Thoughts on Nonduality

by Robert Perry

This comes from a dialogue I've been having with my friend Gerald Emerald of Prescott, Arizona on the subject of duality and nonduality. It was my attempt to summarize the Course's position on nonduality and the essential perspective we had both agreed on.

Dualism these days seems to be very unpopular, at least in spiritual circles. Perhaps the main reason is that spiritual seekers sense that reality must ultimately be a unity. The idea that reality itself is torn down the middle between good and evil violates a fundamental spiritual conviction we have. It goes against oneness.

In dualism, reality is not only torn in half, it becomes a battleground between the two halves. You have a cosmic war going on between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. Everyone in this traditional perspective seems to agree that the forces of light will win in the end. But the problem now, while we still await that end, is that darkness is at least very powerful, and at worst seems to have the distinct edge, which makes the picture a very worrisome one. We all want more light, but this picture makes the light's "market share" seem depressingly small in this world.

And the problems don't stop there. I think one of the main reactions against duality stems from the idea that darkness must be condemned. Duality therefore fosters a certain judgmentalism that spiritual seekers rightly want to get away from. Finally, the light, by virtue of having to war against the darkness, gets tainted with elements of darkness itself. The light becomes violent and vengeful, which are clearly characteristics of the darkness. So the light itself becomes not so light, but rather gray and murky.

All of these are reasons, in my mind, that spiritual seekers are anxious to get away from duality. But the frequent solution seems to be something like what I glean from Ken Wilber (though I admit that I may have misunderstood his position), which is to affirm that darkness and light are not really opposites. Rather than there being a nasty opposition between darkness and light, they are really different aspects of some kind of unity that transcends and includes them both.

I personally don't believe this solves very much, and what it does solve occurs at a cost. Yes, it means there is no more war between darkness and light. It means that at the ultimate level, there is no opposition; there is peace; there is unity. That's good. And yes, it also means that we don't have to dirty our minds by condemning darkness anymore. We can cease being so judgmental and be more accepting and affirming, which we all want to be.

But it also retains the idea of light becoming tainted by taking in elements of the darkness. Only now, the two get mixed together so completely that light ultimately loses its distinct identity. Ultimate reality thus appears to become a kind of yin-yang, a light-dark, if you will. Blurring the distinctions between light and darkness at the level of ultimate reality leads inevitably, in my mind, to blurring the distinction between them here on earth. Now what was formerly considered dark becomes a new kind of cool, edgy "light." It also means that light never gains true ascendancy. In this view, reality is permanently infected with darkness, since at its apex it is some sort of synthesis of light and darkness. At least in the old dualistic picture, light started out on top and would, after an ugly in-between, end up on top.

In my mind, the only truly satisfying solution is the one presented by the Course: Yes, on this level, there are dualities; there are opposites. And they really are opposites. Light and darkness, spirit and matter, mind and body, love and fear, God and ego, blessing and attack, joy and suffering, are true opposites. They cannot be reconciled, ever. They are logically incompatible.

But opposites, being logically incompatible, are logical contradictions, and we all know that logical contradictions can't be real. If I tell you I am a ten-foot-tall midget, you know that, since that is a logical contradiction, there can be no such thing. The Course says that the same thing is true when we claim that reality is a realm of light-dark. It is a logical contradiction, and therefore there can be no such thing.

Thus, in the final analysis, only one side of those dualities is real. Only light, spirit, mind, love, God, blessing, and joy are real. Being aspects of the only reality, they have all the power. Being without opposite, they are truly unopposed. The other side of each duality has no real power, because it has no real reality.

I find that to be an absolutely wonderful, liberating, and satisfying resolution. It acknowledges the very real opposition that exists in this world. Love is different than hate. Light is different than darkness. To skirt that, to blur the distinctions between them, is, in my mind, a dangerous thing. In the name of being spiritual and nonjudgmental, we let the ego in the back door. Blurring the lines between light and dark, right and wrong, is a gold-lettered invitation to dark and wrong to sneak back onto the stage, where now no one dares disapprove of them. We know that it's a dangerous thing to blur the lines between right and wrong in all sorts of mundane areas of life: business, parenting, politics, crime prevention. Why don't we know it in spirituality? Why don't we know it when it comes to ultimate reality?

Yet while acknowledging the very real opposition, the Course's stance reaches a remarkably neat resolution by simply denying reality to one side of the opposition. That leaves the side we are all rooting for on top, and not just on top, without opposition. It leaves it the supreme and uncontested reality, without qualification and without limit, not just one power in a larger reality populated by competing powers. Now reality becomes a unity, but a unity that is pure goodness, pure love, pure spirit, pure blessing, and pure joy. Isn't that in the end what we all want?

So there are two steps: First, acknowledge the actual opposition that does exist on this level. Dualism does this, but in my eyes, what I will call (for want of a better term) contemporary nondualism (reality as a synthesis of light and dark) doesn't.

Second, posit an ultimate reality that is beyond opposition, beyond duality. Contemporary nondualism does this, while traditional dualism does not.

So in my mind, the Course's solution incorporates the essential strength of each position, while at the same time avoiding its crippling weakness. What you get is a view that satisfies the requirements of the mind and the longings of the heart. In my mind, it is truly a thing of beauty.