Definitions

illusional

Nondualism

[doo-uh-liz-uhm, dyoo-]
Nondualism implies that things appear distinct while not being separate. The word's origin is the Latin duo meaning "two" and is used as the English translation of the Sanskrit term advaita. The term can refer to a belief, condition, theory, practice, or quality.

Various usages

Nondualism may be viewed as the understanding or belief that dualism or dichotomy are illusory phenomena. Examples of dualisms include self/other, mind/body, male/female, good/evil, active/passive, dualism/nondualism and many others. It is accessible as a belief, theory, condition, as part of a tradition, as a practice, or as the quality of union with reality.

A nondual philosophical or religious perspective or theory maintains that there is no fundamental distinction between mind and matter, or that the entire phenomenological world is an illusion (with reality being described variously as the Void, the Is, Emptiness, the mind of God, Atman or Brahman). Nontheism provides related conceptual and philosophical information.

Many traditions (generally originating in Asia) state that the true condition or nature of reality is nondualistic, and that these dichotomies are either unreal or (at best) inaccurate conveniences. While attitudes towards the experience of duality and self may vary, nondual traditions converge on the view that the ego, or sense of personal being, doer-ship and control, is ultimately said to be an illusion. As such many nondual traditions have significant overlap with mysticism.

Nondualism may also be viewed as a practice, namely the practice of self-inquiry into one's own being as set forth by Ramana Maharshi, which is intended to lead a person to realize the nondual nature of existence.

Nondualism can refer to one of two types of quality. One is the quality of union with reality, God, the Absolute. This quality is knowable and can be gained spontaneously and via practice of inquiry. A second quality is absolute by nature, or to put it in words, "conceptual absence of 'neither Yes nor No'," as Wei Wu Wei wrote. This latter quality is beyond the quality of union. It may be viewed as unknowable.

Accessibility is not relevant to the second quality mentioned in the paragraph above, since, according to that quality, an essential part of its gaining includes the realisation that the entire apparent existence of the individual who would gain access to understanding nondualism is in fact merely illusional. Achieving the second of these qualities therefore implies the extinguishing of the ego-sense that was seeking it:

"What is the significance of the statement 'No one can get enlightenment"? ... Enlightenment is the annihilation of the 'one' who 'wants' enlightenment. If there is enlightenment ... it means that the 'one' [ie individual ego] who had earlier wanted enlightenment has been annihilated. So no 'one' can achieve enlightenment, and therefore no 'one' can enjoy enlightenment. [...] if you get [a] million dollars then there will be someone [an ego-sense] to enjoy that million dollars. But if you go after enlightenment and enlightenment happens, there will be no 'one' [ie, no individual ego-sense] to enjoy enlightenment."

Nondualism versus monism

The Western philosophical concept monism is similar to nondualism. Some forms of monism hold that all phenomena are actually of the same substance. Other forms of monism including attributive monism and idealism are similar concepts to nondualism. Nondualism proper holds that different phenomena are inseparable or that there is no hard line between them, but that they are not the same. The distinction between these two types of views is considered critical in Zen, Madhyamika, and Dzogchen, all of which are nondualisms proper. Some later philosophical approaches also attempt to undermine traditional dichotomies, with the view they are fundamentally invalid or inaccurate. For example, one typical form of deconstruction is the critique of binary oppositions within a text while problematization questions the context or situation in which concepts such as dualisms occur.

Nondualism versus solipsism

Nondualism superficially resembles solipsism, but from a nondual perspective solipsism mistakenly fails to consider subjectivity itself. Upon careful examination of the referent of "I," i.e. one's status as a separate observer of the perceptual field, one finds that one must be in as much doubt about it, too, as solipsists are about the existence of other minds and the rest of "the external world." (One way to see this is to consider that, due to the conundrum posed by one's own subjectivity becoming a perceptual object to itself, there is no way to validate one's "self-existence" except through the eyes of others -- the independent existence of which is already solipsistically suspect!) Nondualism ultimately suggests that the referent of "I" is in fact an artificial construct (merely the border separating "inner" from "outer," in a sense), the transcendence of which constitutes enlightenment.

Nondual realization

To the Nondualist, reality is ultimately neither physical nor mental. Instead, it is an ineffable state or realization. This ultimate reality can be called "Spirit" (Sri Aurobindo), "Brahman" (Shankara), "God", "Shunyata" (Emptiness), "The One" (Plotinus), "The Self" (Ramana Maharshi), "The Dao" (Lao Zi), "The Absolute" (Schelling) or simply "The Nondual" (F. H. Bradley). Ram Dass calls it the "third plane"—any phrase will be insufficient, he maintains, so any phrase will do. The theory of Sri Aurobindo has been described as Integral advaita.

It should be pointed out that technically, there can be no such thing as a nondual perspective or theory or experience, only a realization of Oneness or nonduality. One cannot accurately claim to experience nonduality, because the concept of experience depends on the subject-object distinction, which is a duality. The subject experiences an object, which is something separate from the subject. This is incompatible with a truly nondual realization. Thus, technically, there cannot truly be an accurate verbal account of this union, only words that insufficiently point to the realization.

Ken Wilber comments that nondual traditions:

"...are more interested in pointing out the Nondual state of Suchness, which is not a discreet state of awareness but the ground or empty condition of all states... [They] have an enormous number of these 'pointing out instructions', where they simply point out what is already happening in your awareness, anyway. Every experience you have is already nondual, whether you realize it or not. So it is not necessary for you to change your state of consciousness in order to discover this nonduality. Any state of consciousness you have will do just fine, because nonduality is fully present in each state... recognition is the point. Recognition of what always already is the case. Change of state is useless, a distraction... subject and object are actually one and you simply need to recognize this... you already have everything in consciousness that is required. You are looking right at the answer... but you don't recognize [it]. Someone comes along and points [it] out, and you slap your head and say, Yes I was looking right at it..."

Nisargadatta Maharaj, when asked how to tell when someone is approaching this understanding, commented:

"Even then it is a concept again. But I give you a criterion by which one can sort of judge something. When a stage is reached that one feels deeply that whatever is being done is happening and one has not got anything to do with it, then it becomes such a deep conviction that whatever is happening is not happening really. And that whatever seems to be happening is also an illusion. That may be final. In other words, totally apart from whatever seems to be happening, when one stops thinking that one is living, and gets the feeling that one is being lived, that whatever one is doing one is not doing but one is made to do, then that is a sort of criterion."

Further comprehensive definitions of the nondual world view are given in the articles on Ramesh Balsekar and Nisargadatta Maharaj.

Nondual religious and spiritual traditions

Advaita

Advaita (Sanskrit a, not; dvaita, dual) is a nondual tradition from India, with Advaita Vedanta, a branch of Hinduism, as its philosophical arm. The theory was first consolidated by Sri Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century AD. Most smarthas are adherents to this theory of the nature of the soul (Brahman).

According to Ramana Maharshi, the jnani (one who has realised the Self) sees no individual ego, and does not regard himself (or anyone else) as a "doer" of actions. The state of recognition is called jnana which means "knowledge" or "wisdom" referring to the idea that in this state of being, one is constantly aware of the Self. Bob Adamson (Melbourne, Australia), once a student of Nisargadatta Maharaj, who belonged to the Navanath Sampradaya lineage, says that a 'Jnani' is the 'knowing presence' which abides with all (of us) yet this knowing is seemingly covered over by identification with the 'minds content'. Ramesh Balsekar comments that it is in order for phenomenae to occur, that the illusion of personal existence and doer-ship (ego) is present:

"Consciousness-at-rest is not aware of Itself. It becomes aware of Itself only when this sudden feeling, I-am, arises, the impersonal sense of being aware. And that is when Consciousness-at-rest becomes Consciousness-in-movement, Potential energy becomes actual energy. They are not two. Nothing separate comes out of Potential energy... That moment that science calls the Big Bang, the mystic calls the sudden arising of awareness..."

However, teachers like Adamson point to the fact that the content of the mind is known, recognized by a presence or awareness that is independent of the mind's content. Adamson teaches that we form an identity based on the content of the mind (feelings, sensations, hopes, dreams, thoughts), however our true identity or nature is that which observes all of these things - the seer, the witness or the Self.

Buddhism

All schools of Buddhism teach No-Self (Pali anatta, Sanskrit anatman). No-Self in Buddhism is the Non-Duality of Subject and Object, which is very explicitly stated by the Buddha in verses such as “In seeing, there is just seeing. No seer and nothing seen. In hearing, there is just hearing. No hearer and nothing heard.” (Bahiya Sutta, Udana 1.10). Non-Duality in Buddhism does not constitute merging with a supreme Brahman, but realising that the duality of a self/subject/agent/watcher/doer in relation to the object/world is an illusion.

In the Mahayana Buddhist canon, the Diamond Sutra presents an accessible nondual view of "self" and "beings", while the Heart Sutra asserts shunyata — the "emptiness" of all "form" and simultaneously the "form" of all "emptiness". The Lotus Sutra's parable of the Burning House implies that all talk of Duality or Non-Duality by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is merely Skillful Means (Sanskrit upaya kausala) meant to lead the deluded to a much higher truth. The fullest philosophical exposition is the Madhyamaka; by contrast many laconic pronouncements are delivered as koans. Advanced views and practices are found in the Mahamudra and Maha Ati, which emphasize the vividness and spaciousness of nondual awareness.

Mahayana Buddhism, in particular, tempers the view of nonduality (wisdom) with respect for the experience of duality (compassion) — ordinary dualistic experience, populated with selves and others (sentient beings), is tended with care, always "now". This approach is itself regarded as a means to disperse the confusions of duality (i.e. as a path). In Theravada, that respect is expressed cautiously as non-harming, while in the Vajrayana, it is expressed boldly as enjoyment (especially in tantra).

Dzogchen is a relatively esoteric (to date) tradition concerned with the "natural state", and emphasizing direct experience. This tradition is found in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, where it is classified as the highest of this lineage's nine yanas, or vehicles of practice. Similar teachings are also found in the non-Buddhist Bön tradition. In Dzogchen, the primordial state, the state of nondual awareness, is called rigpa.

The Dzogchen practitioner realizes that appearance and emptiness are inseparable. One must transcend dualistic thoughts to perceive the true nature of one's pure mind. This primordial nature is clear light, unproduced and unchanging, free from all defilements. One's ordinary mind is caught up in dualistic conceptions, but the pure mind is unafflicted by delusions. Through meditation, the Dzogchen practitioner experiences that thoughts have no substance. Mental phenomena arise and fall in the mind, but fundamentally they are empty. The practitioner then considers where the mind itself resides. The mind can not exist in the ever-changing external phenomena and through careful examination one realizes that the mind is emptiness. All dualistic conceptions disappear with this understanding.

Zen is a non-dual tradition. It can be considered a religion, a philosophy, or simply a practice depending on one's perspective. It has also been described as a way of life, work, and an art form. Zen practitioners deny the usefulness of such labels, calling them, "The finger pointing at the moon." Tozan, one of the founders of Soto Zen in China, had a teaching known as the Five Ranks of the Real and the Ideal, which points out the necessity of not getting caught in the duality between Absolute and Relative/Samsara and Nirvana, and describes the stages of further transcendence into fully realising the Absolute in all activities.

Christianity

The God of traditional Christianity is absolute and infinite. The devil or adversary is an opposing character, but is subordinate to God. The Christian faith thus does not consider the duality of good and evil to be two equal and opposing forces. Mystical Christianity can be entirely non-dual, as in the teachings of Meister Eckhart or St. John of the Cross, among others.

A Course in Miracles or ACIM is a modern day Christian non-dualistic teaching. This tradition states, "Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.

Christian Science might also qualify as non-dualistic. In a glossary of terms written by the founder, Mary Baker Eddy, matter is defined as illusion and when defining individual identity she writes "There is but one I, or Us, but one divine Principle, or Mind, governing all existence".

Gnosticism

Since its beginning, Gnosticism has been characterized by many dualisms and dualities, including the doctrine of a separate God and Manichaean (good/evil) dualism. The discovery in 1945 of the Gospel of Thomas, however, has led some scholars to believe that Jesus' original teaching may have been one accurately characterized as nondualism.

The Gospel of Philip, another of the Apocryphal books, also conveys nondualism:

"Light and Darkness, life and death, right and left, are brothers of one another. They are inseparable. Because of this neither are the good good, nor evil evil, nor is life life, nor death death. For this reason each one will dissolve into its earliest origin. But those who are exalted above the world are indissoluble, eternal."

Sufism

Sufism (Arabic تصوف taṣawwuf, meaning "Mysticism") is often considered a mystical tradition of Islam. There are a number of different Sufi orders that follow the teachings of particular spiritual masters, but the bond that unites all Sufis is the concept of ego annihilation (removal of the subject/object dichotomy between humankind and the divine) through various spiritual exercises and a persistent, ever-increasing longing for union with the divine. "The goal," as Reza Aslan writes, "is to create an inseparable union between the individual and the Divine."

The central doctrine of Sufism, sometimes called Wahdat-ul-Wujood or Wahdat al-Wujud or Unity of Being, is the Sufi understanding of Tawhid (the oneness of God; absolute monotheism). Put very simply, for Sufis, Tawhid implies that all phenomena are manifestations of a single reality, or Wujud (being), which is indeed al-Haq (Truth, God). The essence of Being/Truth/God is devoid of every form and quality, and hence unmanifest, yet it is inseparable from every form and phenomenon, either material or spiritual. It is often understood to imply that every phenomenon is an aspect of Truth and at the same time attribution of existence to it is false. The chief aim of all Sufis then is to let go of all notions of duality (and therefore of the individual self also), and realize the divine unity which is considered to be the truth.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, (1207-1273), one of the most famous Sufi masters and poets, has written that what humans perceive as duality is in fact a veil, masking the reality of the Oneness of existence. "All desires, preferences, affections, and loves people have for all sorts of things," he writes, are veils. He continues: "When one passes beyond this world and sees that Sovereign (God) without these 'veils,' then one will realize that all those things were 'veils' and 'coverings' and that what they were seeking was in reality that One." The veils, or rather, duality, exists for a purpose, however, Rumi contends. If God as the divine, singular essence of all existence were to be made fully manifest to us, he counsels, we would not be able to bear it and would immediately cease to exist as individuals.

Taoism

Taoism's wu wei (Chinese wu, not; wei, doing) is a term with various translations (e.g. inaction, non-action, nothing doing, without ado) and interpretations designed to distinguish it from passivity. From a nondual perspective, it refers to activity that does not imply an "I". The concept of Yin and Yang, often mistakenly conceived of as a symbol of dualism, is actually meant to convey the notion that all apparent opposites are complementary parts of a non-dual whole.

Notable Individuals and Nondualism

The following is a list of individual thinkers, philosophers, writers, artists and so on whose works express a notable degree of nondualism. Not all individuals in this list self identify as presenting nonduality. They come from different religious, political and cultural traditions.

Ancient and Medieval Western philosophers

Modern Western philosophers

Asian Philosophers and Teachers

Authors and musicians

Contemporary Teachers

Notes

References (Literature)

  • Baleskar, Ramesh (1999). Who cares?
  • Castaneda, Carlos (1987). The Power of Silence. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-50067-8.
  • Downing, Jerry N. (2000) Between Conviction and Uncertainty ISBN 0-79144-627-1
  • Godman, David (Ed.) (1985). Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. London: Arkana. ISBN 0-14-019062-7.
  • Hawkins, David R. (October 2006). Discovery of the Presence of God: Devotional Nonduality. Sedona, Arizona: Veritas Publishing. ISBN 0-9715007-6-2 (Softcover); ISBN 0-9715007-7-0 (Hardcover)
  • Jeon, Arthur (2004) City Dharma: Keeping Your Cool in the Chaos ISBN 1-40004-908-3
  • Katz, Jerry (Ed.) (2007). One: Essential Writings on Nonduality. Boulder, CO: Sentient Publications. ISBN 1591810531.
  • Kent, John (1990) Richard Rose's Psychology of the Observer: The Path to Reality Through the Self PhD Thesis
  • Klein, Anne Carolyn (1995). Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminists, and the Art of the Self. Boston, Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-7306-7.
  • Kongtrül, Jamgön (1992). Cloudless Sky: The Mahamudra Path of The Tibetan Buddhist Kagyü School. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 0-87773-694-4.
  • Lama, Dalai (2000). Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-157-X.
  • Norbu, Namkhai (1993). The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen. London: Arkana. ISBN 0-14-019314-6.
  • Schucman, Helen (1992) "A Course In Miracles". Foundation for Inner Peace, pg. 1. ISBN 0-9606388-9-X.
  • Trungpa, Chögyam (1987). Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 0-87773-050-4.
  • Watson, Burton (Trans.) (1968). The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-03147-5.

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