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Ultimate Reality and Dualism

Humans use words to communicate and relate to the world around us. At one time, the words we use today were unspoken. Over time, stories have evolved, and sounds have changed; in some instances, the meaning has changed. Words define boundaries and thoughts. One word may have many suggestions; other words are counterparts. I cannot definitively describe the wind. I cannot hold water in my hand without it escaping between my fingers. I cannot explain how the sun rises every day and sets every night. Are there words that will unquestionably answer these questions? People have searched for words that help make sense of the world around us and continually use opposing words to explain the unexplainable. One only needs to ponder the sacred text of the Upanishads and the Tao Te Ching. These two texts provide the framework for several Asian Religious belief systems. Within these two texts, "ultimate reality" is described as dualistic.




Duality describes two objects, forces, movements, or beliefs that are opposites, such as finite and infinite or beginning and end. The Upanishads provide examples of duality as the stories unfold, bringing life to an ultimate reality that cannot be defined with words.


In the Katha Upanishad, a young boy named Nachiketa seeks to understand why individuals attempt to gain a higher place within their religious beliefs. Nachiketa's father gave away belongings even after they were unusable. Try as he might, he could not understand why his father gave away things that were no good. Nachiketa pestered his father, asking him, "Who will you give me to?" Out of anger, his father says, "I will give you to Death!" (69) So begins the discourse between Nachiketa and Yuma (Death).


Nachiketa travels to Yuma's home after his father gives him to Yuma. Nachiketa waits for three days before Yuma arrives back home. Yuma apologizes and grants Nachiketa three wishes. After Yuma grants the first two wishes, Nachiketa asks the question many have asked over the centuries. How does a person "exist after death, but does not exist?" (72) "How can it be? Explain this to me." The God of death cannot provide words to explain the presence and absence of a person. Yuma tries to entice him with all the world's riches, anything that man might be tempted by;


Nachiketa still insists on knowing the secrets of existence itself.

As the exchange continues, Yuma provides more words of duality to describe this ultimate reality. He calls this OM the highest of highs. (78) OM is never born and never dies; OM is the past, present, and future. Yuma paints a picture of a cave with water, both sweet and bitter; one cannot be known without the other. Life's "Ultimate Reality" seeks light, but there cannot be light without darkness.



The Prashna Upanishads provide another perspective of ultimate reality or AUM. When a student asks the teacher, "What happens to those who have reached the state of AUM when they die?" (235) The teacher replies with dualistic words, "AUM is immanent and transcendent, personal and impersonal." (235) The Taittiriya Upanishad uses rhythm, order, and duality to learn more about life itself. The speaker describes the Lord of Love as having no form but many forms. He is infinite yet appears finite. (254) While the Upanishads provide many duality examples, the Tao Te Ching also has dualistic words.



The Tao Te Ching opens with the idea of duality. Many of those ideas are complimentary of each other. Everything has a name, but the Tao cannot be named; Heaven and Earth are the beginning and end; One is free of desire but has no desire. (Ch. 1) Without one, the other cannot be. Everything under heaven came from existing, but also from the nonexistent (Ch. 40). How can a person effectively explain the difference between good and evil, without right or wrong, to compare to each other? Can hot and cold, anger and joy, or a thousand different dualistic realities exist without something to compare? It seems like an endless sea of words, each opposite the other.


People have asked questions since the beginning. Who created everything? Are the whispers I hear just my imagination? One needs to read the sacred text of the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching, or many other belief systems to understand the dualistic relationship Ultimate Reality holds. People cannot find a way to explain the unexplainable from words like infinite and finite or sweet and bitter. They create parables and stories of opposing extremes. Extremes can be objects, weather, beliefs, and right and wrong, to name a few.


The answer to life itself is indescribable and unimaginable.

Tao Te Ching Upanishads





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