The Direct Path to Infinite Happiness
The nondual understanding is knowing and feeling that we are:
One (not a self that's separate from others and the world)
Awareness (consciousness, experiencing, or knowing)
Happiness (we lack nothing)
Peace (nothing needs to change)
Freedom (we're without limits)
Beauty (we're connected to everything)
Love (we're connected to everyone)
Nonduality isn't a belief system. Nor a practice. Nonduality is an understanding. But unlike the rest of our knowledge, nonduality is a non-conceptual understanding. Nondual teachings use concepts strategically to help you experience what's beyond concepts -- awareness.
Awareness is that which allows you to know that you're having an experience. It's the knowing, dimensionless, and infinite space-like context in which everything arises. But awareness isn't just the context in which objects of experience like sensations, perceptions, and thoughts arise. Sensations, perceptions, and thoughts are made of awareness. Everything arises in and as awareness.
Nondual paths aren't like other spiritual paths. Nondual paths are often called direct or pathless paths, because nondual teachings and meditations point you directly to the true nature of awareness. Nonduality is the understanding that you're already one. So nondual teachings and meditations are simply strategies for knowing and feeling what's already true.
The goal of any serious spiritual path is to see through the illusion of the separate self. This is true of both direct and indirect paths. The difference being that direct paths start with the investigation of this illusion, while indirect paths start with some kind of preliminary training. For example, in the Theravada Buddhism tradition it's generally taught that you need to train your concentration, morality, and wisdom to become enlightened and live free from the suffering caused by the illusory belief in duality.
But do you need to train your mind to see through an illusion? Look at the image below for a few moments.
This image isn't a GIF. The wheels aren't moving, even if they appear to be. If you focus your attention sharply on the center of any single wheel, you can notice more clearly that the wheels are actually still.
You didn't need to train your mind to recognize that the wheels aren't actually moving. Once it was pointed out to you that the turning wheels were illusory, and you changed the way you were looking at the wheels, the true nature of the image became clear.
The same is true of knowing and feeling that the separate self is an illusion. You don't need to train your mind, concentration, morality, and wisdom to see through the illusion of separation. You just need to see and feel your experience more clearly.
That said, indirect paths and deliberately training your mind can be helpful. There's no single teaching or path that will work perfectly for everyone regardless of their mind, personality, conditioning, or level of spiritual understanding.
So let's look at some of the pros and cons of indirect and direct paths.
Indirect Path Pros
Easy for beginners
Immediate benefits (more concentration, less lost in thoughts and emotions, new insights, more control over mind and behavior)
Progress, goals, and the next steps to take are clear
Can provoke pleasurable, blissful, and interesting states of mind
Can help make insights (like selflessness, unsatisfactoriness, and impermanence) more easily available
Can encourage seriousness, effort, and practice
Indirect Path Cons
Can reinforce duality and the belief that effort, practice, a trained mind, awareness of contents/objects, or fleeting mental states are necessary for awakening
Extreme amounts of practice may be needed to awaken to your true nature and live that understanding
Encouraging constant effort and practice can lead to anxiety, neuroticism, and hypervigilance
Silent meditation retreats (a seemingly necessary component of indirect paths) can be mentally and emotionally destabilizing for some beginners
Direct Path Pros
More reflective of the true nature of experience by starting with nonduality
Doesn't rely on concentration, wisdom, morality, states, practice, effort, or mental training
Can save a lot of time, effort, struggle, and frustration
Seems to more reliably provoke deeper transformations
Conditioning is given permission to realign naturally and effortlessly with the nondual understanding
Direct Path Cons
Hard for beginners
Benefits can be delayed and indirect
Progress, goals, and the next steps can seem unclear
Nonduality can't be truly understood by the conceptual mind which creates many opportunities for misunderstanding nonduality
Can be frustrating for those who haven't yet had an experiential glimpse of nonduality
Can discount the practical value of concentration, training the mind, effort, and deliberately healing trauma
I think ideally everyone would start and finish with direct paths. But with where most people seem to be mentally and spiritually, and with nondual teachings in their current state, brief detours on indirect paths will probably be useful for most people. If I were asked to lay out a rough path for someone who's relatively new to spirituality, for now I'd suggest something like this:
Sam Harris' introductory course on the Waking Up app
Nondual meditations and teachings on Rupert Spira's YouTube
If no glimpses of nonduality yet, Loch Kelly's meditation course on Waking Up app
If still no glimpses of nonduality, Sam Harris' essay on psychedelics on the Waking Up app, and try psilocybin with an experienced guide (if this option is available to you)
Rupert Spira's videos, books, meetings, retreats, community
I thought about waiting to write this essay until I could express the nondual understanding, teachings, and meditations in a way that's novel and an improvement upon what I've learned from teachers like Sam Harris, Loch Kelly, Adyashanti, Rupert Spira and many others. But I decided to write it now anyway for the sake of my own learning. And while what I've shared isn't entirely novel, I hope this essay's simplicity and brevity has made it a useful resource.
I do have some ideas on how nondual teachings might be improved. But for now they're speculative, untested, and not yet well thought out. I plan to think through some of these ideas in future essays.And the rest I hope to test in my future efforts to teach.
But before I close, I'd like to share two more insights that I think were essential for deepening my own nondual understanding.
Don't settle for brief glimpses of nonduality. See if you can live this understanding.
And be willing to face the truth. If you're unwilling to be with pain, discomfort, conditioning, and trauma, you cannot know and feel your true self fully.
You are capable of more than you can imagine.
We can verify all of this in our own direct experience. And for the sake of happiness, I'm not sure that anything else is necessary. Could the experience of nonduality be revealing something about the true nature of reality? Possibly. But there's something about the metaphysical claims made by some nondual teachers that seems uncritical and unnecessarily polarizing. One example of this to help you judge for yourself is the first half of the conversation between Sam Harris and Rupert Spira. (I don't yet know enough about what makes an explanation critical to say exactly what seems uncritical about the nondual metaphysical explanations like the one Rupert gives in this conversation, but I think I'll try thinking through this problem in a future essay.)
Theravada Buddhism is the tradition influencing insight meditation and mindfulness practices. It's also the path I followed in the first few years of my spiritual journey.
I'm basing this on my own internal exploration and what I've seen in my time with both direct and indirect communities. Though their could be a selection bias with beginners tending toward indirect paths and advanced students tending toward direct paths.
I'd especially recommend experimenting with Rupert's yoga meditations. Awakening experiences are becoming more common. What's less common is feeling and perceiving that you are one with everyone and everything. Rupert's yoga meditations were transformative in helping me to this end.
And I might update this essay as I learn more.