I think it’s safe to say that the behavioral starting point for most who begin to seek their nonduality (inclusive of most Buddhist- and Hindu-based notions of spiritual enlightenment) is to arrive at a greater degree of psychological comfort than they may presently enjoy in their lives. Due to the scope of what nonduality is proposed to be within the literature of its traditions, the conceptual starting point (frame) is almost always one of these three notions: nonduality is being one with God, nonduality is being one with the universe, or nonduality is simply being nothing. Thus, at the very onset of their search, the brain of the seeker immediately generates a conceptual object—an attempt to imagine what nonduality might be like as an experience based on one or more of these notions—within the scope of their perceptual theater. This object now becomes the proxy for nonduality in the perceptual theater, and can now occlude—or conceptually displace—awareness in a way that can best be described as causing an inattentional blindness to the nonduality they seek.
By nonduality, I refer to human awareness apart from conceptual objects. That is, mind before it becomes identified with its contents. This is what is called the Atman by Hindu Advaita Vedanta or Rigpa by Tibetan Dzogchen. We may also use the terms the absolute or pure awareness, among many others. These describe an ongoing condition of being which sets the stage for all cognition, regardless of whether nonduality has been realized, that is, recognized as the perceptual theater of the individual, or not. There are several factors which appear to inhibit realization, the aforementioned conceptual displacement being one that becomes active the moment a description of nonduality is believed to be true. There is also the problem of ubiquity, or, the always-on condition of nonduality, along with the notion of the human soul, or idea of me, which itself is a compound derived from knowing our name and the simple notion we hold for containment.
While a few of the nondual spiritual traditions, particularly Hindu Advaita Vedanta and Japanese Zen, attempt to mitigate the problem of conceptual displacement by a careful and measured disclosure of a very specific set of descriptive notions, very few individuals are able to begin their training this way. Thus, a set of notions we could call the folk theory of nondual enlightenment (FToE) becomes the primary means for understanding and communicating about nonduality, and also, a primary cause for the prevention of nondual realization. In this way, the FToE is usually the starting and end point for the search for nonduality, and by end point, I mean the end of any chance for success.
So, it appears there needs to be a new starting point, one that doesn’t rely on or offer any descriptions of nonduality, but one that accepts the reality of nonduality as the basis of our ordinary, day-to-day awareness and cognition.
If there is one thing we cannot deny in this moment, it’s that we are here within the context of our embodiment, experiencing our awareness of reading these words. And as a being who is able to read, we are certainly a being that will one day die. This may seem horrendously counterintuitive to the average consumer of nondual spirituality, one who seeks to find their immortality by finding themselves to be God, the universe, or nothing. But regardless of whether you accept any of the ideas I’ve just shared, you must accept that you are here, reading these words, right now. That is our starting point, our embodiment as an individual being, not a cosmic one, a being who seeks comfort for themselves and those they love, and one who should always look both ways before crossing a busy street if they want to continue in their existence.