When we incarnate we enter a world of duality, an experience of separation. In a realistic sense this is important. We are able to recognize objects, people, and animals as distinct from ourselves, we interact with our environment and the entities and objects within that environment. We learn that fire burns, animals can bite, and rocks are hard. We also learn more subjective identifications such as- good and bad; right and wrong; happy and sad; beautiful and ugly. Duality is the existence of pairs of opposites.
In metaphysical spirituality, we are taught to strive for oneness with all things, to let go of separation, and understand that we are interdependence upon one another. Teachings often speak of the importance of emptiness, that thoughts and things do not have independent origin but arise from other things. Sometimes we are told that this world is a delusion and that nothing that happens here matters because we are destined for heaven, nirvana, enlightenment, and bliss.
Duality is both illusion and reality. How can that be? Well, let’s take a pragmatic approach. In life on a day to day basis it’s important to know left from right, up from down, forward from back, hot from cold, and open from closed. If we can’t tell left from right or up from down we have a cognitive disability. If we can’t distinguish between hot and cold we can injury ourselves physically. It’s also helpful to know if a door is open or closed. So, duality in this respect, has a utilitarian functionality. Even fully enlightened beings still need to maneuver in daily life, just like everyone else.
Then, there is the duality of Delusion. This can be extremely subtle and is the true cause of suffering. Great Spiritual Teachers have told us that suffering has a cause and discovering that cause allows us to find the path to liberation from suffering. The duality of delusion arises from opinion, beliefs, attitudes, and judgments. For example: good and evil, right and wrong, neat and messy, beautiful and ugly, whole and broken, or happy and sad, man and woman, us and them, etc.
I am not saying we shouldn’t have opinions, beliefs, attitudes, and discernments. What we want to examine is how some of these things lead to suffering for ourselves and contribute to the suffering of others. Let’s start with neat and messy. As a child, or as a parent, we were probably exposed to this concept. If the parent has a standard of neatness that has to be met…or else. What happens? Angry words. Tears. Resentment. Feelings of not being loved. All of these are a cause of suffering.
In relationships, these delusional dualities or opinions can cause tremendous suffering. Example: A young married couple with two small children appear to be very happy together. The husband works hard and long hours so that his beloved can stay home and care for their two young children, keep the hearth, and make a home just like in his childhood. The wife is happy to be with the children and loves her home. She’s grateful that her dream is possible and she doesn’t have to leave her children with strangers. Then, one day both children become ill, and she also becomes ill. She isn’t getting any sleep, can’t eat, and needs help from her husband. He becomes angry and storms out of the house and doesn’t come back for a few days. This is the duality called wife and husband. Both those words have a world of idea, belief, and story behind them. Our ideas work as long as other factors don’t come into play. But other factors have a way of showing up. The result? Suffering!
One more example: I work hard for a living, seeing people, problem solving, organizing events, and serving my spiritual community. Therefore, my delusional belief is to come home to a neat and tidy house. That is a neat and tidy house according to my programmed, conditioned expectations. Sometimes that just doesn’t happen. Irritation, self-pity, and entitlement creep into my thoughts. If I share those thoughts everyone is challenged. If I don’t then only I am challenged. But this is suffering and for what? Because things were not the way my judgement-self thought they should be?
Liberation from suffering comes when I am able to see through the delusion of what should be and allow myself to be OK with what is at the moment. Watching thoughts, we begin to see our aversion and attractions: I like it, I don’t like it; It should be, it shouldn’t be, and on, and on, and on.
But we do not need to decide for the whole world what beauty is, what happiness is, what love is, what the correct dress or behavior is, or any other ideal that is only a matter of opinion or cultural conditioning. Let us strive to recognize our causes of suffering and let go of the wheel of fire. Liberation awaits those willing to release attachment to delusional duality!