Learn to Recycle, May 11, 2009

Steve Hagen

Steve HagenNature isn’t dualistic. It isn’t merely a collection of separate parts. It doesn’t throw anything away. It recycles everything. And it doesn’t operate out of a desire to improve things. While we fixate on the parts, nature acts out of the Whole.

We need to start recognizing that the world itself is not dualistic. We need to appreciate that our dualistic thinking doesn’t match Reality and that we pay a heavy and painful price for this discrepancy. Only then can we learn to live on this Earth without making a mess of it.

It’s not that we have to keep our hands off everything. We can’t do that, anyway; after all, we’re part and parcel of it. But we can learn to act in accord with Reality.

–Steve Hagen, from Buddhism: It’s Not What You Think (HarperSanFrancisco)

Image: http://www.dharmafield.org

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normbear's picture

I’m afraid that Steve Hagen’s statement, “our dualistic thinking doesn’t match Reality,” is, in a very important sense, just wrong. The electric motors that power the modern world are based on the positive and negative poles of magnets, and while “positive” and “negative” can be considered from a point of view from which they form a unity, it is their dualistic nature that makes them useful to us.

Further, the idea that “nature acts out of the Whole,” is based on a concept, “nature,” that only exists in the thinking of human beings. There is no “nature” apart from the functioning of myriad organisms, each one dependent on the duality of “food” versus “not-food.” Of course, “nature” wouldn’t be complete without its inorganic substrate, which gives us another duality.

Language gives us the ability to summarize the interactions of infinite numbers of tiny things; indeed, without that function language would be useless, and human society would not exist. But in the process, language seduces us into thinking that those summary categories refer to actual things-in-themselves, like “nature,” or “spring.”

If we suppress language and conceptual thinking in our own brains, as meditators have been doing for millennia, then we eliminate dualistic thinking, but doing so doesn’t eliminate the need to distinguish food from not-food if we are to survive as viable organisms. Non-conceptual thinking doesn’t eliminate duality, it just eliminates the ability to think about it.

Rather than conjuring a conflict between dual and non-dual, a more useful way to look at reality is through the concept of interdependence. We need each other, along with all the other bits and pieces of the universe. None of us could exist independently.

Suffering is eliminated by seeing ourselves in grand perspective, as a node in the vast web of interdependence, as both the product and producer of conditions radiating infinitely in all directions, past and future. Understanding the origins and functions of our desires in this larger context can loosen their hold and the suffering they cause.

Norm Bearrentine