Exploring Duality and Non-Duality: Insights from Zoroastrianism and the Bhagavad Gita

Please click the play button to listen to my post.

Introduction to Duality and Non-Duality

In this blog post, we will explore two philosophical concepts—duality and non-duality—and their implications on existential questions. We will dive into the teachings of Zoroastrianism and then contrast them with the principles of non-dualistic philosophies. Lastly, we’ll touch upon the wisdom from the Bhagavad Gita and discuss how it may reconcile these seemingly disparate views.

Zoroastrianism: A Dualistic Perspective

Reading about Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions, I was intrigued by its teachings on existential questions that all humans grapple with at some point. The Pahlavi Texts’ Book of Advice of Zarathustra suggests that each human being, by the age of fifteen, should ponder:

“ Who am I, and to whom do I belong?
Where did I come from, and to where will I go back?

I have come from heaven, I have not (always) been on earth.
I am something created, not something that has (always) been.
I belong to Ohrmazd, not to Ahrimen.
I belong to the gods, not to the dêws.
I belong to the good, not to the bad.”

These teachings present a clear dichotomy between good and evil, creating a dualistic world view. This perspective empowers us, providing us with a clear choice: to align with the good.

Non-Dualistic Philosophies: A Unified Worldview

However, students of non-dualistic philosophies are presented with a more nuanced viewpoint. Instead of dividing the world into opposing forces, they envision a universe where all phenomena are interconnected and interdependent, part of a singular, unified whole. This perspective, like the yin and yang in Taoism, sees good and evil as complementary forces that interact to form a dynamic system. The whole, in this case, is considered greater than the assembled parts.

This raises an intriguing question: In a non-dualistic world, how does the concept of free will operate? It seems to require an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, rather than making choices based on binary categorization of actions. But can we truly comprehend this vast web of interconnected actions and consequences?”

Bhagavad Gita: Reconciling Duality and Non-Duality

To better understand this, let’s turn to an epic conversation that has intrigued philosophers and scholars alike — the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. This philosophical exchange takes place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and is a part of the Indian epic Mahabharata.

Arjuna, a prince and great warrior, is struck with a moral dilemma just before a significant battle. He is conflicted about fighting against his own kin, teachers, and loved ones. In his confusion and moral turmoil, he seeks guidance from Krishna, his charioteer, who is an avatar of Vishnu.

Krishna’s response is a profound spiritual discourse, explaining intricate philosophical concepts and paths. Here’s a brief summary of some of the key topics he touches upon:

  • Karma Yoga (Path of Selfless Action): Krishna advises Arjuna to perform his duty without attachment to the results. This is the path of selfless action, where one’s duty is carried out without any expectation of reward. “You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work.” – Bhagavad Gita 2:47
  • Jnana Yoga (Path of Knowledge): Krishna illuminates the eternal nature of the soul, which is immortal, and advises Arjuna not to grieve for anyone since the soul cannot be killed. “As the same fire reduces to ashes both the reed and the hard log of wood, the fire of knowledge reduces all Karmas to ashes.” – Bhagavad Gita 4:37
  • Bhakti Yoga (Path of Devotion): Krishna emphasizes the importance of devotion and surrender to God, stating that those who possess genuine devotion will be guided by Him and can achieve liberation from the cycle of birth and death. 
  • Dhyana Yoga (Path of Meditation): Krishna explains the practice of meditation and describes the qualities of a true yogi.

Krishna concludes his teachings by urging Arjuna to reflect on the discourse and then decide his course of action. Enlightened and clarified, Arjuna decides to fulfill his duty as a warrior.

Conclusion: Dualistic and Non-Dualistic Views Coexist

Upon reflection, it appears that the teachings of dualism and non-dualism might not be as contradictory as they seem initially. While the non-dualistic view does require a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, it does not negate the need for discernment. In fact, it demands more scrutiny and understanding of the context, thus still upholding the concept of free will.

The non-dualistic perspective does, however, add an extra layer of complexity—how can one be certain that their actions will yield the desired outcome? However, if we accept that the ultimate interconnectedness of the universe is beyond our comprehension, we can recognize that while we can choose to the best of our discernment, we may never be certain about the final outcome. In fact, there is no final outcome, as the universe is forever evolving. By acknowledging the limits of our understanding and embracing the idea of divine will, we can stop second guessing and rest assured, just as we can in the dualistic perspective.

In conclusion, both dualistic and non-dualistic views offer valuable insights into existential questions. By acknowledging our limitations and surrendering to divine will, we might find that these perspectives are not as opposed as they first seem. Instead, they can coexist and offer a holistic understanding of our existence and actions.