This post is an expansion of a conversation I had on Facebook. It happened in response to a person’s comment that what I had to say on Advaita 0r nonduality was examples of “intellectualism” as a mere appearance on the screen of awareness; our true Self. This is how I responded. I wrote this because I’ve heard exactly the same comment with the exactly the same words from another prominent advaitist.
You are on your way home from a movie. You hear the sound of scuffling. You peer around a corner and are able to observe a woman pinned against a wall. Her assailant is a man who appears to be in the process of raping her. You also notice the glint of knife.
What do you do? The pure advaitist could say, this is a mere appearance on the screen of reality. I’ll continue on my way home and relax. I may experience fear, a desire to come to the person’s aid, but I don’t need to respond to these mere thoughts.
Another person might call 911, hope for the best, and continue home.
Another person might rush the attacker with the intent of rescuing the woman.
All three responses are in the range of advaita (nonduality) because each of the responses to the rape are also “mere” appearances on the ground of awareness and are conditional on the observers socialization and genes.
Advaita allows for anything, it is thus an extremely lose and ultimately trivial way of understanding life. It is the ultimate invalidator of the urgency, poignancy, seriousness, and absurdity of life itself.
No one is obligated to respond in anyway to what is observed, but we can say this: when we are motivated by fear – we are a lot more likely to be unengaged in the immediacy of our own perceived life. Fear motivation will always occur when our primary identification is with inadequacy – a subject I have addressed in several other posts on this site, as well as my book (in great detail). A fear motivation will also elevate the primacy of our own well-being over the immediate demands of life. A fear response will tend to organize itself around ides around what I “should” do, as opposed to responding with immediacy. Thus, the observer who calls 911 can feel good about himself that he has performed his civic duty and has not placed his life at risk. But the person fully engaged in the now has done the brave and probably essential act without reference to a conceptual life with its conceptually inspired drives. He places life in the driver’s seat rather than his own conceptual analysis.
This is not a perfect analogy and I have simplified the situation, but the essential idea ought to be clear.
This is the ongoing challenge of life. When our identification with inadequacy fades our fear-based self becomes a much less pronounced part of our lives. The measure of our liberation from fear is the extent to which we are free to act in the moment. That is aliveness – in contrast to life as a concept. And, for you nondualists out there – this may also be the ultimate message of advaita itself.