The Primary Illusion, Dukkha and Nondual Reality

“But a day comes when you have amassed enough and must begin to build. Then sorting out and discarding (viveka-vairagya) are absolutely necessary. Everything must be scrutinised and the unnecessary ruthlessly destroyed… Be passionately dispassionate – that is all.”

– Nisargadatta Maharaj


What obscures nondual reality and makes us perceive separateness?

When we’re asleep to the reality that separation is an illusion, our imagining, which is invariably colored by fear and desire, makes us think that never being enough or never having enough is the actual condition of life. This primary illusion not only shapes our experience, but it also becomes our experience, so we search for wholeness outside of ourselves within transitory people and objects. We become dissatisfied with our lot and feel lonely, deficient, and hopeless. Our glass is principally either half full or half empty of a bitter drink called “not-enoughness.” This obscures reality and we perceive duality – separateness.

According to Buddhist teaching, the human mind in its default state, which I call restless inadvertence, produces dukkha—“ unsatisfactoriness.” The mind-made world never meets our expectations because it’s a projection of our existential alienation and angst. Impermanence can’t bring total or lasting satisfaction. This was a transformative revelation for the Buddha.

Can the nondual reality be defined?

We need to distinguish what is real from what is unreal, to debunk the illusory. When we earnestly question this way, we unveil an inner richness. We’ve touched on one approach— “mindful negation” or neti-neti, which loosens the hold of the mind by declaring “I am not the body, I am not the mind.” Sri Adi Sankaracharya said that the Self is real and that the universe is unreal, but the universe is the Self. The universe is unreal because it’s perceived and as such, imagined. If neti-neti is the negative method, seeing Self in everything is the positive. The universe is one creative manifestation of the Self, and the body-mind you call you and yours is another, so, as the Self, you’re not limited to them and they don’t ultimately define you. Each finite expression points to fullness yet each cannot contain fullness, just as a single snowflake cannot capture the vast snow of Antarctica. Existence originates from you (as Self, or Brahman), exists in you, and will return to you, declares the Chandogya Upanishad (a Sanskrit text which forms a portion of Vedanta philosophy). In other words, all is you. This is the nondual reality.

Jean-Paul Sartre said that “existence precedes essence,” which has become the generally accepted motto of the existentialist movement. For Sartre, we have no predetermined blueprint; we simply exist, establish ourselves in the world, and only then do we define ourselves. Self-defining arises out of what we live, how we engage in the world. To exemplify this, the essence of a snowflake is water; a snowflake has an essence, but we don’t. This is why essence-based metaphors aren’t truly effective when attempting to explain our nondual reality. Self isn’t a material in the same way that water, gold, or wood are. Self can’t be divided, because Self alone is.

There are no valid means for comparison or distinction; we can’t compare two expressions of the same non-stuff. It just isn’t possible.

The dream was that you were astray from the universe; the reality is that you are the universe and there is nowhere that your Aliveness isn’t. All is you; therefore all is well.

From ‘Living the Life That You Are: Finding Wholeness You Feel Lost, Isolated, and Afraid’ by Nic Higham Amazon: