Non-dual View of Reality
Reality in the Non-dual Philosophy
The nature of ultimate Reality cannot be grasped by the human mind, which is a fragment within reality. However, as the reality that underlies our own being it is closer than close to us, and, according to the non-dual philosophy, may be known, not by the mind, but through meditation and other practices, as the reality underlying all experience.
In the non-dual philosophy, ultimate Reality is sometimes called by its Sanskrit name, Brahman. This is what theologians call God, and philosophers refer to as the Absolute.
Reality is Positive and not Two
Something can be inferred by reason about Brahman. Firstly, that it exists, or rather that it is existence. Some philosophies say that there is no ultimate reality or that it is void; the non-dual view is that the supreme Being is absolutely real and positive.
Secondly, it can be inferred that Reality is one, not two. This is the basic logic of the non-dual philosophy. How could there be more than one reality? If there were two, neither of them would be the whole of reality, there must be a non-dual totality encompassing them both.
In the Absolute there can be no before and after, no within and without. This means that our ideas of space and time do not apply there. Perhaps the Absolute ‘contains’ space and time, but it is not touched by them. Thus in the Absolute there can be no change, action or causality, as they imply distinctions in space and time.
In one sense, Brahman is the support and source of everything that exists. In this way Brahman resembles the idea of God the creator, and is worthy of the highest reverence. From another point of view, as we just concluded, any idea which involves change or action must fall short of the Absolute.
On the non-dual view, all these difficulties arise not because the Absolute is distant, strange and abstract. On the contrary, That is immediate, simple and totally real. The problems and complexities arise when we try to encompass That in our minds, which are fragments of reality.
Reality and Consciousness
Another cornerstone of the non-dual philosophy is that Brahman as total reality, and Atman as the real Self, are two words pointing to the same Truth. This implies that Brahman, like Atman, is conscious, or rather that Brahman is pure Consciousness. The relation between consciousness and non-conscious matter is a deep question in philosophy. In the non-dual view, pure Consciousness is not an insubstantial principle that is aware of reality, it is the nature of Reality itself.
If Brahman is absolute consciousness, the possibility arises that all the limited phenomena may exist within pure consciousness, without in anyway affecting the nature of pure consciousness itself, rather as the objects of a dream may exist in the mind of a dreamer, without affecting the true nature of the one who dreams. The non-dual view is that Brahman and the phenomenal world are ‘related’ in a way analogous to the dream in the mind of a dreamer, or a mirage in sand.
This is not to say that the phenomenal world is ‘just a dream’ and may be treated carelessly as such. Our life as human beings in the world is priceless as the opportunity to seek Truth.
All this would be pointless logic-chopping if Brahman could only ever be a theoretical idea. In the non-dual teachings what is most important about the supreme Reality is that it is real, it is the reality in us, and yet entirely transcends what can be known with our minds, and thus has to be approached through supra-mental practices, like mature meditation. When this is clear to us, we can set out on the practical path. The path begins with recognition of the supreme value of life and the underlying unity of all, which is the basis of truly ethical behaviour and human-heartedness.
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More on Non-Duality
If you are doing some regular meditation and reflection on the non-dual ideas, you are welcome to contact us with any questions about the teachings, or for further suggestions about your practice.