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#1697 - Tuesday, February 3, 2004 - Editor: Jerry  

This issue features the latest update to A Course in Consciousness, by Stanley Sobottka:  

  What is Reality not?
According to the teaching of nonduality, Reality is not:

1.  What you have been told it is.
2.  What you think it is.
3.  What you believe it to be.
4.  What you want it to be.
5.  What you think it should be. 
Well, then, what is It? 
The only way to find out is to look!

  Chapter 12. Nonduality, religion, and belief

12.1.  Religion as the belief in god

Because suffering is often grounded in deep-seated religious beliefs, such suffering will not end until these beliefs are deeply questioned.  However, because there are no doers, nobody has any choice about what he/she believes, or about whether or not to question them.  If questioning is supposed to happen, it will.  If not, it won't.  Nevertheless, in this chapter (and for much of the course), for the purpose of ease in communication, we shall use the active (doer) mode of speaking instead of the more accurate passive (nondoer) mode.  

There is an enormous difference between the teachings of nonduality and those of religion. There is no theology in the purest forms of nonduality, whereas theology is the basis of all religion. By theology, I mean a belief system which contains critical concepts that one is asked to believe as Truth but which cannot be verified within the individual’s own experience. 

This is a course in seeing and understanding, not in belief.  In nonduality, Reality transcends all concepts, so Reality cannot be conceptualized.  Nonduality as a teaching contains many concepts, but all of them are meant to be pointers to Reality that can be verified by experience. To mistakenly believe the concepts as Reality Itself would actually prevent one from realizing Reality. In the end, the only validity of any concepts is in their usefulness in bringing about awakening and the end of suffering.

The world's scriptures can be interpreted in many different ways.  At one extreme are the fundamentalist interpretations, which assume that the words are literal truth.  These interpretations are inevitably dualistic because all words taken literally are dualistic, and they always conceive of God and humans as separate beings.  Examples of scriptures that are usually interpreted literally are the Hebrew and Christian Bibles.  At the other extreme are the nondualistic interpretations, which regard the words as nothing but pointers to Reality.  An example of a scripture that is most naturally interpreted nondualistically is the Ashtavakra Gita.  (See, e.g., a highly regarded translation without commentary called The Heart of Awareness (1990), by Thomas Byrom, available at translation with commentary, entitled Duet of One (1989), was authored by Ramesh Balsekar, see Appendix).  A scripture that lends itself in some parts to a dualistic interpretation and in other parts to a nondualistic interpretation is the Bhagavad Gita (

In religion, mankind creates gods in its own images, and each religion then justifies its actions by claiming it speaks for its god.  The more vengeful and punitive is the god, the more vengeful and punitive are the people who believe in it.  Thus, many adherents to Christianity are admiringly described as god-fearing, not god-loving.  Furthermore, any belief in god induces guilt, expiation of which often takes the form of trying to induce guilt in others.  It is no accident that the most peaceful religions are the ones, like Buddhism, that have no concept of god.  

Religions often preach love without knowing what Love is (see Chapters 16 and 25).  Many religious fundamentalists interpret their god's love for them to be inseparable from its hate for others.  (The U.S. political movement known as the Christian religious right is one such group.  Its primary spokesmen are Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Franklin Graham.  For a list of some books about it, see  These fundamentalists often create enemies on whom to project their feelings of hate, fear, and anger (see Section 11.4).  Their fear of another religion can be even greater than their fear of death.  The believers of a religion may regard themselves to be god's favored few, and, in the name of this god, may endeavor to eliminate a competing religion by trying to convert, demonize, or kill its devotees.  Islamic fundamentalists have declared holy war on "infidel" nations, particularly on the powerful ones.  Christians have tried to convert whole populations to Christianity, and when they resisted they were often killed, e.g., the Christian crusades and the Inquisition.   Many Christians willingly joined the Nazis in trying to exterminate the Jews during World War II.  Savage wars have been fought between Protestants and Catholics, between Muslims and Jews, and between Muslims and Christians, and they still kill each other today. 

12.2.  Nonduality in the Bible

Nevertheless, a few passages from  the Bible can be interpreted nondualistically.  For example, consider some often-quoted passages from Exodus 3 (all Biblical passages were copied from the Revised Standard Version at, ):

13: Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, `What is his name?' what shall I say to them?"
14: God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, `I AM has sent me to you.'"
15: God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, `The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

Nondualistically, the name of God is "I AM".  This is easily identified with what we call pure Awareness, I Am, or the Absolute (see Figure 1, Section 10.1).  

Now, some familiar passages from John 14:

6: Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.
7: If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him."

Nondualistically, Pure Awareness, (I Am, Section 10.1), is the means and the end (the way and the truth).  If you know your true nature as pure Awareness, you also know the Absolute (unmanifest Consciousness, the Father).

8: Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied."
9: Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father'?
10: Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

Philip wants Jesus to show him the Absolute, but Jesus tells him again that only by knowing his own true nature (I Am) can he know the Absolute.   

16: And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever,
17: even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.

The other Counselor, or Holy Spirit, is spiritual intuition which few know (it cannot be seen with the world's eyes), but can be known by all  who want to.

26: But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Your own spiritual intuition will bring you to Reality and peace.

Now, three passages from John 8:

57: The Jews then said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?"
58: Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."
59: So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

Jesus tells them that his true identity has always been I Am (as it is for everyone).  (This assertion incited an all-too common reaction among those who fear having their beliefs challenged.)

12.3.  Religion as the belief in objective reality

An even more universally held religion than the belief in god is the belief in objective reality.  This belief can be just as staunchly and vociferously defended as the belief in any god.  The religion of objective reality contains a theology that is every bit as dualistic and as unverifiable as any other religion.  It is dualistic, because it decrees the presence of objects whose existence is independent of the mind.  It is unverifiable since all objects, whether perceived or not, are nothing but concepts in the mind. In fact, the only nonconceptual, verifiable experience that you can have is that you are aware.  Because the belief in the independent existence of any object, whether it is god, nature, or human, always implies a threat to the security of the ego and the body-mind, all religiously held dualistic beliefs, including the religion of objective reality, must lead to suffering.

12.4.  Buddhism--religion, or not?

Buddhism is generally viewed as one of the world's great religions.  Because, like Jesus, the Buddha left no writings, what he actually taught is open to speculation.  However, according to What the Buddha Taught (1974), by Walpola Rahula, faith and belief played no part in the Buddha's original teachings.  In this view, we would consider Buddhism to be a teaching, not a religion.  Rahula says on p. 8 of his book, 

"Almost all religions are built on faith--rather 'blind' faith it would seem.  But in Buddhism emphasis is laid on 'seeing', knowing, understanding, and not on faith, or belief . . . However you put it, faith or belief as understood by most religions has little to do with Buddhism.  The question of belief arises when there is no seeing--seeing in every sense of the word.  The moment you see, the question of belief disappears."

On p. 9, he says,

"It is always a question of knowing and seeing, and not that of believing.  The teaching of the Buddha is . . . inviting you to 'come and see', but not to come and believe." 

And on p. 51, Rahula says, 

"Buddhism stands unique in the history of human thought in denying the existence of such a Soul, self, or Atman [what we have called the I-entity].  According to the teaching of the Buddha, the idea of self is an imaginary, false belief, which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of 'me' and 'mine', selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities and problems.  It is the source of all the troubles in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations.  In short, to this false view can be traced all the evil in the world."

  These statements are consistent with this course's teaching of nonduality.  However, on p. 55, Rahula says, 

"It is therefore curious that recently there should have been a vain attempt by a few scholars to smuggle the idea of self into the teaching of the Buddha, quite contrary to the spirit of Buddhism.  These scholars respect, admire, and venerate the Buddha and his teaching.  They look up to Buddhism.  But they cannot imagine that the Buddha, whom they consider the most clear and profound thinker, could have denied the existence of an Atman or self which they need so much."

Thus, the purest of teachings are often corrupted by unenlightened teachers.  Buddhism became a religion when its teachings were corrupted by the introduction of the I-entity.  In contrast to Rahula's purist description, today's actual teaching and practice of Buddhism include a great deal of religious dogma.  For example, in The Story Of Buddhism: A Concise Guide To Its History And Teachings (2001), by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., (from the excerpt at,

“The Buddha taught that all beings in the universe are subject to rebirth without beginning. All beings in the universe were present, somewhere in the universe, when he taught the path to freedom in India. Some who had the good fortune to hear his teachings and put them into practice were able to follow the path and free themselves from rebirth. Others, less fortunate, have continued to be reborn again and again.”

“ . . . Thus, the Buddha divided what he taught into, perhaps, a set of doctrines and a set of rules [collectively known as dharma]. . . What is encompassed by this dharma is indeed vast. It can include  chanting the Buddha's name; circumambulating his relics; prostrating before his image; copying, reading, or reciting his words; painting his image; taking and maintaining vows; offering food and robes to monks and nuns; writing arcane commentaries; sitting in meditation; exorcising demons; visualizing oneself as the Buddha; placing flowers before a book; burning oneself alive.”

Clearly, Buddhism in this form has little to do with nonduality. Because of its emphasis on doctrine and rules instead of understanding, seeing, and knowing, Buddhism as religion tends to reinforce the imaginary I-entity and its sense of doership, and therefore it is unlikely to eliminate individual suffering.  

12.5.  Vipassana in Buddhism

Vipassana (known in the West as insight, or mindfulness, meditation) is a form of Buddhist meditation that is attractive to westerners because of the absence of religious doctrine in it.  Vipassana means to see things as they really are, and thus is consistent with the aims of this course.  The following description of Vipassana can be found at

Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.

This description is similar to our description of self-enquiry, i.e., enquiry into the contents of Awareness (see Section 22.2), but it stops short of Self-enquiry, i.e., enquiry into Awareness itself (see Section 22.3).  For this reason, apparently it's aims are rather limited.

12.6.  Nondualistic teachings

In nondualistic teachings, we can distinguish between two types of concepts, those that negate what is false, and those that assert what is true. The former always points away from what is false, while the latter attempts to point towards what is assumed to be true. Concepts that assert what is true can be misleading pointers. For example, to assert that Consciousness is infinite implies that 1) Consciousness can be described in conceptual terms, and that 2) Consciousness has no limits. Neither of these concepts applies to Consciousness, which is beyond all concepts. On the other hand, concepts that negate what is false can be useful pointers. For example, the statement that Consciousness is not a concept, entity, or object clearly means that Consciousness cannot be described in conceptual terms. A very useful negative pointer is the statement that there are no individuals.  Chapter 21 describes negation as a means for disidentification.

Because concepts are to be used only as pointers, it is clear that two different conceptual systems may both be effective pointers to Reality, but in fact may starkly contradict each other. This should not worry one who realizes the purpose of concepts. Which conceptual system one accepts will depend on how effectively it points to Reality in the intuitive eyes of the student. That is why different conceptual systems will usually appeal to different individuals. Clear examples of two perhaps equally effective conceptual systems are Ramesh’s teaching, which emphasizes deep understanding of the absence of the doer, compared with Ramana Maharshi’s teaching, which emphasizes enquiry into the I-entity in order to discover its absence. Which one is chosen depends on the personality characteristics of the individual. (This course is a composite of both of these teachings.) Other examples of nondual teaching are those of Ch’an and Zen Buddhism, which also are regarded as systems of pointers to nondual experience rather than as literal Reality.

Because the awakened teacher is not an individual but a body-mind organism through which Consciousness functions spontaneously and impersonally, from the point of view of the teacher (i.e., Consciousness), there is no personal sense of obligation or responsibility (although there will often be from the disciple’s point of view), so there is no concern about whether a specific person will accept the teaching.  Because a conceptual system of pointers to Reality can be effective only if it is understood and accepted by the disciple, as experience is gained by the teaching body-mind organism, the teaching will usually naturally become simpler and more focused. Somewhat ironically, the simpler and more focused it becomes, the more some people will be driven away from it, and the more others will be drawn towards it.  

In addition to the fact that spiritual beliefs cannot be true, no mere conceptual system can ever satisfy the yearning for wholeness, which is the compulsion behind all spiritual seeking. Only direct seeing can satisfy this, and in the end, only direct seeing can lead to the realization that the individual does not exist. Because the intuition is constantly pulling us towards this realization, any practice based only on mentation rather than on inseeing must strive to ignore this pulling. Furthermore, any belief system is constantly being challenged by competing belief systems. The result is that any belief system, in order to be sustained, requires constant effort at defending it, reinforcing it, and shoring it up. This effort invariably strengthens the sense of separation that the belief system is supposed to dissolve

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Nonduality: The Varieties of Expression Home

Jerry Katz
photography & writings

The wind carves shapes into the beach sand

Search over 5000 pages on Nonduality: