The dual and the non-dual…should the twain never intersect?
I find many non-dualist sādhakas admonish ordinary folks such as myself that the non-dual absolute (paramārthika) should never be brought into a dualistic (vyavahārika) context. This is typically a reaction when these highly intelligent individuals are questioned vis-á-vis their often strong reactions to perceived (and/or purported) wrongs against something they believe in very strongly.
Let me walk you through an example. One worthy was critiquing someone who expressed the view “I am spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) in the context of his/her faith in Bhagavan (God), without subscribing to the definition of Bhagavan that the hindu shāstras outline. It is evident from such a statement that the SBNR individual was not very well versed in the traditional sense, and/or has some limited exposure. Yet, this individual’s demeanor towards the SBNR was one of contempt (later altered to annoyed amusement).
When I inquired as to whether it would be a better idea to have compassion towards the SBNR rather than contempt, it was well received (this person is very intelligent, and has very good grounding in the shāstras (formal student), and a practicing Advaitin). However, when I made the point, “if we are advaitins, and consider that it is our own Self that is in all beings, how can we bear a contemptuous/condescending attitude towards another?”, I faced the “don’t conflate the vyavahārika with the paramārthika” response. This is not the first time I’ve encountered this of course. A very famous Hindu activist “intellectual” often admonishes people for what he calls “idiocy” of conflating the “relative with the absolute”. Let us refer to this group DCARs (Don’t conflate the Absolute and the relative).
Let me post a disclaimer — I’m neither particularly well trained in the shāstras (I consider myself a self-trained maverick), nor am I an exceptionally intelligent person (I’m mediocre in comparison to the many super sharp friends). So please keep grains of sand handy if you decide to read this article any further.
Is the Absolute a fragile little flower that needs to be protected?
Personally, I don’t see a reason why the absolute (paramārthika) should remain relegated to the domain of some dusty altar, to be reveled at from time to time, as if it is something unique and rare, as if it is some fragile thing that one can only glance at sideways, and even looking at it would result in it getting tainted somehow, or worse still, destroyed!
That is not the absolute that I know of. The Absolute is our very Self, hence it is called “Atman”. And we put in substantial effort and rigor in order to know it. After all, that IS the objective of Self-realization, or ātmasākshātkāra. Then, after knowing what it is, how wise is it to just set it aside, like one would set aside their laptop bag after coming home from work or school?
Is this Absolute somehow susceptible to being tainted? Is it so fragile that it will crumble to bits if one were to “conflate” it with the dualistic/relative and transactional reality? No! In fact, our shāstras go out of their way to say that the Atman is immortal, it is spotless and untainted, ever free from sin and from any negativity (or positivity for that matter). So then, what is it about the Absolute that cannot be “conflated” upon the relative?
I’ve not heard a single argument from anyone who espouses “don’t conflate the absolute with the relative”, that has cleared my doubts.
Is the Absolute transactionally impractical?
Is spirituality meant to be kept separate from the “practical”? If we concede that, then we have to admit that spirituality is not practical, and therefore only an idiot would apply it in the transactional world. But if we introspect the purpose of having a spiritual practice at all, it is so that our everyday experience of the world is made free of suffering (due to rāga-dvésha aka the like-dislike duality). Ultimately the outcome should be to become liberated from the cycle of birth and rebirth, mōksha.
So it seems that our spiritual pursuits are primarily in order to change our experience of transactional reality (which is none other than suffering, for the mumukshu/seeker). That being the case, how can we claim that the absolute should not be conflated with the relative? The whole reason why we seek the absolute is to be free from the clutches of the relative, to stop being tormented by the ups and downs of life.
It seems that the DCARs, are not especially better off than the SBNR group. One group might be deficient in shāstraic education (SBNR), the other seems to be deficient in humility and compassion (the side effects of true jñāna).
The absolute should become the guiding light for all our interactions in the vyavahārika world. One cannot consider to be on the jñāna yoga path if one cannot develop and exhibit the very attributes that are the result of said jñāna — compassion, gentleness, loving-kindness and equanimity (samadṛṣṭi (समदृष्टि)). They are very clearly articulated in form of sādhanā chatushtāya and shadsampat.
If we investigate exactly who is it that wants to keep the absolute separated from the relative, we will find that it is none other than the ego. It is the ego that likes and dislikes, that loves the us-vs-them paradigm. It is the ego that exhibits egoism, contempt, scorn and condescension.
So if I could summarize the 902 words prior to this section, I would say that one must indeed conflate the Absolute and the relative. In fact, one should not do a single thing in the relative, transactional reality that would negatively affect the criteria outlined in the “sādhanā chatushtāya”.
If so, should a sādhaka even participate in the vyavahārika world? Should he or she run away to the mountains or forests to live out their lives in solitude?
The great Advaita masters seem to say that is wrong. One cannot run away from the world and call oneself “liberated”. True liberation should happen while living in the world. The Daoist masters call the sage “in the world but not of it”. If we cannot maintain our abidance as the Nondual Self amidst the trials and tribulations of samsāra, we cannot be free. So, the world, should be our laboratory, where we become the absolute and “disappear” the relative, over and over again. Not seeking separation and duality, but rather oneness via unconditional love, for every single being (and even thing) is nothing but our own Self.
More posts by this author:
- The Good, the Bad and The Self-Aware
- Is the Truth One? So what if the wise call it by different names?
- Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta — Are they really that different?
- Consciousness according to Zen Buddhism and how it relates to Advaita Vedanta
- Dao series: Not too much, not too little – How much effort is enough effort?
Dwai is an old soul. He likes to meditate, practice Taijiquan (Tai Chi), play music and write articles and blogs about all the topics that interest him.