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Friday, April 8, 2011

Radical Non-Duality

At the core of their teachings, all of the world's great religions and wisdom traditions have a message of radical non-duality. . . . As do the Twelve Steps.

The Universe (uni-verse) is 'One,' as are all its constituents 'parts,' including us. At a deep level, that is what the third legacy of "recovery, service and unity" is all about. It is only our individualized "egos," or "selves," that create a seeming sense of 'separateness' with all its constituent suffering. How many alcoholic addicts drink and/or drug, at least at first, for that ephemeral feeling of inclusiveness, 'includedness' and belonging that is the essence of intoxication? Virtually every one of us, I would guess.

It is thus no coincidence that these same feelings of expansiveness, inclusiveness and 'includedness' are the essence of the "spiritual awakening" that is necessary to permanently arrest one's alcoholic addiction. As Carl Jung remarked in his correspondence to Bill Wilson, the alcoholic's thirst for alcohol is, "the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God."

For many alcoholic addicts, or so it seems, it is the progressive nature of the disease that robs them of their ability to once again find this experience of "wholeness" when drinking or drugging, and that drives them - through suffering - to seek help.

The alcohol or drugs no longer gives the seemingly irretrievable alcoholic addict what they need the most, the evermore elusive feelings of wholeness, 'includedness' and well-being.

This "thirst for wholeness" is why (as it says on page 53 of Alcoholics Anonymous):
"When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we (have) to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn't. What (is) our choice to be? [Emphasis added.]
In itself, this is a teaching of radical, ego-less, non-duality. ("God is either everything, or He is nothing.") Yet, we see this same teaching of ultimate non-duality further on, both on page 55 of Alcoholics Anonymous (where we read 'where' to find "a God of our own understanding"), as well as in the "How it Works" passage that so many AA groups read at the beginning of their meetings.

On page 55, we read the following:
"We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found." [Emphasis added.]
Note that this passage is written with a singular pronoun "the Great Reality," rather than with the plural "a Great Reality."

Further, in the "How it Works" passage we read that, "there is One who has all power - that One is God. May you find him now!" [Emphasis added.]

Sages, seers and spiritual teachers of all ages and continents teach the essential lesson of 'non-duality;' that is, that every seemingly separate thing or individual is but one inseparable part of an all-inclusive and indivisible 'Unity' or 'Wholeness;' and that it is the delusion of seeming separateness of the human "ego" that causes suffering in the mind of humankind, as in the world.

(Even the great theoretical physicist, Einstein, an agnostic at best, called this ego-driven sense of duality, and individuality, a "cosmic delusion of separateness" - i.e., something that we believe is true, but which is, in fact, false.)

This 'Wholeness' has been called by many "the Ground of Being" and it lies at the center of a "perennial philosophy" found at the heart of all wisdom teachings, as well as (I would argue) the wisdom tradition that is witnessed in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Perhaps Aldous Huxley, a non-alcoholic friend of Bill W., best describes this lesson of "Wholeness" and a unitive "Ground of Being" when he writes:
"At the core of the Perennial Philosophy we find four fundamental doctrines.

First: the phenomenal world of matter and individualized consciousness - the world of things and animals and men and even gods - is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their beginning, and apart from which they would be non-existent.

Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.

Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.

Fourth: man's life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground."
It is these four ideas - known by most cultures, but forgotten by most - that are at the heart of the Western spiritual renewal that the astute observer can see rising all around us; and they are also, in spirit, the heart of the miracle of non-duality that may be found in AA and its sister 12 Step fellowships.


  1. Yes, God as the totality now seems to be what Bill was pointing to in the first four chapters, Could he have had an spiritual experience that pointed to something else beyond this awareness presently being? When seen without the screen of thought the self is not anything beside thought, and all loving, all present god or reality is the only experience that could be, thus temporarily relieving the alcoholic from carrying the guilt and anxiety that are constant companions. The steps then being used to address the apparent return of the self and its imagination (which plays god), and is self will run riot, to discard or see through responsibility as being a guilt trip, and understanding we only play a part as an instrument, then move on to accountability in the 8th & 9th steps. In my experience there was no pointing to some thing outside my own experience to be tapped into, conscious contact was already the case.
    My sponsor going through the first 4 chapters slowly until I had this understanding to begin from was essential. With out this understanding to build on I would have continued to have beliefs or old ideas about a god out there to get at, like a drug or a drink to make me feel better, and continued to live in imagination, unable to differentiate the true from the false. Bill might have seemed to have lost this insight, (why else drop lsd for years) Thank god he wrote it down.

  2. The belief of a God, wether it be one " out there " or " in here" and a sense of separateness are both firmly held troughout the steps. Especially obvious in the eleventh step wich suggests to seek and improve. As long as there is a sense of some need to improve or seek, there will be a sense of lack or incompleteness, a sense of not being whole.

    The advaita pointer "either God is everything or else He is nothing" is not something novel to the newcomer in AA, or any one else for that matter. I think most people on this planet has come in contact with it since early childhood, many has even held it as a belief periodically in their lifes. It obviously hasn´t rocketed them into the fourth dimension. The problem has not so much to do with how the pointers are formulated, as with what they actually implies. Using the concept of God, for instance, implies that God is love as much as hate, selfish behaviour as well as practicing spiritual principles, being a sober alcoholic as well as being a checked out drunk.

    The pain of this truth is too much for some people, perhaps most, me included, but not until this pain is willingly faced, as being God or wholeness, faced alone, without the comfort of having a sponsor or guru, being in a program or spiritual group or having a belief in a higher power of any sort, non-duality pointers will remain mere philosophy and fantasy, not likely to bring about any spiritual awakening ( wholeness ). To the separate being, non-duality pointers is more a matter of death, than life. This is seen, when wholeness reveals itself.