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The folk theory of nondual enlightenment

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The folk theory of nondual enlightenment

  1. 1. The Folk Theory of Nondual Enlightenment
  2. 2. How can the supreme Reality be described, since It is neither white nor any other colour, has no qualities such as sound, and is beyond voice and mind? ~Dattatreya Many rely on the folk theory of nondual enlightenment to help them “understand” by visualizing and/or imagining what they believe they are seeking as nondual enlightenment. A folk theory of nondual enlightenment is probably present in most systems of mystical spirituality that posit the possibility of being one with the universe, God, or of having a null existence. These are the popular definitions of nondual enlightenment. This actually represents a significant problem that is under- recognized within the nonduality spirituality community.
  3. 3. In Philosophy in the Flesh, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue that primary (or embodied) metaphors and folk theories are among the basic building blocks of human reason. They define a folk theory as a “basic explanatory model … [which] make up a culture’s shared common sense …” “There are often good reasons for these models, and in many cases folk theories work sufficiently well to serve everyday purposes …” Folk theories are explicit, helping to form the more or less widely-accepted “common sense” of a given sociocultural group, yet they also operate implicitly, becoming “unconscious and automatic, taken as background assumptions and used in drawing conclusions …”
  4. 4. While folk theories help us to make sense of the world around us, they are often full of noncritical assumptions. We can identify a folk theory of the human soul. We exist as beings apart from our body, and when the body dies, we will somehow continue, maybe in a good or a bad place. There really hasn’t been any definitive proof of an existence of personal consciousness after death, but since the idea of a soul has deep roots in our culture, many accept the folk theory that describes it.
  5. 5. Any thought regarding the Atman (nondual awareness) is a speculation. ~Swami Dayananda Saraswati There is no possible description of nondual enlightenment. Nondual enlightenment refers to the moment of and subsequent recognition of the nondual nature of our consciousness within the context of ordinary awareness. The recognition brings a permanent ability to notice nondual awareness as the origin of one’s ordinary awareness, which is to say, our awareness apart from any objects within our attentional space. Nondual enlightenment is not a glimpse, peak experience, or spiritual experience as they are commonly understood. It’s a recognition of what has always been present in our ordinary awareness—as its foundation—rather than a singular, shining moment of glory when we find ourselves to be divine.
  6. 6. The impossibility of a description of nondual enlightenment hasn’t stopped descriptions from arising within the culture of nonduality spirituality, which includes the larger part of Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Zen, Sufism, the Western mystery traditions, New Age thought, and most of the modern variants collectively referred to as neo-Advaita. Descriptions of nondual enlightenment in the literature of these traditions is commonly hyperbolic. This has resulted in a rich and fantastic mythology that attempts to describe what nondual enlightenment is like as an experience. Spiritual marketers often use this mythology to promote themselves as beings who enjoy a privileged, divine state of existence, often including the idea they can bestow the same state to others.
  7. 7. A swelling glory within me began to envelop towns, continents, the earth, solar and stellar systems, tenuous nebulae, and the floating universes. The entire cosmos, gently luminous, like a city seen afar at night, glimmered within the infinitude of my being. ~Yogananda To the enlightened one, the world as he knew it ceases to be, and everything now stands shrouded by a shining vesture of divine effulgence, hitherto invisible to his normal vision. ~Swami Chidananda A Sadguru [enlightened spiritual master] is endowed with countless Siddhis (psychic powers). He possesses all divine Aisvarya (powers), all the wealth of the Lord. ~Swami Shivananda
  8. 8. The idea of siddhis is expressed through a “powerful being” metaphor within the folk theory of nondual enlightenment. The notion is popular in nondual spirituality culture primarily because siddhis are discussed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, siddhis are paranormal powers that are acquired by the performance of demanding spiritual discipline and/or the cultivation of moral purity. Some of the siddhis mentioned in the Yoga Sutras are the power to “levitate, walk on water, swamps, thorns, or the like,” as well as “radiate light … gain distant hearing … become as tiny as an atom …” Today, the concept of a siddhi covers just about any paranormal ability a person may believe is possible.
  9. 9. Purna Avatars are born with an extraordinary array of supernatural powers, and possess an inexhaustible ability to perform divine miracles or miraculous deeds … ~Dr. Chandra Bhan Gupta The idea of the divine guru endowed with siddhis is the beating heart of the “powerful being” metaphor within the folk theory of nondual enlightenment, one that is anchored to the notion of mystical power. This is a figure presented as having reached the pinnacle of existence and attaining the greatest wisdom, usually after a long and arduous journey which often begins in a childhood marked by numerous miraculous occurrences. These include the satgurus and avatars, believed to be direct incarnations of God Him/Herself.
  10. 10. Another key metaphor within the folk theory of nondual enlightenment is the idea of the “perfected being,” anchored to the notion of purity. The perfected being is literally perfect because they are nondual enlightened. Or, they are nondual enlightened because they have made themselves perfect, or have been made perfect by God. Their every action is considered to be God’s alone. They are imagined to be clear vessels of God’s love. They lack any ego, or only have the faintest trace of one. They are free from the influences of thought, feeling, and desire. Some have demonstrated otherwise.
  11. 11. Confusion … exists in the thinking that self- realization is the elimination of all thoughts in the mind. ~Swami Dayananda Saraswati A third metaphor of the folk theory of nondual enlightenment supports a flight of ideas about the essential non-existence of the individual self. It is anchored to the notion of being “empty.” This is a common mis-construal of the Buddhist notion of “emptiness.” These ideas can arise automatically when one is exposed to the conceptual theater of nondual spirituality culture, and while somewhat supported by recent discussions within cognitive science, they often fail as a way to model the individual self and its relationship to the world by invoking a denial of nominal physio-cognitive realities and the impact of a “real world” life.
  12. 12. 1 First conceptual bifurcation
  13. 13. 2 Keystone occlusion
  14. 14. 3 Composite metaphors with their primary metaphor roots
  15. 15. 4 Transformations of divinity and non-existence
  16. 16. 5 The occluding imagery of enlightenment
  17. 17. The images and notions provided by the folk theory of nondual enlightenment supply a rich store of material from which nonduality seekers imagine what nondual enlightenment is like as an experience. These images may work to interfere with the recognition of nondual awareness by way of what can be called the conceptual displacement of awareness. When attention attaches to conceptual images about nondual enlightenment, those images are reified. The result is something akin to inattentional blindness. The concept displaces our awareness by becoming an object of awareness itself, rather than pointing to our awareness apart from its objects.
  18. 18. This can be illustrated by the reproductive strategy of the brown-headed cowbird. The cowbird is a parasitic species which finds the active nest of another bird and lies in wait until the nest is temporarily abandoned. She then sneaks in to replace the eggs with her own. The victim assumes the eggs are hers, and so she unwittingly hatches and raises the cowbird’s chicks as her own. In much this way, our ideas and expectations about nondual enlightenment can become one of its primary preventions.
  19. 19. The very expectation that thoughts and emotions should cease is a misconception. ~Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche A day will dawn when you will laugh at all your efforts. What is there to realize? The real is always as it is. ~Ramana Maharshi Unadulterated wisdom is only to be found within the stream of your own ordinary consciousness. ~Traleg Rinpoche The only difference between an awake one and one who isn't is that the awake one knows there is NO difference. ~Sailor Bob Adamson There is no difference between this moment and enlightenment. ~Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche The true mark of recognizing your Buddha nature is to realize how ordinary it really is. ~Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Editor's Notes

  • A universe of expectations
  • Implicit = red flag
  • The mind is a world-modeling navigation system Poisonous hagiography
  • The proverbial “peak experience”
  • There’s more than a few
  • Just as, if you are trying to seek enlightenment, how are you going to see what’s on your front doorstep? The map
  • First conceptual divide
  • The keystone Western “ego” and the ahamkara
  • Composite metaphors with their root notion
  • Transformations of divinity or not existing
  • Expectations and imagery The idea of merit
  • The circuit pulls the juice Neurology of nonduality
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