Dualism, Nondualism and Wholism

There are two types of people: Those who think there are two types, and those who don’t!

These are some of my own provisional personal reflections on the topic of “dualism and nondualism” that, in our time, the world’s favourite Franciscan, Richard Rohr, has put forward in his writings for our consideration and discussion. Some of my comments may be critical, but these represent an argument between friends (as we both quote one another appreciatively in our latest books.) But I felt it was necessary to express my concern about the impression some people have got, rightly or wrongly, from Richard’s writings, that only nondualism is true; all differentiation is an illusion; there is no differentiation in reality; and there is only the reality of singularity that subsumes all complexity.

Richard Rohr says “I am convinced that Jesus was the first nondual religious teacher of the West, and one reason we have failed to understand so much of his teaching, much less follow it, is because we tried to understand it with dualistic minds. In his life and ministry, Jesus modeled and exemplified nonduality more than giving us any systematic teaching on it.” Nonduality or nondualism means “not two” or “one undivided without a second”. Nonduality specifically refers to a state of consciousness developed through contemplation that “transcends” duality with all its “dichotomies”. The term “nondualism” is derived from Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism, but is also in Buddhism (emptiness, pariniṣpanna, nature of mind, rigpa), Islam (Wahdat al Wujud, Fanaa, Haqiqah) and neo-Platonic Christianity(kenosis, mystical union).

Rohr advocates nonduality over duality because he argues duality is “essentially binary, either/or thinking. It knows by comparison, opposition, differentiation.” It “involves a process we call categorization. The word category comes from the Greek word, kategoria which literally means ‘accusation’. In it’s verb form kategorein means ‘to speak against; to accuse, assert, predicate.’ Going even deeper we discover that the root kata means ‘down to’ or ‘against.’ Rohr suggests this binary process of categorization we use in differentiation, results in judgmental religion of “right v wrong”, “good v bad”, “saved v unsaved”, “us v them”, which causes prejudice, discrimination, exclusion and conflict.

Richard Rohr says that shifting to nondual thinking involves experiencing the world with a new freedom, letting the walls fall away. “This is why teachers like Jesus make so much of mercy, and forgiveness, and grace, because these are the things that, if truly experienced, totally break dualism down. Because once you experience being loved when you are unworthy, being forgiven when you did something wrong, that moves you into non-dual thinking. You move from what I call meritocracy, quid pro quo thinking, to the huge ocean of grace, where you stop counting, you stop calculating.”

Rohr says that for him the task of the spiritual life is to fall deeper and deeper into what he calls the “ocean of grace” where we stop keeping score, holding grudges, and insisting that our way of seeing things is the right or only way.

The nonduality of the “ocean of grace” sounds wonderful. But the irony is that Rohr is using duality to argue for nonduality in advancing the category of grace over against the disgrace of categorization. Sure there are limits to duality. Our categorization cannot apprehend the infinity of God or comprehend the mystery of grace. But even Rohr admits, that in our everyday lived reality “we do need the dualistic mind to function in practical life … to do our work as a teacher, a nurse, a scientist, or an engineer. It’s helpful and fully necessary.”

If only nondualism is true, then all differentiation is an illusion. There is no differentiation in reality. There is only the reality of singularity that subsumes all complexity. As Baba Ram Das once famously said in his cult classic, Be Here Now, “Pleasure and pain, fame and shame, are all the same – they’re just happening.” The challenge is to be present, accept and transcend pleasure and pain, and fame and shame through enlightened eyes that can see through these as illusions. But such so-called “enlightenment” minimizes the morality of distinguishing good from evil and diminishes any motivation to struggle for good against evil which are essential to the struggle for justice.

If dualism is true, then nondualism and dualism can both be real at different levels. The transcendent nonduality of undivided, unconditional grace, combined with the immanent duality of gracious differentiation, can make real singularity and complexity, real unity and diversity, real morality and community possible. This integration of nondualism and dualism might best be described as wholism.

Dave Andrews


https://cac.org/the-dualistic-mind-2017-01-29/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nondualism https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nondualismhttps://cac.org/the-dualistic-mind-2017-01-29/ https://stillinthestream.com/2017/09/10/no-dual-thinking/ https://stillinthestream.com/2017/09/10/no-dual-thinking/ https://cac.org/the-dualistic-mind-2017-01-29/

Alpert, R. Be Here Now, (Crown, 1993)107

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