It is election time in the United States. Elections always raise the issue of how nonduality is expressed in such a dualistic exercise as politics. There is no better example of duality than American politics, especially the polarized form of politics that has emerged in recent years in our country.
Nonduality can be expressed in all dualistic activities, including politics. We do not have to go off into the forest or a monastery or an ashram to live a spiritual life. The apparent tension between nondual spirituality and politics is not real, because in nonduality there is no real tension. It is only apparent tension. Indeed in nonduality all dualities are resolved.
It is election time in the United States. In New Hampshire the primary election Day is tomorrow, and in November we will have the general election for midterm elections. Candidate signs are sprouting in people’s yards. At church after worship yesterday I was talking with a friend who is running for county commissioner.
Voting in elections always raises the issue of how nonduality is expressed in such a dualistic exercise as politics. There is no better example of duality than American politics, especially the polarized form of politics that has emerged in recent years in our country. Partisan politics certainly looks like an egoic exercise. A lot of big egos get into it. The two major American political parties look like caricatures of unleased egos. It is easy to get lost in ego when engaged in political activities.
Indeed some think that to be spiritual means to forsake politics completely, to not be concerned with such earthly things. On the other hand there are examples of spiritually-minded people like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi who were able to combine social-political action and spirituality. They acted boldly to bring about social and political change, yet at the same time emphasized love for their political adversaries expressed through strategies of nonviolence.
It reminds me of Arjuna on the battlefield in the Bhagavad Gita. Spiritually minded people struggle with conflicting loyalties. For that reason politics is probably one of the best tests of nonduality. The truth is that earthly physical existence and all its activities are dualistic. Humans are dualistic creatures. The key is to navigate this world of duality while aware as our true nondual nature and living out of that.
Nonduality can be expressed in all dualistic activities, including politics. We do not have to go off into the forest or a monastery or an ashram to live a spiritual life. As Brother Lawrence said, the Holy Presence can be lived just as well while washing dishes in the kitchen as kneeling before the sacrament. Likewise it can be lived while marking a ballot in the voting booth as well as preaching in the pulpit.
The apparent tension between nondual spirituality and politics is not real, because in nonduality there is no real tension. It is only apparent tension. Indeed in nonduality all dualities are resolved. That is the definition of nonduality. The dualities of temporal life are transcended in the nonduality of the spiritual life.
It is a false dichotomy to pit the world against the spirit, worldly life against the spiritual life, spirituality against politics. Nonduality includes everything by definition. So it has to include politics. Everything is an expression of nondual reality. There is nothing that is not nondual. That is a triple negative, but I hope you get the point.
Politics is not antithetical to nonduality any more than sexuality is or business is, or eating is, or breathing is, or speaking is, or thinking is. All earthly activity is by nature dualistic. But all activity is also in essence nondual. It may seem unspiritual to participate in elections or be a member of a political party but it is not. Being an active citizen of a nation is not any more unspiritual than being a member of a family or a religious community with responsibilities.
But it can be dangerous for those who are not awake to the nondual nature of reality. Then politics in its partisan form can easily suck you into the vortex of duality. It is inevitable that politics will cause one to experience all sorts of emotions, sometimes quite strong emotions, but that is alright. There is nothing unspiritual about emotions. They are not threats when we realize that we are not our emotions. We are aware of them and we let them come and go – just like a thunderstorm comes and go – but we do not identify with the body or the self from which they emerge. That is the difference.
I am affiliated with a political party, just like I am affiliated with a church and a denomination and a religion. I do not confuse these social connections with my identity. I do not see Christianity to be a compromise of nonduality. Nor do I see political affiliation to be a compromise of nonduality.
That is because our true identity is rooted in the Ground of Being beneath all temporal expressions. Without that grounding we get caught up in the whirlwind of political duality. When it comes to the emotions that arise when engaging in any worldly activity, it is important to let the emotions arise and fall. You are not your emotions. You are not the thoughts or ideas that prompt the emotions. You are that in which all these happen. You are the battleground on which the political battles are fought.
Even though we choose to act or vote in a certain way, in reality we are all actions and all choices. We are both sides. We are both political parties. We are both opposing candidates. We are our enemy. There is a larger whole and it is important to be aware and identify as this bigger whole. That is the nature of nondual awareness. It is being aware of and living as the big picture.
Put another way, there is one World Soul that is incarnated in all people. Incarnated in all creatures actually, but for now we will just talk about all people. This one Divine Soul, which is often called God, is in both liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, right wing and left wing, socialist and fascist, good and evil. Both sides are actually one in nonduality.
Politics is yin-yang. The two sides appear to be fighting, but in fact they are dancing. This is the cosmic dance of duality. This is true even in war. Even in the World Wars the US has fought and the American Civil that we fought with each other, and the civil war that seems to be brewing now. When one sees everything as Yin Yang, and feels this, and intuits this on a deep level, then it changes everything. It changes the way we do politics.
When I look into the eyes and the heart of the person on the opposite side of the political spectrum, I see myself. I am looking in a mirror. To hate that person would be to hate myself and to hate God. How could I do that? To love that person is to love myself and to love God. That is what Jesus meant when he said that all religious obligations can be summed up in the two great commandments to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor – including our enemies – as ourselves. We can authentically do that only when we see we are our neighbor and our enemy.
This doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter what we do. It certainly does. We are to engage in right action. We are to choose right over wrong, good over evil, justice over injustice, truth over lies. Morality is part of all spiritual traditions and it is not abandoned just because we see a larger unity beyond good and evil. We still choose good. But we see that we include both good and bad. That is why the Yin Yang symbol had a small dot of dark in the light and light in the dark. Both sides include the other.
The good news is that living in nondual awareness takes the personal suffering out of the political process. A lot of spiritually minded people avoid politics because it causes all sorts of powerful – and seemingly negative - feelings to arise, which feel uncomfortable and unspiritual. So they avoid it because it can cause suffering. All that does is hide the problem; it does not solve it. All that does is postpone dealing with the cause of suffering, which is identification with the dualistic self.
Nondual awareness dispels the illusion of the individual self, thereby taking the sting out of life while letting all dualistic activities, such as the political process, happen. Then we can participate fully in this play of shadows, this drama of good and evil, right and wrong. We realize that we are not just players in the drama, we are the drama. We are the stage and the director and the playwright. We are the whole. That is nonduality.