Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
The following is from Judith Blackstone's book The Empathic Ground.
Two views of Nonduality
“Over the centuries, different contemplative traditions have developed a variety of ways to describe the underlying oneness referred to as “nonduality.” But all of these views of oneness can be seen as belonging to two different perspectives.
These two camps, which can be called the absolutists and the relativists, respectively, have been at odds with each other for centuries. A more integrative view, currently advocated by the Dalai Lama, is based on the understanding of interdependence, while maintaining that there is a continuum of pure awareness that is not dependent on the physical body.
Our View of Nonduality
In our view, nondual realization is the lived experience of ourselves as pervaded by a very subtle dimension of consciousness. It is the clear-thorough openness of our whole body. At the same time, everything outside of ourselves also is experienced as pervaded by this same consciousness. As this all-pervasive, nondual consciousness, there is no boundary between ourselves and our environment, no boundary (no duality) between our internal and external experience. This does not mean that there is no internal experience, and it does not mean there is no external experience. It means that internal and external events register in the one unified space of nondual consciousness.
When we reach this most subtle dimension of ourselves, everything appears to be transparent, made of empty, luminous stillness. This is a distinctive, unmistakable shift in the way life appears to us. For example, if we look at a table, we will see the table with all its weight, color, and texture, and at the same time, we will be aware that the table is “transparent.” It appears to be pervaded by—or made of—luminous space.
This ground of being is not something we have to create or imagine. It arisese spontaneously when we reach a degree of openness to life. We can employ many techniques to achieve the openness that unveils this aspect of our being, but nondual consciousness itself is not a volition experience. It is not something that we do; it is who we are. That is why it feels completely authentic, as if we finally found reality.
The more fully we come to know ourselves as the stillness and spaciousness of this dimension, the more effortless, deeply, and vividly the movement of life occurs and flows. This means that nondual experience is not a particular state of being or a way of paying attention. For example, nondual realization does not eradicate the capacity for reflection. Nondual consciousness encompasses and surpasses reflective consciousness but does not eradicate it.
This fully-body openness to the flow of life gives us a sense of being present to each moment. All of the sensual stimuli, such as the sights and sounds in our environment, seem to emerge out of the vast open space of nondual consciousness without any effort on our part. In other words, we don’t need to listen in order to hear, or to look in order to see. We simply receive the moment (including our own response to it) just as it is.
It is important to understand that nondual consciousness, as the primary level of our being, is not something separate from the “content” of experience flowing through it. It is not a detached transcendence, not merely an impersonal witness, for it is right in our experience. As this subtle consciousness we are both the witness and the experiencer at the same time. We are disentangled from the content of our experience only in the sense that we do not grab onto it; we do not clamp down on it; we do not deny or distort it. We allow it to flow. For this reason, as nondual consciousness, we gain—at the same time—both more ability to witness and more capacity to experience. We become more disentangled from life and more directly, potentially immersed in life.”
--Judith Blackstone, Ph. D and Zoran Josipovic, Ph. D.
From Spirituality & Health magazine May/June
Judith Blackstone, Ph. D is a psychotherapist and creator of Realization Process. She is on the faculty of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and SUNY Empire State College and gives workshops regularily at Esalen.
Judith Blackstone's website is www.judithblackstone.com
"We are all familiar with the sterotype of feigned piety in Western religious traditions. Often this sactimonious, falsely smiling character has simply been convinced that nothing less than perfect goodness is acceptable to the Lord. In similar fashion, when spiritual students are taught that enlightenment is nonexistence, the result is too often a strangely vacant, diffuse, or emotionally flattened, unreal human being. The tragedy of this situation is that to limit our human reality is to limit our spiritual reality, for they are actually one and the same. Enlightenment is our humaness, fully realized.
In the Western psyche, the teaching of selflessness tends to evoke images of the self-denial and self-sacrifice of Christian saints. Most of us were taught as children not to be selfish. When we hear what sounds like the same message from authority figures such as spiritual teachers, it touches our distant memory of these early admonitions, and the fear of parental punishment. It may also touch a more subtle injunction that many of us received as children against being fully oneself-a separate person with volition, feelings, desires, and cognitions of one's own.
The residual shame and guilt of our childhood are compounded by our failures and our sense of inadequacy as adults. For many people, hearing or reading that they don't actually exist, or should not exist if thy want to be spiritual, causes them to work harder at self-effacement and at suppressing their personal qualities. It further diminishes their apppreciation of themselves. The self-contact required for enlightenment, however, is based on self-acceptance. In order to free ourselves from the constrictions that obscure our true nature, we need to see through our self-loathing to our original innocence. We need to regard ourselves--even our anger, pretensions, and fears--with compassion and clear understanding rather than seeking the oblivion of nonexistence.
Nonexistence is a concept. We can understand it philosophically, but we cannot experience that we do not exist-that which is suppposedly experiencing nonexistence is always still there, existing. We can experience ourselves as empty space, but that fundamental subjectivity is still there as empty space. To imagine that we do not exist may help us let go of our grip on ourselves, but it should not, in my view, be considered enlightenment itself. Enlightenment is the lived experience of the luminous transparency of our own being."
-The Enlightenment Process