Non Dualism

Enlightenment Guaranteed – Wednesday May 27th from 2pm to 3:30 pm

West U Senior Center – 6104 Auden Street



  • Got a newsletter from a teacher I respect – Musings Newsletter – discusses non-dualism
  • An over simplification of the teacher’s approach
    • There is a voice in our head that beats us up and it is called the voice of “Ego-Centric-Karmic-Conditioning”
    • This voice tells us that we are not good, we are failures and the world is no good.
    • Just stop listening to the voice in your head, there is nothing wrong!
    • Get centered – Focus on present moment experience
    • When in the present moment the voices stop speaking and you are liberated.



  • Student: I am having a really rich workshop around the recent blogs on “what is spiritual.” It truly challenges some core beliefs.
  • Teacher: Excellent! We want to encounter everything we need to transcend, yes?
  • Student: I feel some resistance to that statement because of where I’m stuck. I have never distrusted the process of practice before. I have absolutely trusted the Guide and guidance, but now the seeds of doubt are being sown and it feels like they are taking hold.
  • Teacher: So what are the voices saying that “you” are believing?
  • Student: Well – it goes something like this. If everything is spiritual, then nothing is “immoral” or “wrong” and everything goes. I am having a hard time with a spirituality that condones everything.
  • Teacher: You mean ego is having a hard time?
  • Student: Well, I suppose. I am watching the frustration that arises at a response like that. Everything is the “fault of the voices.” We say things like the “wisdom of no explanations,” “don’t believe anything,” or “there is nothing wrong.” But all it seems to mean is that practice does not have to answer to a standard of morality! I can do the “right” practice thing and keep looking at it and saying I don’t know and questioning beliefs and assumptions and recording about there is nothing wrong! But I can’t escape the evidence of my eyes that there is “wrong” and it’s everywhere!
  • Teacher: Well, I suppose the question then is, do you want to be right or do you want to be free?



  • “The Teachings” the student is referring to are:
    • Non-Dualism – two aspects
      • There is no right and wrong, good and evil – everything is OK as it is  – acceptance
      • We are all one – we are interconnected and should consider ourselves part of everyone else.
    • Nothing is real


Why this talk

  • This talk are my opinions. I hope that it gets a discussion going.  In some ways, I might be challenging how dharma should be taught.  I could be wrong.   I would appreciate your comments and insights which should be opportunities for me to learn and grow.
  • Why I am doing this topic. The teachings are good and powerful
    • Worked with amazing Lama’s. They are different.  They look at life differently.   They behave differently.   To me they exemplify how to put Non Dualism into practice in conventional reality.
    • One example. I worked directly with Anam Thubten Rinpoche on “Tibetan’s Children Fund”.   No matter what was happening, no matter was being said, no matter what divisive issue was being brought up, he always had a smile, a sense of humor and kept his composure.
    • I would like to be like that and I believe that his ability to maintain that state of mind was his non-dualistic view of life.
    • In our culture we often become advocates of one position or another in every aspect of life, inter-personal, business, politics and religion. We get ego identified with that position and become fundamental evangelists for our point of view.
  • But the teachings need to be applied with great discernment.
    • If we over simplify the teachings it can drive people away.
    • If the students are not at the right stage and it is not presented with clarity and complexity then the students will see them as absurd, just as in the dialogue.
    • There are real external problems and we sometimes we need to have compassion for ourselves and community and to take action. We do need to have a well-developed and reasoned sense of values to navigate conventional reality.  The student raises a valid point.
  • The talk is about why and when our understanding of dualism can serve us well and why and when they are not appropriate and can be harmful.


GREAT QUESTION – Do you want to be right or do you want to be free?

  • What are you optimizing to? From a psychological perspective, the human tendency to protect the ego which negatively impacts relationships.   We have an image of ourselves, persona, that we want to project and anything that diminishes that persona we take as a personal wound.
    • We won’t admit when we are wrong. (stubborn)
    • Need to win every argument. (combative)
    • Feel diminished if we make mistakes, but mistakes are what helps us grow
    • When you try to convince other’s that you are right you can be ruining relationships that could bring mutual benefit.
    • The more convinced you are that you are right the more likely your mind will get stuck in negative states of being such as anger, self-righteousness.
  • NET – We do battle to protect our persona, lose our peace of mind all to project an image.
  • Analytical Psychology – It’s never about what it is about.
    • We think we are supporting a moral cause but the real energy comes from our insecurities and our need to be right.
  • Hopefully understanding Non dualism can help wake us up from our rigid moral thinking.
  • The problem isn’t that there isn’t right or wrong but it is our ATTACHEMENT to wanting to be right! Attachment is causing us to suffer.



  • Examples – “The other” – small or large
    • Spenders and savers.
    • Men and women.
      • Spend money on Jewelry. Spend money on electronic toys.
      • Go to the opera. Go to the football game
    • Parents and Children
      • Father to child – Don’t study acting in college. You need to have a career that can earn you a living
        • Father’s perspective – Protecting the daughter.
        • Child’s perspective – It’s my life I should do what I want
      • We see the world through blinders of who we are not what the world is.
        • Parent’s care about security
        • Children care about individuality and personal authority.
      • Religion / politics
      • The real problem is that when people disagree with us we lose our respect and compassion for them. The disagreement isn’t the problem, it is our labeling, judging and demeaning attitude towards others.   It can be difficult to disagree with someone and not feel like they are the enemy.
    • Mahatma Gandhi as an example of a spiritual warrior
      • Effect change because he could see both sides – Hindu and Muslim
      • To the extent we are trapped by our religious and political viewpoints the less effective we will be at communicating and at being conciliators.
      • To achieve peace, the divisive issues need open minded people who can honor and listen to each side without an attachment to right or wrong.
      • Mahatma Gandhi claimed that in the last 40 years of his life he never hated anyone.
    • Shadow issues: According to psychology – the characteristics that we don’t like about the others are issues that we need to work on within ourselves.
      • If we see greed in others the psychological and spiritual opportunity for growth is to find greed in ourselves and see if we can eliminate it and not to condemn the others. If we don’t think greed is good then we need to find it in ourselves rather than condemning others.
    • You need to develop a moral compass and live by it. The dharma isn’t suggesting for you to change your beliefs or values.   These values could be very supportive.
      • But you should at least question yourself:
        • Are you using your moral compass as a weapon to show contempt for others?
        • Are you really open minded?
        • Are you willing to admit there are complexities of the issue?
        • Are you interested in listening and learning about opposing views or only in converting those that don’t see it your way?
        • Have you become arrogant and self-righteous about your beliefs?
      • Some authors suggest that the sign of spirituality is humility?
        • Is humility a respected value in Western culture?
        • Do you see humility as something good?
        • Do you try to communicate with others through a sense of humility?
      • The power of the teachings is obtained when we use them to question and change ourselves not when we use them to condemn others.


Experiential Non Dualistic – Non Conventional Reality – Meditative States

  • David Dumonde – gave a talk about Non Dualism
  • You become non Dualistic when you are in present moment experience
    • Whether in formal meditation or total present moment mindfulness.
    • Don’t judge or label just be in touch with direct experience.
  • To the extent that we have cultivated a meditation and mindfulness practice we will live much more in the mode of “being” and not in the mode of “judging”.
  • A meditative practice, particular insight meditation is looking deeply at our thoughts and actions and trying to understand
    • the deep motivations of our actions
    • anticipating the consequences
    • developing a sensitivity to the needs of others (compassion)
    • lead a more conscious life


The Dharma isn’t and should be some simplistic one size fits all panacea.

  • Feynman – If a physicist can explain his theory to college freshman. He doesn’t understand the theory.
  • One of my favorite Dharma Teachers – “I won’t ever teach in a business environment. Those people ask questions like “Why should we have compassion for Hitler”
    • The people who challenge the dharma may well be the people that need dharma the most.
    • I believe it is a valid question and it is important to answer it.
    • Hating Hitler will not make things better and it will hurt the person that hates him more than it will hurt Hitler.
    • Compassion is about our ability to maintain Peace of mind, be in control of our emotions so that we can take constructive actions.
  • Notice that the teacher didn’t ask the students for specifics about what morality he wouldn’t give up. Would the teacher’s answer be different if the student had said:
    • I think being rich and famous is important. I have believed that from childhood.   Not being rich is being a failure and that is bad.   I know what is right.
    • My husband physically and emotionally batters me and I am convinced that his treatment is wrong and I don’t think that unconditional compassion for him is the right answer. It is definitely wrong.
  • Life is full of a wide variety of experiences and it is impossible to have a general rule that applies all of the time
    • Sometimes the problems is with ourselves and our perspective and the teachings can be an inspiration for self-reflection
    • Sometimes the problems are truly external and self-examination is of little value.
  • What not to say”
    • Don’t tell an emotionally and physically battered woman who feels trapped: Nothing is real, it is just your imagination.  Everything is Ok as it is.  We are all one and you just need more compassion for your husband.
    • Don’t tell a person who just got a Parkinson’s. Its OK! Illnesses happen to everyone and you just need to expect things like this to happen and learn to accept it and live with it.
  • What can the dharma offer to these people?
    • Compassion – Empathy and support for the predicament. It is horrible what has happened to them and it can help to acknowledge their suffering.
    • Some situations are horrible but the power of dharma and awareness is that when things go wrong, we can become conscious of the dramatizations that psychologically debilitates us and makes the situation worse.
    • What we could say.
      • Parkinson’s patient. It is horrible what has happened to you, but if you create some story line like “My life is ruined.   Why me?” that will debilitate you and you won’t be able to focus your energy in getting the most out of the capabilities that you do.
      • Battered Woman. It is horrible what is happening to you.   It will be very difficult to escape from your position, but you need to have faith in your capabilities to endure and you need to get help from the community.   While your husband may be at fault hating him might be more harmful to you than to him.



  • The Buddha
    • Be a lamp unto yourself. Don’t believe anything that I tell you just because I told you.   See if it feels true to you.
  • Dalai Lama (Hearsay?)
    • The Dharma is like riding a bike. You shouldn’t steer too far right or too far left
      • Balance compassion for yourself and compassion for others
      • Balance living in the meditative state and being able to work effectively in conventional reality.
      • Balance the need for self-reflection and the fact that sometimes problems are truly external and toxic people need to be avoided.


Personal Comment – What is practical?

  • I have not been able to let go of my beliefs. I have a strong moral compass and I am always tempted to want to proselytize about Dharma, political views etc.
  • Over time though I try to:
    • Avoid confrontation that could be toxic.
      • Choose the times when I articulate my beliefs very carefully.
    • Try to understand the other point of view.
    • Try to avoid labeling and judging others negatively because they disagree with me.
    • I fail less and less at these things but I still fail.
  • I am more and more conscious of how demanding my ego is and am much more forgiving of others who share my affliction.


Summary – Spiritual thermometer

  • Don’t use your morale compass to beat up other people. Use it to guide yourself.
  • Question your own thoughts and be willing to listen to others. Do you really have firsthand experience about the things that you believe?
  • Can you listen to someone with another set of values with an open nonjudgmental mind?
  • Compassion is nuanced and needs discernment. It is a balancing act between compassion for yourself and others.
  • We need to find a balance between confidence and humility.
    • Humility – The more arrogant and self-righteous you are the less compassionate you will be.
    • Confidence – We need to have faith in our ability and be able challenge whatever dogma we are taught and find our own truth.
  • Do you want to be right or do you want to be free?
    • What are you optimizing to? When you try to convince other’s that you are right you can be ruining relationships that could bring mutual benefit.
    • The more convinced you are that you are right the more likely your mind will get stuck in negative states of being such as anger, self-righteousness.

Cheri Huber – Being Right 

Being Right

(Most of us are pretty attached to it)


Because of the way we are conditioned as children, only one person can be right.


If someone close to me disagrees

With how I see something,

With what I feel,

With what I think,

One of us has to be wrong


If one of us is wrong

One of us is not good

If one of us is not good

One of us is not lovable


The belief:
To be right is to be good.
To be good is to be lovable.

A common belief:
If I can just explain my position clearly enough to you you will agree with me.

The reason you don’t agree with me is that you don’t understand what I’m saying. You don’t understand because either:
I haven’t been clear, or
You aren’t listening.

It is difficult for us to match and that someone can
understand what we are saying,

not agree with us

have another opinion ,
and still love us.


Cheri Huber The rest of the newsletter


Not what but how…


We are what we think.

All that we are arises with our thoughts.

With our thoughts we make the world.

– The Dhammapada


Most of us experience the world through the lens of karmic conditioning. It is our default orientation. All information is received, processed and interpreted through this lens. It creates “me,” “my” world, “my” point of view, “my” identity, “my” orientation to life. Most of us are not aware that we wear this lens until we start an awareness practice.


Practice constantly encourages us to pay attention, to watch “our” process, to see how suffering works, to notice how the illusory world of ego-identity is created and maintained. In training to pay attention this way, we start to get a sense of this “lens” and what it feels like to see through it. We start to build a vocabulary to describe the experience of “attention on conditioned mind”: something wrong, not enough, loss, lack, deprivation, closed, negative, self-hating, feeling bad, isolated, resistant, discouraged, dissatisfied, identified.


This practice of paying attention, of noticing “ego,” trains us to make an important movement – out of conditioned mind into awareness. Just as the eyes cannot see themselves, conditioned mind cannot “see” itself. To “see” conditioned mind, attention has to be on awareness.


As we keep practicing this movement of dis-identification, redirecting the attention from the voices to thisherenow, a mysterious process occurs. In a flash of insight, we become aware that we are the awareness that notices, rather than that which suffers. This experience is sometimes described as the “joy of Intelligence knowing itself.”


We have to practice this movement over and over again to have the experience being described. This is why practice declines to provide explanations, does not answer questions, ignores accusations and serenely refuses to rationalize, defend or justify itself or its methods. What would be the point? Conditioned mind would simply receive the information, argue, analyze, debate, judge, resist, condemn, and use whatever is offered to perpetuate itself!


So practice endlessly and compassionately directs us to see “our” process, to redirect the attention, to make the movement into awareness. It holds that line for us until we can “see” the identification with the process of suffering for ourselves and make the movement out of it.


In the exchange above, the teacher does not defuse the student’s frustration, explain the moral stance of practice, or address the content of the question of morality. To do so would simply train attention to stay on conditioning. Instead, the teacher gently directs the student to the process of suffering as the place to look, with the question, “You mean ego is having a hard time?”


It takes a lot of practice to see this direction as a training signal to make the movement into awareness and to recognize the compassion behind the suggestion!


A word about morality…

So then, the relationship of self to other is the complete realization that loving yourself is impossible without loving everything defined as other than yourself.

– Alan Watts


The Four Noble Truths capture the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. He simply states that suffering exists, there is a cause and there is a way to stop suffering.  He does not say suffering is “bad” or ending suffering is “good.” The Precepts are the closest we get to a moral compass in Zen. Even here, the Buddha offers morality as a process and not as an absolute standard.  We are asked to train to harmonize with heart-wisdom, to use the structure of the Precepts to calibrate the attention to that which leads us away from suffering and towards liberation, moment by moment.


When we practice in this way, we train to be with life as it is. As far as we can tell, in the absence of the process that divides, labels, judges, condemns, avoids and excludes, everything goes, everything is Life.  And from that place of non-separation, we get to choose love, kindness, compassion, joy, happiness, respect, care and attention. In fact, awareness is inclusive in its orientation and expansive in its compassion.


Only ego’s world seems to need “morality” because right and wrong, good and bad only exist in its world. Once we recognize that we are training to go “beyond right-doing and wrong-doing,” we can see the “debate” about morality as an ego process to grab the attention, to distract us from thisherenow, the only place from which the sacred choice for conscious compassionate awareness is possible.


Practice:  Joshu’s Zen

Joshu began the study of Zen when he was sixty years old and continued until he was eighty, when he realized Zen. He taught from the age of eighty until he was one hundred and twenty.


A student once asked him: “If I haven’t anything in my mind, what shall I do?”


Joshu replied: “Throw it out.”


“But if I haven’t anything, how can I throw it out?” continued the questioner.


“Well,” said Joshu, “then carry it out.”


Pay attention to how egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate focuses the attention on content. How are you talked out of “seeing” process? Practice the movement into awareness and see if you can experience the joy of Intelligence knowing itself, as you “throw out” or “carry out” conditioned mind by redirecting the attention.