Once I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. Then I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now… I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers.
Adapted from a translation by D.T. Suzuki in his Essays in Zen Buddhism
This statement, for me, signals the end of the road concerning the spiritual search. This is the whole point of everything that you have encountered on your journey. What drove you to seek and search was the promise of a sense of ease and fulfilment in your life. Basically, you wanted to be content and happy. You wanted to feel whole, rather than separate and divided. You wanted to interact with other people and with the world with more confidence and spontaneity. You wanted to be less anxious and less depressed. You wanted to love more and accept love from others without feeling undeserving of that love. You wanted to express your unique talents out into the world and have others respect you for who you are.
All of these things you can claim and enjoy now; mountains are mountains once again. It is vital you re-enter the world of appearances and enjoy every last bit of it. No longer are you trying to stay neutral and claim the world is illusory. The world is allowed to appear separate and you are allowed to interact with it as if it exists independently. Your journey has questioned the absolute nature of the world and exhausted every avenue to make sense of it. You’ve been scared of it, denied its existence and then been isolated from it once more. It’s time to enjoy it now and foster spontaneity. You have been on a quest to find yourself.
You’ve read this book and that book and sat in meetings where your questions were ‘answered’. The mental structures that were assembled to protect the child that you once were are no more use to you. You mature. You enter into the adult world with your head held high and feeling that you belong with everything that appears.
There is a sense that everything will be taken care of by life itself. The fear of death subsides. You no longer ask the mind to work it out for you. You are simply here because the world has produced you; the universe has produced you. You never asked for this; it simply happens.
Look at a new born baby with fresh eyes and see the miracle of life. It’s right under your nose. A baby has appeared, assembled from energy that has coalesced to form novelty and newness. Tiny fingers and toes, from matter and molecules that seem to know just what to do without diagram or notebook. Chemical bonds are being made and broken all the time and yet the baby is thriving, developing, existing. The baby needs food. It needs the warmth of the sun’s rays and the warmth of an adult’s embrace. Life is creating nurturing tendencies in you to be its carer by proxy. When you care for a child, nature is caring for a child. When you speak kindly and with respect to a young person finding their feet in this world, nature talks kindly to them.
This is what non-separation really means. You get stuck into life and feel every last bit of it. I can assure you that continuing to read about non-duality and liberation is a pale reflection to what’s on offer when you come back to life. Non-duality is a red herring. It has nothing to say. It just sends you on a journey that has no destination. If you have found yourself looking for spiritual truths it’s because you’ve been living in a dream all your life, a dream that turns out to be painful and terrifying.
Nothing has any essence. All things appear because of all things, not because something is doing everything. There is no source to all this and nothing is superior to anything else. But you do not have to deny your own self-centre either. Feeling yourself to be private and in your body is pleasing. There is nothing wrong with a constructed conceptual world as long as you know that there can’t actually be separation. Pretending can continue all the time your body exchanges material with the environment that created it. You don’t have to stop doing anything. Just realise you are not doing anything.
I have found that I have been much more willing to explore myself with much more intensity now and I have appreciated theories of self-development that were only briefly touched upon when I was scared of the false structure falling apart. Thinking of yourself as a separate individual existing independently creates internal structures and also prevents you from looking at yourself. Any attempts to fix yourself and feel better are always under the terms of this idealised creation born out of an inadequate early environment.
You might be asking yourself if the sense of separation has been seen as non-existent, then what is there left to explore? I would suggest that there may be a residue. Something can still hang around even after liberation. Thoughts, feelings and emotions from the past can still have an impact on the day-to-day. The difference is that the exploration is not done from the viewpoint of a false entity, an internal structure. You have at your disposal life itself. Life itself will explore any feelings of regret, sadness and inadequacies. If you think that the falling away of separation is all that needs to happen to feel happy and content, you are mistaken. I see nothing wrong with sitting with a therapist or using some kind of self-analysis to clean you from the inside out.
There may be some that disagree with me and feel I’m not fully grasping non-duality. I disagree. For me non-duality is empowering. It gives the strength to face life and not be scared. You might say I’ve contradicted myself in the words I have previously written. So be it. Wholeness can be a strange creature at times.
You are a unique expression of the entirety. You are alone and whole. Your thoughts are your thoughts. Your choices are your choices. Your free will is your free will. Give yourself the power to choose life instead of avoiding it. Looking to neuroscience to establish whether you have free will or not, although startling and thought provoking, can leave you scared once again of powers that are pulling you this way and that. Who cares whether the brain decides six seconds before you know anything about it? It changes nothing. The incredible thing is that when you have explored and found no one inside you running the show, the show still goes on. I see nothing wrong with feeling that you are at the helm steering your ship through choppy waters. Be anything you like and don’t let anyone tell you any different.
I have noticed that over the last year or so the non-dual message, or at least its delivery, is changing. Some authors have withdrawn books and rewritten them to take a less extreme stance. There seems to be a sensitivity to people and problems and not the death blow punch that come with rigidity and the wanting to be right about a particular teaching or non-teaching. They and their expressions have become more open and all encompassing. Their regular postings have moved to a more flexible approach with a lot more respect for people who suffer when trying to grasp non-duality. It feels as if humanity has returned to these writers and speakers. You will find that they do not spend most of their time criticising others’ words, but accept things as they are.This is surely unconditional love weaving its magic and not the imprisoning of people with faulty teachings.
In my mind an effective expression of non-duality is one that uses the mind to explore and discover for itself. To be encouraged to work on yourself is simply not a contradiction. It’s way beyond any notion of contradiction. I found my own mind the best tool in my box, especially when it had no way of grasping Wholeness and to own it in some way. And I think that this is the real benefit of enquiry.
The mind loves to work—so let it. You will never get this from a book or teaching, but there are some excellent ones that will take you as close to the edge as you can get. A good one will let go of your hand and allow you to fall unaided and with no safety net. By falling you will see that you are life itself and not a fragment that has a time or place.
When you see for yourself, write your own book. That’s what I did. That’s freedom for you. There is no reading and re-reading someone else’s. You become your own authority and simply please yourself. If someone else reads it and gets something out of it, then I see no better definition of compassion than that. If they don’t like it, then give them the biggest hug you have ever given someone and thank them for just being there. Love them for who they are — warts and all. Most people wouldn’t give non-duality the time of day. I fully respect that in someone and it makes no difference to how I see them. Just be satisfied that non-duality came and found you in your hour of need and rescued you from prolonged misery and anxiety. Leave other people alone and you have left yourself alone. Alone to just be.
Coming back to life and being normal, while at the same time knowing the impact the journey has had on me is beyond words. Feeling special is unnecessary and will find you out. Feeling special is unfinished business, in my mind. Feeling special is separation all over again in another form.
I’ve deliberately refrained from scare quotes in this post around the words you would normally find in non-dual writings. It’s time to stop that nonsense and speak freely with any words that pop up. Writing using guarded language and loads of quotation marks and capital letters really pisses me off. Sometimes they do help to clarify and express, but for goodness sake not all the time. It’s a pleasure now that I’ve come close to the end of this book to throw them out. Like the teachings, they were important at the beginning but are now surplus to requirements.
Richard Bates lives in Warwickshire, England. He's married with two children and for the past 25 years has worked as a locksmith. He has a degree in psychology from The Open University and spends his life enjoying time with his family and writing about everything and nothing.