What is Wrong with Duality?

What is wrong with duality?

Posted some weeks back was a quote from Hee-Jin Kim which merits a little more exploration. Here is the quote: 

In the Shobogenzo, “Bendowa” (1231), Dogen succinctly enunciates his Zen: “The endeavor to negotiate the Way (bendo), as I teach now, consists in discerning all things in view of enlightenment, and putting such a unitive awareness (ichinyo) into practice in the midst of the revaluated world (shutsuro).” This statement clearly sets forth practitioners’ soteriological project as negotiating the Way in terms of (1) discerning the nondual unity of all things that are envisioned from the perspective of enlightenment and (2) enacting that unitive vision amid the everyday world of duality now revalorized by enlightenment. Needless to say, these two aspects refer to practice and enlightenment that are nondually one (shusho itto; shusho ichinyo).  ~Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen On Meditation and Thinking, p. 21

[Note: The qualifying terms “revaluated” and “revalorized” serve to emphasize the fact that the “everyday world” here means the true everyday world—the “normal” world as seen in view of enlightenment, not the “normal” (i.e. mundane) world as understood by unawakened beings.]

As clearly conveyed in the classic Buddhist literature, when duality is conceived apart from the experience of nonduality all kinds of delusions ensue. One delusion that is so common among Zen Buddhists it is almost typical, is the notion that Buddhism opposes or denies duality. In less extreme (but just as damaging) cases, many Zen Buddhists that have not experienced nonduality have demonstrated a tendency to privilege nonduality over duality. As is the case with all nondual foci (nondual relationships) duality and nonduality are coextensive and coessential—thus to imagine that duality is bad, wrong, problematic, or any way inferior to nonduality is delusional. Duality without nonduality is dualism, the basis of delusion, confusion, obscurity, chaos, and ignorance. Nonduality without duality, if it were possible, would be sterile and dead. Thus, “discerning all things in view of enlightenment,” and thereby, experiencing nonduality, in Hee-Jin Kim’s words, “within, with, and through duality,” is to revaluate the world (shutsuro).

In, Dogen On Meditation and Thinking, Hee-Jin Kim clarifies the implications of this in relation to Dogen’s teachings. For instance, in the context of Dogen’s teaching on the unity of practice and enlightenment (shusho) Kim points out:

A crucially important point here is, namely, “that which verifies” and “that which is verified” are inseparably intertwined via the body-mind… Thus, in speaking of enlightenment (sho), Dogen always presupposes the process of verification in which enlightenment entails practice, and vice versa. To put it differently, enlightenment (nonduality) makes it incumbent upon practitioners to put the unitive vision of all things into practice, in terms of duality of the re-visioned world.  ~Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen On Meditation and Thinking, pp. 21-22 (italics in the original)

To emphasize the difference between “nonduality” and what is ordinarily thought of as “oneness,” in terms of Dogen’s teachings on the nonduality of practice and enlightenment, Kim writes:

This unity does not mean that practice and enlightenment, though originally two different realities or ontological antitheses, are merged into one, or are reduced to one or the other in a mystical union of numerical oneness or an uneasy alliance… To put it another way, the unity is not the nullification of differences between the two, nor is it a transformation of one into the other, or a fusion of one with the other. Practice and enlightenment are different, yet not two. ~Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen On Meditation and Thinking, p. 24

It is vitally important for Zen practitioners to avoid making the mistake of confusing “duality” (a vital and necessary aspect of Zen practice-enlightenment) with “dualism” (a delusional view). The enormous capacity of such delusional views to obstruct practitioners from authentic realization is well attested to by the classic literature of Zen. The great Zen masters literally devoted thousands of pages to emphasize and clarify this crucial point. Therefore, one more comment by Kim seems merited.

Nonduality is not privileged or transcendantalized metaphysically any more than duality. It is simply one of the soteric foci within the process of realization… in its liberating process, nonduality embraces duality rather than abandons it. Consequently, nonduality is not extra-, trans-, pre-, post-, or antiduality. It is always necessarily rooted in duality. Therefore, nonduality functions within, with, and through duality.  ~Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen On Meditation and Thinking, pp. 33-34 (italics in the original)

Now then, we can understand that the “revaluated world” means the world of duality as revaluated through the experiential realization of nonduality. Thus, the implications of “valuation” should be clear; the duality (all things) of the world as conceived in view of delusion is the “normality” of the “ordinary mind” of unawakened beings. The unawakened “valuate” the world of duality as conceived apart from nonduality; that is, as obscure, chaotic, miscellaneous, boring, and mundane. This deluded “valuation” is inevitably the “normality” they see as the “ordinary mind” and the “everyday” world. From this perspective, “nothing special” is understood dualistically, that is, as obscure, chaotic, miscellaneous, boring, and mundane.

We can now understand Dogen’s (and Zen’s) reason for constantly, and vehemently insisting that the first and foremost task for practitioners is to “cast off body and mind of self and other.” The body and mind of “self and other” is inclusive of all traces of “self” and all traces of “other” (than self). “Without” (Japanese; “mu”) traces of self and other there is no-discrimination (mu-discrimination) no-things (mu-things). Dogen asserts that when Buddhas are experience Buddhahood they are not conscious of being Buddhas; to be conscious of being a Buddha one would have to be conscious of an “other” (than Buddha). As Dogen says:

When speaking of consciousness of self and other, there is a self and an other in what is known; there is a self and an other in what is seen.  ~Shobogenzo, Shoaku Makusa, Hubert Nearman

To cast off the body and mind of self and other is to “discern all things” in view of enlightenment (i.e. nonduality); discerning all things in this manner can just as accurately be expressed as being discerned by all things. In other words, it is to experientially realize the nonduality of duality. This “unitive awareness” is the realization that the real forms of the myriad things (duality) are, as they are, the actualization of nonduality itself (Buddha nature, the one mind, the true self, etc.). In Dogen’s terms:

To be actualized by the many things is to allow the body-and-mind of your self and the body-and-mind of other than your self to fall away.  ~Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, Ted Biringer

 

Peace,

Ted

5 thoughts on “What is Wrong with Duality?”

  1. All and not all, dual and non-dual are aspects of the mind so the buddha was right to point to the middle of the argument – what resides at the middle? does it not also encompass both extremes? The true self, the buddha mind is importantly *not split*

    Not split is not to be divided by such mind labels as this and that. Duality is fine as long as neither side is longed for alone.

    1. Hello Ta Wan,

      Thank you for your comments.
      I certainly agree; to bring up either duality or nonduality is always to bring up both—and to the exact same extent. Hee-Jin Kim expresses the point thus:

      Nonduality is not privileged or transcendantalized metaphysically any more than duality. It is simply one of the soteric foci within the process of realization… in its liberating process, nonduality embraces duality rather than abandons it. Consequently, nonduality is not extra-, trans-, pre-, post-, or antiduality. It is always necessarily rooted in duality. Therefore, nonduality functions within, with, and through duality.
      Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen On Meditation and Thinking, pp. 33-34

      Thanks again.

      Peace,
      Ted

  2. Ted,
    I’ve probably mentioned this teaching from the Buddha, but I continue to return to it when faced with discussions about “this” and “that.” In the Samyutta Nikaya (12.15) the Buddha tells Maha Kaccana:

    Everything exists – that is one extreme.

    Everything doesn’t exist – that is the other extreme.

    Avoiding these two extremes,

    The Tathagata teaches the dhamma by the middle way.

    I often struggle to penetrate this radical teaching, especially as it undercuts our tendency toward certainty. For me, it’s a deeply profound “don’t know” teaching that informs the entire Zen tradition.

    Best wishes,
    Barry

    1. Hello Barry,

      Thank you for your comments. Certainly “Not knowing is most intimate.” I would just add that this kind of “don’t know” is not mere ignorance–as you already know. Nor is it “blankness, uncosciousness, pure awareness, etc.” It is what Dogen means when he says that “When Buddhas are Buddhas, they do not know they are Buddhas.” This is the whole body mind of self and other cast off–it is “mustering the whole body-mind to look at forms and listen to sounds.” That is true “not knowing.” Here are a few excerpts from Dogen on this:

      What we call ‘Buddha Mind’ is synonymous with the three temporal worlds of past, present, and future. This Mind and the three temporal worlds are not separated from each other by so much as one single hair’s breadth. Even so, when we are discussing the two as things that are distinct and separate from each other, then they are farther apart than eighteen thousand breadths of hair.

      In learning what ‘Mind in the Way of the Buddhas’ means, we need to know that the myriad thoughts and things are Mind, and the three worlds of desire, form, and beyond form are nothing but Mind. It will be a matter of nothing but Mind being nothing but Mind: it will be a matter of this Buddha being your very mind. Be there a self, be there an other, neither must be mistaken for the ‘Mind in the Way of the Buddhas’. Do not vainly drift down the Western River; do not stroll about on Tientsin Bridge. Whoever would preserve and accept responsibility for ‘Body and Mind in the Way of the Buddhas’ needs to learn how to function from the spiritually wise discernment of the Buddha’s Way.

      What we call ‘in the Way of the Buddhas’ means that the whole world is Mind, without Its being changed by anything that arises or disappears. And it means that the whole of the Dharma is Mind. And we also need to experience the whole of Mind as the functioning of spiritually wise discernment.
      Shobogenzo, Shin Fukatoku Written Version, Hubert Nearman

      If anything possessed ‘being a sentient being’, then ultimately such a thing would not be Buddha Nature. This is why Hyakuj? said, “To assert that a sentient being possesses Buddha Nature slanders Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. And to assert that a sentient being lacks Buddha Nature slanders Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.” Accordingly, to say that one possesses a Buddha Nature and to say that one lacks Buddha Nature both become slander. Even though they become slander, it does not mean that one cannot say anything about It.
      Shobogenzo, Bussho, Hubert Nearman

      Generally speaking, the saintly all devise some method of training whereby they sever the roots of whatever vines are entangling them. But they might not explore how to cut off entangling vines by using the very vines themselves, for they may not have used these embracing vines as the means to understand their being entangled. So how could they possibly understand the inheriting of vines and the succession of vines by means of these embracing vines? It is rare for any to recognize that the inheritance of the Dharma is synonymous with embracing vines, and, since none of them have heard about it, none have yet expressed it this way. Surely, there could not possibly be many who have experienced it!

      My former Master, an Old Buddha, once said, “The vines of the bottle gourd embrace the bottle gourd itself.” This teaching that he gave to his assembly is something that had never been encountered or heard of anywhere in the past or present. The vines of the bottle gourd intertwining with the vines of the bottle gourd is the Buddhas and Ancestors thoroughly exploring what Buddhas and Ancestors are. It is the Buddhas and Ancestors realizing that there is no difference between the awakening of a Buddha and the awakening of an Ancestor. It has been referred to as the direct Transmission of the Dharma from Mind to Mind.
      Shobogenzo, Katto, Hubert Nearman

      Thanks again!

      Peace,
      Ted

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