Non-Duality and the Mystery of Consciousness by Peter Russell

What is non-duality? What do we mean by consciousness? Does it really exist? What is reality? Is there any thing "out there"? Why don't we see consciousness in the material world? What do we mean by "I"? Why is any of this important? From the deep pools of Eastern wisdom, to the fast-paced rapids of the West, Peter Russell has mastered many fields, and synthesized them with consummate artistry. Weaving his unique blend of scientific rationale, global vision, and intuitive wisdom, Peter brings a sharp, critical mind to the challenge of self-awakening. The next great frontier of human exploration, he shows, is not outer space, but inner space — the development of the human mind. He has degrees in theoretical physics, experimental psychology, and computer science from the University of Cambridge in England, and has written ten books in this area, including The Global Brain Awakens, Waking Up in Time, and most recently, From Science to God: A Physicist’s Journey into the Mystery of Consciousness.

Exploring the Nature of Awareness.

All the contemporary Mindfulness Programmes in the world have their source in the Satipatthana Sutta, which in the Buddhist tradition was known as the Direct Path. It has been widely adapted to the modern world in a variety of ways. In its original form it belongs to a wisdom teaching that had only one concern: to acknowledge suffering, to apprehend the cause of suffering, and to end suffering by adoption of the eightfold path. There are other Indian teachings of liberation which claim to be based on experience not belief,  including Advaita Vedanta, Sufism, Zen, and other teachings in the non-dual tradition in which awakening simply means to experience the non-dual nature of consciousness.It is true that in the Pali Canon there is, as far as I know, no specific reference to the non-duality of subject and object. In that sense ontologically the Pali discourses seem to be pluralistic: they honour a reality that consists of a multitude of discrete particulars (dharmas). The emphasis rather is on deconstructing the problematic 'self' into various aggregates, and on showing that 'things' are empty of inherent substantial existence through the notion of sunyata. The discourses, while critical of dualistic thinking do not assert clearly anywhere the non-duality of subject and object, as is found in the Mahayana tradition. 

Today this has less to do with conventional religion or therapy but rather the emerging science of consciousness, and what is called the 'Hard Problem', namely whether consciousness is an epiphenomenon, a byproduct of increasing complexity of the material substrate, or something else more universal, a basic characteristic of the universe, an issue that is hotly debated in our age.

Every year at SAND, THE SCIENCE AND NON-DUALITY CONFERENCE in San Jose California, a gathering of preeminent scientists, philosophers, teachers, artists, meditation practitioners and a large, international community come together to explore and advance the new emergent paradigm that is both grounded in cutting edge science and consistent with the ancient wisdom of non-duality: the deep understanding of the interconnectedness of life. Is this something that can only be understood, grasped and appreciated intellectually, through the scientific mind, or can it be realized experientially? For each of us this is the outer realm of an exploration that may begin with a simple daily practice of Mindfulness.  


The course I offer still follows the basic grounding in the body, the breathing, and nurturing awareness of bodily sensation through body-scanning meditation, awareness of feelings, emotions, bodily form, thoughts and mind states both wholesome, unwholesome and neither. This is the basic grounding in awareness where the participant learns to observe these phenomena just as phenomena, arising and passing, appearing and disappearing, without identification with the story or narrative the sensations, feelings or thoughts are about. You begin to see that there is not so much a thinker who has thoughts, but just that thinking happens! This is the groundwork for pain management and stress reduction that gives a certain tranquility and equanimity.

But the ancient practice was not designed merely for stress ‘reduction’. And so in the second half of the course I open up the enquiry by exploring into the nature of awareness itself. In the eight weeks it is possible to touch upon this deeper exploration of consciousness, and for each person to end the course in a place that beckons beyond mere stress management in daily life. Through practice and inquiry a path is opened into heart consciousness and silence that reveals the limitless being that is your true essential nature.

In this programme we will come together to explore what we mean by Awareness, culturally the most overlooked aspect of our being. We will practice being aware of our sensations, feelings, emotions, thoughts, images and mind-states as they arise moment to moment. Together we will share insights or simply reflect on what is emerging in consciousness. There are two kinds of Knowing: the kind that defines life, with thought and concepts; and there is a Knowing that is at once a not-knowing that reminds us of the mystery and perfection of each and every moment. In Mindfulness we learn to stop resisting what is happening right now and surrender to the unknowing that is pure awareness: to let life and this amazing mystery unfold!

The presence of Awareness of sensations, feelings, thoughts, perceptions, reveals to us the absence of a subject that is made of definite objective things, as sensations, perceptions, thoughts, images. In our normal everyday conditioned perspective, and in the absence of this enhanced mode of awareness, we experience ourselves as a separate self, as the subject of our experience.  By paying attention moment-to-moment with Mindfulness Practice the Awareness arises that it is not “I” the body-mind identity that is aware of objects, others and the world but simply Awareness itself that is aware of the body and mind, others and the world. The body-mind then becomes the object of Awareness not the subject of experience. Is there a thinker who has thoughts, or only awareness of thinking? Perhaps there is a realization then that the subject, the knower of experience, is inherently ‘empty’ of objective characteristics. This is what some refer to as Presence, to know the self as pure awareness, which is to be fully present.

In this initial exploration we may touch upon difficult areas, such as addiction, relationships, shame, conflictual states, uncertainty, depression, anger. We will together explore and inquire into the source of these afflictions with curiosity, and in the process question deep-rooted beliefs that condition the way we interpret our experience. We will practice the allowing of negative feeling states, and engage in one-to-one sessions of ‘presencing’ by tapping into our capacity for diffuse awareness, the ‘flow’ of mind-body integration, gently dissolving the hard edges of the separate ego-self’s limited perception of reality. Our conditioned identification with thinking superimposes conceptual limits on our ever-present unlimited nature, which is the true source of our intention and purpose in the unfolding panorama of life.

From this revelation of Awareness arises the question Who am I? Just to ask this question is to be willing to explore this with a natural inquisitiveness. In the second part of the course we begin to explore the Nature and Quality of Awareness. In meditation practice the metaphor is often used of the witnessing presence of Awareness, the ever-present, boundless space in which the phenomena of the body-mind appear and disappear like clouds passing across the open limitless spaciousness of sky, in which we intimately experience the transiency or impermanence of all things. In this there is the recognition that the true nature of self is empty of inherent existence as pure Awareness, the unlimited infinite subject of all experience.

At this point Awakening is a halfway point where there occurs a clear discrimination between the essential nature of self and what is not-self: from the belief that ‘I am somebody or something’ to the understanding that I am ‘nothing’. We explore and inquire into the observation that there is still a duality in this realization, for body-mind and world have to be realigned to this new understanding. For the natural condition of deep peace and happiness inherent to this realization of self as pure awareness to be fully felt and lived, this knowing must be deeply integrated into our life and experience, in the ways we feel, perceive, think, act and relate in our daily living.

In this second part of the course we explore into what is meant by the phrase: non-dual nature of reality. Is there a non-dual realization in which the former conviction of conventional duality, of a dichotomized existence as separate self and others, things and world, of subject and object, collapse? The words that are often used to denote this non-dual awareness or knowing are many, including love, in the sense of a non-differentiating love, and beauty. From this realization also compassion arises. This second exploration is challenging, but follows naturally from the first step of the witnessing awareness. This second step is an embodied awakening from which all activity then flows as creativity informed by the infinite pure Awareness that permeates all realms of life.

Over eight weeks we create a supportive community of insight and reflection and share the common ground of our being, exploring the big questions with lightness and curiosity. And with openness we meet one another beyond concepts, in the silence of this moment. This is truly nourishing and transformative.


More information can be found on the website below under ‘Mindfulness Course’ as well as my Profile as facilitator.

We have an inclusive policy welcoming all regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, religious affiliations or none. No previous experience of meditation is necessary.



May all beings live wisely and compassionately



The Zen of Science - Consciousness & Quantum Physics

"With the mind of discrimination, we cannot touch the ultimate reality, and quantum physics begins to see that, to feel that." - Thich Nhat Hanh Modern science demands the liberation of mind and feeling from dualistic notions - the either-or thinking of being v. non-being; self v. other; left v. right; matter v. consciousness - according to Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.