View from the botanic garden

Why Do We Call It Nondual Wisdom?

by Thomas Razzeto

For an easy-to-print Adobe Acrobat PDF version of this essay, click here.

The word “nondual” means “not two” and it’s used here because God and creation are seen as One Reality, not two. This wisdom holds that the unseen Creator arises as the creation we see all around us.

This is like an actor arising as a character. So just think of a Hollywood actor and when you do, it is easy to see that the actor is the source of the character. Surely it’s not the other way around. The character is not the source of the actor. Furthermore, the character cannot go on the stage without the actor. And yet, the actor can drop the role of the character at any time. Because of this, it is wise to make a distinction between the transcendent source (the actor) and the dependent construction (the character).

And yet when the actor comes forward as the character, they are one. If you are standing in front of the character and you want to find the actor, you do not need to dig into a deeper and deeper layer. No. When you look into the eyes of the character, you are looking directly into the eyes of the actor. They are one.

Every single quality or aspect of the character is truly a quality or aspect that is being exhibited by the actor, and every single action that appears to be done by the character is really done by the actor. What appears to be the will and power of the character are really the will and power of the actor. The character is not the source of anything and has no substance of its own.

Of course you see what this metaphor is pointing to. God is the one invisible Actor who is coming forward as each and every visible character, as each and every visible person. Creation is a spontaneous emanation that comes about when formless Source-Awareness (God) miraculously and paradoxically appears as the form that makes up not only our own physical world, but also all of our spiritual worlds. Ice doesn’t just come from the water, it is the water, and so it is with God and creation.

As we did with the actor and the character, we should again make a distinction between the transcendent source (God) and the dependent construction (creation). And yet God fully permeates creation in a way that paradoxically makes them “One.” So the words “one” and “two” both reveal important aspects of the reality at hand. Yet neither word works well completely by itself. This is why we use a new word: “nondual.”

The word “duality” brings to mind examples such as male and female, hot and cold, and the two sides of one coin. These are each an example of the three different ways that duality is expressed in our world. The coin has two sides and both sides must be present at all times. Gender, on the other hand, usually exhibits only one aspect of its dualistic nature physically in one person at a time, so this is quite different from the coin. And hot and cold show us yet a third way that duality can express itself. With hot and cold, the one quality of temperature is expressed along a continuum between two opposite polarities. Other examples like this are light and dark, wet and dry, happiness and sadness, and good and evil.

So duality is expressed in these three ways: as one thing with two inseparable parts, as one of two complementary aspects, and as something in-between two polarities. The ancient nondual texts call all of this the “play of the opposites,” and here’s a huge point: none of it is seen as invalid in any way.

The nondual understanding sees all apparent dualistic expressions as valid precisely because they are all a profound expression of this One Divine Essence. This is why duality is not a problem that you need to solve or overcome. Duality itself is not the cause of any dissatisfaction or trouble. Dissatisfaction is caused by a misunderstanding of who you really are. This misunderstanding gives rise to fear, and this fear gives rise to selfishness and self-centered desires that seem to run your life without bringing true satisfaction, even if these desires are met.

Notice that our nondual wisdom is not saying that hot and cold are the same, nor is it saying that hot and cold are nothing at all. (These are common misunderstandings.) In our experience, hot and cold are obviously real and different so it is wise to heed this experiential reality. And yet this quality of temperature, no matter how it arises, is still fully an expression of this One Divine Source. So it is with all qualities that arise in the play of the opposites.

Here’s a very short story that shows why I think it’s so important to heed the experiential reality of our ordinary world. Imagine that you go out for breakfast and order some oatmeal. Minutes later your food arrives but instead of oatmeal, you have a bowl of sawdust. You give the waiter a puzzled look and ask, “Hey, where’s my oatmeal?” He just laughs and says, “We are all one; everything is God; oatmeal is sawdust.” Not much help, eh? That’s because the last statement is false while the first two are true. In our ordinary world of form, all things are different.

Good and evil are the two polarities of the one quality of morality. Of course people have forever debated the moral code, but even still, without settling that question in a way that will satisfy everyOne, nondual mystics are motivated in their own unique and wholesome way to do good things and work for a “better” world, as seen from the perspective of our ordinary world. They are fully engaged in life, offering loving kindness and compassion to everyOne, without being entangled by selfishness or self-centered desires. They are in the world but not trapped by it.

So paradoxically our nondual wisdom does not in any way support evil even though we accept it as an expression of the Divine Will. As much as possible, in our own way, we always work for the good.

By the way, I prefer to say that our world contains many dualistic expressions rather than saying that the world itself is dualistic or that everything in our world has a dualistic opposite or complement. I don’t think it’s helpful to wonder what the dualistic opposite of a tree really is, for example, although some people do pursue this. When it comes to people (and other unique things such as trees), the concept of multiplicity, rather than duality, is much more applicable. Rather than me and not me, you and not you, him and not him, her and not her, I find it much more practical to talk about you, me, him, her and all of the objects around us.

Obviously, to function in the world in a practical way, we need to distinguish between the qualities and conditions of all people and things. In form, we find an almost endless display of differences, but in the essence of all things, we find the One Substance, the Divine Essence.

Sometimes I hear people say that God is nondualistic and the world (or universe) is dualistic. Instead, I prefer to say that God is One Reality while the world contains both multiplicity and duality. God is not an object and therefore cannot be counted like we might count one table in a room. When we speak of the One Source-Awareness, we are emphasizing the idea that this Awareness is always whole; it cannot be broken into pieces (connected or disconnected) or branch off like the branches of a tree. This Awareness never has any division or parts and yet, through the mystery of creation, this One Reality comes forth as what appears to be the many. Magnificent!

When we celebrate both our divine uniqueness in form and our divine unity in Source-Awareness, we allow the balance that opens up our loving hearts to everyone. It is only through the many that we can share the One Love of God.

The play of the opposites – where one quality arises dualistically – hints at the bigger picture of One Source emanating as all of creation. Since God is completely invisible, it looks like creation stands alone without any Creator at all. And yet, the Creator and the created are One! This is what our ancient nondual wisdom points to.

Nonduality: God and creation are One Reality, not two.

It is God who is arising as everyOne and it is God who is doing everything. It is this recognition that opens the loving heart of enlightenment to everyOne. When you look into the eyes of another, you are looking directly into the eyes of God.

The End - Thanks for reading!

This essay is a slightly edited excerpt from the first chapter of my book:

Living the Paradox of Enlightenment.

Living the Paradox of Enlightenment

If you enjoyed this essay, then you might like some of my other work:

  • My main website is here.
  • All my spiritual essays are here.

In truth, I honor your divine nature, Thomas Razzeto

Thomas Razzeto's bio and email

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