Edited by Jerry Katz
Here is a link to my interview with Dr. Kriben Pillay on Nonduality Talk Radio:
(you could right click and “save as…” or “save link as…”, or left click and listen!)
Dr. Pillay is a professor and Dean within the College of Law and Management Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, and also a long time writer, educator, publisher, and even an entertainer in the field of nondualism, since the middle 90s. As an entertainer he is a magician, and it was recently announced that,
“Professor Kriben Pillay, Dean of Teaching and Learning in the College of Law and Management Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, has become the first South African to be given full membership of Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers.
“Founded by the noted mystery entertainer, Professor Todd Landman, who is Professor of Government and Director of the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution at the University of Essex, Psycrets’ membership is drawn from a wide range of professional and semi-professional mystery entertainers.
“In a recent letter to Pillay, Landman said:
“‘The Committee of Psycrets was particularly impressed with your application for membership. While our membership includes full-time working professionals, we also have a wide range of performers who combine the art of Mentalism with other areas of professional practice. The Committee was impressed with the ways in which you use Mentalism to explore and illustrate your work on consciousness.”
Nondualism, Radical Change and the Illusory Self
Kriben Pillay, D.Phil
The Leadership Centre
University of KwaZulu-Natal
Durban, South Africa
This chapter offers nondualism as a perspective for transformation and critiques the notion that conceptual systems of thought can ever be vehicles for radical change in the most profound understanding of the term; where this change would be a transformation of the perception of ontological status leading to the felt nondual realisation that ‘I am the world’, with its consequent social enactments necessarily being of a different order to the divisiveness currently experienced in our personal lives and social institutions. This recognition is in effect a dismantling of the illusion of a separate self that has to navigate a fearful path, always in opposition to the ‘other’ who has to be vanquished or subdued in some way (which is really the modus operandi of all our current conflicts, be they personal, social or ecological). The author draws on theoretical and empirical levels of evidence to delineate the terrain of radical transformation, where the latter is situated in both third-person observation and first-person self-study. In doing so, the study accounts for the paralysis of purely conceptual models to effect change, as well as unmasking the many transformation projects that are still about an improved self rather than being true processes of change. Modern exemplars of nondual teachings – such as J Krishnamurti, Douglas Harding and others – will be referred to, as well as eminent scholars in the field such as Ken Wilber and David Loy.
This chapter will argue that we cannot approach the complexities of our societies and the challenges to live radically transformed lives – where such a transformation is a deeply enacted recognition that the world of self and other is a false dichotomy – without giving rigorous consideration to a perspective known as nonduality; a perspective that encompasses both theoretical and experiential dimensions and for these reasons is referred to here as ‘nondualism’, so as to distinguish it from purely scholarly studies such as David Loy’s Nondualityi, to which this research is much indebted. Loy’s The Great Awakeningii is also a seminal work for its construction of a Buddhist social theory, and needs to be read alongside this exploration, which will nevertheless summarise key ideas from this work while venturing into territory not covered by Loy, or perhaps only hinted at.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL CONCEPTS OF NONDUALISMiii
This section focuses on sketching the features of the main concepts of nondualism, so that we have a sense of what it is as opposed to a dualistic world-view. Of importance are the categories of nondual perception, nondual action, and nondual thinking, both as theoretical assumptions and as expressions of the experiential dimension of nondualism. It is emphasised here that the philosophy is inextricably linked to the experiential dimension, and that without the latter, the former is purely speculative. As Loy writes:
… from the ‘perspective’ of nonduality – that is, having experienced nondually – one can understand the delusive nature of dualistic experience and how that delusion arises, but not vice versa.iv (1997, p. 8)
Loy presents insights about the different categories of nondualities. The first category is ‘the negation of dualistic thinking’v which bifurcates the world into conceptual opposites such as good and bad which are then regarded as absolutes.
The second category is ‘the nonplurarity of the world’ where this is an outcome of the first category where we experience the world ‘as a collection of discrete objects (one of them being me)’.vi
Loy’s third category is ‘the nondifference of subject and object’vii which is the recognition that the observer and observed is a conceptual structure of thought and not the reality of what is.
It is useful at this point in the discussion to note that all three categories, while they are on the one hand philosophical tenets, they are also, on the other hand, dependent on a sense of experience even as verbal descriptions. But a closer look at this experiential dimension will occur later in this section.
For the purposes of this argument it is adequate to state that at the heart of nondualism is its insistence that the dualistic division of the world into subject and object, into discrete objects, is our primary human error. It is only apparent that there are absolute objects and absolute subjects in the world. Dualistic experience, which appears to be the common-sense, intuitive, sense of things, cannot conceive of experience without the subject-object dichotomy.
This basic error of human perception is, within the nondual view, the root cause of all human suffering. The world is treated as the other by a subjective self that regards itself as an autonomous me that can only survive by subjugating the other, through various acts of control, both obvious and subtle. So, the individual’s sense of isolation in a conceived hostile world becomes the seed of all kinds of divisions within this dualistic conception; good/bad, love/hate, life/death, health/illness, us/them. This is not to deny polarities like light/dark, negative/positive, strong/weak, etc., and naturally occurring physical dualities between object and ‘observing object’. This latter term needs amplification within the context of nondualism, because it immediately offends our natural inclination through social and linguistic convention to regard the observer as the ‘observing subject’. Nondual teacher Ramesh Balsekar, in answer to a question replies:
The human being … experiences this basic duality of the observed object and the observing object. But along with the basic split of duality, the human being functions in dualism, which is the mental split between the ‘me’ and the other. It is in the mind that the separation between ‘me’ and the other arises. That is where the separation from duality to dualism occurs … Duality is an essential mechanism in phenomenality.viii
This is the crux of the nondual position – that there is no observing subject. The body-mind that we take to be me, the natural subject of objective experience, is really another object that is deluded into subjectivity by the naturally occurring duality. Thus duality is not denied and is seen as the necessary play of life – the interplay of polarities, of the Chinese yin and yang – but it is the mental ‘dualism’ that is negated. Krishnamurti extends this perception into the social context when he says:
The division between the individual and society does not really exist at all. When one tries to carve out a life of one’s own, the individual is not different from the community in which he lives. For the individual, the human being, has constructed the community, society.
… The ‘you’ is the world … ix
From the above discussion, we can see that one central perception underpins nondualism – the mental error of subject-object dualism – out of which many kinds of insights and descriptions about the self and world arise; descriptions and insights that pertain to our ontological status, society, and issues of values.
Those who have broken through the illusion of dualism as an actual, experiential fact, all say that the nondual vision, while far-reaching in its implications for human perception, action, and thinking, is simplicity itself, and that there is really no complex philosophy other than the simple recognition that dualism is our primary error. If any complex philosophy does exist, it is because language, being dualistic, fails to convey the simplicity of the nondual perspective, and also because this perspective is very often taken on board by dualistic thinkers who create complex theories about that which they have only partially glimpsed, if at all. Hence, the necessity to recognise that the journey into the nondual perspective is more meaningful within the locus of its experiential dimension. It is here that we have a better sense of what appears to be counterintuitive. English nondual teacher and philosopher Harding says emphatically:
This is not a matter of argument, or of philosophical acumen, or of working oneself up into a state, but of simple sight – of LOOK-WHO’S-HERE instead of IMAGINE-WHO’S-HERE … If I fail to see what I am (and especially what I am not) it’s because I’m too busily imaginative, too adult and knowing, too credulous, too intimidated by society and language, too frightened of the obvious to accept the situation exactly as I find it at this moment.x
The above quotation anticipates the following section on the experiential dimension, where philosophical description is only valid through a description of an experiential mode of Being.
THE EXPERIENTIAL DIMENSION OF NONDUALISM
For the purposes of this study, it is the question of ontological status that concerns us most; that is, ‘What is my Being?’ Every school of nondualism finally places great emphasis on awakening to our true nature, out of which, it is asserted, intelligence, creativity, and right relationship to the world spring. But a more complete presentation of nondual ontology can occur only within a discussion of perception, action, and thinking, because these acts traditionally define how we experience ourselves and the world. Loy’sxi terms – nondual perception, nondual action, and nondual thinking – are also located within experiential modes that finally are the foundation on which this study rests.
Nondual perception collapses the habitual distinction between the perceiver and the perceived. Krishnamurti’s comment emphasises the outcome of attaining to this nondual perception:
So to bring about a radical transformation in society and oneself, the observer must undergo a tremendous change – that is, to realise that the observer and the observed are one.xii
Nondual action arises ‘when the mind, based on experience, is not guiding action: when thought, based on experience, is not shaping action.’xiii
Krishnamurti again provides another perspective on nondual thought:
So the thinker and the thought are one; without thought there is no thinker. And when there is no thinker and only thought, then there is an awareness of thinking without thought, and thought comes to an end.xiv,xv
NONDUALISM AND ONTOLOGY
In terms of our ontological status, the negation of an ‘observing subject’ raises the question ‘Who am I?’. The answer to this lies not in any verbal description, but in actual apperception, not because this is an obtuse way of avoiding any meaningful confrontation with the most crucial of human questions, but because it is precisely that nondualism postulates the dissolution of the subject-object matrix, that any description of who we really are is bound to be fraught with logical difficulties; because a description, a concept, immediately becomes an object related to by a pseudo-subject.
We see then that this central perception of the falseness of subject-object duality has meaning only within an experiential framework. That is, it is simply conceptual and without value unless we follow the injunction to experience the nondual. And the various Eastern spiritual systems (and some Western) have prescribed different methods of meditation and self-inquiry to awaken from the dream of separation. While various forms of meditation have become increasingly popular in the West, the very perceived esoteric nature of these practices, combined with a scientific rational mind-set that is inherently sceptical, makes the endeavour of the nondual rather hopeless. It is for this reason that Krishnamurti and Harding have been selected for this study. Both bring refreshing, new perspectives to the problem of unpacking the nondual to a culture that is firmly embedded in the world-view of subject-object duality; a culture which points to the exponential growth of its science and technology, plus apparent common-sense experience, to validate the reality of the dualistic perspective.
THE THINKING MODE AND THE SEEING MODE
Both Krishnamurti and Harding, through diverse discourses utterly lacking in traditional philosophical and esoteric terminology, lead the individual to the edge of the nondual perspective, by shifting one’s consciousness from the thinking mode to the seeing mode. This is the crux of the experiential dimension of the nondual; that there is – quite natural to all of us, and not limited to the fortunate few – a different mode of being that is normally overlooked because of the dominance of the thinking mode. It is the thinking mode that creates the idea of a ‘me’ separate from existence, and out of this duality all other subject-object problems arise that eventually create the turmoil of life. The seeing mode is conscious awareness that can observe the body-mind and all its operations, but is itself beyond all objectification. Traditional nondual systems also call this the ‘witnessing consciousness’, but I prefer to use the term ‘seeing mode’ because the word ‘see’ is so apt to the teachings of both Krishnamurti and Harding.
Logic and an appeal to observation of the facts at hand are the distinguishing characteristics of both Krishnamurti’s and Harding’s teachings. This immediately draws upon a different kind of audience, one that is accustomed to the rationality of scientific materialism.xvi What is of importance here is that Krishnamurti’s insistence on being choicelessly aware is a directive to shift into the seeing mode
Harding’s ‘seeing’, while experientially leading to the same end as Krishnamurti’s ‘choiceless awareness’, has one important difference as a technique; it directs the observer to consciously see who is doing the seeing, and situates this within the context of experimenting with the senses rather than mere intellectual understanding. Harding, like Krishnamurti, does not make claims for instant transformations into the seeing mode with his ‘seeing experiments’; it is a matter of dedicated inner application.
It is useful at this juncture to summarise the essential similarities and differences of approach between Krishnamurti’s and Harding’s experiential teachings
Krishnamurti’s ‘choiceless awareness’ is an experiential technique to attain to the nondual perspective, which is to see there is no separation between the self and the world. As such there is just the what is, with the ‘self’ and ‘other’ being concepts born of thought). Krishnamurti’s teachings are characterised by his incisive psychological descriptions of the human state and the causes of our conflict. His language is free of esoteric concepts and his method is dialogic in bringing his audience to an apperception of the nondual perspective.
Harding is more concerned with establishing the view that dualistic perception is not common-sense, even though scholars like Loy, with an intellectual and experiential bias toward the nondual, see this as counterintuitive to common-sense. Harding takes a very empirical approach in his exercises in order to bring about an insight into the continuum of the outer world and the inner awareness. He appeals to common-sense and the scientific spirit and is impatient with descriptions of the ordinary human condition, which he claims are aberrations and not ordinary at all, and was more interested in giving his workshop participants a direct route to seeing who we really are. In a description of a ‘Model Workshop’, Harding says this is his aim:
Enlightenment as to What/Who one is as 1st person singular, present tense. Not a psychological investigation into one’s ever-changing thoughts and feelings, but direct seeing into their background – one’s True Nature …xvii
In some respects, Harding is both refuting Krishnamurti’s dialogic exercise, and emphasising the ‘choiceless awareness’ that Krishnamurti finally wanted his listeners to attain after seeing the futility of dualistic thought through deep analysis. This study attests to the value of both approaches because they complement each other, and are deficient as ontological tools without the strengths of the other.
To sum up this section, the nondual perspective is a revision of our ordinary way of experiencing ourselves and the world. Through an analysis of the experiential dimensions of the teachings of Krishnamurti and Harding, this study is attempting to show that this revision of experiencing can take place only with a shift from thinking to seeing, where this ‘seeing’ is the awareness that is the background to our thinking, and which dissolves the sense of so-called ‘normal’ subject-object dualisms.
NONDUALISM AS CRITICAL THEORY
The previous sections establish the philosophical concepts of nondualism, as well as the experiential dimension that these concepts simultaneously point to and arise from. This section looks at these concepts as they have manifested as critical theories, because it is being argued that nondualism, as a valid theoretical perspective for radical change, displays through different critical contexts evidence of a sound epistemological base.
‘Critical theory’, as defined here, conforms to common dictionary definitions of ‘critical’ being ‘characterised by careful and exact evaluation and judgement’xviii, and ‘theory’ as being ‘systematically organised knowledge applicable in a relatively wide variety of circumstances’.xix
This section looks at the critical theories that arise out of: the teachings of Krishnamurti, especially in relation to structuralism in Western thought; the mathematical discipline of fuzzy logic; Wilber’s integral theory; and Harding’s science of the 1st person. Each critical theory provides different kinds of tools for interrogating knowledge and experience, and when these are used in conjunction with one another, they provide an overall theoretical perspective for nondualism. It is noteworthy that these critical theories emanate either from nondual transformative teachings (Krishnamurti and Harding), or from the intellectual efforts of self-declared practitioners of nondual spiritual disciplines (Kosko and Wilber), who are nevertheless firmly grounded in the methodologies of their Western disciplines.
Krishnamurti was not an academic scholar and always maintained that he was speaking from direct experience. This is an important point when discussing the value of the experiential dimension of nondualism in the teachings of Krishnamurti. Similarly, fuzzy logic in its mathematical context will be out of place here. So in effect the complete theory is truncated to arrive at the conceptual tools. Nevertheless, the term ‘critical theory’ is retained, because it will be argued that the great contribution of each theory is that it also functions as a meta-theory, that is, theory about theory. The section on Wilber shows how this naturally arises.
The section on Krishnamurti compares similarities of perspective with structuralism. This is important because Marxism, philosophically, is an off-shoot of structuralism, and by showing where structuralism and Marxism are deficient as critical theories, primarily because they arise from a dualistic world-view, it can be argued that nondualism provides the next development of these theories as they relate to radical change.
The value of fuzzy logic is in its deconstruction of the dualistic world-view through concepts that have their roots in mathematics. This is important for this study in that we see nondualism emerging as an integral view of life.
Wilber’s integral theory is a wide-ranging intellectual endeavour that spans many disciplines to show that the bipolar, antagonistic positions created by the array of religious, philosophical, scientific, and cultural ideologies, can all be accommodated within a theory that sees everything as having a place within certain ‘structures of consciousness’, a critical tool originally developed by Swiss cultural philosopher, Jean Gebser, and refined by Wilber in his many theoretical examinations of consciousness. The value of this critical tool, besides extending the nondual perspective as a critical application, is to show that the nondual is conceptually consistent as theory.
The last critical perspective is Harding’s science of the 1st person. This is being examined last, because while certain concepts are given that can be used as critical tools, these not only link up in different ways with the concepts in fuzzy logic and Wilber’s integral theory, but are inherently a part of the experiential dimension of Harding’s work; that is, his ‘seeing exercises’. The critical tools of fuzzy logic and integral theory are firmly located within the conceptual realm; that is, theoretical discourse, and can be accepted from within that order. Harding’s perspective, however, equally straddles both theoria and praxis, and while the former has conceptual substance of its own, it is the implied conflation of the two that has meaning for the experiential dimension of nondualism in effecting a radical transformation of consciousness.
The material for this section was originally published in Language and Stylexx, but has been abridged here for the purposes of this exploration.
This study proposes to explore how the basic tenets of structuralism, which arose with the disciplined reassessment of the way man orders his world (and the conclusions that resulted from that), bear a strong relation to the teachings of Krishnamurti. These teachings offer a basic understanding of human activities but, unlike structuralism, go further in their delineation of human problems because they provide a compelling argument for their resolution.
Structuralism as a discipline works largely within the framework of linguistics and anthropology, where the latter concerns itself (in structural terms, that is) with the way prehistoric man thought about his world and with how this thinking led to the development of ‘structures’. Structuralism, then, cannot be dissociated from psychology since the examination deals with the processes of thinking and perception. Similarly, because structuralism as an intellectual discipline is a response to certain philosophical notions about man and his world, it is also a philosophical discipline. In fact, structuralism covers all the intellectual disciplines because, fundamentally, it examines the way man’s activities have arisen.
Terence Hawkes says that Giambattista Vice, in a book called The New Science published in 1725, perceives that:
… man constructs the myths, the social institutions, virtually the whole world as he perceives it, and in so doing he constructs himself. This making process involves the continual creation of recognizable and repeated forms which we can now term a process of structuring. Vice sees this process as an inherent, permanent and definitive human characteristic whose operation, particularly in respect of the creation of social institutions, is incessant and, because of its repetitive nature, predictable in its outcome.
Once ‘structured’ by man, the ‘world of nations’ proves itself to be a potent agency for continuous structuring: its customs and rites act as a forceful brainwashing mechanism whereby human beings are habituated to and made to acquiesce in a man-made world which they nevertheless perceive as artless and ‘natural’.xxi
This quotation contains the gist of structuralism, and it can be seen how Marxism, for instance, is a logical extension of this world-view, with its insistence on the transformation of social structures to effect both a conflict-free society and a conflict-free individual. The logic is plain: structures (at least some of them) condition the human being either positively or negatively, and to effect the required conditioning, particular structures have to be changed. Up to a point these ideas relate directly to the teachings of Krishnamurti, but where the structuralists stop, Krishnamurti continues.
Krishnamurti is in agreement with the existentialists and the Marxists who say that there is no ‘given’ human essence, no predetermined ‘human nature’ because ‘particular forms of humanity are determined by particular social relations and systems of human institutions’.xxii
Structuralists see structure-making as a permanent human characteristic, while Krishnamurti sees this process as the result of conflict and fear in the individual, which arises out of a false sense of duality. This duality arises when the ‘me,’ the ‘self’, is created through faulty perception. The individual’s faulty perception creates the ‘self’, the psychological entity who experiences a false duality where the individual is separate from the world. This duality causes fear, which results in the individual’s creating structures to overcome this fear. A process of conditioning is then established that is too forceful to make the individual see the trap she is in, and so she is cut off from the primary ontological state of Being.
Krishnamurti’s teachings and structuralism are fundamentally ways of ‘thinking about the world which [are] predominantly concerned with the perception and description of structures.’ Both modes of thinking state ‘that the world is made up of relationships rather than things’.xxiii
Structuralists and Krishnamurti are travelling the same road, but where the former insist that humans can change by understanding and changing a particular structure, Krishnamurti talks of being aware of the structure-making process totally from moment to moment in daily life, so that it is transcended to experience Reality. This Reality is the state of experiencing without the experiencer, which is the psychological ‘me,’ the ego, the self-constructed structure.
This discussion of structuralism emphasises the limitations of a dialectical materialist approach, showing that while, as a structuralist methodology, it is effective in revealing ever deeper layers of structures – both personal and collective – which shape conscious and unconscious meaning, it can only reveal what is beyond itself through total negation. This process is actually captured in the dictionary meaning of the term. The Reader’s Digest Universal Dictionaryxxiv defines ‘dialectical materialism’ as:
The Marxist interpretation of reality, viewing matter as the primary subject of change and all change as the product of a constant conflict between opposites arising from the internal contradictions inherent in all things, these contradictions being resolved at higher levels and fresh contradictions arising.
Wilber skilfully unpacks the limitations of dialectical materialism, tacitly pointing out the limitations of all conceptual systems, including nondualism, if it remains purely speculative theory:
It is not: the body alone is real and the mind is a reflection of that only reality. It is not: mind and body are two different aspects of the total organism. It is not: mind emerges from hierarchical brain structure. In fact, it is not even: noumenon and phenomena are not-two and nondual.
Those are all mere intellectual symbols that purport to give the answer, but the real answer does not lie in sensibilia or intelligibilia, it lies in transcendelia, and that domain only discloses itself after the meditative [seeing mode] exemplar is engaged, whereupon every single one of those intellectual answers is seen to be utterly inadequate and totally off the mark … xxv
Fuzzy logic provides very simple conceptual tools that deconstruct dualistic thinking very elegantly, in the same way that the mathematical sciences symbolise the physical world and create our complex computer technology. With simple zeros and ones, great complexity is deconstructed, and other kinds of complexity are created.
I am indebted to Bart Kosko’s book Fuzzy Thinkingxxvi for opening up this arcane world. Very simply put, Fuzzy Logic is about multivalence as opposed to bivalence.
The Chinese have a saying: A mind that thinks in terms of right and wrong is a corrupt mind. (This view is not confined to Easterners and can also be found in the teachings of Western mystics and in the genius of Shakespeare – Hamlet reflects that ‘there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’.) We have to ask the question why it is that the bivalent mode, which has its rightful place in the scheme of things, should dominate so exclusively, especially in Western culture (although it is by no means absent in non-Western cultures)?
Bart Kosko gives an elegant answer. Bivalence trades accuracy for precision, and precision is not only important in technology, it also makes the real world easier to deal with. What is meant by the terms ‘accuracy’ and ‘precision’? You have an apple and I have an apple. That makes two apples, or so it appears. For the purposes of simple precision, to state that there are two apples is correct. But it is not accurate of the real world, because no two apples are exactly the same. There will be slight or major differences of weight, shape, colour, texture, taste, etc. So in saying that there are two apples we are being mathematically precise in terms of quantifying the number of objects belonging to the same set. But we are also being extremely inaccurate by suggesting that the apples are identical. By understanding this very important distinction, we begin to see how we are constantly seduced into seeing the world in bivalent terms; we see the description of the tree and not the tree itself. Perhaps this is the price that had to be paid initially for the development of all our symbolic processes.
If Krishnamurti’s critical theory provides a psycho-social model that disproves the dualism of the individual and the world, and if fuzzy logic provides razor-sharp concepts to show how this dualism is maintained conceptually, then Wilber’s contribution to this study, besides re-affirming the perceptions of the other critical theories in his own way, is his argument that all our human endeavours have got to start embracing the nondual perspective.
Wilber’s intellectual efforts are immense in developing an integral theory that has its roots in what is commonly known as the ‘perennial philosophy’ and first applied to transpersonal psychology, but which now encompasses everything from philosophy to eco-feminism to literary studies. What is being attempted here, for the construction of a theoretical perspective, is the extraction of a core theory that can be applied to bring home conceptually the insight of nondualism; that is, life is not a division into discrete objects, but a seamless continuum.
What distinguishes his method is his meta-critical approach where his theory ‘transcends and includes’xxvii other theories, in a way that is perfectly consistent with his model of the spectrum of consciousness, which is the first essential feature of Wilber’s theory. Wilber has acknowledged his debt to philosopher Jean Gebser’s ‘structures of consciousness’ which sees human development in terms of different stages – archaic, magical, mythical, mental-rational, integral.xxviii To this schema Wilber has added the ‘transpersonal stages’, the first of which is ‘vision-logic’. This concept is important for the links it has with Krishnamurti and Harding, and will be discussed later.
But unlike dualistic hierarchies that are essentially separate categories, and to which the postmodern mind has reacted in extreme ways by trying to collapse all hierarchies because they are seen as essentially bad, Wilber’s theory avoids an either/or dualistic situation, but instead provides an inclusive concept that he acknowledges originally came from Arthur Koestler.xxix
In reflecting on the extreme position of postmodernism to regard everything as socially constructed, and that no holarchies exist, Wilber comments:
If the constructivist stance is taken too far, it defeats itself. It says all worldviews are arbitrary, all truth is relative and merely culture-bound, there are no universal truths. It is claiming everybody’s truth is relative except mine, because mine is absolutely and universally true … This is the massive contradiction hidden in all extreme multicultural postmodern movements. And their absolute truth ends up being very ideological, very power-hungry, very elitist in the worst sense.xxx
Wilber comments that ‘this extreme constructivism is really just a postmodern form of nihilism’xxxi and shows that conceptual confusion arises from collapsing categories of experience.
This insight is an important conceptual tool in that it helps locate some problems that have arisen in the worst interpretations of nondualism through woolly thinking – that of the New Age spiritual movement, which often makes claims like: all illness is the result of psychological problems, or all modern science is intrinsically bad. A good analogy would be to say that because theoretical physics shows that all matter is ultimately pure energy, one can knock one’s head against a wall without getting hurt. This is the worst scenario of collapsing categories, particularly because extreme reactions to divisions in the postmodern mind have created another kind of dualism: division is bad and non-division is good.
Wilber’s term ‘vision-logic’ communicates the sense of the seeing mode discussed earlier, but also includes intellectual discrimination. It is of the same order as Krishnamurti’s ‘choiceless awareness’, and Harding’s ‘seeing’. Vision-logic, as given in Wilber’s schema, is part of what he calls the ‘eye of spirit’ or ‘contemplation’ which, like the ‘eye of flesh’ and the ‘eye of mind’, produces a ‘spectrum of different modes of knowing’.xxxii Wilber relates empiricism to the physical, rationalism to the mental, and mysticism to the contemplative. Given his holarchical view that a higher holon includes but transcends a lower holon, Wilber argues that as the mental-rational includes but transcends the physical, so the contemplative nondual will include but transcend the mental-rational.
Wilber also makes another important point about the way we interpret experience. Seeing that there are different modes of knowing within different collective and individual domains of experience, we begin to realise that interpretation is context-bound.
In some ways this might appear to agree with postmodern deconstruction, but Wilber is at pains to point out that where the postmodernists see fictions, the nondualist sees ‘nested truths’.xxxiii This leads to the very next point in Wilber’s schema, and that is a way out of the existential terror of the modern mind. And the way out is to engage in the ‘eye of spirit’, the experiential dimension of nondualism, which conceptually is the next holarchy that includes and transcends the mental-rational sphere, the ‘eye of mind’.
The importance of Wilber’s theory for this nondual perspective is that he brings to it practical insights. Given that the mental-rational mind, in its transcendence of the prerational, is wary of anything that suggests a regression, a schema that suggests mysticism is bound to attract a great deal of scepticism. But the mysticism that Wilber is referring to is not the prerational altered states of consciousness that are so beguiling to the unwary spiritual seeker, but is the nondual experience that Krishnamurti and Harding refer to: the experience of no separation, the converse of which is the root cause of all our conflicts. Wilber thus poses the question for the sceptic. How valid is this type of knowledge? His answer is:
Eye to Eye suggests that all valid knowledge (in any level and any quadrant) has the following strands:
Instrumental injunction. This is always of the form, ‘If you want to know this, do, this.’
Intuitive apprehension. This is an immediate experience of the domain disclosed by the injunction: that is, a direct experience or data-apprehension (even if the data is mediated, at the moment of experience it is immediately apprehended). In other words, this is the direct apprehension of the data brought forth by the particular injunction, whether that data be sensory experience, mental experience, or spiritual experience.
Communal confirmation (or rejection). This is the checking of the results – the data, the evidence – with others who have adequately completed the injunctive and apprehensive strands.xxxiv
At this point Wilber shares precisely the same vision of the nondual as outlined earlier. That is, for the concepts to be truly understood there has to be an engagement with the experiential dimension. This will be reiterated in the section on Harding, and it is necessary to repeat it, given the impotency of thought to engage in anything but the conceptual.
While it is not the intention to engage in a comparative study of Harding and Wilber, it is useful to note how their intellectual efforts, within the tradition of Western thought, have given rise to complex concepts that confirm the nondual perspective, which both maintain is simplicity itself once experienced. (One of the many paradoxes of the nondual perspective is that in order to prove it intellectually, one has to be complex. This is a danger that Harding was alert to after writing his dense philosophical work, The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth,xxxv and which led to his almost childish exercises to bring about the experiential dimension of nondualism.)
No doubt if Harding had been aware of the term ‘holarchy’ he would have used it, because he is making the same point as Wilber when he says that life is ‘a nest of regional manifestations, the first of which contains the second, the second the third, and so on …xxxvi Out of this view, Harding developed the science of the 1st person, which is the title of one of his books, and which is being used here as a term for his critical theory that also encompasses the experiential dimension. This term is being used because it captures Harding’s scientific, empirical methodology. This is crucial to the unfolding of the nondual perspective in this study because it needs finally to be seen that nondualism does not exclude but ‘includes and transcends’.
The methodology of the science of the 1st person is observation, and this is central to the experiential exercises that Harding and others have devised. In the service of the ‘eye of spirit’, Harding utilises both the ‘eye of the flesh’ and the ‘eye of mind’. His insight, which was arguably stated before the post-postmodernist conclusion, was that the meaning of things changes when the context changes. This is stating in Wilber’s words what Harding similarly observed in the physical world. Richard Lang in an essay on Harding makes this point:
… the appearance of things, including himself, depended on the range of the observer. For example, this page is a page only at half a metre, more or less. At a very close range it is fibres, and closer still it is molecules, atoms, electrons … In other words it has layers, like an onion. You and I are the same. Within a certain range we are clearly human, but not on closer inspection. And further away? We appear as a city perhaps, then a country, then the Earth, the Solar System, the Galaxy…xxxvii
Where Harding differed from conventional scientific observation was that he included in his investigation the observer that was doing the observing and this leads to one important observation in terms of critical theory: that Harding’s translation of his nondual insights into experiential exercises is his theory … theory cannot be separated from practice.
The view of ourselves nondually is to experience ourselves not as objects but as the noumenal Awareness, the true 1st Person. The science of the 3rd person is the science of observed objects, but the science of the 1st person is the science of the observer. In the following excerpt, Harding elaborates on the differences:
This science requires its practitioner to do exactly what SCIENCE-3 forbids – to put himself back in the picture and take his subjectivity seriously. Here is a procedure so revolutionary, its subject-matter so unique, its results so remarkable, that they constitute an altogether novel kind of science … As the 1st Person is to the 3rd so are their respective sciences to each other: in every particular, SCIENCE-1 is the polar opposite of SCIENCE-3. Yet it contradicts nothing, undoes nothing. Instead it carries to its proper conclusion the immense work already done. In no sense is it anti-scientific; rather it is ultra-scientific or meta-scientific. And its procedure is simply this: by turning his attention through 180° and viewing himself as he is to himself, SCIENTIST-1 is at last in a position to remove the basic anomalies of SCIENCE-3, and simultaneously to solve his own basic problems, the problems of life.xxxviii
The distinguishing principle of Harding’s exercises is the shifting from thinking to seeing. When he asks participants in a workshop to ‘see who you are’, he is not asking for the employment of imagination or memory – any kind of thinking – but the act of seeing. This is seeing into the Void, our no thingness.
Harding insisted that Science-1 is verifiable by the ordinary methods of Science-3, provided the injunction to carry out the seeing is done, where it cannot be theorised about, but only perceived. These are not esoteric mind exercises, but simple sense-based practices that move from concepts to nondual percepts by an objectivity that transcends modern scientific method: an objectivity of simultaneously seeing the observed and seeing who is doing the observing. Harding draws special attention to the inherent dualisms in language that keep alive the fiction of a subjective ‘me’ in an alien world of discrete objects. The subject that I think myself to be, is, in seeing, another object seen to be arising from the ground of Awareness.
Essentially then, Harding offers a simple, verifiable observation – that there are two ways of seeing; the outward way which is the way of conventional experience, including that of the scientific method, and the two-way, outward-inward way; where the latter is just the act of observing without the identification with thought and the resultant sense of separation that thought creates.
We must note how critical theory within the nondual paradigm refuses to be just intellectual abstraction, or even, in the best sense of the term, an intellectual grid – a way of seeing to apply to the world and experience to make greater sense of things. It is always pointing to its experiential dimension so that concepts can be transformed into percepts. If there is a core perception, it is that theory, to be truly critical, must take the leap into the seeing mode where seeing includes but transcends thinking. This radical re-orientation of perception heals our intrinsic sense of separation, and is the transformative agent in all our endeavours.
NEUROSCIENCE, CONSCIOUSNESS AND THE TOTALITY OF BEING
A materialist world-view and its concomitant expression in social theories that espouse dialectical materialism or other variations of this paradigm, seems to be supported by science and its discoveries. At one level of investigation matter appears to be made up of discrete objects and, like the discrete individuals of human society, they can be controlled, manipulated and reconfigured for whatever purposes that are projected by those in power. Social engineering of various forms thus dominates our political landscape, and neither capitalism nor socialism, as broad, generalized categories of socio-political expression, are really different in their dualistic approaches to the world. Their differences are ideological, based on different conceptions of the common good, but the heart of divisive thinking remains. And the various religious systems with their structures of belief are in the same epistemological place, notwithstanding that the symbols of this epistemology may appear to be of a different order; the social systems appear to be located in the here-and-now, while the religious systems are located in the other-worldly, but intersecting and shaping each other in some contexts, or being defined by an antagonistic reactivity to each other in other social and intellectual domains. All these expressions, and the intellectual systems that arise to account for them or modify them, create a dense illusion of impenetrable differences, but this is not really so. Like the binary zeros and ones that can create great mathematical complexity, the basic structure of illusory self and other creates our amazingly complex, but ultimately lonely and fearful, individual and social lives.
However, the same science that supported our self-delusion of being a separate, discrete object, now shows, in its study of the brain, that the narrative of the self is wired into the way the left brain works out of a biological imperative to ensure survival by controlling its environment through measurement. This functional need for measurement has also resulted in the construction of the illusory narrator, the imaginary doer, that believes itself to be the agent of action, when in fact it is only creating a narrative of agency after the fact.xxxix
This evidence would seem to support a materialist position, especially the image of the human being as a machine. This would then justify those political actions where human beings and natural resources are things to be exploited, and certainly negates any assertion of a spiritual essence, however conceived, by the various religious systems.
This, however, is the problem that Wilber’s integral theory alerts us to: that this perspective appears to have validity when observed without the interior recognition of where this observation is located. Accepting the findings of neuroscience and cognitive psychology, the observer, bluntly put, is a product of a material process. The question is, what is the nature of the Awareness that we can experientially validate as being prior to the consciousness produced by thought? Before we approach this question, let us bear in mind the characteristics of thought and awareness. Explorer of consciousness and author Steven Harrison notes that thought is characterised by ‘me’ and awareness by ‘us’.xl This is a remarkable distinction given the imperatives of a biology that at first glance appears to be concerned only with a self-centred survival. In fact, whatever the nature of awareness, which we will come to later, science is also providing evidence that we are hard-wired for empathy, compassion and community.xli This natural, inclination, it would seem, is being subverted by thought, and only a disidentification with thought (the thinking mode) and an identification with awareness (the seeing mode) is the radical answer to our quest for a radical change, as suggested by Krishnamurti, Harding and others, where the delusion that there is a real self separate from other real selves ends, and in this ending the psychological and social outcomes of greed and ill will also end.xlii
At this point I would like to introduce the concept of memes into the exploration, but more as metaphor than in a strict theoretical sense. Simply put, memes are the equivalent of genes; replicators of information (that is, all our human stories) that compete selfishly for survival. But while genes replicate in the structures of DNA, memes replicate through human interactions. In this way stories of all kinds – religious, political, social, etc – compete for survival using the human being as its carrier. Now this turns the common perception of things on its head; the perception being that human beings are in charge and that we can make informed choices about the things that matter in our lives. No wonder the meme theory is regarded as ‘highly controversial and has been criticised by biologists, sociologists, anthropologists and philosophers’.xliii One could speculate, and with good reason, that the very reaction to such a theory is part of the survival instinct of memes.
Meme theory also points to the illusion of self. Psychologist and memeticist Susan Blackmore writes:
Another possibility is that this illusion of self is actually harmful to us, although it benefits the memes. On this view the self is a powerful memeplex (the selfplex) that propagates and protects the memes, but in the process gives rise to the illusion of free will, and to selfishness, fear, disappointment, greed and many other human failings. Perhaps without it we might be happier and kinder people… xliv
Given our exploration thus far, we see that the theory of memes, like most perspectives of human action, is really not new. The Buddha, more than 2,500 years ago, said that the life of bondage was predicated upon the vast stream of co-dependent conditioning to which all humans were subject, while Krishnamurti reduced this movement of bondage to thought. The theory of memes simply elaborates on the technical details, but essentially the human being is far from a free agent but is manipulated by thought, which turns out to be our stories of identities, protected by a meta identity, the self.
It is noteworthy that Blackmore ends her detailed, technical exploration of consciousness with these words when she asks what might happen if ‘psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists’ saw ‘nonduality directly for themselves’:
… might they then understand exactly what happened in their own brains when all the illusions fell away and the distinction between first and third person was gone? This way the direct experience of nonduality might be integrated into a neuroscience that only knows, intellectually, that dualism must be false.xlv
In fact, Blackmore’s question has been answered by the experience of Dr Jill Bolte Taylorxlvi, a neuroscientist who suffered a stroke, and who, in the process, was able to observe two totally different worlds: the world of separation created by the left brain, and the world of non-separation that is intrinsic to the right brain. And this raises the question, who did the seeing? This will be pointedly addressed in the last section, which deals with the author’s personal narrative, but in a sense it is also being covered but what follows in this discussion on awareness and totality.
Let us now go back to why awareness is characterised by the quality of ‘us’. And that is because awareness, nondually, is the totality of Being, that intrinsic sense of existing, of ‘am-ness’ which no one can refute, nor which anyone can adequately describe because it is not a product or object of thought; thought can only speculate about it through logical inference. Furthermore, it is the totality, because it is the ground in which thought appears. And as both brain science and postmodernist exploration have shown, reality is a construction; what has not been explored is this apperception that this reality occurs as time; but time is a chimera produced by thought. There is, in fact, no time, because only what is exists as the ever present now; hence Being, the fact of existing now, must be that which is outside time. And if there is no time, there is no space, so Being is the totality of existence.xlvii The individual, then, is simultaneously the part and the Whole. Standing as awareness, we cannot fail to see the delusion of separation, and therefore there is the ending of greed and ill will, because I am the world.
Within this conception of awareness as the ground of existence, it is therefore not surprising the Otto Scharmer’s research on the U-processxlviii, which is essentially about the transformative, generative field of potential, essentially deals with processes of community when members of a co-creating group are willing to suspend their mental models of the past (that is, the habitual movements of thought that are centred on illusory identity) and move into presence (that is, non-phenomenal awareness) before creating the change context for emergence (the arising of the new). But presence has be preceded by seeing and sensing, both acts initiating a movement away from self-centred thinking. Scharmer quotes eminent cognitive psychologist, Eleanor Rosch:
There is this awareness and this little spark that is positive – and completely independent of all of the things that we think are so important. This is the way things happen, and in the light of that, action becomes action from that. And lacking that, or being ignorant of it, we just make terrible messes – as individuals, as nations, and as cultures.xlix
A MAGIC TRICK OF TRANSFORMATION: A ‘PERSONAL’ NARRATIVE
This section is somewhat paradoxical, given the insights of nondualism that the separate self is a fiction. And yet, it concludes with what appears to be a personal narrative.
From an empirical perspective, it is necessary to provide data from one’s own experimentation with the experiential dimension of nondualism, for without this evidence we return to the purely speculative, which finally has no meaning in the exercise of radical change.
As an amateur magician and mentalist, I am sometimes asked to do impromptu acts. On one such occasion a mentalism routine did not go as expected, which resulted in much hilarity for both myself and my small teenage audience, and then… I disappeared.
That is, the phenomenal self called Kriben was utterly absent. And so was the phenomenal world. What was present was a timeless Presence that was one’s very own incontrovertible Identity. It was a Presence that was present to Itself.
Then, as normal consciousness returned, the phenomenal self was slowly reconstituted along with the physical world; and to sense perception this was very similar to a computer image taking shape pixel by pixel.
What was significant was the feeling of being born back into unreality, into a world of false separation.
From the viewpoint of those watching the event, they witnessed me laughing and then suddenly slumping into the chair behind me. For the next few minutes they were at a loss as to what was happening, but from the feel of the physical body afterwards, I would speculate that the laughing fit cut off oxygen to the brain causing me to pass out (a peculiar condition that also occurs when there is incessant coughing). Whatever the precise medical description, like Jill Bolte Taylor, something occurred to the brain that caused it to shut down temporarily, and while there was a loss of ordinary consciousness, the awareness that is prior to thought came to the foreground, experiencing itself without the filter of thought.
This ‘experience’ answered a thirty-year-old question. Who awakens, who sees? And the answer is: the seeing itself sees, this being the noumenal awareness that is ever-present existence. When this is apperceived, it is very difficult to be seduced by the stories of self and other; the delusion that gives rise to greed and ill will.
This chapter has attempted to provide a theoretical perspective of nondualism, showing that such discourse has no meaning without engaging in a deep consideration of its experiential dimensions; after all, proponents of nondualism as a theory of radical transformation are explicit that intellectual appreciation is at best only a conceptual platform leading to experiential practice, which finally validates theory. This validation occurs in the existential collapse of the concepts of theory and practice.
It has also been shown that nondualism is eminently suited to scientific inquiry. Susan Blackmore writes that ‘Zen l is said to require “great doubt”, great determination, and the more perplexity the better.’li But a cautionary note. Perplexity can also serve to maintain the illusory self while it attempts to undo the perplexity. This can be a never-ending endeavour where the project of radical change is forever postponed. And this will then take us back to the mindset of time and the future, and a re-enactment of our utopian ideals be they social or religious or both, where the psychological mechanism is to command and control. And to date these have had disastrous consequences for human society and the natural world. However, understanding the nondual perspective in all its conceptual nuances also points to necessary acts of community that we can all engage in now, because there isonly now; and these act of community are essentially acts of communion because there are no actual divisions, only conceptual ones. We need to unmask the illusory self’s last hiding place – the conceptual quest for transformation – and in so doing we become radically changed expressions of a life that is without boundaries.
i Loy, David (1997) Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy. New Jersey: Humanities Press.
ii Loy, David R. (2003) The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
iii This and the next section are adapted from the author’s published thesis Nondualism and Educational Drama Theatre: A Perspective for Transformative Training (2007).
iv Loy, Nonduality, 8.
v Loy, Nonduality, 18.
vi Loy, Nonduality, 21, emphasis in original.
vii Loy, Nonduality, 25.
viii Balsekar, Ramesh (1992) Consciousness Speaks. Redondo Beach, CA: Advaita Press, 112-113.
ix Krishnamurti, J (1970) Talks with American Students. Boston & Shaftesbury: Shambhala, 8-9.
x Harding, Douglas E (1986 ) On Having No Head: Zen and the rediscovery of the obvious. London: Arkana, 9.
xi Loy, Nonduality.
xii Krishnamurti, Talks, 97.
xiii Krishnamurti, J (1986) The First and Last Freedom. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 54.
xiv Krishnamurti, J (1992) Choiceless Awareness: A Selection of Passages for The Study Of The Teachings of J. Krishnamurti. Ojai, CA: Krishnamurti Foundation of America, 61.
xv14. A common misunderstanding with Krishnamurti’s teachings is that he is denying the thinking process. This confusion is cleared up in the later discussion in this chapter on the seeing mode and the thinking mode.
xvi Krishnamurti has often been accused of being a materialist by audiences steeped in traditional religious discourse.
xvii Harding, Douglas E (1995) “Model Workshop” in Share It. Spring ( Issue 9), 53.
xviii Reader’s Digest Universal Dictionary
(1986), London: Reader’s Digest Association, 373
xix Reader’s Digest Universal Dictionary, 1566.
xx Pillay, Kriben (1988 ) “Structuralism and the Teachings of J. Krishnamurti”, in Language and Style 21(Summer), 327-31.
xxi Hawkes, Terence (1977) Structuralism and Semiotics. London: Methuen, 14.
xxii Hawkes, Structuralism, 15.
xxiii Hawkes, Structuralism, 17.
xxiv Reader’s Digest Universal Dictionary, 430.
xxv Wilber, Ken (1977) The Spectrum of Consciousness. Wheaton, Ill: The Theosophical Publishing House, 92, emphases in original.
xxvi Kosko, Bart (1994) Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic. London: HarperCollins.
xxvii Wilber, Ken (1996) A Brief History of Everything. Boston & Shaftesbury: Shambhala, 67.
xxviii Feuerstein, Structures, 20.
xxix Wilber, The Eye of Spirit, 42.
xxx Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, 62-63, emphases in original.
xxxi Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, 63
xxxii Wilber, The Eye of Spirit, 84, emphasis in original.
xxxiii Wilber, The Eye of Spirit, 113.
xxxiv Wilber, The Eye of Spirit, 85.
xxxv Harding, Douglas E (1979 ) The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth. Gainesville: University of Florida.
xxxvi Harding, The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth, 33.
xxxvii Lang, Richard (1997) “Seeing Who You Are – The Headless Way”, in The Headless Way 17 (Autumn), 19-24.
xxxviii Harding, Douglas E (1997) The Science of the 1st Person: Its Principles, Practice and Potential. . London: Head Exchange Press, 8, my emphasis.
xxxix Gazzaniga, Michael S (1998) The Mind’s Past. Berkeley, California: UC Press.
xl Harrison, Steven (2002) The Questions to Life’s Answers. Boulder: Sentient Publications, 90.
xli Goleman, Daniel (2006 ) Social Intelligence. London: Hutchinson.
xlii Loy, The Great Awakening.
xliii Blackmore, Susan (2003 ) Consciousness: An Introduction London Hodder & Stoughton., 163
xliv Blackmore, Consciousness,165.
xlv Blackmore, Consciousness, 414.
xlvi Taylor, Jill Bolte (2006) My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. New York: Viking.
xlvii Peter Dziuban provides very elegant proofs for the primacy of a timeless consciousness in his book Consciousness is All (Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2007).
xlviii Scharmer, C. Otto (2007) Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges. Cambridge, MA.: SoL.
xlix Scharmer, Theory U, 168, emphasis in original.
l Zen is traditionally regarded as the most austere form nondual Buddhism, and is characterised by the practice of unwavering seeing into one’s real nature.
li Blackmore, Consciousness, 414.