It is easy and quite common to interpret nondual awareness as a state that lies beyond suffering: as a space in which suffering no longer arises and simply cannot occur. This is so. But it is only half the story. It’s important to fully integrate the radical non-conditionality of nondual awareness. The issue of how we conceptualize the ultimate state can have significant therapeutic implications.
If we operate with the understanding that in nondual awareness there’s no suffering, we create a destination, when in fact there is nowhere to go. The “unreality” of suffering is privileged. This tendency is often more pronounced in nondual teachers, than nondual therapists. It leads nondual forms of therapy into irrelevancy by subtly ignoring, or even dismissing, suffering by labeling it as unreal. Suffering is viewed as being incompatible with nondual awareness. We have the strange situation where suffering is thought to threaten something that doesn’t exist, as such.
On the other hand, if we operate with a need—even just an unconscious impulse—to lead people into a state that’s free of suffering, we betray the fully liberating capacity of nondual awareness. The “reality” of suffering is privileged. We short-change clients by limiting them to conditioned forms of freedom or fulfillment, that are lost the moment an arising is interpreted as pain.
In contrast, nondual therapies dance within and beyond the belief that in the ultimate state there is no suffering, or even freedom from suffering. They point to “just this,” as it is here right now, in a way that undercuts notions and experiences of lack and fulfillment, attachment and aversion, entrapment and freedom, and pain and pleasure.
This presentation is dialogical in nature. Together we will presence and clarify how nondual awareness is a totally paradoxical space wherein there is no suffering, and equally, no absence of suffering.
Speaker: Peter Fenner
Peter has a Ph.D. in the philosophical psychology of the Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism. His teachers included Lama Thubten Yeshe, Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, Geshe Thubten Loden, Geshe Lhundup Sopa, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche and Sogyal Rinpoche. He was a celibate monk for nine years. He taught Asian philosophy and psychology for over 20 years at Australian Universities and supervised numerous postgraduate students.
He subsequently founded the Center for Timeless Wisdom (wisdom.org), a Californian nonprofit organization, which offers the 9 month Radiant Mind course and 9 month Nondual Teacher Training. Peter teachers in USA, Europe, Israel and Australia.
His books include Radiant Mind—Awakening the unconditioned awareness (Sounds True, 2007), Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy (with John Prendergast and Sheila Kyrstal, Paragon Books, 2003), The Edge of Certainty: Paradoxes on the Buddhist Path (Nicolas-Hays, 2002), Essential Wisdom Teachings (with Penny Fenner, Nicolas-Hays, 2001) Reasoning into Reality (Wisdom Publications, 1994), and The Ontology of the Middle Way (Kluwer, 1990), His psychological essays have appeared in journals such as the Journal of Contemplative Psychotherapy, Revision, Journal of the International Association for Spiritual Psychiatry, Psychologia (Tokyo), and 3e millenaire.
Peter has presented his work at institutions such as Stanford Medical School, Columbia University, Saybrook College, Omega Institute, ZIST (Germany), Terre de Ceil (France), California Institute of Integral Studies and Naropa University.