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Non-Dualism and a Love vs. Ego-Driven Life

I have been thinking a lot lately about a love vs. ego-driven life. In an Instagram post the other day, I wrote about loving goals vs. egocentric goals. So, it made me think of living a love-driven life rather than an ego-driven life.

To explain the difference between a love-driven vs. an ego-driven life, I’m going to get a little philosophical for a minute and talk about dualistic and non-dualistic views of reality. This discussion will likely seem strange initially. But I hope you will stay with me. I believe it will be worth it.

Whether you have a dualistic or non-dualist view of the world makes a big difference, especially in terms of whether your life is driven by your ego or by love. (And by the way, you can have a dualistic or non-dualistic view of the world without realizing it.)

If you have a dualistic view of life, you view reality primarily in terms of binaries: opposing and equally powerful concepts like light and dark, good and evil, love and hate.[1]

A non-dualistic view of the world, on the other hand, views reality as a unity which can suffer privation. So, for example, non-dualism suggests that goodness, love, and light[2] are what is real. The opposite of these things—darkness, hate, and evil—are privations of goodness and parasitic on it.

That means that while darkness and evil certainly possess negative existence, they don’t possess realness in themselves. Rather, they depend on real things like light, goodness, and love for their existence. And in fact, darkness and evil are, in some senses, an illusion, a misconception, or a disease. (In his Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love Saint Augustine suggests this is what sin is.)

To clarify, for example, in a dualistic view of the world both light and dark are equally real and powerful. But in a non-dualistic view of the world, light is more real and powerful. That is because light existed before darkness, and darkness is dependent on light for its power. Now certainly, darkness affects the world. However, it is only because of the light that darkness possesses any power at all.

The point here is that if we take non-dualism seriously, it means that the Good is the most basic, real thing in the universe, in us, and in everything. It can never be destroyed. It is the reality that runs through everything.

And I take love to be the sum of all that is good.[3] And if that is true, that means that the foundation of everything—the world, you, me–is love.

It’s possible to think about this concept in both a faith-based and a non-faith-based way.

For example, the idea that what is original and most real is love is reflected beautifully in the Jewish and Christian teachings that God is love, and that we are made in his image. Furthermore, it is reflected in the Genesis account that God made the earth, sky, plants, animals, and humans, and he looked on it and saw that it was good.[4]

Nevertheless, both these faith traditions—especially the Christian tradition–explain that evil entered the world and brought violence, disease, death, and corruption in its various forms. In this state, the world and reality had not lost its original love. But it became separated from it and forgot it. And as it did so, ignorance, chaos, and evil increased. One reading of Christ’s death and resurrection in the Christian tradition is that it broke the power of evil and chaos and made a return to original love possible through salvation.[5]

You can read more about this here[6]:
Are Humans Good or Evil by Nature?

In a non-faith-based way, you can think of the origin of the universe as creativity fueled by love.

This is love for life and a thriving existence. For example, when we look at ecosystems, like a rain forest, we see every plant and creature in that ecosystem working together to help it thrive and be vibrantly healthy. Ecosystems love life and want to live and flourish together. Such love is their underlying force. Some philosophers and scientists like Hans Jonas and Pierre de Theilard de Chardin speak of this drive as eros.

Now certainly destruction and decay happen in nature. But destruction and decay are not the underlying reality of nature. Rather, an exuberant love for life is. And in fact, destruction and decay of nature could not occur unless life was there originally. Further, whenever destruction and decay occurs, life always springs up again and renews itself.

This exuberant love of life is the primordial drive of the universe, of which we are a part. This view of the universe accords well with the words of late Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He writes, “You are part of the universe; you are made of stars. When you look at your loved one, you see that he is also made of stars and carries eternity inside. Looking in this way, we naturally feel reverence.” His words remind us of the beauty underlying you, me, and the universe. It is the same love and beauty.

It’s important to reiterate that a non-dualistic view does not deny that we do bad things. Nor does it deny that we lose our way or act out of cruelty, ignorance, or selfishness. Rather, it reminds us that there is a deeper, original good reality underlying the bad choices, to which we can return.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant makes a similar point, though in different terms. He argues that reason, morality, and freedom[7] direct us to treat everyone, including ourselves, as valuable in themselves. (This is the practical expression of love.) As we consistently do this, we create something called the Kingdom of Ends. The Kingdom of Ends is a world where everyone treats others (and is treated) as valuable in themselves. It is also a world where people don’t make themselves the exception to the rule. Rather, they work for their own perfection and the happiness of others. In doing so, they light up their corner of the world[8] with the beauty of virtue and morality.[9] And Kant argues that we can always make a choice, in each moment, to work towards this Kingdom of Ends.

Neither Kant nor Kant scholars would likely consider Kant’s philosophy as an example of non-dualism. However, Kant’s philosophy, as well as the other ideas I have discussed in this post, remind us of what is essential. The essential thing is returning to wholeness, goodness, and love, which is the original, underlying unity of the world. Unfortunately, rather than remembering this love, we often get stuck in our ego which a dualistic view of the world can encourage.

Dualism and the Ego

When we get stuck in a dualistic view of life, we become overly focused on labeling parts of reality as good, bad, light, dark, etc. In addition, most of have a strong desire to consider ourselves right and good. Because of this, as we label the world, we become very concerned with aligning ourselves with those aspects of reality we call good.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with labels per se. We need labels to some extent to help us navigate life, achieve certain goals, and keep us safe. However, when we become overly focused on labels, we forget that love is the actual goal. When we do this, it’s like becoming obsessed with the letters of the alphabet rather than realizing meaning-making and reading is the goal of the alphabet.

And it’s like becoming obsessed with traffic laws, rather than realizing that traveling harmoniously to get to cool places is the goal.

Or it is like obsessing over possible markers of health like weight or size rather than realizing that feeling energetic, healthy, and powerful in our body is the goal.

Likewise, when we obsess over labels, we become obsessed with rules, rather than realizing that original love is the goal.

And you can probably start to see the connection between dualism and an ego-driven life.

If we become very concerned with the label good and being thought good, we can become obsessed with our individual ego and its promotion.

This can lead to ego-driven problems like bragging, making everything about us, and constantly promoting ourselves and our accomplishments. It can also encourage us to show constantly how we are better than other people. After all, if we are very concerned with our ego reputation, it can encourage us to focus on other people’s badness as a way of highlighting our own goodness.

An ego-driven life can make us feel alone and powerless and like it is all up to us.

It can also  make us feel like we must constantly do more and be more to be in the good category.

In addition, when we are overly focused on our ego reputation, it can make us almost incapable of reflecting on our faults and dealing with our dark side. That is because seeing our faults and our dark side makes us feel like we are one of those bad people.

A dualistic, ego-driven life can also lead us to despair. For example, most of us experience significant personal failures at some point in our life. I certainly have. If we have a dualistic, ego-driven view of the world, our failures can cause us to view ourselves as permanently broken, bad, or inferior. This makes us feel hopeless, which leads to other problems.

For example, such hopeless feelings may cause us to seek other people’s approval excessively. We may feel, for example, that if other people label us as good, it may restore us in some way.

On the other hand, if we feel hopeless about ever being good, this may encourage addictions as we attempt to numb our hopeless feelings.

Remember: our ego in itself is not bad. It is just our sense of individuality and self. And we need some semblance of an ego to navigate life and set goals. But an ego-driven life has problems recognizing anything beyond the self or beyond its labels. As such, it simultaneously encourages arrogance and a lack of self-awareness, as well as a feeling of inferiority and hopelessness.

And an ego-driven life cuts us off from the original love in ourselves and everything else in the world.

The good news is that there is an alternative: a love-driven life, which a non-dualistic view of the world can encourage.

A love-driven life is based on several basic ideas:

One: Original love is the foundation of reality and is the truest thing about you, me, everyone, and everything. It is, indeed, true that we are One.

Two: Original love can be forgotten, neglected, or covered over. This leads to ignorance, chaos, and evil. However, original love is deeper still and cannot be destroyed.

Three: All of us, because we are human beings, suffer from a privation of good. This privation occurs whenever we make mistakes or willfully act in selfishness or cruelty.

But this privation of good is not the end of our story. All of us also possess original love as the core of who we are. In this way, we are all connected to love and everyone else and the universe. We can always return to love.

Four: Because we are connected to the love (and power) of the Universe, we already have all we need to succeed. We just need to remember, connect with, and return to it. This power isn’t our creation. It’s a gift of the Universe (or God) and has always existed. You might think of it as Grace.

It’s the stuff we are made of because everything is made of it. Such an awareness helps us cultivate authentic self-love. (Because we are magic). But it allows us to do this without becoming selfish and egocentric. (Because everyone else is magic, too.)

Five: Every act of authentic love reminds us of original love and recalls us to our original wholeness. In this way, every act of love is a miracle. It shatters our illusions of separation and hopelessness. And this reminds us of our connection to everyone and everything.

(By the way, if you think you have a dualistic view of life but want to think in a more non-dualistic way, you are certainly not a bad person. Just consider how a non-dualistic view of life might help you feel more at peace with yourself and other people. And consider, if you believe in God or want to believe in God, how such a view might bring you closer to God.)

This is your ego on Love. Love breaks through our ego shell and helps us realize there is something beyond it. We are connected to something bigger, deeper, and more beautiful.

Living a love-driven life helps us in several important ways.

First, it helps us avoid living an ego-driven life. That is because remembering original love reminds us that we already possess goodness at our core, and we can never lose it. So, we don’t have to prove ourselves to anyone to make sure we are good.

Second, a love-driven life gives us the courage to see and work with our dark side. It assures us that our darkness is merely a privation of that which is most real in us—original love. The love in us is stronger than the darkness in us.

Third, a love-driven life assures us that no matter how often we fail, we are never a lost cause. We possess the power of the Universe within us[10] in the form of original love. The more we return to this love, the more aware of our power, and the more hopeful, we become.

Thinking about trees and the natural world helps me better understand this concept. A tree doesn’t need to try to do better to be a tree. It already has what it needs inside it, which is a gift from the Universe, and in connection with the world around it to flourish.

Finally, a love-driven life reminds us that when we disagree with people, there is something deeper still that connects us. This makes it possible to practice rational hope that people can change and we can solve our problems together.

By the way, right now, I am finishing up my first online course. It’s on the topic of authentic self-love. One of the things I address in the course is how thinking of the world in non-dualistic terms can help us cultivate authentic self-love.

Inauthentic self-love focuses primarily on promoting the ego. Authentic self-love helps us return to and connect with original love in ourselves, other people, and the world.

If you would you would like to read more about non-dualism, here are some books to get you started.

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Marianne Williamson A Return to Love

Elias Amidon, The Open Path: Recognizing Nondual Awareness

Saint Augustine’s Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love

Saint Augustine’s Love Sermon

A Course in Miracles

The Dao De Jing

Also, I think one of the best ways to start developing a non-dual awareness of the world is to use contemplative practices, which you can read more about here:

Contemplative Practices: A Post for Everyone

The light in me honors the light in you, Friends.

Here is a beautiful idea I read the other day: There is not enough darkness in the world to extinguish the light of one candle.

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[1] By the way: Non-dualism is often associated with eastern philosophies or books like the Advaita Vedanta tradition, Buddhism, and the Dao De Jing. But it is also possible to view the Christian tradition in non-dual terms. Recent authors like Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and veteran Baptist minister Marshall Davis have written about this.  In addition, some folks argue (and I think they are right) that philosophers like Plato, Fichte, and Hegel have a non-dual metaphysics, while not specifically using that term.

[2] People from a faith-based background might think of this unity as divinity or the sacredness and light of God. Quaker Christians speak of it in these terms.

[3] The New Testament asserts that God is love and that the greatest of these—faith, hope, and love—is love. And from a non-faith based perspective, I like thinking about the origin of the world as love for life and growth. Philosopher Hans Jonas captures this idea well in his book The Phenomenon of Life: Towards a Philosophical Biology.

[4] See Genesis 1 and 2.

[5] This is one reason Christ says, “I am the way, the truth, and the light.”

[6] To reiterate: People usually associate non-dualism with Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. But there are non-dualistic thinkers and writers in every philosophical and faith tradition. For example, although St. Augustine doesn’t mention the world dualism in his work Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love, that is the view he presents. He has an excellent argument for the original goodness of everything and evil as a privation of good. This is a book on non-dualism in the Christian tradition I am reading by a Baptist minister. Experiencing God Directly: The Way of Christian Non-Duality by Marshall Davis. You can find it on Amazon.

[7] Kant argues that rationality, morality, and freedom are, in the end, the same thing.

[8] Kant definitely does not use the phrase, light up their corner of the world. This is my take on his ideas.

[9] Many people only read Kant’s book Groundwork for Metaphysics of Morals. And while that is a great book to read, I think his Metaphysics of Morals gives a fuller and richer vision of Kant’s moral philosophy.

[10] Or the power of the Divine

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