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Scientists and Mystics Taking Hands

By Maurizio Benazzo


As Maurizio Benazzo relates below, a conversation around a bottle of wine in 2008 led the next year to the first Science and Nonduality Conference (SAND). Now five years old, with little promotion, SAND is growing into a movement of scientists, mystics, philosophers, religionists, artists, and others who feel vitally connected around the notion of “nonduality.” (See accompanying article.)

A host of SAND presenters has included luminaries such as Stanislav Grof, Matthew Fox, Deepak Chopra, Cassandra Vieten, Menas Kafatos, Dean Radin, and Francis Lucille. No surprise, last year 700 attended the U.S. conference, coming from 28 countries and 35 states in the U.S. Four hundred attended the European conference in Holland. SAND’s newsletter goes to 25,000, and its Facebook page has 35,000 friends. Ed.

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Zaya and Maurizio Benazzo Photo: Hans Tibben

Zaya and Maurizio Benazzo Photo: Hans Tibben

October 23, 2008.  I was having dinner with my partner Zaya and Fred, a friend of ours, celebrating my b’day and wondering what should be “next.” We were just back from India where we went to shoot a seventh video about Nisargadatta Maharaji. The experience was still embedded in our skin.

One of his old translators told us that Nisargadatta used to say: “This is not Spiritual knowledge, this is Scientific knowledge! One dayscientists will come and understand all this.” …that sentence has been ringing in our ears since then.

The merging of Science and Mysticism has been a passion for both Zaya and me since childhood, way before we met. It has been the first coat of glue bonding us to this amazing relationship and what has grown from it – the deep feeling of absolute, utter inevitability of us being together. A bond we never experienced before gets stronger and stronger while evolving over these years spent together, working and playing together.

“Why don’t you make a conference about Science and Nonduality?” Fred said, eating the last bite of a flourless chocolate cake standing in the middle of the table.

“And why not do it exactly one year from now, so we don’t have to waste time discussing dates and logistics” Zaya added.

We laughed, raised our glasses, letting our palates enjoy the round taste of California red wine. We sincerely thought that was all – a simple joke at table with friends…

Next morning, in our office, we found ourselves making a phone call to a potential venue. They said the only available date in the next year was the Oct 23rd weekend. A year exactly!

We called a few other people that could be instrumental with this idea. Everyone offered full support. We had no financial backers, and, as of today, still don’t. So we registered an LLC (limited liability company), opened a small bank account and went forward!

The hotel asked for a huge deposit as a warranty. We convinced them to lower it to almost nothing, claiming that our “investors” were behind us ready to step in when and if needed. We started inviting speakers and partnering with organizations using the same line: yes, we have investors which prefer to remain anonymous as of now but ready to step in when and if it will be needed.

SAND’s logo

SAND’s logo

We launched a web site, hoping to sell enough tickets to pay all our bills. Money started coming in, slowly but steadily. We did not lose any money other then having worked for free. The rest is history… We are now organizing the fifth event in San Jose, California. Since 2011, we also have a conference in Europe in the Spring.

Our community is growing exponentially. The general feeling is that we are on a wave, a wave we were not aware even existed, that is growing rapidly as a worldwide movement. We’ve become one of the instruments to facilitate its growth.

Our redeveloped web site launches this July, designed to become a catalyst for this worldwide community. It will offer web-seminars and dialogue facilitation and work to ignite actions supporting this shift in consciousness. It is an exploration of our growing consciousness of interconnectedness – interconnectedness among all humans, all traditions, all beliefs. It’s about how we are living together on a small rock circling a star, one of 400 million stars composing our galaxy, which is one of 400 billion galaxies in this universe which could possibly not even be the only universe out there!

That sense of interconnectedness, the discovery of the “we” in all of this, and the evolving of an age of collaboration that will help us solve the ecological, economical, political, social crisis we are facing today – that is what SAND is about. It is a new paradigm, inspired by mystics of all traditions and informed by modern science as it explores this amazing illusion we call life.

We’ll never know the ultimate answer, but we have this glorious show we call reality and how marvelous that is! Let’s celebrate!!!

About “Nonduality”

Nonduality is the philosophical, spiritual, and scientific understanding of non-separation and fundamental intrinsic oneness.

For thousands of years, through deep inner inquiry, philosophers and sages have come to the realization that there is only one substance, and we are therefore all part of it. This substance can be called Awareness, Consciousness, Spirit, Advaita, Brahman, Tao, Nirvana, or even God. It is constant, ever present, and unchangeable, and it is the essence of all existence.

In the last century Western scientists started arriving at the same conclusion: The universe indeed comprises a single substance, presumably created during the Big Bang, and all sense of being – consciousness – subsequently arises from it. This realization has ontological implications for humanity: fundamentally we are individual expressions of a single entity, inextricably connected to one another. We are all drops of the same ocean.

‘Science and Nonduality’ is a journey, an exploration of the nature of awareness, the essence of life from which all arises and subsides.

What Does It Mean?

There are many shades of meaning to the word nonduality. As an introduction, we might say that nonduality is the philosophical, spiritual, and scientific understanding of non-separation and fundamental oneness.

Our starting point is the statement “we are all one,” and this is meant not in some abstract sense but at the deepest level of existence. Duality, or separation between the observer and the observed, is an illusion that the Eastern mystics have long recognized and Western science has more recently come to understand through quantum mechanics.

Dualities are usually seen in terms of opposites: Mind/Matter, Self/Other, Conscious/Unconscious, Illusion/Reality, Quantum/Classical, Wave/Particle, Spiritual/Material, Beginning/End, Male/Female, Living/Dead and Good/Evil. Nonduality is the understanding that identification with common dualisms avoids recognition of a deeper reality.

How is Nonduality Understood

There are two aspects to this question. At first glance they appear to be mutually exclusive, although they may be considered as two representations of a single underlying reality.

The first aspect is our understanding of external reality, and for this we turn to science. The word science comes from the Latin scientia, which means knowledge. The beauty and usefulness of science is that it seeks to measure and describe reality without personal, religious, or cultural bias. For something to be considered scientifically proven, it has to pass exhaustive scrutiny, and even then is always subject to future revision. Inevitably human biases creep in, but the pursuit of science itself is intrinsically an evolving quest for truth.

However, quantum mechanics turned much of this lauded objectivity on its head, as the role of the observer became inseparable from the observed quantum effect. It is as if consciousness itself plays a role in creating reality. Indeed, the two may be the same thing. As quantum pioneer Niels Bohr once put it, “A physicist is just an atom's way of looking at itself!”

Nisargadatta Maharaj Photo: Wikipedia

Nisargadatta Maharaj Photo: Wikipedia

The second aspect is our inner, personal experience of consciousness, our “awareness of awareness.” We have our senses to perceive the world, but “behind” all perception, memory, identification, and thought is simply pure awareness itself. Eastern mystics have described this undifferentiated consciousness for thousands of years as being the ultimate state of bliss, or nirvana. Seekers have attempted to experience it for themselves through countless rituals and practices, although the state itself can be quite simply described. As Indian advaita teacher Nisargadatta Maharaj said: “The trinity: mind, self, and spirit, when looked into, becomes unity.”

The central challenge to understanding nonduality may be that it exists beyond language, because once it has been named, by definition – and paradoxically – a duality has been created. Even the statement “all things are one” creates a distinction between “one” and “not-one”! Hardly any wonder that nonduality has been misunderstood, particularly in the West.

This description of nonduality was adapted from the Spirituality and Nonduality website.