Evolutioanry Nonduality and Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jeff Carreira Blog Posts 15 Comments

Evolutionary Nonduality, at least as it is taught by Andrew Cohen, is ultimately about recognizing that we are not separate from the entire process of cosmic evolution. We tend to relate to the idea of evolution as if we are a thing – a separate object – that exists within an evolving process, something like a piece of wood floating in a running river. When we experience an evolutionary nondual awakening we recognize that our experience of “being human” is not only an experience that we are having as a separate entity. It is an experience that the universe is having through us through our separate-entity-ness. This is direct recognition that you do not only exist in an evolutionary process – the evolutionary process is who you are! You are that process and your experience of being “a person” who has a “name” and a “personal history” is not only the experience that “you” are having – it is the experience that the universe is having right now through you.

From one perspective an experience of evolutionary nonduality means that a human being is waking up to the fact that it is not just a separate entity, but an expression of the process of evolution itself. From another perspective – an even more nondual perspective – an experience of evolutionary nonduality means that the universe itself is waking up to the fact of its own existence and realizing that it had mistaken itself for a human being.

This understanding, as you can see, is far from our normal conception of reality – in fact it might sound absurd. I would contend that this is because we are deeply habituated to seeing ourselves as separate entities that exist within a variety of background contexts – a culture, a world, a universe. This sense of separation is maintained though a constant activity of personalizing our experience. We habitually define ourselves as separate from some background and in so doing we develop a solid sense of being a “something” that exists over, against and separate from everything else. Traditionally enlightenment has always involved the disillusion of the boundary between self and other, self and world, self and universe. When this habit of separation falls away we see the truth of nonduality, the truth that there is no boundary, that all is one and that we are that.

As I see it there are precursors to the experience of evolutionary nonduality in classical American philosophy. Perhaps the first of these precursors are Ralph Waldo Emerson’s beautiful descriptions of his own experiences of oneness with nature. In a journal entry written on April 11, 1834, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a few lines to describe an experience that I would easily place in the general category of non-duality at least in the sense of a breaking down of the boundary that separates our human experience from nature. The concluding lines of that journal entry read as follows.

“I saw only the noble earth on which I was born, with the great Star which warms and enlightens it. I saw the clouds that hang their significant drapery over us. It was Day— that was all Heaven said.”

In the larger journal entry of which these lines are a part, Emerson described an experience of Oneness with nature that he had one afternoon while walking through the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This experience is considered to be a defining moment in Emerson’s life. The concluding line for me is a non-dual declaration of reality. “It was Day – that was all that Heaven said.”

As I picture Emerson on that day, I imagine him transfixed in recognition of the explosion of life that he saw all around him. Emerson also saw that the deep emotional surge of exuberance that burst inside himself in spontaneous response to the beauty around him was as much a part of that day as anything else. There was only one thing happening – and it was day! Emerson’s teaching rested on this recognition that the deepest part of our “human nature” was completely inseparable from all of nature. Nature to Emerson was not something that happened outside, but was the continuous bursting forth of life into being that included everything.  In other words, there is only one thing happening.

Emerson’s first book was called Nature and it was published in 1836. The first Chapter of that book includes what may be Emerson’s most often quoted description of non-dual awakening.

In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.

In this quote Emerson is making a very clear reference to the experience of the disappearance of the separate sense of self. His “transparent eyeball” metaphorically communicates the experience of pure awareness after the sense of being someone has disappeared from consciousness. This realization of “no self” is often associated with Eastern thought, particularly the enlightenment experiences of Buddhism. Emerson loved Eastern spiritual philosophy and incorporated many of its conceptions into his own thinking and by doing so he helped to ensure that the experience of non-duality would play a prominent role in the development of the American mind.

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Stuart
Stuart
10 years ago

Really beautiful, Jeff. Thanks!

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

Hi Stuart ( and bloggers in general),

The compliments are well and good but it really would be much more productive to other bloggers and to Jeff probably to have some kind of dialogue and not a non-sequiter.

To say why you feel Jeff’s comments are beautiful would be more interesting than just a compliment, IMO.

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

I do not agree with you Frank. Sometimes it is just enough to say it is beautiful or highly impressive, like this blog. It is quite a thing what Jeff is bringing up here. Cohen is really an expression of what he is teaching, every retreat he brings the teaching on a higher level. I do not agree with you Frank. Sometimes it is just enough to say just that a blog is beautiful or amazing as this blog is. Most people respond to Jeff and that is fine. I had trouble with Andrew’s idea of non-duality but I found… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

Sorry I have to continue a little longer. The next step was that Brahman as the universal spirit and the Atman as the individual Self where found to be one. That was the moment where ‘the relative world’ became unimportant. Again: 500 BC the human mind was not able to think in terms of evolution. That is the crucial difference: ‘In Atman one knows the entire universe’ and ‘Knowing the Self is knowing the entire world -letting go of all which connects to the mind. One of the reasons knowledge was said to be unimportant was because it was only… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

Sorry, I need to add: also the great Chinese Confucius was born in exactly the same time 551 BC. Amazing. If one looks at the idea of evolution it is clear that this was the time that great humans took over the position of the Gods. The other great Chinese teacher Lao Tse was born at approx. the same time, 600 BC. Also the Tao says: when all beings and things move, I investigate how they move, yes, things grow and flower and each returns to its origin.. I must say: reading about Tao causes a state of meditation. who… Read more »

Fresh
Fresh
10 years ago

forget confucius.. buddha.. plato..

they were not on the same level as the Christ!! Jesus was the most enlightened man who ever lived.

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

In connection with this blog it is not so much about who is most enlightened. The fact that all these great people Confusius, Lao Tse, Buddha and Plato where born within a timespan of 50 years connects with me to the idea expressed in this blog that this is about ‘ an experience that the universe is having through us through our separate-entity-ness. ‘This is direct recognition that we do not only exist in an evolutionary process – the evolutionary process is we are!. It is clear that at a certain point in history there was an extreme hight of… Read more »

Bob
Bob
10 years ago

I agree with some of these posts regarding some of these people they did have a high state of consciousness. It seems nearly every race, culture or nation has a big history with some very clever people. So do you think this evolutionary process is world-wide? If so why do some races (such as the negro race) appear to be much backwards than other races according to evolution? Remember Darwin was a strong racist. Other pragmatist philosophers also held the view that certain races were superior than others. I can not comment on Mr Emerson on this he may of… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

Just like it is not about who is most enlightened, it is not about who is most evolved. But I did think about other regions after reading today. I looked up the culture of the pre-Colombian Maya’s which has been very high and I read that all Maya documents where burned because they where seen as heathen. So we only know their art, not their wisdom. I also know that the native Indians in America had extreme wisdom, even though it is not written down. I studied it for a while. I found on the Internet things that connect to… Read more »

Quote
Quote
10 years ago

“When the race is good, so is the place ” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Moo Briddell
Moo Briddell
10 years ago

Hi Jeff, I found it so interesting that the day before you were to arrive for the weekend in Washington DC (9/25-26) to speak to all of us about Emerson, James, Peirce etc. I found in our house a little volume of Emerson’s Select Essays and Addresses. It is a Macmillan Pocket Classic and published in September, 1910, exactly one hundred years ago this month! More than a coincidence?! Thanks for the great weekend!

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

Hi Liesbeth,

I question your “Just like it is not about who is most enlightened, it is not about who is most evolved” and wonder even after your lengthy comments what leads you to minimize their significance. Can you go into this a bit?

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

Oh Liesbeth,

After reading further of your comments I understand your comment now and agree that it’s not a matter of who was more enlightened or evolved as all those great teachers revealed and shared with the rest of us wisdoms that were needed to be brought to bear on our consciousness.

Was it Plato who said all learning is only remembering what we already know? These great teachers reminded us of the teaching that resonates with us still. For that, we revere them.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts that I appreciate.

Aloha, Frank

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

Thank you for reading it en commenting! It is a nice start of a study day, on Saturday I wake up knowing that this is the moment to continue, it is like stepping into a different world; being in touch with essences instead of practicalities; with substance instead of categories. It was indeed Plato who said that we are born with knowledge of the ideas (soul). What is so funny with these great philosophers is that at the moment of reading them it is so beautiful, whatever they say. But than moving to the next one, like now, going into… Read more »

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

Hi Liesbeth,

It’s when these back and forths occur that blogging becomes alive and fun. Thank you for your attn and interesting comments.

I’m sure you are familiar with Plato saying that all learning is but remembering what we already know. What’s great about good teachers and he was certainly one is that they are very good at reminding us humans in large numbers of the truths we come to remember thanks to them.

Your comments are also helpful in givng me a brush up on the wisdoms you bring to my attn.

Thank you! Aloha, Frank