I have just begun a very exciting book, Nonduality, by David Loy. It is a philosophical analysis of three major non-dual philosophical systems: Advaita Vedanta, Taoism and Buddhism. It explores notions such as nondual perception and action in a rigorous and yet readable manner. Though is is primarily an academic work, it has already in a couple of chapters opened up some “real-life” philosophical puzzles that have haunted me for some time now!
I came across it in Joan Tollifson’s reading list, which is a rich source for books in the non-duality ballpark.
Very excitingly, the author himself has uploaded the book as a scanned copy here. Please read for a sophisticated and exciting glimpse into the most profound philosophical traditions on the planet!
As Sam Harris puts it, the illusion of free will is itself an illusion.
When we observe our thoughts, we see that they float up and pop up into our consciousness. We are not creating our thoughts. In fact, we cannot know what our next thought and emotion might be.
The present is a deep mystery.
This is what the great masters of non-duality were struggling to convey: that there is no central controller organising itself and the world. Stuff happens, and “we” lay a layer over it and make ourselves the protagonists of our narratives.
A truly liberating insight.
Our minds are so eternally busy constructing schemes for self-improvement, happiness, enlightenment, that we fail to notice the ever present moment and the reality that shines behind it.
We cannot try to be more aware, to grasp the present better. When we try to do so, we fall into the same trap of improving the self.
We could instead notice that there is no one in here who could possibly become better in any way.
Sam Harris’ book Free Will is the most clear and cogent piece of writing on the subject of free will that I have come across.
If we follow the assumption that our mind states, our thoughts and feelings, are the product of the neurochemistry of our brain, then we must agree that as none of us have sculpted our brains, we are not in control of our minds.
Even if we believe that we have souls, then the same argument applies. We did not create our souls, therefore we are not “responsible” for them.
These summaries above are crude approximations to the elegance and power of the book, which I urge you to read now. Especially in the light of non-dual traditions, it makes for powerful reading.
As a young adult, I loved the writing of Alan Watts. I felt he opened up new dimensions in my understanding of myself and my relationship to the universe. Reading him now as an adult simply reinforces the feeling of wonder at his insight and skill with words.
The root of the matter is the way in which we feel and conceive ourselves as human
beings, our sensation of being alive, of individual existence and identity. We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body—a center which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”
This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole
realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.
You were there then, you are there now, and you are there at all times. The three states (sleep, waking and dream) come and go, but you are always there. It is like a cinema. The screen is always there but several types of pictures appear on the screen and then disappear. Nothing sticks to the screen, it remains a screen. Similarly, you remain your own Self in all the three states. If you know that, the three states will not trouble you, just as the pictures which appear on the screen do not stick to it.
On the screen, you sometimes see a huge ocean with endless waves; that disappears. Another time, you see fire spreading all around; that too disappears. The screen is there on both occasions. Did the screen get wet with the water or did it get burned by the fire? Nothing affected the screen. In the same way, the things that happen during the wakeful, dream and sleep states do not affect you at all; you remain your own Self. Ramana Maharshi
The notion that what we conceive of as reality is actually constructed upon a foundation of pure being is so fascinating, so powerful, that it has the capacity to draw the mind beyond its own frontiers.
The play of the self, the ego must subside for us to understand this foundational reality.
Pure, detached watchfulness in daily life.
There are days when meditation escapes me, and the world is so very solid and real, and the emotions of love and sorrow and desire are so etched upon my mind and body that there is nowhere to go and nothing to do but to live them out in their intensity.
These days are precious, because in that solidity, in the pain and joy of all-encompassing existence, reality is still manifesting itself. How can it be otherwise?