Dualistic and Nondual Thinking
The Dualistic Mind
Sunday, January 29, 2017
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 ministry, Jesus 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.
Gateway to Silence:
We are oned in love.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 98-99;
Yes, And . . . : Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2013), 406; and
The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 34-35.