Questioner: If reality is non-dual surely there must be times when we experience this?
Ngakma Nor’dzin: Well yes … that would seem to be likely. Sadly however, we are more intent on proving we exist. This is a big distraction from that possibility. When such moments of clarity sparkle through we usually run.
Q: Proving we exist?
NN: Yes. This is samsara – the process of attaching to form as if it were ultimately solid, permanent, inherently separate and self-existent, continuous and totally defined. And this is how we define ourselves as well. Samsara is the social context of dualism – the process I engage in to avoid experiences of emptiness. I do not want to lose the good things in my life; I wish to avoid the things I view as bad; and I ignore things that seem to have nothing to do with my happiness or pain. In other words, I try to keep the good things happening, try to stop the bad things happening and ignore the rest.
Q: But what about non-dual experiences?
NN: Well, since the reality of our existence is that emptiness and form are undivided, inevitably we do experience non-duality in our lives, but we tend to interpret it as emptiness and run away from it.
Q: Why would we interpret it as emptiness?
NN: Because we have no experience of non-duality. We are so orientated toward form that we mistake non-duality for emptiness because it isn’t total form. We filter all experience through our dualistic perspective.
Within the flicker of a moment of non-duality, we recognise the form quality as familiar, but view the emptiness quality as unfamiliar and frightening. So we tend to interpret the colour of the experience as the scary, unfamiliar aspect of emptiness. This makes us grasp for the apparently more solid, defined form aspect with which we feel comfortable. We destroy the non-duality of the experience by running away from the emptiness and grasping at the form.
Q: But really all experience is non-dual?
NN: Yes. Emptiness and form undivided are chö, Dharma, ‘as it is’. This is the fundamental reality we can discover through practice. However, because we are so unfamiliar with and afraid of emptiness, we actually experience moments of non-duality as emptiness and avoid them by retracting into form. We are all aware of moments of potential non-duality – we may surprise ourselves with a moment of spontaneous generosity, or an extraordinary feeling of clarity and awareness about a situation, or feeling one’s heart open with a wish to be kind to another being for no apparent reason, or finding we just know what is needed in a situation and being able to act. These are moments which, if analysed, do not seem to substantiate our formness, and in fact encompass a sense of our emptiness.
Q: Yes, I’ve had moments like that and they do feel good.
NN: Well this is not so surprising really, as the true nature of reality is non-duality. There may be other times when we allow ourselves to be empty in order to be inspired by something or someone outside of ourselves. Often we have to let go of the rigidity of our concepts about the world in order to get a joke. Much humour involves the juxtaposition of two ideas, or the recognition of the strange games we play and identities we adopt. And there are experiences like sneezing and orgasm.
Q: Sneezing and orgasm!
NN: [Laughs] These are experiences where one has to allow the moment to be what it is – you have to relax and let go. Such moments offer the potential of a non-dual experience. If we let go of the process of checking, judging, categorising or defining… you can’t be worrying whether you are looking okay or crumpling the sheets in the build-up to orgasm, you have to enter into it in a naked and direct manner – no pun intended [laughter]. And there is also laughter – Khandro Déchen once said that if you were laughing during orgasm and happened to sneeze, you might well surprise yourself into a fleeting moment of non-duality.