About Nondual Inquiry
Q: What is it?
“Nondual inquiry” is way of coming to understand how experience is actually nondual even now. It doesn’t give you better experiences, it gives clarity that experience *is* your very Self. Nondual inquiry demonstrates how experience is sweetly unbroken, because your Self is unbroken sweetness.
Nondual inquiry is an investigation into the nature of experience, the world, body and mind, life and death. Other terms for it include self-inquiry, analytic meditation or koan study, or a Socratic dialog towards self-knowledge. “Nondual” means “not-two,” which implies there is no true multiplicity of phenomena. At the conclusion of the inquiry, gone the impressions that there are separate and distinct things, gone is the feeling of a gap between seer and seen. Gone is the anxiety caused by these impressions and feelings. And gone is the sense that there was ever a ego, activities or attributes in the first place. One common way to express this is “Nothing ever happened.”
Q: Why do it?
Most people do it for one of two reasons.
- It alleviates suffering. That is, inquiry is deeply therapeutic. This is agreed upon by all the world’s most beloved saints, sages and philosophers, Eastern and Western, religious and secular. Even a little bit of nondual inquiry makes everyday life sweeter and more peaceful. There is spontaneous acceptance and equanimity.
- For some people, the inquiry generates its own sweetness, quite apart from any later benefit it might bring to the inquirer.
Q: Tell me more about this sweetness.
It’s a warmth that resembles the familiar and perhaps thrilling feeling of returning home where you are loved. When this is how nondual inquiry feels, it’s something you’d rather do than anything else. And because it requires no books or equipment, and no particular physical posture like the lotus position, it can be done almost anywhere.
People who feel drawn this way can find themselves involved in inquiry throughout the day or night when the mind is not otherwise occupied. There’s an Indian phrase, “Your head is in the tiger’s mouth.” It refers this inquiry not letting you go until the sweetness is indistinguishable from experience itself.
Q: How do I do it?
There’s a wide variety of ways this can be done. You inquire deeply into what life is, what experience is. You focus not on how to have a comfortable life or desirable experiences, but rather on the nature of these things. Are they really what they appear to be?
Q: It sounds intellectual, like being in a college philosophy class.
It needn’t be. If it’s done only as an intellectual exercise, you’re right, it’s about as relevant as a term paper. But actually, those who do nondual inquiry find themselves irresistibly drawn to it, almost as if life depended on it. As a child and youth, I found myself in this strange undertaking, years before I ever knew there was a term for it. It felt like a grand adventure, carrying me towards the secrets of the universe. That’s how I thought about it, but I was like 11 years old at the time!
Q: How do I know if I’m making progress?
Ultimately, it’s senseless to speak of progress, there is truly no movement, no inquiry, and no one really performing anything. But while you are drawn to this inquiry, it *will* seem like you are going for a goal, and it will be very difficult not to check for progress.
But don’t check too often. Don’t check during the same moment you’re doing the inquiry itself – save the checking for later. And when you do check, check your background or average psychological state. It’s the everyday level that counts. If you must gauge, don’t go by your peak experiences, but rather from your baseline experience.
Here are several things that people notice along the way….
- Am I becoming more peaceful?
- Is my heart opening?
- Do I find myself returning again and again to this inquiry when the mind is not otherwise busy?
- Has my sense of separation gotten milder?
- Has the sense of sweetness spread to more and more of my experience?
- Does a spontaneous joy arise sometimes, which I can’t account for?
- Do I feel more connected to other people and the world?
- Have I felt some of my most comfortable presumptions challenged? Have I felt as though turned upside down or inside out by the inquiry?
- Are there issues in the inquiry that I feel a resistance to confront? (Sometimes this will happen. And ironically, wherever these attachments lie, and where inquiry will be most fruitful.)
- Would I rather know the truth of what I am investigating than feel a certain way? This shift often happens later on, your inquiry has reached an entirely more subtle level.
- Is the self-checking happening less frequently? Is my “progress” in the inquiry becoming less important? Is the inquiry itself showing up as its own “reward”? Is the notion of a separate goal starting to make less sense?
Q: Do I need a teacher or a guide?
Not necessarily, though you might find some helpful pointers from guides who have traveled these byways before you. Pointers can be found through books, friends, gurus, teachers, counselors, parents, children. Even a flower can serve as a pointer. Anything can be a teacher. The more you feel the question, the more you’ll be inclined towards a human teacher.
Q: Where does nondual inquiry come from?
It’s most commonly found in the world’s wisdom traditions. Most of the world’s great religions have a mystical, esoteric or philosophical side, which includes nondual inquiry. Christianity has its mystical side (including Rosicrucianism), Judaism has Kabbalah, Buddhism has Madhyamika, and Islam has Sufism. Nondual inquiry also wears secular clothing, and can be found in the hints left by Western philosophers, including Plato, Plotinus, Leibniz, Spinoza, George Berkeley, Brand Blanshard, Ludwig Wittgeinstein, or Richard Rorty.
Q: And so, where does this inquiry lead? What is the endpoint?
It leads to the end of fear and suffering. It leads to the end of guilt, envy, resentment, grudge-holding, self-doubt. It eradicates the scorekeeping impulse, the one that makes you wonder, “How does this stack up for me?”
Along the way, nondual inquiry makes everyday life more peaceful. You’ll discover contentment at times and events that might otherwise have caused anxiety and self-doubt. Equanimity will be your familiar and beloved companion.
And when nondual inquiry has reached its conclusion, it is as though you “see through” the world. The sweetness of the inquiry has spread throughout all of experience. You no longer feel separate and cut off from anything. Experience stops seeming like it is filtered through a veil or screen. Activity is free, open, and ever new. Instead of losing yourself and the ability to function, you gain the world and total spontaneity. You come home, seeing that you never left.
There are thousands of traditional ways of describing this. The descriptions sound abstract, poetic and paradoxical, everything from the universal “awakening” to Zen’s “having no more work to do” or Hinduism’s “dancing with Shiva.”
These are pointers; none of it is literal. Why not? Because you also see through the very seeing – in this way the inquiry deconstructs itself. This sounds abstract, as though there’s nowhere to rest. That’s just the point! All crutches and reference points are gone, and the joyful thing is that the need for crutches is also gone!
Q: But I’ve heard teachers say “There’s nothing to do.” Trying to do something can never help the fundamental problem.
As paradoxical as it sounds, nondual inquiry is actually one of the traditional ways to experience the truth of the “nothing to do” teaching! The ancient image for this is using a thorn to remove another thorn, then discarding both.