DUALITY- PART 1
Our entire life it seems is spent in dealing with the duality that persists in the conduct and experiencing the world around us. Why do I say this?
It starts with day and night, good and evil, and finally being and nothingness or life and death. Our entire life is a journey through these contrasts. There has to be a potential difference between two points for a flow to take place, be it electricity, magnetism or just the flow of a river. It is only when you taste bitterness that you appreciate what sweetness means. Nothing exists without its opposite. While we understand ‘day and night’ as an occurrence which is an absolute requirement of the objective world, and a measurement of the period of our existence here, the others are entirely subjective. The mind body relationship has been introspected upon for centuries be it eastern philosophy or western philosophy. Whether it is the Cartesian Dualism or the Dvaita philosophy of Hinduism or the Yin and Yang of Chinese thought, man has had to live through the process of trying to understand the dualism that exists and seeking an answer for a unification of the conflicts within himself and in the course of living in the objective world . We can trace his efforts to relate the external world of physical objects with the internal world of mental objects within himself. Why this quest? He finds an order in the physical external world of objects, they conform to certain laws and are publicly observable, but when he comes into the internal world within himself he is unable to fully comprehend its nature except the fact that it is somehow related in a contingent manner with the external world. This is where the question of mind body relationship occurs.
Duality as a subject has given rise to great works of literature. It has been man’s never ending quest to come to terms with the various forces working within him. It is the realisation that without darkness, there is no true appreciation of light.
Let us first explore the place of Dualism in Hindu Philosophy. We have the three principal schools of thought – Dvaita, Advaita and Visisht Advaita. While Dvaita draws a clear distinction between God (Paramatma the Supreme Soul) and the Individual Souls (Jivatma), Advaita (Monism) at the other end refers to the identity of the Self (Atman) and the Whole (Brahman) and the recognition of this leads to liberation, in other words ultimately it is only Brahman that alone exists and all that dualism we experience is only an Illusion. It is the veil of Maya that has given rise to the illusion of duality. In between we have Visisht Advaita (Qualified Monism). This system of thought also advocates monism but with qualifications. As per this school, we are all flawed souls who are in this world in physical form and are therefore not Gods. To join Brahman is the ultimate goal of all souls, a soul can only join Brahman upon becoming perfect, until such time the soul will have to keep changing bodies and experience events based on its karma in-order to perfect itself and therefore - continues the cycle of birth and death.
We see that all these schools of thought recognise the fact of two entities, one the individual and the other the Supreme being. The differences have been only at the way of bringing about a synthesis. While Dvaitha Philosophy advocates that it is never possible for the Individual soul to merge with the Supreme, the other two do believe that the Individual Soul and the Supreme will ultimately have to be one, either by lifting the veil of Maya (Advaita) or through perfecting the Individual Soul through successive births to ultimately merge with the Supreme. This is a simplistic way of looking at these schools of thought and is only from a laymans point of view.
All the dualities I have outlined above – dark and light, male and female, cold and hot etc are all thought of as manifestations of the Yin and Yang in Taoist Philosophy. When one looks at the symbol the Taijitu by which Yin and Yang are represented we notice how though they are contrary forces are interconnected to form the complete picture. Reproduced below is a description of the Taijitsu symbol and its significance in respect of the Taoist Philosophy,
“At its heart are the two poles of existence, which are opposite but complementary. The light, white Yang moving up blends into the dark, black Yin moving down. Yin and Yang are dependent opposing forces that flow in a natural cycle, always seeking balance. Though they are opposing, they are not in opposition to one another. As part of the Tao, they are merely two aspects of a single reality. Each contains the seed of the other, which is why we see a black spot of Yin in the white Yang and vice versa. They do not merely replace each other but actually become each other through the constant flow of the universe.”
All the great religions of the world whether it be Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity etc converge on the fact that there is an individual and a God or to put it as the Individual soul and the Absolute, the Atman and the Brahman and spelling out ways of a synthesis between the two to arrive at an understanding of the world and a meaning to life. They give hope to the individual of a liberation from the seemingly endless cycle of life and death.