If people do not have meaning in their life, they can feel lost and depressed. It may be a reason why they fall into addiction or adopt other maladaptive behaviors. Some people are so overwhelmed by the idea that their life lacks a purpose that they feel suicidal. There just does not seem to be any point in going on. There are many ways that the individual can develop meaning in their life. Some people will gain such meaning from religion or philosophy, while others find it through engagement in more physical pursuits.
When people enter recovery they are usually left with a hole in their life. For years, their addiction will have been the focus of their daily existence, but now this is gone. If they do not find new meaning, then life in recovery will feel unsatisfying. It is therefore vital that the individual seeks purpose if they wish to avoid relapse. This can be done through a process of experimentation. Eventually, the individual will find things that make life worth living. This may involve a returning to the religion they grew up with or adapting new ideas. Some will find the meaning they need in the material world without any need to consider the spiritual. One of the philosophies that people may wish to consider when seeking meaning is Advaita.
Advaita Vedanta is an Indian philosophy. The word advaita means not two. In the West, this philosophy is more usually referred to as non-duality. The basis of this teaching is that everything is made up of one non-dual consciousness. This consciousness is all there is. Things may appear to be separate, but this does not mean they are not part of the one thing. In other words, everything in the universe is just different expressions of the exact same oneness.
A key idea in Advaita is that the world is not real. The Indian philosopher Adi Shankara provided a few arguments to support this idea of the illusionary world:
* Those things that remain eternal are true but those that do not are false. The world is not eternal, so it cannot be true.
* Truth never changes. The world is always changing, so it cannot be true.
* The world is a special kind of dream that people experience when they are awake.
* The world that people see is created by the Brahman, the universal spirit or ultimate essence of phenomena. If it is created by the Brahman, it cannot be real.
* If something is independent of space and time, it is real, but if it is dependent on space and time it cannot be real.
Advaita is only one of a number of philosophies or religions that accept the idea of non-dualism. Several other teachings share this belief in non duality:
* Buddhism can be considered a non-dual teaching, because of its emphasis on non-self, the idea that there is no real separation between subject and object. Zen Buddhism places particular emphasis on non-duality.
* The Chinese philosophy of Taoism also suggests that ultimate reality is all made from one thing.
* Some Christian thought could be considered non-dual. A good example of this would be Christian Science, which views matter as illusionary and the ego as part of one whole. In recent years a number of new Christian groups have developed around non-duality teachings.
* In some of the more mystical forms of Islam, there is the idea of ego annihilation and becoming part of the one. The goal of Sufism is for the individual to become part of the whole. To get to the truth, the seeker needs to get beyond all ideas of duality.
* The practice of yoga is said to mix well with the philosophy of non-duality.
Advaita views alcoholism and other addictions as being due to ignorance. The individual feels limited and separate, and this leads to dissatisfaction with life. It is a rejection of this feeling of separateness and yearning for true happiness that drives the individual towards addiction. Alcohol or drug abuse can numb people’s pain in the beginning but it is not an effective solution. The thing that these people really want is not to be found by taking chemicals. All forms of addiction can be viewed as an attempt to get rid of this feeling of separateness. If the individual can come to the realization that they are not separate from the world the need for seeking ends, and so does the need for alcohol and drugs.
There can be a bit of disagreement as to how to practice Advaita. This is because some teachers feel that it is the seeking that is the real problem. The argument is that realization of non-duality is not about discovering something new, but just seeing things as they really are. The mind is a designed to view the world in terms of duality, so using it to seek non-duality may be a waste of time. There are other Advaita teachers who are more optimistic about the role of practice in helping people see reality. These are some of the hallmarks of their practices:
* Meditation on the realities of life. Nisargadatta Maharaj suggested that the meditator can sit while concentrating on the idea of I am. While investigating where this idea of I am comes from, the individual can discover the truth about reality.
* Listening to knowledgeable Advaita teachers can help the individual see the truth behind these teachings. At the moment there has been a surge in the number of Western teachers offering satsangs (public talks) on non-duality. Some of these teachers are considered to be part of a neo-Advaita movement, a modern approach to very old ideas.
* There are many free non-duality resources to be found on the web. This includes articles, videos, and audio material. There are also a number of forums where members of the online non-duality community can come together and share information.