Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Non-Dual Awareness

In certain remarkable Eastern spiritual teachings the entire path revolves around entering our inherent pure awareness, pure consciousness, pure being, and residing there. Seer and seen merge into a global awareness which excludes nothing, has no center and no separation between observer and observed. The ego, at least temporarily, evaporates. Unfiltered, unfettered consciousness replaces ego as the organizing structure of the person. Seeing reveals the pseudo-self of ego as an empty and illusory construction, instantly dismantled by the unifying wholeness of consciousness in which nothing can be truly separate. Instead of our awareness collapsing in egocentric identification with some distraction or problem, we remain in the authentic fullness of consciousness. At first, this realization of the non-dual might only be intellectual. When the true seeing opens, however, it is both a magnificent surprise and patently obvious. Problems dissolve, joy, wonder, and compassion arise naturally.

The extremely rare saint may, on the occasion of this first taste of non-dual awareness, spontaneously enter a stable, lasting and completely effortless abiding in pure awareness, in clear seeing. Such people inspire us with their teaching that enlightenment is at hand, is our true nature, that we need only let go and be fully in the moment.

The great majority of us, though, are not so spiritually gifted that we attain enlightenment on our first contact with pure awareness. We sink back to autopilot. We cannot learn to ride the bike of non-dual awareness without training wheels. If non-dual awareness is our only practice, we either find it rough sledding, fragmentary and momentary, or we delude ourselves into thinking we have been conscious when we have not.

We need an inner structure to enable us to balance between falling out of the present moment, back into the self-centered view on the one hand, and falling off into a semi-conscious absent-mindedness on the other. We need to contact, build, and organize our sensitive energies into a vehicle capable of supporting pure consciousness in a stable manner. So we focus on practices that involve the gradual cultivation of attention, contacting and organizing energies, body awareness, radical acceptance of ourselves and our situation, seeing the processes of attachment and identification operating within us, prayer, and the rest.

Non-dual awareness is not difficult to experience.  We need only simplify into the moment, coming to rest in pure awareness itself by backtracking within our ordinary awareness to its natural, wide-open clarity. We go behind sensory experience, behind emotion, behind thought, behind our very self, into the now. We allow the clouds of thought and emotion and pain to float by without obscuring our presence, and we become that vast sky of unadorned awareness. Pure awareness precedes all; it forms the substrate that receives experience. This clear consciousness appears both wonderful and seductive because the relative ease of momentarily entering the utter satisfaction of non-dual awareness is matched by the ease of falling out of it. Non-dual awareness draws us to seek it directly. But to establish ourselves in awareness, we need a balanced path of cultivating our soul, our wholeness.

This conundrum has been widely debated in spiritual circles for millennia. In early Chinese Zen, for example, the discussion took the form of gradual cultivation versus sudden awakening. The wise, like the twelfth-century Korean Zen master Chinul, taught the necessity and complementarity of both. Sudden awakening into non-dual awareness bestows a first release from the egocentric grasping and rejection of experience. With this weight lifted, we can breathe freely the air of the Present. When we return to our usual state, our understanding has changed. From then on, the recognition of clear awareness as our own essence informs our pursuit of practices in the gradual cultivation of our being. Doubts dispelled, our faith and confidence in the spiritual pursuit grow unshakeable. Awakening recurs more frequently and for longer periods, and we discover the satisfaction of living in Presence. No longer divided inside, no longer focused on the division between our self and the rest of the world, we arrive at rest in the non-dual wholeness of awareness.

Yet non-dual awareness, pure consciousness is not the ultimate goal. We are here to serve a great Purpose. Living in awareness accords with and supports that Purpose in important and subtle ways. But our obligations do not end there. Respecting both the traditions of the East with their focus on being and those of the West with their focus on doing, we see that being is not enough. Purity of being, awareness, promotes the purification of our will, the letting go of attachments and egoism. Gradually opening our will, first to our own Self, our own individuality, and later to the Divine Will, gradually opening our heart to the Great Compassionate Heart of the World enables us to discover and create our destiny through our own unique service to the All.

See Also: The Way of Oneness


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