As the witnessing presence of Awareness, we stand in the background of experience; as the light of pure Knowing, we stand at its heart. 

Morality and Nonduality

If everything is one, what is wrong with causing harm or enjoying life's pleasures?

Dear Rupert,

After many months seriously contemplating reality, or non-dual reality, there is one question that I keep coming back to: if everything is one, and anything we do is an expression of Consciousness, then what is wrong with causing harm to another living being? I know I’m not likely to commit murder, or anyone seriously seeking truth are either, but my intellect demands a more fundamentally sound reason.

So I started reading Shankara (again).  I was a little shocked when I read In his Atma Bodha , “fools, because they lack in their powers of discrimination superimpose on the Atman, the Absolute-Existence-Knowledge, all the varied functions of the body and the senses, just as they attribute blue colour and the like to the sky.” To me, this is what I do.  Everything is an expression of Self. Shankara distinguishes “Pure self within from the sheaths, as one separates the rice from the husk”.  This gets me thinking, okay there is separation.  And then I find, “The Atman does not shine in everything although he is all-pervading.” Somewhat contradictory, but the idea that the Self may shine more in somethings than others is fascinating.  So I read on.

In the first part of  “Crest-Jewel of Discrimination”, under the ‘Disciple’ section, Shankara outlines some prerequisites for seeking truth.  One that stands out is renunciation.  What attracted me to non-duality in the first place was the fact that most material I read rejected antiquated rules toward enlightenment.  Thinking now about morality, there may be something more to austerity, and becoming detached from sensual pleasure.  You see, I haven’t read or hear much at all in the new wave of non-duality teaching, about renunciation.  It’s mostly “you are no thing. you are dreaming, the world is an illusion, etc.” For me it has been great; it’s totally relaxing to know life is meaningless.  The problem I’m seeing however (on a very small scale of morality), is that there is no reason for me not to enjoy many of the pleasures of life.  There may be something to be said (as Dennis Waite will quickly point out) about neo non-duality, and hedonism.

I have now come to understand there is a path.  That there is a need to distinguish the real from the unreal.  And in order to do so requires the constant practice of non attachment. This is a fundamental shift in my perception of non-duality. It is a transition from ‘there is no where to go, its right here’, to ‘there’s no where to go, but in order to see that you need glasses’.

Before there was no goal. The recognition of Presence was all I needed. I am beginning to see that the personal self naturally desires attachment to the unreal.  I am beginning to see that the goal on the path of discrimination is the liberation of the personal self.  It is the ability to see reality so intensely that you no longer see the illusion.  Like in the metaphor of the rope and the snake.  Once you see the rope, you don’t see the snake anymore.

In your book, “The Transparency of Things” on p.80, you point out “That which is present in deep sleep, or rather that which is deep sleep, remains as the background and substance of the dreaming and waking states.” And once this is realized this is “the moment at which the traditional spiritual path of renunciation becomes the tantric path of embrace and inclusion.  It is the moment at which the full spectrum of experience is welcomed, explored and celebrated for what it truly is.  It is the transition from, ‘I am nothing’ to ‘I am everything’, from the path of discrimination to the path of Love.”

Totally inspirational. What I am struggling with is this ‘moment’ of realization.  Intellectually I can understand it, but to really feel and know it, I believe I need be on the path of discrimination.

I have immense respect for you and your teaching.

In gratitude,

Bob

 

Dear Bob,

Bob: After many months seriously contemplating reality, or non-dual reality, there is one question that I keep coming back to: if everything is one, and anything we do is an expression of Consciousness, then what is wrong with causing harm to another living being?

Rupert: If everything is one and everything we do is an expression of this one Consciousness then the idea of ‘another living being’ does not arise. Therefore there are no others to do harm to. There is only Myself, Consciousness.

To do harm to another human being, one must first divide the seamless totality of experience into two, thus creating a separate person here, ‘me,’ and a separate person there, ‘you.’

Having done this, the separate person that I consider myself to be can then do harm or abuse the apparent other, thinking and feeling all along, that it is not ‘myself,’ but rather the other that is being harmed or hurt.

Can one do harm to someone that one really loves? No! One has, at least in the moment of violence or abuse, to forget his love for that person. Why is this? It is because, whether we know it or not, the feeling of love, is precisely the intuitive knowledge of our oneness with that apparent other.

In such a position it is inconceivable to hurt the other because there is no other. It is our own self we are facing in the apparent other. We are one in love.

(Having said that, there may be rare exceptions, for instance, if a gunman were running amok in a school full of children, it would be quite legitimate to shoot him. However, this would be an act of love.)

*****

Bob: So I started reading Shankara (again).  I was a little shocked when I read in his Atma Bodha, “fools, because they lack in their powers of discrimination, superimpose on the Atman, the Absolute-Existence-Knowledge, all the varied functions of the body and the senses, just as they attribute blue colour and the like to the sky.” To me, this is what I do.

Rupert: Take any experience, for instance, the very experience you are having now of this computer and whatever else you are seeing. We know for sure that there is ‘something’ there. Something is present. It may be a dream, a vision or an hallucination, we cannot be sure, but nevertheless, ‘something’ is present. In other words, there is Being. 

Now this ‘something’ which IS, is Known. If this were not the case we would not be able to assert that ‘something is.’ In other words, Knowing is inextricably connected to the experience of Being. These two always come together. In fact they are one and the same.

Now what else can we say of this current experience of the computer etc? How are we going to find out if there is anything there that is not simply a product of the senses (in this case ‘seeing’) and the mind (in this case the label ‘computer’)?

The only way to do that would be to remove from the experience of the computer etc, both the mind and the senses and see what remains over. If something remains over, then whatever that ‘something’ is, can be rightly said to be inherent in the ‘computer’ rather than simply a superimposition of senses and mind upon the ‘reality’ of experience (what Shankara calls ‘Atman.’) 

So let’s do that. Imagine removing both your senses and your mind from the current experience of the computer and, for that matter, whatever else you are objectively experiencing now, such as the room, your body, your thoughts etc. 

What would remain over?

Only Being and Knowing but nothing objective.

In other words, as Shankara says “fools, because they lack in their powers of discrimination superimpose on the Atman, the Absolute-Existence-Knowledge, all the varied functions of the body and the senses, just as they attribute blue colour and the like to the sky.”

That is, through lack of clear seeing we superimpose the characteristics of the senses and the mind upon the undeniable Being-Knowing (Existence-Knowledge) which is the ever-present reality of experience.

In our particular example (of our current experience of the computer etc), we superimpose the labels, hard, black, shiny, new, glass, steel, words, thoughts, carpet, table etc. onto the ‘thing in itself,’ that is, onto the reality of this current experience.

We then take these labels for reality and reality itself, Being-Knowing, is forgotten.

With this forgetting of the true, single, homogeneous substance of our experience, experience appears as a multitude of diverse objects, a computer, a table, a mind, a body, an other etc. etc. And the Knowing-Being that in reality pervades all experience is assigned to just one of these objects, a body. Hence ‘I,’ here, the body, and ‘the world,’ there, the other, are born. Duality is born. Or rather apparent duality is superimposed by the mind onto the reality of experience, Consciousness.

With this duality the seamless Knowing-Being is divided in two. Knowing is ascribed to the body (‘I,’ the knower, inside the body) and Being or Existence is assigned to the world, the known, the other.

With this apparent division of experience, the third element of experience, happiness or peace (sometimes misleadingly translated from the Sanskrit ‘ananda’ as bliss) is veiled.

And as a result, the apparent subject, ‘I,’ goes out into the apparent object, ‘The world,’ in search of this lost happiness or peace.

Having said all that, just as this ‘ignorance’ (the ignoring of the reality of experience) is brought about by a lack of discrimination, as Shankara says, between what is real and what is imaginary, so its remedy is simply discrimination, which means clearly seeing the reality of our experience and slowly allowing our thoughts, feelings and activities to realign themselves with that reality.

***** 

Bob: Everything is an expression of Self. Shankara distinguishes “Pure self within from the sheaths, as one separates the rice from the husk.”  This gets me thinking, okay there is separation.

Rupert: The separation of the ‘pure Self’ from the ‘sheaths’ is a pedagogical step that establishes the presence, the primacy and the independence of Consciousness.

In ignorance we think that all there is, are objects, the sheaths, that is, the body, mind and world. In reality these apparent objects are unreal as such, that is, they are unreal as separately existing objects.

In order to make this clear our attention is drawn to the Consciousness in which these objects appear. This is still a position of duality, because Consciousness is considered to be the subject and the mind, body and world are considered to be objects, just as previously the mind and body were considered to be the subject and the world, the object. 

We are then asked to reconsider the apparent objects of the mind, body and world from the position of this independent witnessing Consciousness. And we find that, when they appear, they are one with Consciousness. And if we go more deeply into the experience of the mind, body and world, we find they are made only out of Consciousness.

At this stage the apparent duality between Consciousness and its objects is seen to be non-existent.

So, at first we think objects are real and Consciousness is unreal.

Then we see that Consciousness alone is real and that objects have no independent existence of their own.

And finally we see that it is this Consciousness that is appearing as the objects of the mind, body and world.

So the separation that Shankara refers to is only used as a teaching aid to establish the presence and primacy of Consciousness. Once it has established this, it can be abandoned in favour of a more complete formulation of our experience.

However, in time all these formulations are abandoned one after another, each being seen to fall short of the reality of our experience, which is utterly inconceivable.

*****

Bob: And then I find, “The Atman does not shine in everything although he is all-pervading.” Somewhat contradictory, but the idea that the Self may shine more in some things than others is fascinating.

Rupert: Again this has to be understood in context. The words of a car manual and the words of the non-dual teachings are each, ultimately made out of the same Consciousness. Consciousness is their only substance whether they are read or heard. In Shankara’s words, Consciousness pervades both of them equally.

However, at a more relative level, the purpose of the car manual is not to reveal the true nature of the Self. It is to indicate how a car works. In fact the car manual seems to support the idea that there are separate objects, parts and entities and therefore could be said to perpetuate the illusion of the independent world of objects. Therefore, from this point of view, the car manual cannot be said to shine with the light of the Self. It rather veils it.

However, the sole purpose of the sayings of the non-dual teachings is to reveal the nature of experience. As such they continually undermine the illusion of the apparent existence of separate objects and entities and point directly towards Presence. In other words, these sayings come directly from the non-objective experience of the Self and, unmodified by the dualising mind, have the power within them to lead back to it. In other words they shine with the light of the Self.

It is in this sense that it is said that the Self shines in some objects and not others, although it is at the same time, all- pervasive.

*****

Bob: In the first part of  “Crest-Jewel of Discrimination”, under the ‘Disciple’ section, Shankara outlines some prerequisites for seeking truth. One that stands out is renunciation.  What attracted me to non-duality in the first place was the fact that most material I read rejected antiquated rules toward enlightenment.  Thinking now about morality, there may be something more to austerity, and becoming detached from sensual pleasure. You see, I haven’t read or heard much at all in the new wave of non-duality teaching, about renunciation.  It’s mostly “you are no thing, you are dreaming, the world is an illusion, etc.” For me it has been great; it’s totally relaxing to know life is meaningless.  The problem I’m seeing however (on a very small scale of morality), is that there is no reason for me not to enjoy many of the pleasures of life.  There may be something to be said (as Dennis Waite will quickly point out) about neo non-duality, and hedonism.

Rupert: The idea behind renunciation is that the apparently separate entity renounces all the thoughts, feelings and activities with which it habitually surrounds itself and with which it substantiates itself. This leaves the separate entity exposed and unable to validate itself though association or identification with objects.

Here we are more direct. We go straight to the reality of our experience, the direct and intimate experience of the Consciousness which we know ourselves to be.

Nothing has to be renounced in order to take our stand as this Knowing Presence. In fact we do not even have to ‘take our stand there,’ but rather simply see clearly that we are and have always only been that.

It is from this placeless place of Presence that all objects, that is, the mind, the body and the world, including the apparent ‘I,’ are seen in their correct context.

Anything that is not in line with our experience of ourselves as Consciousness, for instance the belief in being a separate entity, simply falls away naturally through neglect rather than rejection or renunciation.

Those elements of experience that are not based on the ignoring of our true nature remain and are, in due course, realigned with our new experiential understanding.

There is a difference between renunciation and discrimination. Renunciation, as it is normally conceived, is a part of the progressive path where an individual entity progresses along a path towards an imagined goal of enlightenment in the future. As a part of this process certain activities are seen to be detrimental to the pursuit of our goal and are, as a result, renounced. This sort of renunciation requires a division of experience into right and wrong, a choosing entity and a preconceived goal.

Discrimination is quite a different matter. It involves simply seeing the nature of experience, seeing what is true and what is imagined. The imagined does not even need to be rejected. It is simply seen for what it is, imagination, in just the same way that the image in the film does not need to be removed in order to be aware that we are only seeing the screen.

Discrimination of this sort may lead spontaneously, naturally and effortlessly to the falling away of certain thoughts, feelings and activities, as a result of clear seeing or understanding. In fact we may not even be aware of this falling away of old habits. We may simply notice in retrospect that it is several weeks or months since such and such a habit showed up.

In other words, discrimination may lead to a natural, effortless renunciation or letting go of certain habits of the mind or body. But it is never a person that renounces. It is the person that is effortlessly renounced as a natural by product of understanding.

*****

Bob: I have now come to understand there is a path, that there is a need to distinguish the real from the unreal.  And in order to do so requires the constant practice of non-attachment. This is a fundamental shift in my perception of non-duality. It is a transition from ‘there is nowhere to go, it’s right here’, to ‘there’s nowhere to go, but in order to see that you need glasses’.

Rupert: Yes, but ‘in order to see’ we simply have to look clearly. We do not need to practise non-attachment. The separate self that is considered to be attached to so many things is non-existent. The real self is already unattached to all seeming things. In each case practice cannot make the separate self more non-existent than it already is, nor can it make Consciousness more independent than it already is. As you say, clear seeing alone is needed in both cases.

If we call this investigation and exploration of the nature of experience a practice so be it. But it is not the person that practises.

The process of discrimination leads to the discovery that we are impersonal Consciousness behind and within all appearances. Once this has been discovered there is a further process, an exploration in which the experience of the mind, body and world are realigned with our understanding.

In neither case is the investigation or exploration carried out by a person. The first is a line of enquiry derived directly from the true nature of our experience. The second is a cooperation with our understanding at the level of the mind, body and world.

All these aspects - investigation, exploration and cooperation - are included in what is traditionally called ‘self-enquiry,’ although the deeper aspects of this so-called ‘practice’ have been misunderstood and misrepresented in many contemporary formulations of the non-dual teaching.

*****

Bob: Before there was no goal. The recognition of Presence was all I needed. I am beginning to see that the personal self naturally desires attachment to the unreal.  I am beginning to see that the goal on the path of discrimination is the liberation of the personal self.  It is the ability to see reality so intensely that you no longer see the illusion.  Like in the metaphor of the rope and the snake.  Once you see the rope, you don’t see the snake anymore.

Rupert: Yes, exactly. However, it is not a liberation of the personal self, it is a liberation from the personal self, a liberation in which all the various accretions in which the apparently personal self is wrapped, fall away leaving it revealed to be and to have always been the real and only Self.

Bob: In your book, “The Transparency of Things” on p.80, you point out “That which is present in deep sleep, or rather that which is deep sleep, remains as the background and substance of the dreaming and waking states.” And once this is realized this is “the moment at which the traditional spiritual path of renunciation becomes the tantric path of embrace and inclusion.  It is the moment at which the full spectrum of experience is welcomed, explored and celebrated for what it truly is.  It is the transition from, ‘I am nothing’ to ‘I am everything’, from the path of discrimination to the path of Love.”

Totally inspirational. What I am struggling with is this ‘moment’ of realization.  Intellectually I can understand it, but to really feel and know it, I believe I need be on the path of discrimination.

Rupert: It sounds to me as if the path of discrimination has already brought you to the clear seeing that you are Presence alone. In other words the path of discrimination has already accomplished its task in you.

What is needed from here is the path of love. That is the path by which we come to feel and know that all things are utterly permeated and saturated with this Presence which we intimately know ourselves to be. It involves a deeper exploration of the body and the world in which the exclusive ‘me-ness’ of the body and the ‘not me-ness’ of the world dissolves, leaving all experience equally permeated by the Self.

Bob: I have immense respect for you and your teaching.

Rupert: I share your respect for the love and intelligence with which your interest in Truth shines.

With warmest regards,

Rupert