Towards a new Paradigm: from Oneness Perceived


New age attitudes are sometimes based on the assumption of enlightenment, as if the workshops we have all taken have fully enlightened us. There is no doubt that there has been a great enlightenment in social attitudes since the psychedelic sixties. We have revised the ways we work, love, eat, raise our kids and recycle our waste. However, this does not mean that we have become enlightened in the strict sense of the word. Enlightenment is a specific state of being, difficult to define and arduous to attain. Many traditional esoteric writings on this subject are obscure, even misleading. In light of this, it is understandable if most of us are content with enlightened attitudes. While from the point of view of social good, this is usually an advance, it is by no means the real article. This becomes all too clear when newly enlightened attitudes come up against old residues of self interest, creating conflict and even hypocrisy.

People have been attracted to enlightenment for thousands of years but few people agree on what it is. From Jesus to Buddha, enlightenment has always suggested paranormal faculties, if not godlike powers. The possibility of acquiring these powers is one of the attractions of the spiritual quest. Among the more useful of the powers attained by some enlightened beings are healing and extrasensory perception. However, most spiritual teachers have minimized the importance of these psychic powers saying that they are not the point. Powers may sometimes emerge on the road to enlightenment, but they are a side effect, not to be confused with enlightenment itself. What's more, the teachers warn, if powers are sought, the spiritual journey becomes sidetracked. But if enlightenment is not about developing psychic powers, what is it about?

Another common idea is that enlightenment is a state of transcendent unflappability. If anything can upset us, we must not be fully enlightened. But this too seems off the mark. Being unemotional can be the result of many things, drugs, depression, a schizoid personality, or plain not caring. On the other hand, we have these stories of enlightened beings from all traditions who cared ferociously and dedicated their lives to a cause, albeit a noble one.

Another common idea is that enlightened beings are benign, and enlightenment is a matter of politically correct behaviors and attitudes: altruism, harmlessness, moderation, non-discrimination and vegetarianism. However, in the early years the Buddha wouldn't let women join his order, nor were women among Jesus's disciples. So Buddha and perhaps Jesus as well were sexist. What's more, Bodhidharma, the first Zen patriarch, held that the enlightened man can be a butcher or snatch the food out of the mouth of a starving man, but as long as he knows his real nature no harm will come out of it. So if Bodhidharma's hyperbole is to be given credence, admirable behavior, however desirable, is not essential to enlightenment. In fact, it may have nothing whatsoever to do with it. Perversely, outwardly despicable behavior may prove to be enlightened once we understand its purpose. In fact, there is a tradition of teachers being harsh and irascible taskmasters. Bodhidharma, on the other hand, gives us a real clue to what enlightenment is when he says "as long as a man knows his real nature". Enlightenment has something to do with knowing your real nature. What is this real nature, and how does one go about discovering it? One time honored means of pursuing it, advocated by the Advaita sage Ramana Maharshi, is to repeatedly inquire "Who am I"? But when most people ask themselves this question, the only answers they get are a set of identities, nested like Chinese boxes, man, Jew, husband, father, teacher, therapist, wit, etc. Surely, the secret to enlightenment is not to be found in those identities. Of course Maharshi had something else in mind, probably very similar to what Bodhidharma had in mind when he said that the key to enlightenment is in discovering one's real identity. Obviously, we need to go further.

To really understand enlightenment it will be useful to go to Gautama Buddha. Buddha said that the real problem with life is dukkha. Dukkha is commonly translated as suffering but its literal meaning isn't that at all. Dukkha simply means twoness. Life is twoness, and from that essential twoness all the problematic aspects of life somehow emerge, of which suffering certainly is one. But to say that suffering is the basic problem of life is a half truth. It is like saying the world is made up of fire, water, air and earth. It does not address the problem on a sufficiently fundamental level. Sadly, however, much of popular Buddhism and much of our misunderstanding of the nature of enlightenment is based on that mistranslation.

Going back to a reading of dukkha as twoness is one starting point for the understanding of our real nature and subsequent enlightenment. Ducca, twoness, is what is known in western philosophy as duality. The Vendanta tradition of India also has at least two major branches which specifically identify dualism as the heart of the problem: Advaita, which is literally the philosophy of dualism, and Kashmir Shaivism.

What is duality, where does it come from, what is its relationship to reality, how does it give rise to the problematic aspects of our life, how can it help us to discover our real nature and what is its relationship to enlightenment? Only after answering these questions can we know what enlightenment is and how it can live up to itspromise of making us somehow Godlike. These questions are the essence of the perennial investigation into the nature of Self and existence, that perennial investigation which is at the heart of Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, Advaita, Taoism, Buddhism as well as the esoteric branches of most other wisdom traditions and religions. They also are at the heart of the book you are about to read, Oneness Perceived. What is duality?

Duality refers to the way all known things, whether they be sensory qualities or cognitive concepts, come in the form of polar opposites. Hot and cold, near and far, in and out, health and sickness, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, etc, are all polar opposites, negative and positive. They are polarized around a point of perception, a projection of the corresponding quality in the perceiver. Thus, things are hotter and cooler than, nearer and further than, and richer and poorer than the perceiver.

Where does duality come from?

Duality comes from perception and perception only. Whenever perception takes place, duality is created. Duality, twoness, occurs whenever a person or any sentient being, by the act of perceiving, splits Oneness, the unknowable unity of existence, into poles relative to itself. Thus, Oneness is transmuted into form and rendered capable of being experienced. The first perception, the perception of Self, comes from Oneness and divides Oneness into perceiver and perceived, or "self" and "other". Subsequent perceptions come from the perceived "self" and divide "other" into polar opposites.

What is the relationship of duality to reality?

Duality is illusion. It is the appearance that emerges subsequent to perception. Hot and cold do not exist independently, they only exist in perception relative to the perceiver. This does not deny reality to existence. Existence exists. But it does say that all sensory and cognitive experience is only appearance, what it seems to the perceiver. It is illusory as to the existence underlying it. The very thingness of things is illusion, an artifact of perception. All experience is illusory! All experienced reality is virtual reality.

How does duality give rise to the problematic quality of our lives?

If all of the qualities of ourselves, all the things of the world and all of the dimensions and laws of reality are illusory, what does that mean? It means that all of the hard realities that make life problematic and create suffering, are illusions as well. They are not real! They have no existence independent of us as perceivers. Pleasure and pain, sick and well, rich and poor, gain and loss, none have meaning or reality except to us as perceivers. Space and time, location, even causality only have meaning relative to ourselves as perceivers. Yet what are we? Our very selves, not as they exist in Oneness but as we know them, are illusory. They also are perceptions, self-perceptions, things that also exist in duality, the duality of self and other. Even life and death, some of the masters tell us, are illusory. They also are a duality, perceptual poles that exist outside of that real space, that Self that we come to inhabit when we realize our real nature. So it is being mesmerized by this illusory world of duality, this illusory world only meaningful to our illusory selves, which is creating the problematic quality of our lives, which is creating our suffering. Correspondingly, it is getting out of this self-created loop of creating illusion from illusory selves, that will end our suffering. So it becomes clear that suffering is not the base of the problem, but the result. Twoness, duality, is the base of the problem.

How can understanding duality help us discover our real nature?

The understanding of duality and illusion can help us discover our real nature by warning us where not to look and how not to look. If we understand that our individual selves, like all perceptions, are illusions, that will save us lifetimes of looking into the illusion of ourselves for our real nature. Our real nature, the answer to the question "who am I", cannot be found in the roles we play nor the ideas we have of who we are! Furthermore, if we understand that all the products of our mind and our senses, in fact, anything we perceive or conceive is illusion, that will save us lifetimes of examining external illusions to find our real nature. Therefore, even science, at least in the way it is now conceived, cannot provide the answer.

What is the right place and the right way to look? The only way that is left. After we give up looking in the wrong place and the wrong way, like a bull left staring bewilderedly into the remaining emptiness, after continually charging the muleta only to have it pulled from its line of sight once again, there is our real nature. This means an examination of aperceptual reality. But how do you examine a reality that you cannot, see, hear, even conceptualize. Actually, there are a few routes left to us, but they are subtle, subtle and difficult. They are inquiry, surrender and spontaneous revelation. This book explores one of these paths, inquiry, and lays the groundwork for surrender. Spontaneous revelation cannot be transmitted in words, only perhaps courted by deep meditation practices.


The path of inquiry is a deep contemplation of the principle of perceptual duality and its implications for the nature of reality. It asks the question, what is 'aperceptual' reality, and it asks it again and again, going deeper and deeper. It turns the highbeam of integrative intellect on division after division of human investigation with this question in mind. This is the direction this book takes.

Surrender or letting go

Surrender is one of the most misunderstood principles of spirituality. It is commonly mistaken as letting go of your will to the will of God, as if God is an external entity that has a will of his own, to which you are supposed to sacrifice your will. [One can see how this misinterpretation was convenient for an institutionalized church which was interested in keeping its members in line and coming up with the tithe.] However, what if, in aperceptual reality, we are all God. Then, who should we surrender our will to, ourselves? Seems ridiculous, but properly understood, in the paradox of the ridiculous lies the sublime. If all that lies between us and enlightenment [or the realization of our identity with God], are the illusions of the dual mind, then these selfsame illusions are all that separates our personal will from God's will. Letting go of these illusions reveals the reality of our Self, of our real nature, of our identity. It reconciles our dual mind with One mind, our personal will with God's will. It accomplishes that because we realize our identity with the All, with the One mind and the One will. This subject is going to be extensively explored in subsequent books.

What is the relationship between duality and enlightenment?

The first task of the path to enlightenment through inquiry, is to attain a deep understanding of dukkha, twoness, duality, illusion. Whatever way that understanding is deepened, through study, thought, meditation, koan practice, any way at all, enlightenment will deepen with it. Enlightenment progresses as more and more fundamental dualities, the illusions of our life, become transparent to the underlying unity, the underlying truth. Enlightenment is a process that starts someplace and progresses somehow, gradually consuming all of the illusions we hold dear in the flame of reality. First, it works on our ideas of what is. Gradually it shifts to our ideas of who we are, then imperceptibly shifts to transform what we are ... from the illusion of our perceptions to the reality that we were all the time. So enlightenment can start with the process of understanding duality and ripen into being transformed by that understanding, thus coming into one's real nature. This is a rigorous process, one that requires not only inspiration and meditation, but in the words of Ramana Maharshi, "an intellect capable of discerning truth from illusion".

What is our true nature? What is left after withdrawing attention and import from the senses and the mind? Only awareness of Self. In that awareness there is nothing, no colors, no forms, no smells, no images, no time, no space, no thoughts, not even any desires, no things at all. In that awareness there is no one, no person, no you, just consciousness with thoughts arising and subsiding within it. Never mind, go there anyway. Rest there, for that no thing at all is a window, a window into reality and a window into the unknowable. At one level they are one and the same. Go there and stay. When you catch yourself wandering into the world of thoughts and things, return. As you rest in the reality of your Self, enlightenment will gradually deepen on its own. Only one question remains, the question of why we should bother. One answer, certainly one of the best, is for freedom. Enlightenment brings us freedom from... from ignorance, fear, folly, and delusion, freedom from the bondage of ideas, maybe even a measure of freedom from suffering. Enlightenment also brings us freedom to... to be spontaneous, to see the humor in all things most of all ourselves, to explore the oldest questions for the first time, to trade attachment for perspective, to be happy, serene, unfettered, balanced, even carefree among the cares of life.

There is another reason to seek enlightenment, for comprehension, for a new paradigm of enlightened thought. All branches of human activity and human inquiry, from the exploitation of the earth to the pursuit of objectivistic science, are reaching their limits, reaching the end of the illusion. What illusion is this? First, it is the illusion of self and other. As science reports that the PCBs we release into the atmosphere have come back to us in the milk of nursing mothers, the realization is thrust upon us on the most tangible level that there truly is no other. There is only Self, and we are all it, together with the cosmos we inhabit. To paraphrase Arthur Koestler, every boundary is a connection. We are all swimming in the infinite hierarchy of the all. Second, it is the illusion that reality is the way we perceive it, tangible things imbued with sensory qualities, separate things revolving around the separate self we perceive ourselves to be, instead of the infinite, interconnected skein of unknowable existence it is.

Ultimately, we need to understand that all "things" are illusions created by the very act of perception that knows them, and that all things, upon examination, resolve into the unknowable One. We, as perceivers, both individually and collectively, are centers that create our own worlds. We project the reality of the selfsame illusion that we embody. Man's world is made not in God's image, but in his own. In order to remake the world in God's image, we have to first realize the God in ourselves.

What is this God in ourselves: nothing but the reality behind the illusion, if only we will see it. From our point of view we are the center of the universe; from any other point of view we are just out there, a thing along with every other thing. But in Oneness there can be no point of view, that is the key to understanding the mystery. From no point of view there are no separate things, no places where these things arise; there is just here, everywhere. There is just Oneness itSelf. You and I, the animals and the plants, the earth and the stars, are equally and inexplicably that Self. And that One Self, in all its mysterious workings, in all its glory, is God, should you choose to call it that.

That is the ultimate paradigm of enlightened thought, enlightenment to reality, enlightenment to our true nature, enlightenment to God. It is all one and the same. All is One Self and we, no more and no less that anything else, are also Self. The only possible difference, for what its worth, is a level of awareness. The human advantage is that we can be aware that we are Self, but our challenge is that it is far easier to be aware of the illusion. In the final analysis, it is which awareness we choose to act on that separates the men from the Gods.

Santa Barbara, Ca. May 20, 2001