The practice of authentic mindfulness begins with the understanding of Non-dual Mind.
(This introduction is meant for those who already have some understanding of self-inquiry or spiritual practices. For all new explorers on the inner path of life, I suggest reading “Mindfulness Primer” first)
Having practiced and taught Mindfulness for several years now, I can say with certainty that only those practitioners gain lasting benefits from its practice, who comprehend its underlying philosophy of Non-dualism.
Today we see many taking to the practice of mindfulness, both in the west and in India. Some do so to gain its practical benefits. They seek to address emotional and psychological afflictions, in line with the increasing endorsement by the scientific studies of Mindfulness. Others integrate it to complement their existing spiritual/religious practices. Of all those very few seem to know, “What is the basis of Mindfulness?” and “What is its ultimate purpose?”
Non-dualism cannot be associated with any ‘isms’ – tradition or belief systems. It transcends all forms of outer practices, rituals and beliefs in God as prevalent among the various religions. Although it is the essence and the final frontier for every religion, there are mainly two traditions that have exclusively or primarily made non-dualism their path and final goal. Both these traditions have historically originated in India: Advaita and certain lineages within Buddhism.
Let us first review the non-dualism of Advaita (a Sanskrit word that stands for non-dual). I prefer using the word Advaita although the popular reference to it is within Advaita Vedanta, a tradition popularized by Shankaracharya in India. The Vedanta tag to Advaita makes it a much more complicated philosophy to comprehend without understanding the Vedas system of Hinduism. On the other hand, the Advaita that great ones such as Ramana Maharshi and Kabir represented was secular and not integrated with any religion. They demonstrated in their own lives that the non-dualism of Advaita as a philosophy was meant to be part of one’s own experiential understanding, arrived at through inquiry and contemplation.
The non-dualism that Buddha taught is also similarly lost within its ‘ism.’ But since the philosophy and teaching aspect of Buddhism relied less on rituals, customs and traditions but more on practices and understanding, the essence of Buddha’s non-dualist teachings can be accessed by most practitioners even today. Such experiential understanding leading to insight is at the heart of Mindfulness practices, the essential component of Buddhist teachings. Nevertheless, for those insights to truly remain as insights rather than become a doctrine of a religion, the philosophy of non-dualism is important to understand. Otherwise, Mindfulness can become another sought after skill like martial arts without fulfilling its purpose of eliminating the underlying stress inherent in our lives.
Mindfulness as a dualistic practice
Dualistic view is essentially the subject-object experience, of our mind perceiving the world of objects as being distinct from it. Furthermore, it creates a sense of separation of us as being different not just from a God who’s out there, but also from other beings. When we hold such dualistic views, mindfulness as a practice will still give us the benefits of being in control of this mind-object relationship, resulting is lesser stress and afflictions. But those benefits soon fade away or address only the relative stresses of daily life without resolving the underlying state of grasping and suffering. It is like having a pot with holes to carry the water. You can only go the short distance!
Mindfulness works best when we see through our problems and pain in life as being existent because of our identification with the mind itself. Thus it is common for practitioners to retain the notion that some factor ‘out there’ (God or Gurus) can provide solution to our problems and give us the peace of mind. Ofcourse at a preliminary level of being overwhelmed with problems, such thoughts can soothe the turbulent emotions.
Another dualistic means of using Mindfulness is to mix it with other psychological approaches. Although for most westerners, such an approach is a great start to appreciating the value of these Eastern teachings, however its scope remains limited. This is because when the sense of self is nurtured through counseling, and enhanced through measures of ‘feeling good and making progress,’ then Mindfulness regresses into self-help tools, far removed from its original purpose of ending all sorrows.
To be able to fully appreciate and benefit from the practice of Mindfulness, one has to be able to start with the Non-dual Mind, a mind that is not in conflict with itself or with its relationship towards the perceived world. How do we do this? Well, it is not possible through some ‘doing’ but through right understanding. For this association with teaching or teachers can be beneficial. More importantly, adopting the Non-dual Mind is to adopt the right attitude. Then the training of Mindfulness truly begins!