Non-Duality and the Meaning of Religion
Hans Meijer, Contributor
What is meant by the term ‘Non-Duality?’
Non-duality is the translation of the Sanskrit word Advaita (a-dvaita). This refers to the ancient Hindu philosophy called Advaita Vedanta, the essence of which is: creation and creator are one (not two).
For thousands of years and in all great cultures this essence has been the deepest universal incentive for people to express their religious feelings, in many different ways and in varying degrees of comprehensibility.
Today, so many people are talking about non-duality that it seems that everyone understands that he is ‘united with his creator for ever’. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. Even worse, I have the impression that most of today’s non-dualists believe ‘non-duality’ just to be a philosophy of the ‘fundamental unity of all existence’.
Although not wrong, this is much too simple and misses completely the depth of the message. Do you really think that the secret of non-duality has been passed on (orally) as spiritual inspiration for thousands of years, only to teach people that ‘we are all one?’
What is needed is the realization of the unity of man and his origin (the thought that there is no origin does not hold, because nothing can appear from nothing).
There have always been people who felt the urge to testify and to teach about the ‘Truth’ they had dis-covered. In the ancient days it was the ‘rishi’s’ (sages of India) who taught about the unity between man and his origin (called Brahman in Hinduism) as later Buddha did (without mentioning a primal cause). Later again it was Jesus Christ who testified that he and his father (God, meaning origin ) are one.
In spite of these seers the meaning of their message seems to be lost in our society. In relation to Christianity in this context, I explained further in a previous article I’ve written, The Truth Will Set You Free: Time Does Not Exist, saying: ‘The consequences of the omitting of the incentive for people to realize the timelessness of themselves are of an importance beyond our comprehension’.
And yes, so it is. I think that the fact that man (‘the world’) is not aware of his oneness with his origin anymore is, in the end, the cause of the critical situation our world is in today. Why?
Why is it so sad that people are not aware of their oneness with their origin?
As you will understand: the imbalance between selfish and selfless behavior during human history has finally resulted in the vulnerable condition our civilization is in today.
It may look strange that the lack of knowledge of the Absolute (as the source of life) is ultimately the cause of all misery in the world. But it is, because where man potentially is capable of realizing himself to be created in ‘God`s image’, he stays fundamentally unhappy as long as this spiritual destiny has not been fulfilled. And this exactly is the reason for his endless suffering, foolishness and egoism.
I ‘accused’ Christianity of being responsible for straying from the vision of unity with our creator (discouraging people to think for themselves, denial of the possibility to know ‘God’ etc.).
In relation to this I also said: ‘Where religion should touch a man in the very depth of his being (in the euphoria of experiencing unity with the radiant and inexhaustible source of life) a superficial notion of profound teachings remains.
Not only can this lead to doubt and rejection, but also our deeply hidden ethical consciousness (which wants us to act and to be in harmony with the timeless which has become us) is not or is insufficiently touched.’
It would not be difficult to fill an encyclopedia with all the ‘things which went wrong’ because of man’s incompetence to live by their ethical consciousness. Everyone will understand what I mean by this.
The points that I want to make in this context are:
- how to make it understandable that it is indeed non-duality which all people are looking for
- in what way can people come to the realization of their oneness with the Absolute
- the meaning of religion
- looking forward
How to make it understandable that it is indeed non-duality which all people are looking for.
Of all forms of life only we as humans are striving for happiness. I mean, animals are totally conditioned by their instincts. We are partially conditioned, but have some ‘free will’ left which we can use to fill in our own life. It is up to us whether this free will is a blessing or a disaster (in this context ignoring internal and external influences).
I said that our identifying with ‘visible phenomena only’ is the cause of egoism, which I consider to be our original sin. To understand this please consider the following: generally speaking we are not familiar with meditation, which means that we identify with all impressions which enter our mind, from outside or from within. This identifying with our daily reality of transient events and things happens automatically, because the (non-alert) mind clings to everything that enters consciousness. At the same time all of us are born with the urge to become….. ‘what we potentially are’.
Not being aware of this hidden reason for our striving for happiness we assume that we will find happiness from the impressions that enter our mind. However, no matter how we cling to these impressions, lasting happiness is not to be found. Not understanding that we are on the wrong track, our needs increase continually which makes us egoistic. All evil (‘sin’) comes from man’s egoism.
Our natural striving for happiness expresses itself in different stages of life in different ways. Everyone knows this, but who knows what happiness is? When you have achieved something of which you thought it would make you happy, then after some time you need another goal to go for.
And, as you may have noticed yourself, this continues as long as you go for ‘transient events and things’.
So, what can we do, to avoid that at the end of our lives we still have not found happiness?
We should become aware that ‘visible phenomena only’ will never give us the happiness we are looking for. Did you notice however that visible expressions of nature like sunrise, mountains, oceans, children’s eyes etc. give us a certain feeling of happiness? If so, accept these ‘hints’ to be an invitation to look for happiness in ‘nature’s permanent manifestations’.
I wonder if I may suggest to you here to consider to accept that happiness in general is only to be found in permanent, non-changing things. A loving family, a group of like-minded people, a reliable partner. These are things that make life worth living.
The reason why it is like this, is that we identify (feel one) with family, people or partner. We are lucky when life gives us this kind of happiness, but we also know that situations like these are temporary and fragile.
Above I said: At the same time all of us are born with the urge to become….. ‘what we potentially are’.
With this I mean to say that our pursuit of happiness aims at more than the examples given here. It will be clear, however, that I also do not mean that fulfilling our potential to become an actor, a banker, a pop star or whatever profession, can be our guarantee for happiness. There must be more and yes, there is.
Please consider this:
‘There is no human being in the world, no animal, no plant – literally nothing in the world – that came into being by itself. Man is ignorant of the fact that he is an expression of a ‘cosmic, conscious, creative principle’. This unknown primal cause has become all that lives—including us, as human beings’.
This quote from my book ‘Initiation into Reality’ might be a reason to argue, but in that case I suggest you read the explanation in the book itself.
For now I just want you to become aware that the whole of creation must necessarily have a first cause. However, as you know, the first cause discussion always leads to the ‘cause’s cause’ question (the chicken and the egg).
There is only one ‘reality’ which has no cause and that is the ‘eternal now’, the timeless Absolute.
Although the understanding of the Absolute lies beyond our mind, experiencing the Absolute is possible. For thousands of years all kinds of mystics, saints or seers have born witness to an absolute, unchanging primal cause of life. Whether this primal cause was pointed at as God, Allah, Brahman, Nirvana or another religious concept, all names refer to the same, unnamable, absolute, primal cause of life (if not, it cannot be the first cause).
Our ‘relationship’ with the primal cause can be made clear as follows: whatever object we see, we see its form but actually it is the material from which it has been made (a jewel is gold, a table wood, a shirt cotton, etc.). Likewise all living creatures are ‘made from’ the Absolute, although our normal consciousness is only aware of the form and not of the formless Absolute itself.
The message of the seers from all times in this context is: ‘in becoming aware of what you really are your mind finds peace and fulfillment’.
That is the happiness of non-duality that all people are looking for, that is what life makes worth living and that is also where our ethical consciousness is rooted.
In what way can people come to the realization of their oneness with the Absolute?
Through the ages a huge ‘road map’ has developed with information on how we should live to become more religious, spiritual or even enlightened.
Since ‘becoming aware of what we really are’ is our goal, direct self-enquiry seems the most obvious (as thought by the sage Sri Ramana Maharshi, 1879 – 1950). However, for most of us our life is too restless to accomplish this road (as demonstrated by ‘travelers’ who claim that there is ‘nothing to be found’).
Although everyone basically has to find his own way, I think that it is possible to map out a general ‘GPS’ road system against which all individual paths can be tested.
Please consider the following four stages. In my opinion these can be valuable to you for the rest of your life.
1. Exploring Reality
As I said before: all evil (‘sin’) comes from man’s egoism. When we want to grow spiritually we should contemplate questions like: How is life meant to be? How should we live together? How should we treat our planet?
The challenge is to dive deep into your mind and to become aware of those aspects of your life where your self interest is contrary to the spiritual laws which sustain life. What is meant by ‘spiritual laws which sustain life’ is up to you to discover.
Raising your children as well as you can is in harmony with these laws, to cheat other people isn´t.
Turning away from people in need is not. Commitment to socially responsible entrepreneurship is.
Accepting natural death as a fact of life is, violence in the name of God is not. And so on…
The meaning of ‘Exploring Reality’ is therefore: find out in what way you should change your life to be able to live in harmony with the life sustaining primal cause (Reality) as much as possible.
The ancient sages of India called this: adapting to Dharma (Sanskrit: Dhr means to sustain, Ma means primal cause).
2. Living by Reality
Thinking right and doing right are not always the same. When you start to understand the spiritual laws which sustain life (eternity sustaining temporality by love, strength, awareness and spirituality), you should start to seriously apply these laws in your life.
This means ending living from the ego (unconsciously following everything that comes into your mind) and doing ‘what is right’ as much as possible.
Not for a day or for a week, but hopefully you will gradually succeed to stick to what is right (living by Reality) for the rest of your life. Or: to make your Karma (Sanskrit: making your actions Kar, in harmony with Ma, the primal cause).
3. Surrender to Reality
In the beginning the transformation from living by the ego to living by what is right may look difficult. So many ‘egos’ all around and nobody seems to care about how life is meant to be. At this stage of spiritual growth a form of meditation should be added. In general it is sufficient to keep a daily half-hour just for yourself (yes, every day). ‘Going inside yourself’ gradually brings you to surrendering to….. your assumed Reality.
You’ll come to realize that you don’t have to carry the load of your ego all by yourself, but that you are part of an infinite ‘presence’ that supports you.
Or: you will develop Bhakti (Sanskrit: Bhaj is to partake in, leading to love, surrender and devotion to…..).
4. Realizing Reality
Daily meditation will calm down your mind gradually. You will realize that with ‘ego’ not the sense of ‘I’ is meant, but that ego is the ‘cloud of thoughts’ that covers the brightness of your ‘inner sun of Self behind that cloud’.
If you´ve come this far, the road is clear. You will train yourself to be Self-aware as much as possible.
One day this will lead to the gracious realization that your Self and the infinite (Absolute) to which you surrendered yourself are one.
This is the realization of Reality which is meant in Advaita, non-duality.
The Meaning of Religion
Although the term religion refers to ‘re-connect’ (Latin re-ligare, like Sanskrit Yoga, to join, to yoke), long ago the dualistic religions (Christianity and Islam) made religion something one has to believe in.
This dis-connection from the Absolute (Reality) is of an ‘importance beyond our comprehension’, as said before. It has resulted in world wars, terror, abuse of our planet etc. (by complete loss of knowledge of non-duality).
The most important thing that matters in religion should be: how can I come to understand life and my place in it?
In experiencing the right answers (such as: life is an expression of the Absolute and becoming my Self gives peace of mind, happiness) people find wisdom and the possibility to express the Absolute in the world (or in symbolic, religious terms: to live in accordance with the will of God).
Obviously religion does not give the right, understandable answers anymore. It is not belief (hope) that we need, it is understanding that we highly need.
In my book ‘Initiation into Reality’ I made some suggestions for each of the great world religions on how they could make their ‘inner treasures’ more accessible to people of our time (see Epilogue).
I have no illusions that my suggestions will ‘change the world’, but what I do know is that if (western) religion is not able to integrate true spirituality in their message, it will fade out eventually.
In my opinion it is very sad that religion seems to have lost the knowledge about ‘God’.
On the other hand, we see that spirituality is developing more and more outside the religious institutions.
How re-ligious (uniting) is this spirituality actually? Hard to say, but fortunately the spiritual quest is still relevant. Could it be possible that one day religion and spirituality will merge?
I hope this will be the case, not in the least because of the world religion’s ‘infrastructure’ to spread the redeeming message of non-duality.
In relation to this I would make an urgent appeal to all spiritual people:
Please contemplate the ancient message of non-duality and see how you can serve ‘that which sustains life…..’
About the Author
Hans Meijer is the author of Initiation Into Reality, and a mystic who was “initiated into Reality” at the age of 21. The first 10 years after his initiation author spent to integrate the “Divine Knowledge” in his daily life, without speaking about it to anybody. He became an accountant and started a family. For his job he lived for eight years at Curacao (Caribbean) where he started lecturing (1975). Back in Holland (1977) author continued lecturing and developed workshops aiming at “Initiation”. For more than 20 years he taught “ancient spiritual wisdom” in the Netherlands. In 2000 he ended his worldly career and retired into the French Pyrenees. Please visit his website, www.initiationintoreality.com.
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