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  • D.J. McKay

The Foundation of Illusion

This is the third in a series about the ways in which our individual conditioning manifests on the level of society. So far I’ve discussed identity and the Law of Karma. Next up is the foundation of illusion: duality.

As humans we live within a subjective experience. We don’t have the big picture, in other words, and have no real idea about what is going on. This has been understood in the east for millennia. In the west there was a period in which a case was made for human access to objective reality (called, ironically, “The Enlightenment”), but even in the west now I think it’s understood that we’re stuck within our own point of view. We see the world in the way in which we are best adapted to survive as the animals that we are. Our perception is an evolutionary product. We don’t need to comprehend ultimate reality in order prosper: we just need to know what to eat and who to have sex with and we’re set.

The foundational framework that orders all of our experience is duality. We see everything as pairs of opposites: hot and cold, good and bad, right and wrong, and so on. And it’s useful as animals to be able to qualify our experience in this way. Back in the day when we were roasting our mammoth stakes in the fire, it was handy to be able to see that a big fire was hotter than a little one, and would cook our dinner faster. Duality has also been helpful in our communication. If you want me to pick up a certain hand-axe it’s helpful to be able to tell me to get the long one rather than the short one. Duality is useful, but that doesn’t make it real. Does duality exist outside of our perception? There’s no way to answer that question conclusively without asserting an objective fact (which facts, as stated above, are out of our grasp), but we can speak of it in terms of our experience. When I am the most myself; when I have risen to what feels to be my authentic nature (see how it is that even here I can’t say this as an objective fact, because only conditioned mind can “know”), then I see, hear, taste, feel, and smell, but duality disappears. It exists only in the mind; to drop out of the mind and into self-nature is, in my experience, to leave it behind.

If left alone our inclination towards duality wouldn’t cause us any trouble, I suspect. It isn’t left alone, however; it is manipulated and controlled by conditioned mind. Deeper than that, it IS conditioned mind: the evolutionary perspective that has allowed us to survive and then dominate the planet, the dualistic world view that gives us the power over the material things that appear to be apart from our own nature, is the force that we all struggle with in our daily lives. We are dominated within our minds by an entity that places it’s survival and power above everything else. Conditioned mind has gotten us where we are because it is able to see itself as different from everything else and thus obtains the ability to imagine possible outcomes and choose between them; to put “my” needs first; and to disregard the consequences that this self-centered orientation forces upon other people, animals, and things. In order to survive we have learned to identify ourselves with conditioned mind and its “me first” attitude. The trouble is that conditioned mind cares no more for us than we do (typically) for the critters we eat. The cost of our survival is that we have become slaves to conditioning, which uses us like farm animals. We have to do what it says and believe what it tells us to believe (we imagine) because if we don’t (it tells us) we won’t survive. Without duality it could never have this power. How are you going to control someone if they aren’t concerned about being a “good” or a “bad” person, or if they aren’t motivated to do things “right”? If you don’t have a body and thus a way to force someone physically to your will (as conditioning does not) then it can’t be done.

If we look to society, of course, we see duality everywhere. Everywhere across the globe people are divided into pairs of opposites, as individuals and as groups, who argue with each other, fight with each other, manipulate each other, lie to each other, subjugate each other, demean and defame each other, and even kill each other. Isn’t that interesting? Why does this need to be the case? Why do we not instead identify ourselves with the whole (i.e., all people) and act in the best interest of all? It is because we are being controlled by the mind evolution invented to help us to survive.

The thing is, conditioned mind is obsolete as a survival tool. When we were children attempting to adapt to the insane world that our parents and our culture believed in it was helpful to have a way to conform; but a point comes when we no longer need to live in that conditioned world, when we need to have the power to let go of our dualistic notions, all our predjudices and opinions, and just be ourselves. As a species we are no longer scraping a living together alongside saber-toothed tigers. We don’t need to be separate from the world so that we can dominate it anymore. We don’t need to be separate from and warring with each other. We need to be our authentic selves as a society, as a human family, understanding that we are in essence the same; we need to cooperate in order to shepherd this planet that we have become responsible for. At this point duality is worse than useless: our belief in it’s reality is killing us. We need to unite together as one.