Non-duality revisited

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Mar 07, 2010 Non-duality revisited


During my decades of obsession over civil liberties and human rights, I have staked too much of my feelings of well-being or ill-being on things happening outside myself, when instead it is critical simultaneously to fight for social justice while also reaching and maintaining internal well-being, balance and harmony. I have seen the glass as half empty or less when a Supreme Court majority has damaged the Constitution, without taking enough time to be thankful for those in the dissent, and to even not be attached to upset when all nine justices appear to rule in such a way. I approached temporary hours-long depression in 1984 over the movie audience’s cheering when a character in Scarface got his live skull chainsawed in half, with the blood spurting everywhere. I have obsessed over bigotry, too often reacting with verbal brute force rather than with persuasive responses. 

T’ai chi, Taoism, and nonduality  teach me to look inside myself for balance and a sense of well being. To do otherwise will make my sense of well-being dependent on too many external factors beyond my control and take me away from the now.

I have written before on non-duality/non attachment in terms of being a more effective lawyer and person here, here, and here. Here are some more ideas on the topic:

– A life of simplicity and frugality might work fine for a person in good health with no financial obligations to others. However, what if the person gets cancer, loses a leg to gangrene, or develops severe asthma? Will it be fun any longer to live as a hermit in the mountains, in a cave with bats, or as a wandering mendicant? I suppose the answer here is to prepare reasonably for the future without obsessing over the future, and to live simply so that others may simply live, without needing to go to the extremes of living in a hut or as a hermit.

– Nonduality underlines the artificial boundary between life and death. If there is an afterlife of complete awareness without a body, what will one in the afterlife do to avoid utter boredom, assuming that in any afterlife one is unable to pick up and turn the pages of a book, to travel, or to enjoy athletics? I suppose those who believe in hell — which I do not — will say that an eternity of boredom is better than an eternity in hell, and that one must obsess today over right actions in order to avoid going to hell. I suppose that if I asked Thich Nhat Hanh about how to avert boredom in any afterlife, he would likely counsel not to become attached to such a possibility that may never arise.

– Nonduality can help prisoners transcend their physical confinement, whether the prisoners be confined to government-run jails or prisons, or imprisoned in their own personal lives.  

– If Ram Dass took so long to overcome substantial  depression and upset over his very serious stroke, after decades of knowing how to transcend that,  how much harder would it be for other people to transcend such difficulties as quickly and effectively as did Ram Dass? Perhaps part of the answer lies in reading Ram Dass’s Still Here, in which he talks about how he transcended his stroke by finally bridging the gap between what he already knew about not becoming attached to bodily ailments and how to transcend such ailments.

– Why fear death? To fear death attaches us to our bodies and to this world. To fear death forgets that millenia passed before we even were conceived. Rather than being fearful of our ultimate passing from the earth, we can be grateful for finally having become human beings after the passage of so many millenia.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a great book on releasing fear of death: No Death, No Fear.

Further inspiration for fearlessness of death on the non-dualistic path is this passage from Zen in Martial Arts: The Present Moment: "A Japanese warrior was captured by his enemies and thrown into prison. That night he was unable to sleep because he feared that the next day he would be interrogated, tortured, and executed. Then the words of his Zen master came to him, ‘Tomorrow is not real. It is an illusion. The only reality is now.’ Heeding these words, the warrior became peaceful and fell asleep."

Similarly, Zoketsu Norman Fischer said: "In Buddhist funeral services we always say, in true reality there is no coming no going no increase no decrease no birth and no death. This is a deep expression of our gratitude for existence as it is, our knowing that life in order to be life is always full of death, and death, in order to be death, is always full of life."     

In that regard, t’ai chi master extraordinaire Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo once said: "Normally, we think if [our opponent] has 100 pounds of force or power, I better have 150. But then if I get 150 pounds of force, he may have accumulated more himself. Or there’ll be somebody else with more. So next time it will be my 150 against his 200. Then I’ll need to go to 250… and still, there’s always going to be somebody with more than me. So I need to reverse my approach. I need to take my own power down to 0. Then there’s no chasing or spiraling. Nothing can change. If he has 100, I have 0. If he has 150, I have 0. If he has 200, I still have 0, on and on, whatever he has, I’m always beneath it, it doesn’t change or affect me. I’m not chasing his attributes, or competing, or catching up, or exceeding him. That’s Taijiquan.”

By divine coincidence last October during Master Lo’s annual teaching visit to the Washington, D.C., area, a seat remained at Master Lo’s table for lunch at a local Chinese restaurant, even though I was one of the last to arrive. There, I asked Master Lo whether he saw a connection between non-duality in Buddhism and non-chasing in t’ai chi. He did, but that is about as far as I got with him on that topic as he was engaged in talk with those sitting closer to him.

Concerning the concept of no coming and no going, Tibetan studies professor Ringu Tulku writes that the concept "that all phenomena are devoid of coming and going … means that an enlightened bodhisattva sees the truth, the way things are. This is seeing directly without adding any concept or philosophy. Within this clear vision there is not the slightest doubt about anything, so there is no need for clinging or running away. A realized bodhisattva has no dualistic view. Within this sheer and naked seeing, spontaneous compassion arises. Once we no longer feel compelled to cling to ourselves and fixate on our own problems all the time, we can look around and see everything clearly. We can perceive others’ lives and understand how and why they experience their problems. Although we see that others are suffering greatly, we know that their suffering is almost needless. They are not doomed to be in pain, because their suffering just comes from a wrong way of seeing and reacting. If they could see how things truly are, they would not suffer anymore. This is the understanding of an enlightened being." Ringu Tulku, Daring Steps Toward Fearlessness: The Three Vehicles of Buddhism at 58 (Snow Lion Publications, 2005). Jon Katz 

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