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The Ramifications of Emotions (continued)


I introduced the concept of duality under The Origin of Emotions, but I would like to look at it more closely now. Duality has a number of meanings, and its meaning in the context of eastern philosophy can be a little confusing.

In western terms, duality can mean being split in two (also called dichotomy) or existing in one of two forms (e.g. wave or particle, in nuclear physics) or being interchangeable (e.g. points and planes, in some geometric theorems). In eastern philosophy, duality still implies a division into two – but then various differences in meaning emerge.

The eastern concept of duality is applied to subjective things which are divided into opposite halves by a thought process which is considered to be erroneous. The primary emotions previously discussed are excellent examples of this type of duality. Anything else which we very much want to be one way rather than another, also meets the criteria. Importantly, the division does not result in two discrete entities, but rather a continuum from one extreme to the other.

Value neutral opposites like hot and cold, night and day or large and small are not included, though they are sometimes used to illustrate the concept. But they can also become entangled with duality. For example, whether a diamond is large or small could easily be of subjective significance.

The eastern idea that duality is due to a wrong way of thinking, in other words, that it is an illusion, is the largest difference when compared with the various western meanings of the word. In the eastern concept, the reality is the central point where the opposites not only meet, but merge into one.

The impression of divergence in opposite directions from this point is considered to be an illusion, created by the tendency of most human beings to want things to be one way rather than another. According to this eastern view, the sensible approach is to accept the reality of the current state with equanimity. Importantly, that does not mean agreeing or disagreeing with it. Nor does it encourage or discourage attempting to change it.

If this eastern idea were derived from the world known to the mind in its "normal" state, it would probably be considered rather fanciful. However, the idea that unity is real and duality is an illusion is at least partly drawn from experiences, sometimes but not always occurring during practices such as yoga or meditation, which convince the person of the truth of that idea. Therefore, it could be called experiential rather than fanciful – but certainly not amenable to external proof.

The nameless experience which gives birth to this idea has, as usual, been given various names. However, as I am sure you know by now, I do not recommend attaching labels from the dualistic world to phenomena which are inherently non-dualistic. It does nothing to make the latter more comprehensible – rather the opposite, in fact.

To summarise, eastern duality is certainly a bit of an enigma, but the essence of it is that the continuum between subjective opposites, in the world most of us know best, is apparent rather than real. And the further we travel inward, within the mind, the more everything appears to merge into an unlikely and inexpressible, but nevertheless real, sense of oneness.

Actually, when you look at the Wanterfall Chart, with its opposite pairs of primary emotions, at least part of this eastern concept of duality looks right back at you. The chart has two opposite sides, and each primary emotion is paired with an opposite primary emotion. So everything on the chart, below wanting itself, is dual. The chart is, in fact, a visual representation of the three most important dualistic pairs.

I will therefore revisit some of what I have previously said about the Wanterfall Chart, progressing gradually towards a less simplistic view of duality. As previously discussed, hope does not exist entirely alone on the chart – rather, it exists as the opposite of fear. And fear, in turn, exists as the opposite of hope. That is not to say that they are always evident to the same degree – nor is it to say that only one can exist at a time. Sometimes, one predominates, to a degree which is variable. Sometimes, the other predominates. When they are fairly equally balanced, the main impression is usually anxiety.

I have previously likened these two opposite emotions to the opposite sides of a single coin. I didn't invent that idea, but I do rather like it. Not only does it illustrate the opposite nature of the two emotions, but it also illustrates their close connection. Like the two sides of a coin, these emotions cannot be separated. If you find one, the other is never very far away. A coin is a popular simile, or sometimes metaphor, for anything with opposite halves – in this case, for duality.

Everything further down the Wanterfall shows the same pattern. In a general sense, pleasure and pain (which are each divided into two basic components on the chart) can be seen as the two metaphorical sides of a single pleasure/pain coin. This represents everything downstream of the hope/fear coin.

The pleasure/pain coin is easily changed for the two smaller coins shown on the chart – happiness/sadness and propathy[49]/antipathy. They add up to the same value as the larger coin. In turn, these two coins can be exchanged for a larger number of smaller coins, representing various pairs of opposites such as true/false, like/dislike and good/bad. The smaller coins are not exactly trivial, as any duality can engender painful emotions.

Sometimes, a more complex dualistic phenomenon is constructed from a number of mental elements. An important example of this is the good/bad duality mentioned previously. This includes judgmental tendencies, discriminatory beliefs and attitudes, and various associated emotions.

As the above paragraph illustrates, emotions and beliefs can get intermingled rather easily. They can also keep each other alive. If an emotion shows signs of succumbing peacefully, a belief or three will probably volunteer to assist in its resurrection. And if a belief is even slightly threatened by an emerging insight, an emotion or three can usually be relied upon to cloak the emperor's nakedness in swathes of righteous wrath.

However, regardless of apparent complexity, any duality you encounter can always be traced back to the original one – hope/fear.[50] So all the downstream dualities have hope/fear as an ancestor. Whereas hope/fear itself has no dualistic antecedents. Hope and fear are the twin offspring of a single parent – wanting. And wanting's offspring create, directly or indirectly, all the suffering dissected in this book.

Now I want to highlight an important aspect of duality which has been mentioned, but not discussed in any detail. Although the name suggests two separate things, duality is really a continuum. A continuum with a null point at its centre, and projections seeking infinity in opposite directions. Six of the infinite number of points on the continuum from hope to fear could be represented like this:

great hope   much hope   some hope   neutrality   some fear   much fear   great fear

The Wanterfall Chart does not show this continuum. It has been simplified so much that it only shows the polar extremes, with a space between them. This simplification of the chart makes it more useful as a corkboard – but utterly inadequate as a comprehensive representation of reality. It thus awaits your improvements – to make it better represent your own insights.

Now, that null point of neutrality, at the centre of duality, could be of interest if you ever decide that you would prefer a less dualistic approach to life. Away from the null point, you always experience hope or fear of some degree – perhaps mainly one of them, perhaps both simultaneously as anxiety, or perhaps an alternation between the two. At the null point, however, there might be peace, perhaps freedom, perhaps… "the sound of one hand clapping"[51].

But how on earth could anyone arrange to position themselves at the null point of any duality – let alone the mother of all dualities, hope and fear? And if we could do that, would it be sufficient to change our dualistic habits? Or might we still reach out in both directions, stretching ourselves on the rack of duality – despite being neatly positioned at its centre?

I think it depends on how you look at it. You could say it would be necessary to be at the null point and also to remain tranquil. Or you could say that if you are really at the null point, then it automatically means you are not reaching out in either direction, so you are already tranquil. Either way, we are clearly looking for a passive sojourn at the null point, if we want to hear (so to speak) the sound of one hand clapping.

But can we do that? We might try to do it, and fail – caught in the grip of duality. We might then try fighting against duality, but all we would achieve by that is to add yet another duality – the duality of "overpowering duality/not overpowering duality". And that will just give us another dose of the sound of two (or more) hands clapping – a sound we know off by heart.

That null point is surely a clue, but apparently it is not the whole answer. And fighting against duality is a natural enough response, but that is not the answer, either. So what can one do? I suggest that freedom from duality is as easy – and as hard – as falling off a log. But not just any log – it is a sticky log.

No, I am not joking. We are very strongly attached to duality, it pervades our minds – even if we have tried and failed to fight our way free of it. We are not only balanced on the log of duality, but we are stuck to it as well. We may want to let go, so that we can fall off it. But we cannot let go, because we are stuck fast – to the very log that blights our lives.

There may be some exceptions, but in general, duality is not something you can let go of, just by trying. It sticks to you like glue. It masquerades as your friend, but it is a false friend. You can probably see that, but still you remain stuck fast. Why can you – your conscious mind – not let go of something which is clearly seen to be utterly false?

I don't know the answer to that – but, fortunately, it doesn't matter too much. Because there is another part of the mind, which can let go of what is false, when it sees clearly enough that it is false. And that part of the mind will suffice. What is that part of the mind called? Who knows? Certainly not me. And that matters about as much as the colour of the bucket that carries the water that puts out the fire in the magazine.[52]

If you had once seen me pull a rabbit out of my sleeve, you would never again be quite convinced that the rabbit comes out of thin air – even if it seems to. Your conscious mind will do that much for you. But at a much more subtle level, dualities that you are too enthralled by to relinquish consciously, can nevertheless be seen as false by a deeper part of the mind.

There is no need at all to give that part of the mind a name. It is just not fully conscious. It is probably closer to consciousness when practising non-judgmental self-awareness, but that is not important. What is important is, that it seems to see more clearly when practising non-judgmental self-awareness. It may also see more clearly during the practice of meditation – something which is closely related to non-judgmental self-awareness, and which I will discuss elsewhere.[53]

Whatever that part of the mind is, it can certainly be discouraged very easily. The conscious mind can discourage it, with a flicker of disapproval or fear. But, to whatever extent it is able to exert its influence, that part of the mind can weaken the glue that sticks us to the log of duality – from which we may not entirely want to fall, but will never regret falling.

To whatever extent we fall off that sticky log, some degree of freedom from the great illusion which duality is… happens. It happens to the conscious mind. The conscious mind will not (usually) jump into an entirely unknown sort of freedom. But it can fall in, if it is not too resistant, and if it is moderately lucky.

The deeper part of the mind sees that there is more than just a rabbit coming out of duality's sleeve – and it is not so easily tricked next time. The conscious mind is accustomed to being tricked in many ways – and probably terrified of the alternative. So, if it falls off the sticky log of the illusion of duality, that will be a gift given by its less conscious colleague.

However, it is rare to receive this gift without preparing the way for it. It is the choice to do Wanterfall work or its equivalent, and the effort you put into doing it, which starts the ball rolling and keeps up its momentum. And you may need to do a great deal of such work, before your enslavement to duality becomes weak enough for the process described above to occur. That is, of course, assuming you are interested at all.

For most people, most of the time, an increasing understanding of the illusion of duality is far more likely than complete freedom from it. Relative freedom, perhaps, may not be so rare. But complete freedom from this grand illusion – the mother of all illusion – would, at the very least, be outside the scope of words, let alone the scope of this book.[54]


(Click the number of a footnote to return to its reference in the text)

[49] Propathy is defined under The Six Primary Emotions.

[50] It could be expressed as wanting this / not wanting the other. However, hope / fear has served us well in the role of the first division of wanting itself, and thus the first duality, so I will continue to use it in that way.

[51] The question "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" is a famous "koan". A koan is an obscure, paradoxical or apparently nonsensical question, popular in Zen Buddhism as a means of encouraging insight.

[52] I mean a powder magazine – a storehouse for ammunition, gunpowder etc.

[53] Meditation Demystified, a free e-booklet (in preparation) from

[54] This subject is revisited in Philosophical Musings, a free e-booklet (in preparation) from

(Click the number of a footnote to return to its reference in the text)


The "Wantertao" Tao symbol, depicting duality


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