Trapped In The World Of Duality


When we strain to change our situation (when we make the mental effort to control the way that things are) then we ‘separate the opposites’. When we don’t strain to change things, then the opposites remain unseparated. When the opposites are (apparently) separated then a whole world opens up – the world of duality, which is the world of ‘plus-without-a-minus’ or ‘minus-without-a-plus’.


The perception of ‘plus-without-a-minus’ generates the agreeable mind-state of euphoria, which lures us on from ahead. The perception of ‘minus-without-a-plus’ gives rise to the disagreeable mind-state of dysphoria, which drives us on from behind, like a slave-driver with his whip.


Between the siren-like call of the euphoria beckoning us on from ahead of us and the fearsome whip-cracking of the dysphoria driving us from behind, we are caught on the wheel. How can we resist the siren-call of euphoria, or refrain from running away from the fearful threat of dysphoria when the very way our everyday mind works is to seek the one and avoid the other? It is as if our very constitution yearns to taste the honey-like sweetness of the euphoria and pulls back in dread from the poisoned needle of the dysphoria. It is as if the yearning and the dreading are embedded in us, encoded in us, programmed into us, so that we have no choice but to be deterministically driven this way and that in accordance with whatever external conditions happen to be prevailing.


The yearning for the sweetness and our dread of the sting is not really something that is embedded into us or written in stone in our very constitution, although this is what it feels like. The yearning and the dreading, the hoping and the fearing is written into the nature of the dual (or ‘conditioned’) self which is created when we strain with our thinking to achieve one outcome and avoid the other, complementary one.


This is what the dual self is – it is the yearning for the sweetness of the euphoria and the dreading of the bitterness of the dysphoria. It is made up entirely of wanting – the wanting to obtain the plus and the equal and opposite wanting to avoid the minus. This dual or conditioned self isn’t who we really are, it is simply a construct that we automatically identify with just as soon as we start straining to separate the opposites, just as soon as we start acting on attachment. When we strain to push the opposites apart we instantly bring into existence ‘the world of duality’ – we create the world of duality without seeing that we have created it, and then having created it we get trapped in it…


We get trapped in the world of duality because the only way of seeing things (or thinking about things) is in terms of one opposite versus the other. Seeing things this way is what creates the world of duality and this is also what traps us in it. Polarity is now our basic orientation and we can’t use this orientation to escape itself. We can’t use thinking to escape thinking. We can’t escape our black and white categories by using those same categories. We can’t wash away blood with blood!


The very word ‘escape’ is dualistic – as soon as we use the word we are thinking in terms of ‘escaping versus not-escaping’. We’re thinking in terms of ‘win or lose’. We want to win and we fear losing. We yearn to escape and we dread not escaping and so we’re caught on the wheel of duality – running, running, running, but never getting anywhere. We’re caught in the hamster wheel – the faster we run the faster we have to run. The faster we run the faster we get nowhere.


Running faster isn’t how we get off the hamster wheel! Striving to obtain one outcome and avoid the other complementary one isn’t going to get us off the wheel. Chasing one opposite and fleeing the other isn’t going to get us off the wheel because running after one opposite and fleeing the other IS the wheel!


That’s what straining to separate the opposites is – it’s a spinning wheel, it’s the wheel of samsara. Patrul Rinpoche explains samsara as follows –

The term samsara, the wheel or round of existence, is used here to mean going round and round from one place to another in a circle, like a potter’s wheel, or the wheel of a water mill. When a fly is trapped in a closed jar, no matter where it flies, it can not get out. Likewise, whether we are born in the higher or lower realms, we are never outside samsara.

The world of duality is a wheel and the self which orientates itself in terms of one opposite versus the opposite is running around that wheel. Our lot – when we are identified with the dual self (this self that is driven by the urge to chase euphoria and flee dysphoria) is to be forever imagining that by orientating ourselves towards the positive direction and away from the negative direction we are changing our situation.

Chasing after the plus and running away from the minus isn’t actually any sort of change at all though. It isn’t change at all because the opposites never were separated – they were only separated in our imagination! Plus and minus can’t be separate from each other anymore then ‘front’ and back’ can be – or as Alan Watts says – anymore than ‘buying’ and ‘selling’ can be. Like and dislike, euphoria and dysphoria aren’t really separate either. Who after all likes or dislikes? Who experiences euphoria or dysphoria? The answer to this not-very-difficult riddle is of course the dualistic self.


Liking is the front of the self and disliking is the back and there’s no distance at all between the two. When I think that I am going to get what I like then there is euphoria and when on the other hand I think that I’m not going to get what I like then there is dysphoria. Either way it’s all about what I like, or what I want, which means that it’s all about me. Like and dislike, euphoria and dysphoria couldn’t be closer and yet I keep on thinking that they are separate things. There’s no distance at all between them, but because I think there is the dualistic self keeps spinning around and around like a coin, showing first one face then the other in rapid succession…


When I don’t separate like and dislike then there’s no more euphoria and no more dysphoria. Instead, there is the release from the wheel of illusion, release from the trap of duality, and so instead of the endless sterile repetition of euphoria / dysphoria there is bliss, or ananda. Or as we could also say – when we don’t strain with the thinking mind to try to separate the opposites (which can never really be separated anyway!) then the world of duality never comes into (apparent) existence and so we don’t get trapped in it…