Lezing van Paul van der Sterren, uitgesproken tijdens de Science and Nonduality Conference (SAND Europe 2013) in Doorn, Landgoed Zonheuvel, 1 juni 2013
No speaker, no listener, no words
I would like to start by saying that it feels really strange to give a formal lecture about non-duality. I feel much more inclined to talk spontaneously about this, but then I would certainly be finished in less than five minutes and we would all be disappointed perhaps. So I have prepared a speech of about twenty minutes for the occasion and after that we can either talk more spontaneously or adjourn to the coffee room (if there is such a place, this is my first day here) and do something useful instead.
To most people the two components of the word SAND, science and non-duality, probably sound like pretty difficult subjects. Now, I don't know about science, but non-duality, or advaita as it is also called (it is the same word in a different, more ancient language), is not nearly as difficult as it sounds. In fact the opposite is true: non-duality is incredibly simple. But talking about non-duality is very difficult indeed. Quite impossible in fact, because everything that is said about non-duality makes it sound very difficult - and must therefore necessarily be wrong.
End of talk, I can see you thinking and it would indeed be wise if I did stop talking now.
But the good news is that precisely this impossibility of talking about non-duality completely liberates the speaker. 'You can't go right, therefore you can't go wrong'. What is more - and now I am finally coming to the heart of the matter - non-duality means that there is no speaker, there is nothing being said (even when something is being said) and that there is no one listener.
Non-duality (or advaita) is the seeing that there is only oneness. Just that. No complications, no theorizing, no but. It is the seeing that all there is is oneness.
But this oneness is not a sort of joyless desert where everything looks pretty much the same, where there are just endless waves of desert sand, void of all that is beautiful and attractive, as is often thought (or feared). Oneness is this and in and as this oneness includes and is everything.
This of course is where ordinary logic stops, or rather it stops being the dominant force and becomes just one of the myriad phenomena that arise in and as oneness. It also clearly demonstrates that it is really impossible to talk about oneness, not just theoretically, because everything that is being said points away from the simplicity of this, which is so simple, so unspeakable.. and so beautiful.
It is a mystery, but a mystery that is showing itself plainly in and as everything. For oneness, for no reason at all (or let's say for reasons that elude the seeker) becomes two and then becomes everything, yet in so doing it remains unchanged, perfectly still, pure, unspoiled oneness.
At least - that is one way of putting it. What I am saying here is no dogma, no truth. It is just an attempt at describing that which is indescribable.
Another such attempt is pointing out that the I, the sense of being an individual, who thinks he or she lives in a world full of individuals and apparently has to deal with that tricky situation, is in fact an illusion, a construct of the brain if you like. Assuming for the moment that there is such a thing as a human (or animal) brain, then at some point in the development of that brain an awareness evolves of 'self and other'. 'I am Paul and this is my mother and it feels good when she holds me, but I don't
like my face being washed with soap.' Interestingly, children after they reach this stage sometimes refer to themselves in the third person for quite a while before they finally succumb to the pressure and accept that they really are an I, an identity, separate from other identities, like mother and soap.
But I am sure this is being described much more accurately in other lectures at this conference, for this is the domain of scientists. I am merely referring to it because it illustrates so well the fragility and the limitations of this whole-I-thing, not in order to prove anything.
Proving anything is an impossibility anyway when it comes to non-duality. Oneness is either seen or it is not seen. Now, this may sound like it is a kind of divine grace or something to see oneness and also like it is very desirable and precisely what we should all be looking for. It may also sound like a rather serious form of brain disease. But in fact neither is true. Seeing oneness, or enlightenment or liberation (or whatever you call it) is not a matter of grace and there is nothing desirable or undesirable about it at all. It is of absolutely no use for this kind of energy, this feeling of being an I, an individual, an individual who believes that he or she is a separate identity, controlling his or her life (or complaining about a lack of control there). Nor is it something that can be attained by this individual, for seeing oneness is the seeing that there is no individual and that there never was an individuall, who ran his own life and controlled things. Oneness is not seen by anybody, not by me, not by any special persons, not by anybody - literally. It is just seen. Or it is not seen.
Many apparent people interpret this message as saying 'there is nothing you can do' about what they call 'becoming enlightened' and label it nihilistic, cold or sad. This is not just wrong, it is exactly the opposite of what is being said here. It is not that you can't do anything. It is that there is nobody who can either do or not do something, even when there seems to be somebody who thinks he can. Doing something happens all the time, or it appears to happen, but there are no I's doing (or non-doing) it. Oneness appears as a myriad of happenings both (seemingly) good and bad, but there is in fact just oneness, being immovable, perfectly still oneness, no matter what is (apparently) happening.
For the individual that is a frightening message, but the joy of it is that the individual itself is also oneness, including all of the emotions and all the thinking that the individual sees as his or her emotions and thoughts. The individual is oneness, inexpressible oneness, expressing itself as an apparent individual trying to understand or resist this message or simply being dumbfounded by it.
In a way you could say that where there is an individual, oneness cannot be seen, but you could equally well say that there is only oneness and there never is an individual, whatever the apparent individual thinks about this. You do not exist. Yet you are oneness, being the perfect expression of itself.
It is a mystery and the knowing of it can only take the form of not knowing, the seeing of it only take the form of not seeing. That is non-duality.
As far as I can see, the difference between this perspective and the scientific outlook is that in science not knowing takes the form of knowing. In science not knowing something is the starting point for research and if successful this research will result in knowing. Now, we can of course argue about the words knowing and not knowing and maintain that we are talking about two wholly different sorts of knowing here, but I do not think that would be very fruitful (although possibly it is a necessity to the scientific mind to argue about it). I would rather conclude that here we have the relation between science and non-duality in a nutshell.
Science strives to know while non-duality points to the value and the true meaning of not knowing. These two however are not opposites, of which one is right and the other is wrong, they complement each other. Perhaps they can even be seen as parts of a circle. If we assume time to exist (oneness expressing itself as apparent time), then knowing and not knowing can be seen as stages in a circular movement, like day and night are moving over the earth, connected, of equal value, yet never in one place at the same time. The eternal changing of night and day is a natural movement. So it is with knowing and not knowing. Neither is permanent, they both necessarily extinguish after a while when they are succeeded by their apparent opposite, until that opposite in turn disappears and yields the stage to the other again and so on and so on.
Again this is only a metaphor, a construct of words, not to be taken as a truth or a dogma or anything else with a fixed value. What is behind it is the idea that science and non-duality are simply different sets of lighting, illuminating a room from opposite angles, with the same aim in mind, but necessarily apparently opposed to each other. Seen like this, a congress like the one taking place right here gives us the benefit of the fullest possible lighting. Which sounds really good from a scientific point of view. But the non-dualistic snag is that there is nothing to be seen and no one to be enlightened in whatever sort of lighting, coming from whatever direction.
Just as science sees that there are all sorts of interesting objects to be investigated, so non-duality sees oneness. The mystery is that these are not opposing views. They are in fact identical. Also they are just views on reality, never reality itself. Oneness is what is, but precisely in this isness, this being, it is everything. And that includes all possible views on reality, on life and death, on love and hatred, on coffee and tea. To the individual one point of view always looks better than another, to oneness they are all oneness. Not the same, not a bleak joyless desert, but just oneness, expressing itself in a myriad ways.
And since the individual, the sense of being a person, separate from other persons, is just a construct of the brain (from the point of view of oneness: an illusion) we could conclude that the person's must be the wrong point of view and that oneness's is the right one.
But in oneness such distinctions are meaningless. Oneness is equally enthusiastically a so-called wrong point of view as it is a perfectly clear, highly illuminating description of itself.
In oneness, preferences exist (or seem to exist), but they are seen for what they are: apparent happenings in and as oneness. No more, no less. When projected on a circle the scientific and the non-dualistic point of view never meet, but in reality they meet not just here, but everywhere and all the time, even if time and space are also only a construct of the brain.
But we probably need a scientist to argue that point of view.. or to argue the opposite. Arguing is what science does and this will result in knowing. Not knowing and being silent is what non-duality does, but strangely enough: never in silence.
As I have now sufficiently demonstrated, I think. Thank you for your attention and if you have any questions or comments, please let us hear them.