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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Dichotomy?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Dichotomy

A Different Way of Defining Knowledge

The moment you are consciously in touch with basic knowledge, you realize that nothing can escape it. No concept exists outside of it because any concept is ultimately basic knowledge—even God. What is God? Basic knowledge. What is the Absolute? Basic knowledge. Basic knowledge has many qualities, many levels, many refinements, and many ways of manifesting itself. The point is that in any experience, there is knowingness, and if you eliminate the dichotomy of observer and observed, you see that this knowingness is the same thing as the known, which is the same thing as the knowledge. This is a different way of defining knowledge than the ordinary way of defining it. This knowledge is a more direct, immediate, and experienced knowledge, and yet it is still knowledge that includes the discrimination and recognition of the meaning of the experience.

Creating a Dichotomy that Does Not Exist

So we have moved from the fact of what is happening to what truly exists within you, and from there to what truly exists beyond your body—what exists in the whole cosmos. In the boundless dimensions, Essence still has the quality of being a presence, a fullness, and a richness. As our experience deepens, the boundless dimensions keep revealing themselves in continuing depth, one after the other, as we penetrate deeper and deeper concepts within our mind, and these dimensions will lead us eventually to the deepest, innermost truth—absolute truth. This dimension of the Absolute is beyond all concepts, including that of existence or non-existence. It is not that there is a formless or boundless dimension that pervades everything or is the essence or everything, since seeing it this way creates a dichotomy that does not exist. It is not as though there is me and there is my essential nature. The formless dimensions bring in another kind of perception, which is of Being as a formless, boundless, real existence, a substantial presence that is not contained by any boundary. When you experience pure, translucent, self-existing boundless presence, you see that it is not only the fundamental nature of Essence itself, but also of everything that exists. It exists in everything, and everything exists in it.

Facets of Unity, pg. 77

It is Particularly Difficult to Penetrate the Dichotomy of Being and Doing

It is particularly difficult to penetrate the dichotomy of being and doing. Many students are able to experience the nonconceptual ground, and to integrate its timeless truths. But most of them find it quite difficult to function from this place. They can be this presence, but when they take action—physical, emotional or mental—they separate from it, and return to a conceptual level. Such disruption of realization can be quite painful and disconcerting; it makes many doubt their realization, and causes some even to believe that their realization is fake. Inquiring into this issue reveals the conceptual dichotomy of being and doing. Quite simply, it is difficult for the mind not to discriminate being from doing, stillness from movement, action from repose. It can understand and accept pure awareness as presence, and recognize itself as this presence. But to act, to express, to communicate, brings up a dynamic dimension that the mind cannot help but think is distinct from simply being. The inquiry into this dilemma leads the soul to the understanding of how manifestation occurs, and how this is related to movement and action. This is the subject of the next chapter, so we will not discuss it here. But this does not resolve the dichotomy, for being continues to be contrasted to doing, stillness to movement.

Our Habitual Dichotomy of Experiencer and Experienced

The soul, then, is not simply an organism of consciousness, but is also an organism of knowledge. When we recognize knowledge as the fabric of all experience, we cannot hold on to our habitual dichotomy of experiencer and experienced, knower and known. The knower is knowledge, the known is knowledge. The knower is the field, and the known is a form that this field assumes without ceasing to be the field. When we experience fear, our consciousness is the very sensations of the fear. The fear is the conscious field forming into fear, and knowing itself as fear. We might be experiencing fear in the belly, as some kind of vibration, an uncomfortable shakiness and irritation. Our consciousness is manifesting itself as fear in a particular region, and as consciousness we are aware of the fear in that region. We cannot actually separate the fear from the knowingness of the fear; they are the same arising in the belly. We do not actually know the fear in our head, even though we say we know it in our mind. The phenomenon of experience presents itself as an emotional form in the belly, a form that is itself the knowingness of what this form is. Of course we might experience fear in the belly without recognizing it as fear; but when we do recognize it, the recognition occurs at the same location as the fear, in the belly. This recognition often manifests as the form becoming clearer and more delineated.

Presence Knows Itself Directly Without a Self-Object Dichotomy

As noted above, the soul is not simply a field of homogeneous presence. Its ground and fabric is the presence of consciousness, but it includes many levels and facets of this consciousness. Presence knows itself directly, without reflecting on itself, and without a self-object dichotomy. It does not look at itself; it knows itself by being itself. It knows itself by being naturally self collected in such a way that it is spontaneously self-abiding. By abiding in itself it knows itself as presence. The soul has the capacity to know herself in this way, by collecting herself and abiding in her own presence. But she also has the capacity for self-reflection, so she can know herself self-reflectively, a mode of knowing that can—and usually does, in egoic experience—develop into dualistic knowing, knowing through the self-object dichotomy. The soul can differentiate into many dimensions, many facets, which can operate in an organized way to fulfill specific functions. The consciousness of the soul differentiates into what we know normally as mind, heart, and will, with their respective capacities and functions.

Seeing that Everything is Ultimately Good in a Realm Beyond the Dichotomy of Good and Bad

We recognize here that this Being is not only patterned as knowledge which makes up the totality of existence, but that Being in its purity is a knowingness, a consciousness, an awareness. It is both knowledge and knowing. It is the knower and the known. It is both the presence of knowledge and the capacity for knowing, which is implicit in all knowledge. This ultimate knowledge reveals itself also to be the ultimate good, for it is both our essential nature and the nature of everything. It makes us see that everything is available, and that everything is ultimately good in a realm beyond the dichotomy of good and bad. However, for us to arrive at such ultimate knowledge, we need to start by appreciating knowledge at whatever level of understanding we are living our lives. When we have this real and open appreciation of knowledge, it can reveal to us its true and ultimate nature; it can reveal to us not only the relative and transitory good, but also the ultimate good, the supreme good.

The Deep Split Implicit in Western Culture

Now we will turn our attention to the other aspect of that which is the universe —the world. The world, ourselves, and God are not different things, but they become separated out from each other in our minds as we grow and develop. Concurrent with losing our true connection to, and innate oneness with, reality in childhood, many kinds of divisions, dualities, splits, and separations form in our minds. In a predominantly Christian culture like ours, one of the main divisions is the separation of God from the world. There is the kingdom of heaven and there is the earth. There is the spiritual and there is the physical. So when we embark on a spiritual path, we unconsciously believe that we are setting out for heaven. We think that the path is a matter of going to a spiritual universe that we somehow see as separate from physical reality, from the here-and-now, from the world we live in. This deep split is implicit in Western culture, and Western religions actually support it. All theistic religions basically look at things through this dichotomy: There is God and there is the physical world. Their religious formulations are based on it, and only when you get into the mystical elements of these religious traditions can this split be seen through.

Facets of Unity, pg. 54

The Dichotomy that Many People Doing Spiritual Work Experience

Let’s investigate this dichotomy that many people doing spiritual work experience, between the drab, ordinary, unexciting, old world around us—the physical world—and the spiritual. We think that it is spiritual to move away from the material world. To approach the Work this way presents us with a big problem. We want the Work to make us successful and secure in the physical world, and at the same time we want a spiritual life that has nothing to do with that, that is beyond it, that is inner, that is more spiritual, that is not physical. This is a split orientation. However, this split orientation contains a seed of truth that is not apparent to us. For instance, you believe that God is within, or God is over there, somewhere beyond the world. You feel as if this truth is something mysterious like a goody you’ll find when you bite into one of your chocolates, or by doing strange things to your brain like ingesting some substance. It is true that you can find a God in heaven, or you can find God inside your heart. But from the perspective of the teaching that we will work with here, these experiences happen within your mind, within your knowledge. They are not yet the objective truth, not yet the experience of awakening.

The Final Dichotomy

The final dichotomy is between the Absolute and the cosmic existence. The Absolute is the final subject and the final object is the cosmic existence. But when that union happens, when that dichotomy is erased in the understanding of nondifferentiated reality, there is no subject and object, no inside and outside. So the person who is completely nonattached, who knows reality exactly, will not assert anything. If someone is completely real, that person will not say, “I exist.” He will not say, “I don’t exist.” He will not say, “I both exist and don’t exist at once.” He will not say anything like that. He will not say there is God. He will not say there is no God. He will not say there is both God and no God at the same time. Ultimately, reality is not any of these differentiations. Reality, whatever it is, is simply there. Whatever it is, it simply is.

The Modern Dichotomy between Self and Soul

Contemporary thought concerning spirit tends to reflect the modern dichotomy between self and soul. Religion is the realm of priests and ministers, functioning as specialists to advise and aid individuals in a particular area of their lives. Most spiritual teachers seem to participate in this dichotomy, seeing themselves as caretakers of the soul or spirit, and leaving concerns of the self to psychologists. (This view is changing somewhat, but the dichotomy is still the rule.) It is interesting in this light to remember that the major religious traditions have developed in such a way that their primary concern is either preparation for the afterlife, in theistic religions, or enlightenment that brings freedom from existence, in Eastern religions. Concern for such matters as the redemption of the present world, as fulfillment and completeness of life, can arguably be seen not to be the primary perspective of the major spiritual traditions.

The Most Basic Fundamental Dichotomy

We have discussed the dichotomy of matter and spirit, and indicated others. The most basic fundamental dichotomy is that between being and nonbeing, or presence and emptiness. It is true that presence and emptiness are not simply cognitive experiences in the normal sense of the word. But because we know that we are experiencing presence, which is being, and emptiness, which is nonbeing, it becomes clear in pure awareness that such experiences retain some conceptual colorings. These colorings are subtle, for the concept of being is so pervasive in experience. The fact that they appear as opposites reveals them to be conceptual, even though it is the conceptuality of basic knowledge. The sense in which pure awareness neither exists nor does not exist is not related to whether it ultimately appears in experience, but to how it feels in experience. It does not feel like existence and it does not feel like nonexistence. It is both presence and absence, but actually neither, for it is innocent of conceptual coloring.

True Nature Transcends All Conceptual Dichotomies

True nature transcends the various categories of experience because it is beyond all form. In itself it transcends all conceptual dichotomies. It is neither small nor large, neither finite nor infinite. But these are not the important dichotomies that the soul comes up against as she dissolves into true nature. She rather encounters at this juncture dichotomies significant for her existence, life, and functioning. The most fundamental dichotomy that is challenged by the experience of true nature is the dichotomy of being and nonbeing. The soul has known essence as presence, true being. But as essence reveals itself as the true nature of everything it reveals its nature more completely. Essence is revealed here as both fullness and emptiness, both presence and absence. Each has been a true and authentic realization of true nature, but even this fundamental distinction turns out to be a form that differentiates out of the original mystery, a mystery beyond all differentiation. True nature is absolute being, but also absolute nonbeing. It is both presence and absence of presence. It is both but not exactly, because these are conceptual elaborations of which true nature is innocent. We say it is both being and nonbeing, or neither, only because these are fundamental concerns for the soul. Being is the last thing the soul needs to surrender as she opens up to her true nature. As she does this she learns about nonbeing. She experiences the emptiness and ontological absence of her existence, and everything else in manifestation. So she may believe that true nature is total emptiness, absolute nothingness, complete absence of existence.

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