9 Great Non-Dual Teachers

September 1st, 2008

One of the questions I receive most often is a request for additional resources to learn about non-dualism.  I recommend different things to different people based on a variety of factors, but I thought I might set down a few of my most common recommondations so that they are available to everyone.

Below you’ll find a list of nine great resources for encountering non-dualism.  I’ve added comments to outline the strengths and weaknesses of each resource, and I’ve written them in hierarchical order, with number nine being the weakest and number one being the strongest.  Note that I don’t actually do a lot of reading on the subject of non-dualism, so these recommendations emerge only out of my own experience.  I’ve also decided not to include blogs on this list.  Here then are nine resources to aid you in your journey.

9 — Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.  This well-known contemporary teacher writes a very lucid explanation that guides us toward ‘un-doing’ our concept of time.  It’s a great place to start if you’re beginning to challenge your usual views of the world by breaking down one of the most basic ‘objects’ (that being our idea of time) that we usually assume to be an unassailable reality.  Unfortunately, the book also creates a number of new objects for us, and doesn’t adequately challenge any of our other basic ideas about the world, such as Self, Cause/Effect, or our idea that we exist as individual entities in a world of many things.

8 — David Schiller’s The Little Zen Companion. The power of this tiny bathroom reader is that it approaches non-duality from a whole array of angles.  It’s filled with little poems, insights, and quotes.  It best serves as a guide, showing us that non-duality can be reached by many traditions and via many routes.  In effect, it breaks down our idea that there is a ‘single path’ which must be followed toward awakening.  It’s not going to lead you directly to awakening, but it will open a lot of doors to exploring different authors, teachers, and Zen folks who have a lot more to offer.

7 — Sheri Huber’s That Which You Are Seeking Is Causing You To Seek.  Written in a playful style, Sheri delivers a personal, fairly direct, and rather fun approach to non-dualism.  This crosses the border into personal development, because she applies Buddhism to emotional issues and life problems.  Although some may think it’s too ‘self-helpy’, she is actually quite vital in her approach to awakening.  Her broad-based approach challenges a lot of our usual mind-sets, and uses a positive approach to introduce us to Buddhism’s basics.

6 — Steve Hagen’s Buddhism Plain and Simple.  Rarely can an orthodox teacher break free of dogma so effectively as Steve has.  He strips Buddhism bare, and lays down the essentials in easy-to-understand language.  His book does follow in the tradition of Buddhism (outlining the eight-fold path, for instance), but he manages to do it without becoming bogged down in non-essentials.  Very lucid, this book should be essential reading for anyone interested in Buddhism or awakening, even if you’re not Buddhist.

5 — Alan Watts’ The Book.  This book has tremendous depth.  It’s not written in contemporary style, so don’t look for six-step guides for achieving emotional balance or stories of people who have ‘awakened’.  This book is perhaps the ultimate tool for gaining a clear understanding of the basic model we use to view the world.  And it challenges that model at every step.  Your idea of Self, of Time, of Cause/Effect, and of Duality will be challenged, and if you think through what he’s written, this book has the potential to pull the rug out from under your dualistic model of the world.  Alan was very sure of what he wrote, so you have to be ready to deal with his personality, but if you’re not afraid of conviction and if you can deal with a non-contemporary writing style, this book can rock your foundations.

4 — Paul Reps’ Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.  This book contains a remarkable collection of Zen’s offerings.  It is remarkable to read through the koans or stories, many of which will make no sense at all, and then discover that a year later they make perfect sense (though you’ll likely not be able to explain just how).  There is so much in this book.  It’s weakness doesn’t lie in itself so much as it lies with our contemporary approach to spirituality, where we expect our offerings to be clearly outlined and personalized (such as we find with number 9).  Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is a place to explore, and its forests are deep and uncharted.  There is nothing missing here, but none of it is offered up easily.

3 — People Around You.  This isn’t a book.  I’m actually talking about the people who surround you every day.  They are better teachers than any guru or writer or Zen master.  Their first lessons usually are presented to you as you look at others and judge them.  Most of us will do this as we begin to study non-dualism.  We’ll observe others and note how miserable they make themselves, how they repeat the same patterns of suffering over and over, and how they create their own dualistic world which only serves to give them grief.  These are judgments, of course, but there is nothing wrong with them.  Eventually we’ll apply these observations to ourselves, and note that we, too, repeat the same cycles we observe in others.  This is a bitter pill to swallow, but it begins the process of noting that we are creating our lives, for better or worse, out of the fruits of the model we’re using.

When we tire of judging, it’s time to allow people to become a different kind of teacher.  This happens when we realize that we’re the only ones who aren’t awakened — that everyone else is acting perfectly ‘awake’ and ‘in the moment’.  When this realization strikes us, we’re close to seeing that we, too, are perfect right now.  In this way, other people serve as powerful teachers, no matter who they are or what they’re doing.  This transformation, when we can see others as perfect teachers, will shift our lives forever.

2 — Nature.  We’re an intimate part of nature, and spending even a little time outside can wake you up to a level of awareness you never knew you had.  My own awareness sprung from an extended stay in nature, but even a few hours wandering in the woods or fields will begin to show you how much mental baggage we carry with us wherever we go.

Nature frees us of the constant stimulation that distracts us from our awareness.  Without cell phones to answer, email to check, or a schedule to hold to, our mind is free to shake loose and wander about.  Soon we’ll find that our mind is rampant with thoughts, flying this way and that with wild abandon.  If we sit down under a tree, we can watch those thoughts, and we’ll soon discover how exhausting our usual mind-set really is.

If you commit to a longer stay in nature, say a few days or a couple of weeks, your mind will automatically spin down, and as you slow down, your awareness will kick in.  It’s important not to bring a watch, radio, or cell phone along if you want to free your mind.  If you’re safety-prone, you can bring the cell but keep it off, using it only for emergencies.

Nature engages us on a primal level of awareness, where we learn to engage our senses, clear our minds, and discover our innate ability to awaken without any effort.

1 — You.  By far, you are the best teacher you will ever find.  Your power of teaching lies in your natural awareness — an ability that is covered up by force of habit.  Books and gurus come and go, but your perception is always with you.  Your mind is constantly thinking and moving, and if you pay attention to those motions, you’ll begin to discover some amazing things.

Granted, watching your mind is an art, and if you don’t meditate, you’ll at least need to stop for a moment and observe your mind’s motions.  The more you observe, the more your natural intelligence will begin to see patterns, to trace out the framework through which you observe the world (or, perhaps more aptly, the framework through which you create your world).

Left to run wild, our minds will dominate our lives.  They will toss us about in a chaotic frenzy of emotion, unconnected thoughts, and unexamined preconceptions.  But if we only take the time to observe the wild motions of our mind (no need to try to tame them — just observe), we’ll begin to see how very fabulous and amazing those motions are.  In our observing, we’ll become aware of what’s really going on in our heads, and our own realizations will guide us more effectively than the wisdom of any teacher.

Like the list above, we often seek things out in a descending order, beginning with the hope that some teacher such as Eckhart Tolle or Kenton Whitman can weave a magical spell with their words, so that all we’ll have to do is read a book and we’ll ‘wake up’.  Eventually, we’ll begin to seek things out in less obvious places, such as in the stories laid out in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.  And the real liberation begins when we start to seek wisdom in the everyday world around us — in the people, things, and thoughts which make up our daily life.

The ‘answer’ lies just as clearly in a blade of grass, in another person’s angry outburst, or in the very thought moving through your brain right now, as it does in any text, on any website, or in any teacher’s words.  There is nothing wrong with teachers — I recommended each of the above ‘teachers’ because they all have something to offer.  But the greatest teacher of all is you.  Yes, you’ll encounter self-deception, but it is only in discovering the root of our delusion, which is constantly created by our own efforts, that things will come clear.  So take the journey as an adventure, with many guides to follow.  Have fun!

11 Responses to “9 Great Non-Dual Teachers”

  1. APA says:

    Checking out this site every five minutes sure has it rewards 😉

    I’ve taken to point number three and number one. I enjoy using myself as a lab rat :)

    Point number two is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time now, ever since I first visited your site. It was your innate and deep connection with nature that first sparked my interest in this site. However I do notice the frenzied patterns of my mind during examinations, that’s when it’s most active I think!

    Great post!

  2. Every five minutes? That’s sure pretty flattering! =) Interesting that it was the connection with nature that first drew you to this site. I was talking to a friend the other day and telling them that really I should have named this site something like “Becoming Your Natural Wild Self”, because really it’s about re-discovering our natural way of being. I’m also launching another site soon which has a lot more to do with nature, and approaches ‘becoming wild’ from a much different slant. I’ll send you an email when it’s up!

    Keep me abreast if you do try some nature experiments. I’d love to hear about your experiences.


  3. Hey Kenton, your description of non-duality within nature in #2 is what struck me the most as well. Thank you for that, as well as this excellent list of book recommendations. :)

  4. I really like how this post flowed, leading up to the last three points.

    Those three points are so crucial. It so wonderful to be surrounded by learning tools.

  5. rwalker says:

    If I may, I’d like to add another book, one which I highly recommend: Awakening the Buddha Within, by Lama Surya Das. To me, it doesn’t get any better.

  6. Hello Ariel,

    I’m glad that the nature section resonated — it is truly amazing how much nature has to offer us. Today I was running through the woods as an awesome storm raged around me, tossing trees here and there, with thunder shaking everything. In such moments nature leaves no room for our minds to wander down random pathways. There is only the power of nature moving our every thought and motion.


  7. Greetings Jarrod,

    Indeed! How amazing that we can be surrounded by so many teachers, everywhere we look. Life gets pretty fun when we start to see the beauty and magic in everything that surrounds us . . .


  8. rwalker,

    Thank you for adding this recommendation!

    =) Kenton

  9. Great post!!! Keep up the good work!

  10. Thank you Eric. It’s great to hear from someone who is so close by — online, folks are usually a few states, if not half a world, distant. Great to hear that you’re holding satsang right over in the Cities! =)


  11. Earl McHugh says:

    Your wise commentary reminds me of the great Theravadin teacher, Aachen Cha ( now deceased ) whose favorite teaching or advice to students was simply to watch your own mind. Of course this take some time and effort – but anything worthwhile does.

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