If we are trying to rebuild Christianity from the bottom
up, we need to try to understand Jesus, the one who
began it all (even though he probably never intended to
start a new religion). I am convinced that Jesus was the
first nondual religious teacher of the West, and one
reason we have failed to understand so much of his
teaching, much less follow it, is because we tried to
understand it with dualistic minds. In his life and
modeled and exemplified nonduality more than
giving us any systematic teaching on it. Our inability
to fully understand him and seriously follow him may be
partly because we have not been taught how to see
nondually ourselves. We thought highly of the “mind of
Christ” but there was little
practical knowledge of how to get there.
This week I will try to shed some light on the meaning
of dualistic and nondual thinking, because until you put
on wide-lens nondual glasses you cannot see in any
genuinely new way. You will just process any new ideas
with your old operating system.
Dualistic thinking, or the “egoic operating system,” as
my friend and colleague Cynthia Bourgeault calls it, is
our way of reading reality from the position of our
private and small self. “What’s in it for me?” “How will
I look if I do this?” This is the ego’s preferred way of
seeing reality. It is the ordinary “hardware” of almost
all Western people, even those who think of themselves
as Christians. The church has neglected its central work
of teaching prayer and contemplation,
allowing the language of institutional religion itself
to remain dualistic and largely argumentative.
We ended up confusing information with
enlightenment, mind with soul, and thinking with
experiencing—yet these are very different paths.
The dualistic mind is essentially binary, either/or
thinking. It knows by comparison, opposition, and
differentiation. It uses descriptive words like
good/evil, pretty/ugly, smart/stupid, not realizing
there may be a hundred degrees between the two ends of
each spectrum. Dualistic thinking works well for the
sake of simplification and conversation, but not for the
sake of truth or the immense subtlety of actual personal
experience. Most of us settle for quick and easy answers
instead of any deep perception, which we leave to poets,
philosophers, and prophets.
Yet depth and breadth of perception should be the
primary arena for all authentic religion.
How else could we possibly search for God?
We do need the dualistic mind to function in practical
life, however, and to do our work as a teacher, a nurse,
a scientist, or an engineer. It’s helpful and fully
necessary as far as it goes, but it just doesn’t go far
enough. The dualistic mind cannot process things like
infinity, mystery, God, grace, suffering, sexuality,
death, or love; this is exactly why most people stumble
over these very issues. The dualistic mind pulls
everything down into some kind of tit-for-tat system of
false choices and too-simple contraries, which is
largely what “fast food religion” teaches, usually
without even knowing it. Without the contemplative and
converted mind—honest and humble perception—much
religion is frankly dangerous.