Beyond Story: Nondual Awareness
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Beyond Story: Nondual Awareness
Each of these stories leads to a place of return that is beyond stories. Beyond stories of dualism and division is the singular, stunning reality of our universe being regenerated at every moment as a unified whole. To see that we are living in a continuously re-created cosmos means that we are an inseparable part of the co-arising cosmos at every moment. In addition, we know from physics that everything is deeply interconnected. So the cosmos is a deeply interconnected system that is arising freshly as a singular whole--a uni-verse--at every moment. All duality is resolved in the higher unity of continuous creation or the interdependent co-origination of all things out of a deeper field of life energy. The universe is not a static structure; instead, it is a completely unified, dynamic, flow-through system that is being regenerated moment-by-moment as a self-consistent whole.
A Profound Unity in Wisdom Traditions
Although we live in a world of seeming division and multiplicity, the perennial wisdom is unequivocal in asserting that a profound unity underlies the appearance of separation. Here are a few examples of this affirmation of wholeness, which is found in every spiritual tradition, in every culture and in every age:
- “For those who are awake the cosmos is one.” –Heraclitus, ancient philosopher who lived in ancient Greece.
- “...the flickering film of the phenomenal world is an illusion which cannot obscure the eternal unity that lies behind it...” –Arnold Toynbee, a scholar of the world’s civilizations and religions.
- “Each element of the cosmos is positively woven from all the others.... the universe holds together, and only one way of considering it is really possible, that is, to take it as a whole, in one piece.” –Teilhard de Chardin, Catholic theologian
- “Ultimately, the entire universe...has to be understood as a single undivided whole...” –David Bohm, physicist
- “Heaven and earth and I are of the same root...are of one substance." –Sojo, a monk and scholar from the Zen tradition.
- “I am in some sense boundless, my being encompassing the farthest limits of the universe, touching and moving every atom of existence. The same is true of everything else.... It is not just that ‘we are all in it’ together. We all are it, rising and falling as one living body.” –Buddhist scholar, Francis Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism
- When Jesus was asked, “When will the kingdom come?” He replied: “It will not come by waiting for it.... Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.” Jesus also said, “...the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.” –Gospel of Thomas, Gnostic Gospels
- “We may imagine that the One, since It is absolute, must be distant from us spiritually or even spatially... We forget that the absoluteness of the One includes absolute immanence, or omnipresence. Thus the One is here and now, not a stranger, not even an other, but the very nature of what we are.” –Lex Hixon, from his book Coming Home
- “Each being contains in itself the whole intelligible world. Therefore All is everywhere.” –Plotinus, a Neoplatonic philosopher who lived in ancient Greece
A subtle Life-force infuses, sustains and unifies our cosmos. The wholeness of our reality is so complete that we are not separate from “God” or “Nirvana” or “Brahman” or “Tao” or the countless other names given to the unnameable presence that pervades the undivided universe. We don’t have to do anything to become a part of the wholeness of reality—we are already completely at one with it. We are beings that the universe inhabits as much as we are beings that inhabit the universe. An appreciation of the unity of existence is not an experience to be created; rather, it is an always manifesting condition of our existence waiting to be welcomed into awareness.
A Profound Unity in the Sciences
A living entity is not a random collection of disconnected parts but a unified whole. How could our universe, which appears to be mostly empty space with widely separated islands of matter, be unified? How is it possible to regard these separate components—from atoms to people to planets—as parts of a unified whole?
One of the most stunning insights to emerge from modern science has been described as “non-locality.” The basic idea is simple: In the past, scientists have assumed that instant communication cannot take place between two distant points; instead, it takes time for a message to travel from one place to another, even at the speed of light. For example, it takes light about eight minutes to travel from the sun to the Earth, which means that something could happen on the sun and it would take eight minutes before we would know about it on Earth. Because other galaxies are millions of light-years away from us, they seem so remote as to be completely separate from our own existence. Yet scientific experiments show that, despite these vast distances that seem impossible to bridge, in reality, everything in the universe is deeply interconnected. Experiments have repeatedly demonstrated that subatomic particles are able to communicate instantly with one another, regardless of the distances that separate them.
The highly regarded physicist, David Bohm, explained this phenomenon by portraying the universe as a gigantic hologram that is regenerated at each moment. In Bohm’s view, the entire cosmos is a dynamic projection from a deeper common ground that is “holographic” in nature. At every moment, every part of the universe contains information about the whole. Analogously, if you take a holographic picture of a person and then cut the plate in half, when each half is illuminated, it will contain the entire original image, although more faintly. If each of the halves is cut in half again, each of the pieces will contain a smaller but complete version of the original. The whole is in every part and every part is in the whole.
Nonlocality exists, not because of some extremely fast messaging back and forth at the subatomic level, but rather, because separation does not exist. Bohm said that ultimately we have to see the entire universe as “a single, undivided whole.” Instead of separating the universe into living things and nonliving things, he viewed animate and inanimate matter as inseparably interwoven with the Life force that is present throughout the universe. For Bohm, even a rock has its unique form of aliveness, because the Life force is dynamically flowing through the fabric of the entire universe.
The eminent physicist John Wheeler expressed the unity of the universe in this way. He said: “Nothing is more important about the quantum principle than this, that it destroys the concept of the world as ‘sitting out there,’ with the observer safely separated from it…. To describe what has happened, one has to cross out that old word ‘observer’ and put in its place the new word ‘participator.’ In some strange sense the universe is a participatory universe.” In the earlier view of a universe composed of separate objects, we could regard ourselves as independent observers; however, in the new understanding of the universe, everything participates with everything else in co-creating reality, moment by moment. As stunning as it seems, nonlocality means that we each participate in the totality of the universe. In the words of the physicist Sir James Jeans, we may think that we are “…individuals carrying on separate existences in space and time, while in the deeper reality beyond space and time we may all be members of one body.”
The Progressive Awakening of Unitive Consciousness
Unitive or mystical or non-dual experiences are becoming more common. Survey research in the U.S. reports that the percentage of the adult population having a profound mystical experience has grown from 22% in 1962 to 49% in 2009. This is more than a doubling. By a slight margin, the U.S. is arguably more a nation of mystics than strict materialists.
While the awakening of unitive consciousness will not produce flawless beings, it will enhance our ability to participate in life with a more open mind and open heart—both immensely valuable qualities for nurturing the genuine flowering of world civilization. In addition, the perennial wisdom provides an anchor for aligning human evolution, both personal and social. This wisdom affirms that human evolution is going somewhere—that we are growing towards ever higher levels of integrative awareness that will enable us to express our appreciation for, and participation in, the unity and creative aliveness of the universe. This wisdom is profoundly relevant, not only for individual growth, but also for social evolution.
The Role of Unitive Awareness in the Human Journey
While some may view the wisdom of non-duality as so esoteric that it is not relevant to society at large, others see this understanding as fundamental to human evolution. Indeed, some of the most esteemed historians and social philosophers of our age see humanity growing toward a unitive awareness. Few persons have studied the long sweep of human history so thoroughly as Arnold Toynbee and Joseph Campbell. Each has concluded in his own way that the perennial wisdom is central to understanding the human journey.
Arnold Toynbee—As a distinguished historian who made a thorough study of twenty-one civilizations covering the bulk of recorded human history, Arnold Toynbee was unequivocal in describing the relevance of the perennial wisdom to human evolution. He said that the cause of “suffering and sorrow is the separation of sentient beings...from the timeless reality behind the phenomena, and a reunion with this reality is the sole but sovereign cure for our ailing world’s ills.” Toynbee described the need for “higher religions” that would enable humans “to find a direct personal relation with the transcendent reality in and behind and beyond the Universe...” After reviewing the world’s major religions, he concluded they all agree that humanity’s goal is “to seek communion with the presence behind the phenomena, and to seek it with the aim of bringing the self into harmony with this absolute spiritual reality. For Toynbee, the ultimate function of civilizational development was to serve the unfolding of ever deeper spiritual insights and understanding. He said that “civilizations are the handmaids of religion,” and that civilizations will have “fulfilled their function when they have brought a mature higher religion to birth.” In describing the central role of spiritual growth in the journey to a mature civilization, Toynbee made it clear that he was not forsaking the needs of the world. The goal he said, “is the kingdom of God; and this omnipresent Kingdom calls for service from its citizens on Earth here and now.”
Joseph Campbell—As a scholar and teacher, Campbell is recognized around the world for his study of the stories, myths and ideas that have shaped the human interpretation of life. After spending a lifetime looking at the basic stories of humanity throughout history and across cultures, he concluded they all focused on a single, dominant theme: discovery of the underlying ground of being, the perennial wisdom. When asked what was being sought through the vehicle of mythology, Campbell stated, “I think what we are looking for is a way of experiencing the world that will open to us the transcendent that informs it, and at the same time forms ourselves within it. ...to find [the transcendent] actually in our environment, in our world—to recognize it. To have some kind of instruction that will enable us to experience the divine presence.” Understandably, for Campbell, the first function of mythology was to “waken and maintain in the individual a sense of wonder and participation in the mystery of this finally inscrutable universe...”
Some will argue that to align human evolution with the perennial wisdom represents a return to an earlier age of superstition and wishful fantasy. In the view of respected scholars such as Toynbee and Campbell, this wisdom represents our highest knowledge as a human family and is the strongest foundation we have upon which to build a planetary civilization. Fundamental to building a sustainable future is finding a common ground of human experience and a shared vision of evolutionary potential that transcends the differences that now divide humanity. If we cannot find a universal and familiar ground of experience, we will not be able to develop a vision of healthy social evolution that draws out our energy and enthusiasm. Importantly, the non-dual wisdom affirms that, beyond all of our political, social and cultural differences, there is an experience of unity that underlies the world’s wisdom traditions and that transcends religious dogma and political differences.
Non-Duality as an Ever-Emergent Reality
Non-duality views creation of the universe not as a one-time event, but as an ongoing process. The entire universe is maintained moment-by-moment by an unbroken flow-through of energy. A regenerative perspective suggests why there is so much energy flowing through the universe—it is needed to continuously recreate the entire universe, including the fabric of space-time and matter-energy.
If we go to the heart of an atom, for example, what we find is almost entirely empty space. If the central core or nucleus of an atom were expanded to the size of a golf ball, the electrons that circle the core would extend outwards a mile and a half. The electrons that circle the center or nucleus of the atom are moving so fast—circling the nucleus of an atom several trillion times a second—that they manifest as a blurred cloud of motion. Beneath the solid surface of material objects, an extraordinary flow of activity is occurring. If you were to look at a yellow dress for one second, in that amount of time, the electrons in the retinas of your eyes would vibrate with more waves than all the waves that have beat upon all the shores of all the Earth’s oceans in the last ten million years. Physicist Max Born writes, “We have sought for firm ground and found none. The deeper we penetrate, the more restless becomes the universe; all is rushing about and vibrating in a wild dance.” The deeper we look into the heart of matter, the less substantial it seems. Upon close inspection, matter dissolves into knots of energy and space-time whose dynamic stability gives the appearance of enduring solidity. It is extraordinary that this hurricane of flowing motion comes together to present itself as the “ordinary” world around us. As giants, it is easy for us to overlook the ongoing miracle taking place at such a microscopic scale.
If we go into the heart of space, what we find is dynamism, energy, and structure. Space is not a pre-existing emptiness waiting to be filled with matter; rather, like matter, it emerges anew at every moment. Space exists as “actively” as does matter. Both are infused with the all-sustaining Life force. Empty space is a dynamically constructed transparency filled with immense levels of energy and motion. Einstein wrote, “We have now come to the conclusion that space is the primary thing and matter only secondary.” Erwin Schroedinger, father of quantum theory, stated it this way: “What we observe as material bodies and forces are nothing but shapes and variations in the structure of space. Particles are just appearances…Subject and object are only one. The barrier between them cannot be said to have broken down…for this barrier does not exist.”
Physicist John Wheeler has used the following analogy to suggest how, upon closer inspection, the fabric of space-time comes alive with motion. He imagines an aviator flying several miles above the ocean who looks down and sees what appears to be a flat and uniform surface. When he flies lower, he begins to make out rolling waves moving across the surface. Diving down still closer to the water, he sees smaller waves and crests forming on top of these swells. And looking even closer still, he sees the surface of the water boiling with mist, foam, and bubbles. In a similar way, the closer we look into the fabric of space-time, the more it appears as a complex symphony of waves and patterns; the smooth fabric of reality breaks down into “quantum foam” and our usual ideas of space and time disappear.
When we put the complete dynamism of matter together with the dynamism of space, it seems astonishing to me how stable and utterly dependable is the fabric of reality. We don’t have to worry about “space-time storms” that might create rips and tears in the fabric of reality. It is extraordinary that complete dynamism at the microscopic scale manifests as a stable and unwavering reality at the human scale.
Given the dynamism of both matter and space, the universe is, in the words of David Bohm, “an undivided wholeness in flowing movement.” In this view, the entire cosmos is being regenerated at each instant in a single symphony of expression that unfolds from the most microscopic aspects of the subatomic realm, to the vast reaches of billions of galactic systems. The whole cosmos all at once is the basic unit of creation.
Scientists sound like poets as they attempt to describe our cosmos in its process of becoming. The mathematician Norbert Wiener expresses it this way: “We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves; whirlpools of water in an ever-flowing river.” Imagine water flowing over rocks in a stream. If we look at the flow over a particular rock, we can see a persisting pattern despite the continuous streaming of water. We, and the rest of the universe, are a persisting pattern that, as physicist Brian Swimme tell us, “emerges out of an all-nourishing abyss not only 14 billion years ago but in every moment.” All flows comprise one grand symphony in which we are all players, a single creative expression—a uni-verse.
Adyashanti on the concept of spiritual awakening
This is an excerpt from the interview with Adyashanti at the Science and Nonduality Conference 2010
Thomas Hübl - What Is Humanity's New Story?
In this video by Ian MacKenzie, Thomas Hübl says, "People who are awake are not looking for more stories. They are looking for less stories, in order to see life."
Three Areas of Oneness
A short interview with Duane Elgin by the Global Oneness Project:
- Hameed Ali (A. H. Almaas)
- Maurizzio Benazzo
- Deepak Chopra
- Duane Elgin
- Peter Fenner
- Sally Kempton
- Candice O'Denver
- Genpo Roshi
- Peter Russell
- Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
- MANY others
- Richard Maurice Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (1991)
- Duane Elgin, The Living Universe: Where Are We? Who Are we? Where Are We Going? (2009)
- Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism (2011)
- Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World's Religions (2001)
- Lewellyn Vaughan-Lee, The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul (2009)
- Survey research on growth in mystical experiences
- various physics authors
- Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness
- Toynbee, A Study of History
- Campbell, The Hero's Journey