Nondual teachings, such as Mahayana Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, proclaim the ultimate unity of all experience, in the end deconstructing all oppositions—self-other, good-bad, even the distinctions between samsara and nirvana, liberation and bondage, and teacher and student. What role then can there be, in a domain where all borders and distinctions dissolve, for clear ethical boundaries in the student-teacher relationship? In particular, how in the face of the awareness of limitless unity and freedom, can there be clear prohibitions against teacher-student sexual relations, financial exploitation, authoritarianism, physical abuse or any other form of potentially harmful conduct between teacher and student?
Ethical boundaries create a necessary safe vessel—an environment that is free (as much as possible) from fear of exploitation—in which teacher and student can deeply explore the realization of nondual openness and freedom. Without a sense of safety, at least from gross harm and exploitation, the deep examination and questioning of the reality of all distinctions, leading to the dissolving of all borders in nondual realization, will almost certainly not occur. For this reason, it is precisely the teacher’s commitment to communicating and facilitating nondual understanding that demands the discipline to refrain from transgressing ethical boundaries in the teacher-student relationship. Ethical boundaries, such as Buddhism’s five precepts—not to kill, lie, steal, slander, or engage in inappropriate sexuality—provide the necessary safe structure in which nondual inquiry and realization can effectively occur.
Any teacher who is genuinely concerned with fostering nondual understanding will find ethical limits in the teacher-student relationship useful and liberating, rather than a limiting burden. And any student who genuinely hopes to realize nonduality will find the safe vessel of ethical boundaries an environment in which nondual inquiry and liberation can most readily occur.
For some, these basic principles may seem obvious. They are clearly set forth in all genuine nondual (not to mention dualistic) spiritual traditions. Yet, perhaps, due to the subtlety of nondual understanding, the novelty of widespread nondual spirituality in the West, and the often unconscious power of greed, anger and delusion—even in those who appear to be realized—they need to be stated, clarified and affirmed, it seems, again and again.
May all students and teachers fearlessly enter and enjoy the safe vessel of nondual inquiry, free from harm and exploitation.