Posted by: religionthink | May 1, 2008

On What Are These Things Woven Back And Forth? : Thoughts on Duality.

On What Are These Things Woven Back And Forth? : Thoughts on Duality.

By A.D. Wayman

(A Contribution to the Synchroblogging Project on the topic of Duality)

“He sees, but he can’t be seen; he hears but can’t be heard; he thinks but he can’t be thought of; he perceives but he can’t be perceived. Besides him, there is no one who sees, no one who hears, no one who thinks, and no one who perceives. It is this self of yours that is the inner controller, the immortal. All besides this is grief.”1

Many times in religious literature we find the theme of duality. At times the literature tells us that we may have been cheated or trick out of the solution to the problem from the very start. Eve, being tricked by the serpent, into eating of the tree of “Knowledge of Good and Bad” and being exiled before eating of the tree of life; Gilgamesh falling asleep and having the plant of life stolen by the serpent; Adapa refusing to eat and drink what the gods fed him out of fear, thus missing out on immortality. At times we look for answers to the issue, which religious literature tries to provide. Many times these answers are not answers at all but multiple views on how to enable ourselves to overcome the issue of duality. For some this enabler is Torah, for some Jesus, others it is Atman, and still others may say it is the Buddha in all. Whatever the belief system, many different cultures use theses archetypes, metaphors and symbols to better understand themselves and their role in the world, universe, and society. In this short essay we will discuss a few topics concerning duality. The comparisons are not all that encompassing, but one can get a glimpse, and then pursue the topic in more detail if desired.

In the first example we read some of the conflict that the writer Paul, in the New Testament had to confront. One can almost feel the frustration at the acknowledgement of the polar issues people find themselves consumed by.

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:15-24 NRSV)

While the above text shows the writer Paul is torn by this inner conflict within himself; another makes good use of the duality and sees both as a complement to one another. In one of my world religion classes I attended the professor brought up a saying that I loved and carried with me. “Neither this nor that, but both and.” In the Tao-Te-Ching we read that such things can compliment each other and that we may have to do nothing at all!

“All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing
this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill
of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the
want of skill is. So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to
(the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the
idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the
figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from
the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and
tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and
that being before and behind give the idea of one following another.

Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and
conveys his instructions without the use of speech.”

In relation to this we find a saying by the Jewish teachers concerning Torah study which like the above shows a hint of the idea of non-action.

One that sits and studies, the Scripture imputes to him as if he fulfilled the whole Thorah, for it is said, He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. 3 *

Still others question the issue and lash out at the very tools that we were given to combat such issues. It is perfectly human to do this, we find such issues arise in the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna on the field of truth, in the battle of life. The most beautiful exchanges show the weaknesses that arise when the body and mind are under distress. Another example of this would be the text of the biblical Job. In all his anger Job questions his creator and at times entertains the idea of putting the deity on trial. Like Krishna the deity answers back, but with a little more force.

“And the Lord said to Job: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Anyone who argues with God must respond.” Then Job answered the Lord: “See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but will proceed no further.” Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? “Deck yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on all who are proud, and abase them. Look on all who are proud, and bring them low; tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then I will also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can give you victory.” (Job 40:1-14 NRSV)

In the above text we see Job’s response is cowering before the deity and he is plainly saying “Okay Yahweh, I’ll shut my mouth now.” Here Yahweh is frustrated that Job would even try to understand the workings of the gods and the laws of the earth and heavens. It is somewhat humors that here Yahweh seems to tell Job that if he could do better, Yahweh would be more then happy to let him try. On the opposite side however we find a text attributed to Jesus, that the workings have been given to a few, and here Christ explains why he speaks in parables. Like the opening verses that we used from the Upanishads we see the same theme but in a different environment and used with a different metaphoric “enabler”. It appears Christ is frustrated with those who do not understand the self or the living Torah within. Here Christ believes that the “enabler” has been intentionally turned off.

“He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: “You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it”. (Mat 13:11-17 NRSV)

The concept of duality rages through out literature, gods elbowing one another out of power, heroes overcoming against their counterparts, trips to the underworld, cosmic wars and much more. There seems to be a need for balance; the concept of the Chinese Yin and Yang may somehow come into play. However, with issues of fear and suffering such explanations do not enlighten one to the challenges faced when we find ourselves in the belly of the whale, or swallowed by a Tiamat or Mot. As Bart Ehrman discusses in his book “God’s Problem.” There is no one solution and so one may need to look to more then one enabler or mythology to find our place.

1. Patrick Olivelle, trans., Upanishads, Oxford World’s Classics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). pg. 44

2. The Texts of Taoism, Part 1: The Tâo Teh King (Tâo Te Ching) of Lâo Dze (Lao Tsu), The Writings of Kwang-dze (Chuang-tse). Translation James Legge. The Sacred Books of the East, Volume 40. F. Max Müller. 1891. From Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

3. Sayings of the Jewish Fathers (Pirqe Aboth) Translated by Charles Taylor [1897] pg. 43
(* For a more in-dept research on this topic see blog Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism and the post

Read more on the topic form the other talented participants of the project:

Between Old and New Moons

Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism

Goddess in a Teapot

The Aquila ka Hecate

Full Circle Earthwise News

Mythprint (all the myth that’s fit to print)

Stone Circle

Women and Spirituality

Frontiers of Wonder

Paleothea – Sing, Goddess

Quaker Pagan Reflections

Heart of Flame

Pitch 313

Executive Pagan

Druid’s Apprentice

The Druid Journal

Manzanita, Redwoods and Laurel

Dream Builders: A Figment of Imagination

When Isis Rises


  1. […] On What Are These Things Woven Back And Forth?: Thoughts on Duality (ReligionThink) […]

  2. Having not studied the bible much I had no idea there was so much duality inherent. Really a compelling topic, I think. I hope you visit my site to read my contribution.


  3. […] ReligionThink: On What are These Things Woven Back and Forth? […]

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