Baba used to tell the story of a man who was walking into town after meeting a Guru. The Guru had told him the Truth that God is everywhere. So when the man left, he continued to repeat those words. As he walked down the road, a group of villagers came running toward him, screaming, “Run for your life! Run for your life! Mad elephant! Mad elephant!” The man disregarded the warning and kept walking, repeating, “God is everywhere”. Then another group of villagers ran toward him, saying, “Run for your life! Mad elephant!” The man walked on, saying, “God is everywhere, God is everywhere”. Soon enough, he crossed paths with the mad elephant. Enraged, it kicked him, picked him up, and threw him in a ditch before rampaging off. Once the elephant was gone, the villagers came back and found the mangled man in the ditch. They put him in a litter and took him back to the Guru. “Oh Guruji,” he moaned, “you said that God is everywhere”. The Guru replied, “What makes you think God was not in the villagers warning you to run away from the mad elephant?”
The unfortunate man didn’t heed the warnings because he was what I call a unidualist. He superimposed his idea of nonduality on relative reality. Big mistake.
In the words of the Zen Patriarch Hui-neng, “Though good and bad differ, the original nature is not dual”. The importance of this sutra-like comment cannot be overstated. Hui-neng is not saying that nonduality is everywhere for everyone; he is saying that relative reality contains both good and bad, and we must be able to distinguish between the two. The original nature—the Absolute—is nondual, but we cannot know this nonduality until we are our original nature. It is only by being nonduality that we know nonduality. This crucial truth is what unidualists fail to see.
Unidualism is one of the most pernicious narratives out there—and, unfortunately, all too common. Unidualists believe they are seeing the big picture, and that their big picture is the universal Truth. They come in two varieties: intellectual and sentimental. And both types are dissociative.
Many times I have met people who speak as if everything is gloriously good or horrendously bad. They themselves, they believe, have correct and clear understandings. As they assess the world through the lens of unidualism, either everything is all good and they then miss any of the warning signs, or everything is all bad and they cannot see the revelations and opportunities right in front of them.
The intellectual unidualists tend to see everything in the world as bad and tainted. These unidualists believe they are smarter than everyone else because they are capable of seeing the universe as it really is: meaningless and bad. They view anyone with a positive view of anything as intellectually inferior and ignorant. They are really nothing more than cynics, who conflate their hopelessness and despair with wisdom.
The sentimental unidualists see the world as unfailingly good and themselves as spiritual, positive thinkers. They have in fact completely misunderstood both reality and true spiritual teaching. Even if they belong to a developed religious tradition, they come under the heading of New Age spirituality, which tends to embrace the misconception of imposing an idea of Absolute reality on relative reality instead of understanding that relative reality itself is dualistic and only Absolute Reality is nondual. As a result, they whitewash their own experience and everyone else’s. This wrong imposition is the most common form of unidualism.
Anyone with any real spiritual understanding knows that the material world is dualistic. It is only experienced as Unity by liberated souls, jivanmuktas. If you project an idea of universal goodness or ill on the world, you have not grasped nonduality at all—you are a unidualist. The way to be truly nondual is to live in the awareness of Absolute Reality which is beyond good and evil.
What this means is that unidualism is a kind of no-man’s-land between the realities grasped by both dualism and nondualism. It is a spiritual desert, and wandering in that desert and not knowing it means you can never grow, never move forward.
Give up your commitment to unidualism and you will begin to see the world as it is. That is not always easy, but it is much better than missing the whole point and wasting away in your own desert. In other words, work to give up seeing the universe as all bad or all good. Stop being a unidualist.
Share this Post