Psychology of non-duality: What are the qualities of a whole person?

I’d like to expand my own perspectives on the subject of this article, to understand what I mean by this new psychology and to define some of its features.


What are the qualities of a whole person? Of a sane mind? What makes a good life? How do we live free from conditional and conditioned action? How do we love freely without going mad?

Of course the answers to these questions depend entirely on who is doing the answering. A psychologist may conjure a litany of desired characteristics he believes are indicative of a whole person, and wind up simply describing his own aspiration. Free love for one woman may be heart-ruin for another. So it is my intention here not to lay out an objective set of criteria, but rather to fire the opening volleys in a continuing discussion, hopefully one that will remain with us throughout our lives and provide some scaffolding with which we can grow into what Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, called “self-actualized” people.

What are the qualities of a whole person?

First, what do I mean by whole? The only genuine whole I can conceive of is perhaps the universe. It is said to be the only atom, which roughly translated from the Greek means “that which cannot be cut”, a-tomos. A whole is totally inclusive, which inadvertently pushes us across the Aristotelian binary river and onto paradoxical shores. If we are speaking of the act of total inclusion, that class must necessarily include exclusion, judgment, comparison, and other methods of cutting or splitting perception into bit-form. So wholeness does not bind itself to any particular attitude or method of achieving results. Wholeness encompasses without dissonance the entirety of possible actions and reactions, identifying solely with none, holding none up to the exclusion of any other.

Is the universe a manifestation of this attitude? On the one hand, we find ourselves in warm beds next to those similarly-shaped bags of rotting flesh and dusting bone we call human, nested in a subtly glorious sphere of love-feeling. On the other we find ourselves, body ruined, life fading into the cold asphalt after a moments inopportune distraction. Bees pollinate flowers, and are snatched up by cleverly camouflaged spiders. Ants and fungi dance the waltz of mutual interdependence in moist tunnels beneath the earth.

What can the universe be said to be particular towards? No creature is favored for long, and nothing lasts, although seemingly all expression is allowed. A whole, then, is this quality of never being concrete, not holding or clinging to any particular way of being or acting, not favoring a particular stimulus over another, not comparing between what is desired and what is less so.

Who among us know ourselves well enough to truly know if our judgments are fortuitous?

There is an old Zen tale in which a father in a small village is tending to his horses. He has a fine stallion, but in the night while he is sleeping the beast runs away. The townspeople come to him wringing their hands, “Oh what great misfortune, what awful luck.”

The old man replies, “Perhaps.”

The following day, the stallion returns with several wild horses, and the townspeople are excitable and jealous, “Oh what great fortune, what wonderful luck.”

The old man replies, “Perhaps.”

Next morning, the old man’s son is tending to the horses, breaking them in, when he is thrown from a particularly wild creature and breaks his leg and arm. The people are dismayed and lend their sympathy to the old man, “Oh you poor man, what terrible luck.”

The old man replies, “Perhaps.”

It is morning again, and the army has rolled into town to conscript soldiers for their newest campaign. The wounded son is passed over, unfit for duty. The people exclaim in astonishment, “What incredible fortune, how lucky you are!”

The old man replies, “Perhaps.”

We are all in the situation of the old man, with life’s apparent misfortunes and fortunes crashing like waves on our shores, unable to really distinguish between the two. Yet, we like to believe we have some grasp of what is good for us and bad, and so go around in restless judgment of the happenings of our lives, fishing for the positive and locking our doors against the negative. In the Tao, the principle of non-attachment to satisfaction and its opposite is stated clearly: make the slightest distinction, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

So then, to be a whole person, one must let go of the left and the right, the black and the white. We must cast off the painful straitjackets of comparison and judgment and dive instead into the icy cold waters of simple being-ness in the world.

Of course, all this is easier said that done. The self-help industry exists off the back of that principle, and I think the average consumer of such products is starting to get a whiff of what’s under the shiny surface of the various “improve yourself” schemes. However, perhaps it’s also not as hard as it would first seem to get ourselves into a situation where we feel, deeply, the above attitude of equanimity.

When we ask ourselves who we are, we generally tend to pursue the question for a few seconds and then give up in frustration, settling for a socially acceptable answer such as “banker” or “sports fan” or “hippie”, but if we are to be completely honest, who is it that is reading these words? Who are you, really?

Perhaps I should try to convince you of the obvious.

What was it like before you were born? You don’t remember, yet there are folk older than yourself and so you can pretty safely assume that this thing has been going on longer than your body. When I try to imagine back before I came here, I see nothing. Blackness. The absence of phenomena and form. It is the great impenetrable mystery, the something-or-other we can never quite put our fingers on.

In the same way, when I ask you to define reality, and I mean really define the thing, you can’t. How can you use a language which is concerned with distinction to describe the class of all classes, the thing which transcends distinction and includes it? It is a contradiction in terms, but only in terms. We may not be able to say what the thing is, but under certain funny sets of circumstances we can certainly feel it.

These questions are just like the question, “who am I”, and the answer to all three is the same, although it cannot be said. Why can’t you tell me who you are, or what the universe is, or what it was like before you were born? Because the thing which we are trying to describe, trying to put words to in all the cases is ourselves, and fire cannot burn itself. A knife doesn’t need to cut itself, water doesn’t wet itself. You cannot pierce the point of a pin with the point of the same pin, in other words, there is necessarily an impenetrable and mysterious inside to which the outside can never extend its reach.

And that mystery is you, wordless creature beyond definition who is absent nowhere and present everywhere, full and empty. There is, quite frankly, no-one in particular to let go of anything. How will you let go of yourself? As long as you believe you can, you will feel as though you are stuck, hanging on to something, but the hand hanging is the play of shadows and the grasped object merely smoke. We simply don’t need to try or contrive to be impartial, to have equanimity, to hold the cosmos without judgment; in fact it is our very trying in the first place that is the existence and manifestation in our lives of the very qualities of partiality we wish to leave behind.

What is required, seemingly, is sober and honest self-recognition, not in an intellectual or conceptual sense but through the heart, through the subtle and unspeakable, through surrender to the vibratory goings-on of our great self in the realization that to defend oneself against oneself is an absurdity, a feedback loop which is the wobbling sensation of anxiety and discomfort.

So perhaps a holy person is someone who is empty, and out of that emptiness has embraced all polarities, a wholly human being. But what then? What becomes of the person who has realized his or her identity with the entirety of being, the cosmos at large?

It seems that this comes down largely to the culture one finds oneself in. Fifty or so years ago, if a young man was to wake up and discover who he really was in South Carolina, being embroiled in the Judeo-Christian mythology of his peers it is more than likely that he would come to believe that he was, in fact, Jesus Christ himself, returned to bring salvation to the people of earth from on high as was promised in the Bible. A rational, scientific, measuring type with a background in behavioral psychology would likely pronounce himself schizophrenic and attack himself with electroshock therapy and endless dulling agents for the nervous system, thinking the experience to be a dangerous poison seeping into the clean-room of his well ordered life and mind.

We are unique in this sense, having access to the information of all cultures through the internet. We no longer have metaphysical blinkers on, or at least if we do, it is our choice to remain that way. There are, available online for almost anyone across the globe, nearly the collected religious/spiritual texts of all major and minor faiths, thousands of miles of text cataloging all human efforts towards understanding the soul, the mind, consciousness and experience itself.

There is simply no excuse left for ignorance. One may choose it, but for the first time in history, in almost every case, it is a choice.

So then, our generation is peculiarly well situated to make new inroads into understanding, clarifying and explaining in common language and easily understandable phrasing what the nature of the mystical or spiritual experience is, how to work with it, and where it sits in the spectrum of human experience and ideas as we know them. But in order to do that, we are going to have to get smart.

In the year after Alan Watts’ death, renowned Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, composer John Cage, poet and writer Anne Waldman and Diane di Prima, alongside teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, joined forces to found the Naropa University and Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, the first school of its kind in the United States and a rarity by any standard. The school hearkens back to Nalanda, the ancient Indian university which harbored the scholar Naropa, from whom the school takes its name. Nalanda was a utopia of learning, covering subjects from the deepest Tantric techniques to astronomy, city building and architecture. Unfortunately the physical university was destroyed by invading Muslim armies by the 13th century, but its spirit remains intact, manifesting again in our time as the product of chance meetings between poets and monks set to the backdrop of counterculture America at the tail end of the hippie revolution.

The story goes that Naropa came out of the necessity for Buddhism to find its expression in the West. There was no great shortage of practicing Buddhists at the time, the writings of Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki, R.H. Blyth and Herman Hesse had introduced a whole generation of spiritual seekers to the Buddha and his many methods for coming to enlightenment, however, there were only a handful of individuals with the linguistic skills necessary to render the source material into a form understandable and useful in a modern context.

At the same time, there were several generations of mad poets thriving off the back of the groundbreaking new poetic styles of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, to name a few, and these individuals were prone to excess, heavy drinking, extended bouts of drug taking and generally unhealthy behavior, which they struggled to live with and control.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s notion was that Buddhism needed poets and poets needed Buddhism, that they were synergistic elements. The monks could live the teachings but not speak them, the poets could speak them but were unfamiliar with the living of them, but together they found a new path wide enough for the both of them.

The purpose of my recounting this story to you is to impress upon you what we are capable of if we genuinely set our hearts to the task. We have at our fingertips the most powerful tools the human race has ever seen, let’s use them, and wisely, bringing together apparently disparate fields of inquiry and experience and synthesizing them into more functional wholes. We have around us some of the best minds of our generation, not yet destroyed by madness. But we must push deeper, higher, further, always with that recognition we spoke about before, that there is no particular “me” here, rather that what I mean by “me” is a synonym for the totality of all being.

What are the qualities of a whole person? Of a sane mind? What makes a good life? How do we live free from conditional and conditioned action? How do we love freely without going mad?

The answers to these questions are pointless conclusions. The questions themselves are alive. I am extending you all an invitation, without condition, a plan, or a good method of manifestation. Let’s rest in our own being, in the full, clear understanding of our deepest identity. Let’s read masses of information, write, internalize, externalize, share as we already do and more. Let’s make the unconscious conscious, shine a light into the dark places, taste the forbidden fruit. Let’s sit quietly with nothing to do and nowhere to go. As the poet Rilke says, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

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69 thoughts on “Psychology of non-duality: What are the qualities of a whole person?

  1. I think there are a lot of people just trying to get by that they fail to think about much past what they are doing in the next 24 hours. So many people chose to live in a community of their choosing where they can be comfortable in their beliefs and opinions without understanding how someone else lives. Too often we chose ignorance over enlightenment because its easy. We all have a responsibility to one another but our selfish nature doesn’t allow for any other options.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! A great post, Aishwariya. Loved it and completely agree with you that Choicelessness is the key to become whole. There’s a Zen saying that one who longs to be everywhere must not be anywhere. One who wants to be all cannot afford to be anything. There is no congruity between all and something; they just don’t go together. You have to be nothing to become all.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t express how incredible it was. “And that mystery is you, wordless creature beyond definition who is absent nowhere and present everywhere, full and empty.” This line stole my heart, now I see why am I still a kid, I’ve got a good load of things to learn and mam, I must say you’re very inspirational to me. Thanks. 🙂 Always a follower. 🙂 (Re-blogging it!) 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I decided to make time to read this article. It puzzles me somewhat, as the conclusion in my mind is, according to this, life cannot have a purpose.

    I read somewhere that “life” may have originated as the result of a computer glitch. Goes like this: the computer is binary, gives a “yes” or “no” answer to any question, no equivocation, ever. Came a question that for a split second in time the computer hesitated to give it a “yes” or “no” answer and became self-aware and sentient, jumping from its endless, pointless simple binary response into duality. Now we’re in duality, and we “exist” in this glitch called “life” and we are faced with endless existential questions that have no binary answers, only more existential questions We are aliens in a totally alien landscape, unplanned by any one or any thing. So we adapt. We can no longer live “everywhere and nowhere” though some pretend and some try to imagine such a reality. But reality is duality. Outside of that, there is no reality for us because there is no life.

    With all the problems attendant to life, I choose life. I choose the uncomfort. The screaming and yelling; the hunger and thirst and dying, sometimes balanced by their opposites of quiet, peace, and longevity, but never without dying. Dying, whether of a human or a universe, is the great equalizer, necessary for the game to proceed. Dying is the camel going through the eye of the needle.

    So I think the cosmic computer became bored with its binary non-life and chose to hesitate, and for a nano-moment, to give a non-answer, in the hope that what would result would end its boredom. Birth and death came into being, and these are our legacies. So… we engage!

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  5. This is amazing Aishwarya. I have learnt a lot from this blog.People should focus on what they have been in past and how they can improve it in present rather than looking upon the future. I would like to read more authentic articles from your side. ❤ 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am most grateful for having the opportunity to be introduced to your writings. They resonate deeply within. This particular post is articulate and comprehensively addresses many questions related to this far-ranging subject.
    I wanted to get a reply to you right away, and I am looking forward to going back and reading more.
    Your words comfort me and remind me that we are not alone.
    Thank you.
    Namasté
    नमस्ते
    Chazz Vincent

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a privilege for me to have you visit here; truly it is. I’ve been working on my own evolution of sorts looking for greater understanding of my spirituality and how what I’m learning about consciousness, awareness, and mindfulness affects the practical, emotional and psychological aspects of how I live. (I hope that makes sense!) 😉
      Have a great day ahead.
      -Ishu
      नमस्ते (Namaste)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is said that all things return to the One; as I read your words, I am reminded that although we began from distant origins, we find ourselves on the same path.
        I will be reading your posts with much gratitude for having discovered each other.
        Thank you so much for that.
        Namasté
        नमस्ते
        Chazz Vincent

        Like

  7. I’ve seen this, and this is also what has come to me through revelation: one is a living universe, and to whatever degree one finds peace, one finds the truth of the universe inside themselves.

    What we call sane is simply assimilable and useful. Different ages and epochs change this quality, and what was once misunderstood and therefore insane, becomes sane as more light is shown upon the thinking.

    There is a way to live at one with all. That is simply the way. Very few find it.

    Like

  8. Open hearts. Open minds. Acceptance of all aspects of ourselves and others. Surrendering to the unknown in order for it to become known.
    Thank you for sharing your perspective and wisdom A.💛

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I’ve been browsing online greater than 3 hours nowadays,
    but I by no means discovered any interesting article like
    yours. It’s beautiful value enough for me. In my opinion, if all website owners and bloggers made good content material as you did,
    the net might be a lot more helpful than ever before.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I hate to say it, as few people can emotionally handle being told anything. But it might be a bad thing, propagating the common perceptions of “emptiness” that relate to “enlightenment”. The following paragraphs may not be productive for anyone to read – I still haven’t figured out if it is or not.

    Fact of the matter is, “no-mind”, and the related state you’ve seemly described here, is actually just the start of the maturation process. It’s the stable foundation one builds before beginning conscious metacognition.

    The reason it’s presented as the end goal is a mixture of factors. First of all, people masquerading as masters who don’t actually understand what’s going on. They present it as the end goal because it’s easily achieved, rewarding, and marketable. Maybe they only do so because it’s marketable.

    Second, actual masters intentionally hide it’s purpose. Doing so creates a formulaic process of development in the beginners, which is crucial for true metacognition, and may not be achievable through other means.

    Basically, you chase emptiness, fail to ever do so – because it’s impossible. It does, however, create that aforementioned base. Then, having this realization, you start overhauling your entire thought process, with that base at the center.

    Third, practitioners who get stuck at this stage of development, interpreting it’s resulting peace as a final goal. They spread their interpretation, which is often confirmed by the false master’s interpretation.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think you might like this:

    I am a blogger dedicated to share what Alexandre says.

    My name is Sara and I had been a spiritual seeker for a long time until I found Alexandre and his unique way. I also found myself in that encounter…

    Alexandre is what is called nowadays a modern mystic, although he declines every and any kind of definition.

    He partakes his view with others, with no other interest than sharing his point of view.

    The published texts presented in the blog are transcribed from recorded talks with Alexandre and a close group of friends with whom he partakes his discoveries.

    Some other texts are written words from Alexandre.

    If you’re inclined to know more about him and what he says, take a look at: http://www.whatalexandresays.wordpres s.com

    Please, leave a comment…

    Thank You,

    Sara

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Sara. It’s a privilege for me to have you visit here; truly it is. I love exploring many similar topics as you mention. I am intrigued and fascinated by your words here and look forward very much to following, reading, and listening.

      Thank You.

      Ishu

      Like

  12. Hello, and thank you for this post. I read Alan Watts this summer after a period (feels like my whole life) of anxiety/frustration/mental turmoil. What I experienced soon after was this indescribable liberation. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the permanence or transience of satori (for lack of words) once having experienced it for the first time. I feel like my mind has been opened to a vast love but I waver in and out. I can’t understand why my true nature would want to forget itself again after returning home for the first time.

    Liked by 1 person

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