Photo credit: Emily Goodman
Often, we focus on ourselves as separate individuals. We concentrate on our own problems and desires and make them the center of our world. We look out for number one. It’s simple to act as individuals—our society values taking care of ourselves before others and encourages us to recognize how we are different rather than similar. The fallout is separation, rather than togetherness. But it doesn’t have to be; the Nonduality movement rejects separation, tying together spirituality and science—principles that often seem at odds.
For years, big concepts like science and spirituality have pitted people against each other. The notion that science and spirit are detached creates a tension, leading people to distance themselves from one another. But all people come from the same source, and there is a revolution that celebrates that source, whatever it may be. The Science and Nonduality conference that occurs every year in the US and in the Netherlands is just one manifestation of this movement. Though I knew very little about science and nonduality, I attended this conference that welcomed scientists and spiritualists alike. According to author and speaker Jeff Foster, “non-duality” translates from the Sanskrit word “advaita”, which means “not two” and describes the completeness and unity of life prior to any form of separation. There were many speakers and topics presented, but I managed to speak to the founders of this conference, Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo, about the origins of the event.
Can you tell me about the origin of this conference?
Zaya: We were both very deeply interested in spirituality and where we came from, but at the same time, science is a passion of mine, and something we were exploring independently. I have a background in engineering, and for many years we were interviewing different scientists and working on different media projects. We took a trip to India six years ago, making a movie. And somehow, the idea to explore science and nonduality emerged there. We set off on the exploration of what it means, what science is telling us today about who we are, what is the world about, and where are we going. It’s been an exploration that has evolved a lot during the conference.
Maurizio: And somehow there have been parallel tracks in our minds. They were two interests Zaya and I had, but the fact that we actively merged them, and that it happened right away, made evident that it was a game we wanted to play.
Zaya: What’s happening comes from sages from all traditions. They’ve been saying for centuries that we are not individuals disconnected from each other. We are really part of one another, of the cosmos and of the universe. We are finding today that science is getting closer to that view. It is discovering that we are not separate individuals, and whatever we do impacts people around us and impacts nature. They are discovering the interconnectedness of life. So we are starting a new story about who we are. We can no longer believe that we are separate individuals.
Maurizio: And the implication of that belief is huge for our society.
Zaya: So there is a new story that is emerging. We start to see each other as a part of a larger organism and that is bringing us an evolution of the way we communicate, the way we relate to nature.
Maurizio: It’s like when Galileo, 400 years ago, discovered the earth is not the center of the universe,. That changed our ideas and our role as humans. There will be a new revolution coming up. It’s not necessarily a technological revolution but the bigger revolution, the understanding of who we are. It’s the sensation that the organisms (in our body) are not necessarily just part of “me”, but part of a larger “us”. If we start acting as a universe and as connected individuals, that will change how we react to everything—society, the economy, politics, family, friends, love, life and death. It probably could solve a lot of crises.
Would you say that once you had this knowledge that it was difficult to apply? What would you suggest to someone just beginning to understand this and wanting to apply it?
Zaya: I would say by starting to ask the bigger questions and opening up, asking questions like “Who am I?” or “I’ve been told that I’m a separate individual—is there reality to that?” Ask those questions and see where it takes you. If we have a critical mass of people who do start asking the bigger questions, we might not see the specific steps, but we do see that change is happening.
Maurizio: The beauty is that we’re different cells of an organism. And the each cell understands. The impact of this understanding is evident in the organism itself. So “how” is probably a question where the real answer will appear in many years. In simple terms, the “how” brings a certain sense of relief.
Zaya: The “how” emerges once you know that you’re not separate, and you do trust that whatever is supposed to happen will happen.
Life comes with a multitude of questions and unknowns, but there is hope in discovering that we are somehow all connected and asking the difficult, and sometimes unanswerable, questions together. To find out more about nonduality, click here.