A few years ago in a coffee shop at Cambridge, UK, I had a discussion on the nature of Reality with an Anglican priest. He had earned his doctorate from Oxford and appeared open to thinking outside Christianity. However, he believed that the individual always remains separate from God. For him, union with God was not an option; believing in it would be human presumption. The best we could hope for was moving from the image to the likeness of God but remaining distinct. As for me, I am aligned with some of the Christian and Indian mystics: if we surrender our individual identity, we return to our true identity in God. What the priest believed we maintain—our individuality—is exactly what I believe we have to give up. The priest and I ended up having to agree to disagree about where we were all heading. He was committed to dualism and I to non-dualism. The duel was a draw.
Recently I had a similar discussion with someone who thought dualism in any form was delusive. This time I found myself on the other side, arguing for dualism having its place as a stage of sādhana.
Dualism and non-dualism are maps that express the path from God to manifestation. Depending on a person’s temperament and capacity, one map will serve better at first than the other. Baba always said to first teach śāmbavōpāya, and if the student was not ready then step the practice back to where they are. We will all eventually reach non-dualism; when, is another story.
People may even ask why I teach the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, because it is a dualistic path. The map is actually very helpful in seeing our afflictions and the way beyond them. Where we end up is kaivalya which is aloneness, or at-onement—for all intents and purposes, non-dualism.
The truth is, we live in relative reality, which is based on dualism. If we artificially superimpose Absolute Reality on the relative, we will be inappropriate at every turn. Even the Śiva Sūtras, a great tantric text, speaks of the nature of bondage, which is ignorance. There are three impurities (malas) in Kashmir Shaivism: I am imperfect (ānava mala), I am separate (māyiya mala) and I am the doer (karma mala). These three malas cause us to believe we exist as limited individuals, when in Truth we are not shrunken but the Self of All, Perfect, One, the real doer.
Our ignorance causes us to believe everyone sees the world as we do. According to Kashmir Shaivism, each of us lives in a separate manifested reality (prakṛti). This prakṛti is designed specifically based on our past actions and what we need in order to reach liberation. In relative reality we are limited and shrunken, obscured from the truth.
From the standpoint of Absolute Reality there is only Subject with no object. There is only “sciousness”—not even consciousness, which implies duality—and we are Perfect, the Self, God.
In Absolute Reality, there is no dialogue. All is perfection; there is no conflict, because conflict requires an “other”.
This brings me to another component of Kashmir Shaivism: the understanding of bheda to bhedābheda to abheda. Depending on where we are internally, we will see the world differently. At the start of the path, we see the world as bheda, the many. Everything is other, different. As we grow, we will be seeing the world as bhedābheda, One in the many. Finally, we know abheda, that there is only the One.
Nondual and dual. One and many. Universal and separate. God is nondual; we as individuals (jīva) are dual. Give up jīva and attachment to jīva, which is bondage, and we go from bheda to abheda. Abheda has to be our bottom line; we just do not know it. If we were not That, then we could not realize That. We are already there, and we are not.
In 1975, I was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I had received a letter from Baba’s organization the day before. There was a quote from Baba: “God forgets his own true nature and looks for God. God worships God. God meditates on God, and God is trying to find God. It is God who questions and God who answers.” When I read this it detonated something in me. I was struck. The quote stayed with me for the rest of that day. The next day I walked down by the Charles River near where I lived. Looking out at the water, I felt the Reality of Baba’s words become clear. I experienced the Joke of it all, and laughed nonstop for several hours. It all made sense. There is only God. Abheda. Non-dualism. Pure Bliss.
I did come back to normal consciousness, to the world of bheda (difference). But the imprint of abheda was always underneath bhedābedha. I knew that my direction, and all of our direction, is to abheda (non-difference). We live in relative reality and must function appropriately in this arena. All our vehicles are a part of this reality. There is a big difference between knowing in the Heart who we are because we reside in and are Being, and intellectually knowing the truth as an idea that we strongly believe. In Truth, we are Absolute Reality, but until we know this at all times and in all places and we are truly abheda, let us not pretend. We are in this world of relative reality, and we are accountable to it.