know. In another sense, being ineffable is something like pointing to the moon with your finger; it is the moon that is the point, not your finger.

Simply put, the God is comprised of discernable attributes: “This is the term saccidananda…. The ultimate reality, the ultimate truth, is ‘sat’—being, ‘cit’—consciousness, and ‘ananda’—bliss. This is as near as we can come to an affirmation of the nature of the Godhead” (Griffiths, 1973, pp. 10-12). Adi Da puts the nature of the Godhead in terms of “Radical” Non-Dualism:

All That Appears To Be Not-Consciousness (or an “object” Of Consciousness) Is An Apparition Produced By Apparent Modification (or Spontaneous Contraction and Perturbation) Of The Inherent Self-Radiance (or Native Love-Bliss-State) Of Consciousness Itself.… All Of this arising Is (In Itself—or Separately) An Illusion—The Principal Signs Of Which Are The Presumption Of Relatedness (and Of “Difference”), The Presumption Of a Separate self… (2006b, pp. 374-375)

In other words, the ultimate nature of reality can be put this way: there is only God. Manifest existence emerges into being as an utterly spontaneous contraction occurring in the pure state of consciousness that is God. As a result, this activity is acausal, without cause or reason. Yet, it tends to persist and to be repeated. If consciousness identifies with this act of self-contraction, it will falsely presume to be other than or separate from itself. Further, consciousness will tend to resolve this discomfort through attention, falsely presuming to be related to itself, across the non-existent gulf of this apparent separateness. This tension of separation goes both ways, like a rubber band stretched taut, simultaneously pulled both toward and away. As a result, the individual can feel their inherent feeling of love-bliss only when they relax this contracted state, thereby, releasing the Illusion of Relatedness into what is its own, true state of consciousness—as God, meanwhile (not other than one’s own true self), continues to merely exist in a Blissful state of Awareness of all that is arising.

Put somewhat differently, God consists primarily of two attributes: love-bliss awareness—all of which existing as a single living presence. In a sense, this pristine state can be likened to a zygote, which is to say, a cell as it appears just prior to splitting into two. The “cell” at this point exists in a state of pure, undifferentiated Oneness. Love-bliss awareness exudes a living presence of being, in the manner of light, radiating “Brightness” to infinity. However, this native state is eventually disrupted by the emergence of a cleft within it, refracting the light and seeming to split it into shards, creating thereby the Illusion of Relatedness. Yet, this split does not actually occur. That it seems so is nothing but an illusion, indeed, arising spontaneously, without cause or reason. Like a bing cherry with two plump sides and cleavage running down the middle, the split is merely imprinted upon the berry, but without actually rendering it in two.

Consequently, the appearance of these conditions within “Radical” Non-Dualism could be diagrammed this way:

Consciousness is usually thought to be about something, or directed toward some object of attention. But consciousness can be understood in radically different terms. In and of itself, consciousness is not aware of things. It is more primal than that. It simply is awareness—whether the objects of mind arise within its field or not: “Consciousness is not attention, it’s not the mind. Those are objects of Consciousness, merely Witnessed. Consciousness is just That, Consciousness…. Finally you Realize that attention is object to you as well, where you’re merely in the Witness-Position” (Adi Da, 1996, pp. 35-36).

It is by virtue of the Illusion of Relatedness that one has the sense of being a separate self, over against and a part from objects and others. Even at the most profound depths of being, this sense of separation occurs: “The Presumption (or Idea) Of the Separate ‘I’ (or the ego-‘I’) Does Not arise Independently—but It Always (Necessarily, and Inherently) arises Coincident With The Presumption (or Idea) Of the Separate ‘other’ (Related To the Separate ‘I’)” (Adi Da, 2006b, p. 370). From here, the entire expanse of manifest existence emerges. Adi Da (2002) refers to the unavoidable co-occurrence of these two features of manifest existence as “Klik-Klak,” not unlike the old story of the Siamese twins humorously named Pete and Repeat, in order to suggest the endlessly replicating nature of reality once this primordial pair comes into being.

Indeed, the underlying substrate of all existence takes the form of self and other. As can be readily seen in looking out at the world, the creative fecundity of this simple state of twoness is extraordinary. Like the binary code of computer programming, all that exists can be seen as just some combination of the two, no matter how intricate or complex the combining: “It replicates, shifts, changes, that’s it. It’s built on a fundamental torque, in other words, two and that’s the basis for multiplicity. As soon as there is torque, or two, there’s everything…. It’s force of shift is inexorable…” (Adi Da, 2002, track 4, 7:55 min.). Indeed, it even appears as if it cannot be stopped, although it can be modified.

As can be seen, such accounts of nondualism attempt to resolve the paradox from within the various levels of manifest existence, but not the greater circumstances that is the “Brightness,” or God. However, God can only be understood on the other side of these levels of being, prior to their formation:

[T]he “radical” approach to Realization of Reality (or Truth, or Real God) is…to Realize Reality, Truth, or Real God In Place (or As That Which Is Always Already The Case, Where and As you Are, Most Perfectly Beyond and Prior to ego-“I”, or the act of self-contraction, or of “differentiation”, which act is the prismatic fault that Breaks the Light, or envisions It as seeming two, and more). (Adi Da, 2000a, p. 276)

It is by virtue of the Illusion of Relatedness that the nondual state of “Brightness” is corrupted, and transmuted into the form of a spectrum (Cook-Greuter, 2000; Wilber, 2000a, b)—as if by a prism. But traditional accounts typically describe the unity of nondualism from withinthe prism. Although witnessing reality can take place prior to the Light transmuting into a spectrum, it does not necessarily occur prior to the Light entering the prism. In other words, such accounts focus on the mechanics of the prism—rather than the nondual “Brightness” itself. In this latter case, however, the Light is not transmuted into the spectrum, although the forces are perhaps building by which it will do so. The divine reality of “Brightness” exists prior to the formation of the prism, before its dreadful mechanics of incarnation even comes to exist—and, indeed, remains after the fact, in the event that they do.

**** End of Part 1 ****

Continue to Part 2.

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