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Nondualism, also called non-duality, is a term and concept used to define various strands of thought.
Historically it is linked to the Advaita Vedanta-tradition, which states that there is no difference between Brahman and Ātman. It is also found in other Asian religious traditions, but with a variety of meanings and uses.
In western cultures the term is also used[note 1] in modern spirituality and New Age for a "grand tradition" which sees "a primordial, natural awareness without subject or object"[web 2] as the essence of a variety of religious traditions.
Dictionary definitions of "nondualism" are scarce.[web 4]
Advaita is best known from the Advaita Vedanta-tradition, which sees the manifest world as Maya, illusion:
The identity of phenomena and the Absolute, or the transcendence of absolute and relative, is a common theme in both Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta:
According to Loy, nondualism is primarily an Eastern way of understanding:
...[the seed of nonduality] however often sown, has never found fertile soil [in the West], because it has been too antithetical to those other vigorous sprouts that have grown into modern science and technology. In the Eastern tradition [...] we encounter a different situation. There the seeds of seer-seen nonduality not only sprouted but matured into a variety (some might say a jungle) of impressive philosophical species. By no means do all these [Eastern] systems assert the nonduality of subject and object, but it is significant that three which do – Buddhism, Vedanta and Taoism – have probably been the most influential.
According to Loy, referred by Pritcher:
This nondual consciousness is perceived in a wide variety of religious traditions:
Another western use is interconnectedness:
An example of this interconnectedness is the connectedness of body and mind, as opposed to Cartesian dualism:
Given the widespread use of dualistic notions, supplementary definitions and uses are possible, such as sexe-androgynity.
Advaita Vedānta is a scripturally derived philosophy centred on the proposition, first found in early Upaniṣads (800–300 BC), that Brahman – the Absolute, the supreme reality – and the self (ātman) are identical.
"Advaita", Sanskrit a, not; dvaita, dual, translated as "nondualism", "nonduality" and "nondual". The term "nondualism" and the term "advaita" from which it originates are polyvalent terms. The English word's origin is the Latin duo meaning "two" prefixed with "non-" meaning "not".
The first usage of the terms are yet to be attested. The English term "nondual" was also informed by early translations of the Upanishads in Western languages other than English from 1775.
These terms have entered the English language from literal English renderings of "advaita" subsequent to the first wave of English translations of the Upanishads. These translations commenced with the work of Müller (1823–1900), in the monumental Sacred Books of the East (1879).
Max Müller rendered "advaita" as "Monism" under influence of the then prevailing discourse of English translations of the Classical Tradition of the Ancient Greeks, such as Thales (624 BCE–c.546 BCE) and Heraclitus (c.535 BCE–c.475 BCE).
Though there are monist themes in the most recent sections of the ancient Rig Veda (Mandala 1 and Mandala 10)[note 8], Advaita Vedanta finds its first sophisticated exposition in the "Tat Tvam Asi" of the venerable Chandogya Upanishad (6.8.7), an upanishad favoured by subsequent proponents of Advaita Vedanta.
Gauḍapāda(6th century) furthered this philosophical theory. Gaudapada was the teacher of Govinda bhagavatpāda and the grandteacher of Shankara. Gaudapda took over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra)[note 9] and "that the nature of the world is the four-cornered negation".[note 10] Gaudapada "wove [both doctrines] into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad, which was further developed by Shankara.[note 11]
Gaudapada also took over the Buddhist concept of "ajāta" from Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy, which uses the term "anutpāda". [note 12] "Ajātivāda", "the Doctrine of no-origination"[note 13] or non-creation, is the fundamental philosophical doctrine of Gaudapada.
Adi Shankara (788 - 820), also known as Śaṅkara Bhagavatpādācārya and Ādi Śaṅkarācārya, expounded the doctrine of Advaita — a nondualistic reality. He consolidated the Advaita Vedanta, an interpretation of the Vedic scriptures that continued the line of thought of some of the Upanishadic teachers, Shankara's teacher Govinda Bhagavatpada, Govinda's teacher Gaudapada, and Gaudapada's teacher Ajativada.
Shankara systematized the works of preceding philosophers. His system of Vedanta introduced the method of scholarly exegesis on the accepted metaphysics of the Upanishads. This style was adopted by all the later Vedanta schools.
In half a couplet I state, what has been stated by crores of texts;
that is Brahman alone is real, the world is mithyā (not independently existent),and the individual self is nondifferent from Brahman.[note 15]
Most smarthas are adherents to this theory of nonduality.
In the 19th century Vivekananda played a major role in the revival of Hinduism, and the spread of Advaita Vedanta to the west via the Ramakrishna Mission. His interpretation of Advaita Vedanta has been called "Neo-Vedanta".
In a talk on "The absolute and manifestation" given in at London in 1896 Swami Vivekananda said,
I may make bold to say that the only religion which agrees with, and even goes a little further than modern researchers, both on physical and moral lines is the Advaita, and that is why it appeals to modern scientists so much. They find that the old dualistic theories are not enough for them, do not satisfy their necessities. A man must have not only faith, but intellectual faith too".[web 9]
Vivekananda emphasized samadhi as a means to attain liberation. Yet this emphasis is not to befound in the Upanishads nor with Shankara. For Shankara, meditation and Nirvikalpa Samadhi are means to gain knowledge of the already existing unity of Brahman and Atman, not the highest goal itself:
[Y]oga is a meditative exercise of withdrawal from the particular and identification with the universal, leading to contemplation of oneself as the most universal, namely, Consciousness. This approach is different from the classical Yoga of complete thought suppression.
Vivekenanda's modernisation has been criticized:
Without calling into question the right of any philosopher to interpret Advaita according to his own understanding of it, [...] the process of Westernization has obscured the core of this school of thought. The basic correlation of renunciation and Bliss has been lost sight of in the attempts to underscore the cognitive structure and the realistic structure which according to Samkaracarya should both belong to, and indeed constitute the realm of māyā.
Neo-Advaita is a New Religious Movement based on a modern, western interpretation of Advaita Vedanta, especially the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Neo-Advaita is being criticized[note 16][note 17][note 18] for discarding the traditional prerequisites of knowledge of the scriptures and "renunciation as necessary preparation for the path of jnana-yoga". Notable neo-advaita teachers are H. W. L. Poonja, his students Gangaji Andrew Cohen[note 19], and Eckhart Tolle.
Loy asserts that the opposition of absolute and relative can be transcendend. This is a common theme in both Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta.
Various schools of Buddhism discern levels of truth:
The distinction between the two truths (satyadvayavibhāga) was fully expressed by the Madhyamaka-school. In Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā it is used to defend the identification of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda) with emptiness (śūnyatā):
The Buddha's teaching of the Dharma is based on two truths: a truth of worldly convention and an ultimate truth. Those who do not understand the distinction drawn between these two truths do not understand the Buddha's profound truth. Without a foundation in the conventional truth the significance of the ultimate cannot be taught. Without understanding the significance of the ultimate, liberation is not achieved.
Nāgārjuna based his statement of the two truths on the Kaccāyanagotta Sutta. In the Kaccāyanagotta Sutta, the Buddha, speaking to the monk Kaccayana Gotta on the topic of right view, describes the Middle Way between nihilsm and eternalism:
By and large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by a polarity, that of existence and non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, "non-existence" with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, "existence" with reference to the world does not occur to one.
The Huayan school or Flower Garland is a tradition of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy that flourished in China during the Tang period. It is based on the Sanskrit Flower Garland Sutra (S. Avataṃsaka Sūtra, C. Huayan Jing) and on a lengthy Chinese interpretation of it, the Huayan Lun. The name Flower Garland is meant to suggest the crowning glory of profound understanding.
The most important philosophical contributions of the Huayan school were in the area of its metaphysics. It taught the doctrine of the mutual containment and interpenetration of all phenomena, as expressed in Indra's net. One thing contains all other existing things, and all existing things contain that one thing.
Distinctive features of this approach to Buddhist philosophy include:
Huayan teaches the Four Dharmadhatu, four ways to view reality:
The Prajnaparamita Sutras and Madhyamaka emphasized the non-duality of form and emptiness: form is emptiness, emptiness is form, as the Heart Sutra says. The idea that the ultimate reality is present in the daily world of relative reality fitted into the Chinese culture which emphasized the mundane world and society. But this does not tell how the absolute is present in the relative world. This question is answered in such schemata as the Five Ranks of Tozan and the Oxherding Pictures.
The polarity of absolute and relative is also expressed as "essence-function". The absolute is essence, the relative is function. They can't be seen as separate realities, but interpenetrate each other. The distinction does not "exclude any other frameworks such as neng-so or "subject-object" constructions", though the two "are completely different from each other in terms of their way of thinking".
In Korean Buddhism, essence-function is also expressed as "body" and "the body's functions":
[A] more accurate definition (and the one the Korean populace is more familiar with) is "body" and "the body's functions". The implications of "essence/function" and "body/its functions" are similar, that is, both paradigms are used to point to a nondual relationship between the two concepts.
Advaita took over from the Madhyamika the idea of levels of reality. Usually two levels are being mentioned, but Shankara uses sublation as the criterion to postulate an ontological hierarchy of three levels:[web 15]
This nondual consciousness is seen as a common stratum to different religions. Several definitions or meanings are combined in this approach, which makes it possible to recognize various traditions as having the same essence. According to Renard, many forms of religion are based on an experiential or intuitive understanding of "the Real" According to Wolfe,
The teachings of nonduality have begun to come of age in the West, recognized (at last) as the central essence of Zen, Dzochen, Tao, Vedanta, Sufism, and of Christians such as Meister Eckhart. In particular, the recorded teachings of sages (such as Ramana Maharshi and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj) have paved the way for a contemporary generation of illuminating speakers and writers.
Though the notion of nondualism as common essence is a modern notion, some of the included traditions themselves also refer to levels of truth which transcend even non-dualism. In Kashmir Shaivism, the term "paradvaita" is being used, meaning "the supreme and absolute non-dualism".[web 19] And Gaudapada, the grandteacher of Shankara, states that, from the absolute standpoint, not even "non-dual" exists.
The idea of a common essence is objected by Yandell, who discerns various "religious experiences" and their corresponding doctrinal settings, which differ in structure and phenomenological content, and in the "evidential value" they present. Yandell discerns five sorts:
Nondualism as commeon essence prefers the term "nondualism", instead of monism, because this understanding is "nonconceptual", "not graspapable in an idea".[note 20] Even to call this "ground of reality" "One" or "Oneness" is attributing a characteristic to that ground of reality. The only thing that can be said is that it is "not two" or "non-dual":[web 20]
Non-dualism is not monism. Unlike monism, non-dualism does not reduce everything to a conceptual unity. It simply confesses that ultimate reality is non-dual, beyond thought and speech, and this apprehension is arrived at through a supra-relational intuition. Not two does not imply "therefore, one." Not-two is meant to silence the chattering mind. Only when the mind has been silenced is the revelation of non-duality discovered.
The idea of nonduality as "the central essence" is part of a modern mutual exchange and synthesis of ideas between western spiritual and esoteric traditions and Asian religious revival and reform movements.[note 22] Western predecessors are, among others, Orientalism, Transcendentalism, Theosophy, the idea of a Perennial Philosophy, New Age, and Wilber's synthesis of western psychology and Asian spirituality.
The western world has been exposed to Indian religious since the late 18th century. In 1785 appeared the first western translation of a Sanskrit-text. It marked the growing interest in the Indian culture and languages. The first translation of Upanishads appeared in in two parts in 1801 and 1802, which influenced Arthur Schopenhauer, who called them "the consolation of my life".[note 24] Early translations also appeared in other European languages.
Transcendentalism was an early 19th-century liberal Protestant movement that developed in the 1830s and 1840s in the Eastern region of the United States. It was rooted in English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Herder and Schleiermacher, and the skepticism of Hume.[web 21]
The Transcendentalists emphasised an intuitive, experiential approach of religion.[web 22] Following Schleiermacher, an individual's intuition of truth was taken as the criterium for truth.[web 22] In the late 18th and early 19th century, the first translations of Hindu texts appeared, which were also read by the Transcendentalists, and influenced their thinking.[web 22] They also endorsed universalist and Unitarianist ideas, leading to Unitarian Universalism, the idea that there must be truth in other religions as well, since a loving God would redeem all living beings, not just Christians.[web 22][web 23]
Among the transcendentalists' core beliefs was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. Transcendentalists believed that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupted the purity of the individual. They had faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.
A major force in the mutual influence of eastern and western ideas and religiosity was the Theosophical Society. It searched for ancient wisdom in the east, spreading eastern religious ideas in the west. One of its salient features was the belief in "Masters of Wisdom"[note 25], "beings, human or once human, who have transcended the normal frontiers of knowledge, and who make their wisdom available to others". The Theosophical Society also spread western ideas in the east, aiding a modernisation of eastern traditions, and contributing to a growing nationalism in the Asian colonies.[note 26]
Neo-Vedanta, also called "neo-Hinduism" and "Hindu Universalism",[web 24] is a modern interpretation of Hinduism which developed in response to western colonialism and orientalism, and aims to present Hinduism as a "homogenized ideal of Hinduism" with Advaita Vedanta as its central doctrine.
Unitarianism, and the idea of Universalism, was brought to India by missionaries, and had a major influence on neo-Hinduism via Ram Mohan Roy's Brahmo Samaj. Roy attempted to modernise and reform Hinduism, taking over Christian social ideas and the idea of Universalism. One of the main proponents of those universalists ideas was Vivekananda, who popularised his modernised inerpretation of Advaita Vedanta in the 19th and early 20th century in both India and the west, emphasising anubhava ("personal experience" over scriptural authority.
According to the Perennial Philosophy, there is an ultimate reality underlying the various religions. 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.
[P]eople can differentiate experience from interpretation, such that different interpretations may be applied to otherwise identical experiences".
The "common-core thesis" is criticised by "diversity theorists" such as S.T Katz and W. Proudfoot. They argue that
[N]o unmediated experience is possible, and that in the extreme, language is not simply used to interpret experience but in fact constitutes experience.
The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its central precepts have been described as "drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational psychology, holistic health, parapsychology, consciousness research and quantum physics". The term New Age refers to the coming astrological Age of Aquarius.[web 25]
The New Age aims to create "a spirituality without borders or confining dogmas" that is inclusive and pluralistic. It holds to "a holistic worldview", emphasising that the Mind, Body and Spirit are interrelated and that there is a form of monism and unity throughout the universe.[web 26] It attempts to create "a worldview that includes both science and spirituality" and embraces a number of forms of mainstream science as well as other forms of science that are considered fringe.
Hindu philosophy is traditionally divided into six āstika (Sanskrit: आस्तिक "orthodox") schools of thought, or darśanam (दर्शनम्, "view"), which accept the Vedas as supreme revealed scriptures. Three other nāstika (नास्तिक "heterodox") schools don't draw upon the Vedas as the sole primary authoritative text, but may emphasize other traditions of thought. The āstika schools are:
The nāstika schools are (in chronological order):
Medieval Indian philosophers like Vidyāraṇya classify Indian philosophy into sixteen schools, where schools belonging to Saiva, Pāṇini and Raseśvara thought are included with others, and the three Vedantic schools Advaita, Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita (which had emerged as distinct schools by then) are classified separately.
In Hindu history, the distinction of the six orthodox schools was current in the Gupta period "golden age" of Hinduism. With the disappearance of Vaisheshika and Mimamsa, it was obsolete by the later Middle Ages, when the various sub-schools of Vedanta (Dvaita "dualism", Advaita Vedanta "non-dualism" and others) began to rise to prominence as the main divisions of religious philosophy. Nyaya survived into the 17th century as Navya Nyaya "Neo-Nyaya", while Samkhya gradually lost its status as an independent school, its tenets absorbed into Yoga and Vedanta.
The manifold universe is, in truth, a Single Reality. There is only one Great Being, which the sages call Brahman, in which all the countless forms of existence reside. That Great Being is utter Consciousness, and It is the very Essence, or Self (Atman) of all beings."[web 28]
The quote seems to give a subtle reinterpretation, in which the distinction between Real and maya is replaced by a notion of interconnectedness or pantheism. This approach has also been criticized:
Shankara himself emphasises the duality between subject and object, as in his commentary on the Brahman Sutras:
It is obvious that the subject and the object — that is, the Self (Atman) and the Not-Self, which are as different as darkness and light are — cannot be identified with each other. It is a mistake to superimpose upon the subject or Self (that is, the "I," whose nature is consciousness) the characteristics of the object or Not-"I" (which is non-intelligent), and to superimpose the subject and its attributes on the object. Nonetheless, man has a natural tendency, rooted in ignorance (avidya), not to distinguish clearly between subject and object, although they are in fact absolutely distinct, but rather to superimpose upon each the characteristic nature and attributes of the other. This leads to a confusion of the Real (the Self) and the Unreal (the Not-Self) and causes us to say such [silly] things as "I am that," "That is mine," and so on...[web 29]
But the Advaita tradition also acknowledges turiya, a fourth state of pure consciousness. It is the background that underlies and transcends the three common states of consciousness of waking, dreaming and dreanless sleep.[web 30] [web 31] In this consciousness both absolute and relative, Saguna Brahman and Nirguna Brahman, are transcended. It is the true state of experience of the infinite (ananta) and non-different (advaita/abheda), free from the dualistic experience which results from the attempts to conceptualize ( vipalka) reality. It is the state in which ajativada, non-origination, is apprehended.
Yoga is a commonly known generic term for physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines which originated in ancient India. Specifically, yoga is one of the six āstika ("orthodox") schools of Hindu philosophy. One of the most detailed and thorough expositions on the subject are the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Various traditions of yoga are found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
Yoga is traditionally closely associated with Samkhya. Sāmkhya is an enumerationist philosophy that is strongly dualist. Sāṃkhya denies the final cause of Ishvara (God). Sāmkhya philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two realities; Puruṣa (consciousness) and prakriti (phenomenal realm of matter). Jiva is that state in which puruṣa is bonded to prakriti through the glue of desire, and the end of this bondage is moksha. Samkhya does not describe what happens after moksha and does not mention anything about Ishwara or God, because after liberation there is no essential distinction of individual and universal puruṣa.
There are differences between Samkhya and Western forms of dualism. In the West, the fundamental distinction is between mind and body which are both inanimate or jaDa in Sāmkhya. In Samkhya, however, the dualism is between the real self (as puruṣa) and matter (prakriti). There are three possible states of existence of puruṣa: the liberated state when puruṣa has no connection with prakriti, the bonded state without life when puruṣa is bonded to thirteen karanas but does not have a body, and the physical state as a living being or jiva when this jiva gets attached to a body. Therefore, the theory of rebirth or transmigration of the soul is inherent in Samkhya.
It is often said [by Western scholarship] that, like classical Sāṃkha, Patañjali's yoga is a dualistic system, understood in terms of puruṣa and prakṛti. Yet, I submit, yoga scholarship has not clarified what "dualistic" means or why yoga had to be "dualistic". Even in avowedly non-dualistic systems of thought such as Advaita Vedanta we can find numerous examples of basically dualistic modes of description and explanation."
According to Swami Rājarshi, the historical synthesis of the School of Yoga introduces the principle of Saguna Brahman as "Isvara", controller or God, to reconcile "the transcendental, nondual monism of vedanta and the pluralistic, dualistic, atheism of sankhya". Vedanta is "advandva", "nonduality of the highest truth at the transcendental level". Samkhya is "dvandva", "duality or pairs of opposites". According to Swami Rājarshi, "sankhya presents truth of the same reality but at a lower empirical level, rationally analyzing the principle of dvandva. Yoga philosophy "presents the synthesis of vedanta and sankhya, reconciling at once monism and dualism, the supermundane and the empirical".
Kashmir Shaivism is a school of Śaivism consisting of Trika, the three goddesses Parā, Parāparā and Aparā, and its philosophical articulation in Pratyabhijña, a branch of Kashmir Shaivism. It is described by Abhinavagupta[note 28]as "paradvaita", meaning "the supreme and absolute non-dualism".[web 32]
The philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism can be seen in contrast to Shankara's Advaita. Advaita Vedanta holds that Brahman is inactive (niṣkriya) and the phenomenal world is an illusion (māyā). In Kashmir Shavisim, all things are a manifestation of the Universal Consciousness, Chit or Brahman. Kashmir Shavisim sees the phenomenal world (Śakti) as real: it exists, and has its being in Consciousness (Chit).
Anuttara is the ultimate principle in Kashmir Shaivism. It is the fundamental reality underneath the whole Universe. Among the multiple interpretations of anuttara are: "supreme", "above all" and "unsurpassed reality". In the Sanskrit alphabet anuttara is associated to the first letter - "A" (in devanagari "अ"). As the ultimate principle, anuttara is identified with Śiva, Śakti (as Śakti is identical to Śiva), the supreme consciousness (cit), uncreated light (prakāśa), supreme subject (aham) and atemporal vibration (spanda).
The goal of Kashmir Shaivism is to merge in Shiva or Universal Consciousness, or realise one's already existing identity with Shiva, by means of wisdom, yoga and grace. The practitioner who realizes anuttara through any means, whether by her own efforts or by direct transmission by the Grace of Shiva/shakti, is liberated and perceives absolutely no difference between herself and the body of the universe. Being and beings become one and the same by virtue of the "erotic friction," whereby subject perceives object and in that act of perception is filled with nondual being/consciousness/bliss. Anuttara is different from the notion of transcendence in that, even though it is above all, it does not imply a state of separation from the Universe.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion which holds the view of non-dualism. A principal cause of suffering in Sikhism is the ego (ahankar in Punjabi), the delusion of identifying oneself as an individual separate from the surroundings. From the ego arises the desires, pride, emotional attachments, anger, lust, etc., thus putting humans on the path of destruction. According to Sikhism, the true nature of all humans is the same as God, and everything that originates with God. The goal of a Sikh is to conquer the ego and realize one's true nature or self, which is the same as God's.
[N]o longer represents the Absolute to himself, because the distinction between self and other, I and not-I disappears into a knowing that knows without immediately splitting into subject and object.
Theravada Buddhism rejects the quest for a "true Self":[web 34]
[A]ny quest for the discovery of selfhood, whether as a permanent individual self or as an absolute universal self, would have to be dismissed as a delusion, a metaphysical blunder born from a failure to properly comprehend the nature of concrete experience. According to the Pali Suttas, the individual being is merely a complex unity of the five aggregates, which are all stamped with the three marks of impermanence, suffering, and selflessness. Any postulation of selfhood in regard to this compound of transient, conditioned phenomena is an instance of "personality view" (sakkayaditthi), the most basic fetter that binds beings to the round of rebirths. The attainment of liberation, for Buddhism, does not come to pass by the realization of a true self or absolute "I," but through the dissolution of even the subtlest sense of selfhood in relation to the five aggregates, "the abolition of all I-making, mine-making, and underlying tendencies to conceit."[web 34]
Madhyamaka, also known as Śūnyavāda, refers primarily to a Mahāyāna Buddhist school of philosophy founded by Nāgārjuna. According to Madhyamaka all phenomena are empty of "substance" or "essence" (Sanskrit: svabhāva) because they are dependently co-arisen. Likewise it is because they are dependently co-arisen that they have no intrinsic, independent reality of their own.
In Chapter 15 of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā Nagarjuna centers on the words svabhava [note 30], parabhava[note 31], bhava [note 32] and abhava.[note 33] Nagarjuna rejects the notion of inherent or independent existence. The rejection of inherent existence does not imply that there is no existence at all. What it does mean is that there is no "unique nature or substance (svabhava)" in the "things" we perceive:
Madhyamaka also rejects the existence of an absolute reality or Self. Ultimately, "absolute reality" is not an absolute, or the non-duality of a personal self and an absolute Self, but the deconstruction of such reifications.
According to Huntington and Wangchen, the actualization of emptiness is non-dualistic:
With the actualization of emptiness, manifest in wisdom as an effect, the bodhisattva gains access to the nondualistic knowledge of a buddha.
We cannot predicate anything of prajna except to say that when it is properly prajna it must be as open as that which it perceives. In this sense we might say that subjective and objective poles, (prajna and shunyata) coincide. With this understanding, rather than saying that prajna is shunyata, we can try to describe the experience by saying that it has gone beyond the dualism of subject and object.
Yogācāra (Sanskrit; literally: "yoga practice"; "one whose practice is yoga") is an influential school of Buddhist philosophy and psychology emphasizing phenomenology and (some argue) ontology through the interior lens of meditative and yogic practices. It developed within Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism in about the 4th century CE.
One of the main features of Yogācāra philosophy is the concept of vijñapti-mātra. It is often used interchangeably with the term citta-mātra, but they have different meanings. The standard translation of both terms is "consciousness-only" or "mind-only." Several modern researchers object this translation, and the accompanying label of "absolute idealism" or "idealistic monism". A better translation for vijñapti-mātra is representation-only.
According to Kochumuttom, Yogacara is an realistic pluralism. It does not deny the existence of individual beings:
What it denies are:
- That the absolute mode of reality is consciousness/mind/ideas,
- That the individual beings are transformations or evolutes of an absolute consciousness/mind/idea,
- That the individual beings are but illusory appearances of a monistic reality.
Vijñapti-mātra then means "mere representation of consciousness:
[T]he phrase vijñaptimātratā-vāda means a theory which says that the world as it appears to the unenlightened ones is mere representation of consciousness. Therefore, any attempt to interpret vijñaptimātratā-vāda as idealism would be a gross misunderstanding of it.
The term vijñapti-mātra replaced the "more metaphysical" term citta-mātra used in the Lankavatara Sutra. The Lankavatara Sutra "appears to be one of the earliest attempts to provide a philosophical justification for the Absolutism that emerged in Mahayana in relation to the concept of Buddha". It uses the term citta-mātra, which means properly "thought-only". By using this term it develops an ontology, in contrast to the epistemology of the term vijñapti-mātra. The Lankavatara Sutra equates citta and the absolute. According to Kochumuttom, this not the way Yogacara uses the term vijñapti:
[T]he absolute state is defined simply as emptiness, namely the emptiness of subject-object distinction. Once thus defined as emptiness (sunyata), it receives a number of synonyms, none of which betray idealism.
The term citta-mātra was used in Tibet and East Asia interchangeably with "Yogācāra", although modern scholars believe it is inaccurate to conflate the two terms.
[K]oan after koan explores the theme of nonduality. Hakuin's well-known koan, "Two hands clap and there is a sound, what is the sound of one hand?" is clearly about two and one. The koan asks, you know what duality is, now what is nonduality? In "What is your original face before your mother and father were born?" the phrase "father and mother" alludes to duality. This is obvious to someone versed in the Chinese tradition, where so much philosophical thought is presented in the imagery of paired opposites. The phrase "your original face" alludes to the original nonduality.
Comparable statements are: "Look at the flower and the flower also looks"; "Guest and host interchange".
The monk himself in his seeking is the koan. Realization of this is the insight; the response to the koan [...] Subject and object - this is two hands clapping. When the monk realizes that the koan is not merely an object of consciousness but is also he himself as the activity of seeking an answer to the koan, then subject and object are no longer separate and distinct [...] This is one hand clapping.
awakening occurs at the breakdown of the subject-object distinction expressed in "seeing" (subject of experience) and "one's nature" (object of experience) [...] In koan training, the insight comes precisely in the fact that the traditional distinction between a subject of consciousness and an object of consciousness ("two hands clapping") has broken down. The subject seeing and the object seen are not independent and different. "One's nature" and "seeing" are not two. To realize, in both senses of "realize," this fundamental non-duality is the point of koan practice and what makes it mystical insight. One gets to this fundamental realization not through the rational understanding of a conceptual truth, but through the constant repetition of the koan. One merely repeats the koan without being given any instruction on why or how. Ritual formalism leads to mystical insight.
Various accounts can be found which describe this "becoming one" and the resulting breakthrough:
I was dead tired. That evening when I tried to settle down to sleep, the instant I laid my head on the pillow, I saw: "Ah, this outbreath is Mu!" Then: the in-breath too is Mu!" Next breath, too: Mu! Nex breath: Mu, Mu! "Mu, a whole sequence of Mu! Croak, croak; meow, meow - these too are Mu! The bedding, the waal, the column, the sliding-door - these too are Mu! This, that and everything is Mu! Ha ha! Ha ha ha ha Ha! that roshi is a rascal! He's always tricking people with his 'Mu, Mu, Mu'!...[note 36]
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, where it is also given the nomenclature "Dzogchen" and in one evocation the ninth in a nine vehicle system. The nine vehicles in both the Bonpo and Buddhadharma traditions are different but they mutually inform. In Dzogchen, for both the Bonpo and Nyingmapa, 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.
Svabhava (Sanskrit; Wylie: rang bzhin) is very important in the nontheistic theology of the Bonpo Dzogchen 'Great Perfection' tradition where it is part of a technical language to acknowledges the ontological identity of macrocosm and microcosm :
The View of the Great Perfection further acknowledges the ontological identity of the macrocosmic and microcosmic realities through the threefold axiom of Condition (ngang), Ultimate Nature (rang bzhin) and Identity (bdag nyid) [...] The non-duality between the Ultimate Nature (i.e., the unaltered appearance of all phenomena) and the Condition (i.e., the Basis of all [kun gzhi]) is called the Identity (bdag nyid). This unicum of primordial purity (ka dag) and spontaneous accomplishment (lhun grub) is the Way of Being (gnas lugs) of the Pure-and-Perfect-Mind [byang chub (kyi) sems].
Ngakpa Chögyam, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher from Wales, explains that nonduality, or emptiness, has two facets:
[O]ne is the empty, or nondual, and the other is form, or duality. Therefore, duality is not illusory but is instead one aspect of nonduality. Like the two sides of a coin, the formless reality has two dimensions – one is form, the other is formless. When we perceive duality as separate from nonduality (or nonduality as separate from duality), we do not engage the world of manifestation from a perspective of oneness, and thereby we fall into an erroneous relationship with it. From this perspective it is not "life" or duality that is maya, or illusion; rather, it is our relationship to the world that is illusory."
The Chinese word Tao has an etymological relationship to the Sanskrit root sound "da", which means "to divide something whole into parts". The ancient Sanskrit word dharma is also related to this root. In the Buddhist tradition, dharma means "that which is to be held fast, kept, an ordinance or law [...] the absolute, the real." So, both dharma and Tao refer to the way that the One, the unfathomable unity of the divine, divides into parts and manifests in the world of form.[note 37]
Taoism's wu wei (Chinese wu, not; wei, doing) is a term with various translations[note 38] and interpretations designed to distinguish it from passivity. 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.
Subud is a spiritual movement that began in Java, Indonesia in the 1920s as a movement founded by Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo.[note 39] Java has been a melting pot of religions and cultures, which has created a broad range of religious belief. Muhammad Subuh claimed that Subud is not a new teaching or religion but only that the latihan kejiwaan itself is the kind of proof that humanity is looking for. Pak Subuh gives the following descriptions of Subud:
This is the symbol of a person who has a calm and peaceful inner feeling and who is able to receive the contact with the Great Holy Life Force.
The name "Subud" is an acronym that stands for three Javanese words, Susila Budhi Dharma, which are derived from the Sanskrit terms suzila, bodhi and dharma. Pak Subuh gives the following definitions:
The basis of Subud is a spiritual exercise commonly referred to as the latihan kejiwaan, the guidance from "the Power of God" or "the Great Life Force". The latihan is a vivid encounter which is fresh, alive and personal. It evolves and deepens over time.
According to Michaelson, nonduality begins to appear in the medieval Jewish textual tradition which peaked in Hasidism:
As a Jewish religious notion, nonduality begins to appear unambigously in Jewish texts during the medieval period, increasing in frequency in the centuries thereafter and peaking at the turn of the nineteenth century, with the advent of Hasidism. It is certainly possible that earlier Jewish texts may suggest nonduality – as, of course, they have been interpreted by traditional nondualists – but...this may or may not be the most useful way to approach them."
Michaelson explores nonduality in the tradition of Judaism:
Judaism has within it a strong and very ancient mystical tradition that is deeply nondualistic. "Ein Sof" or infinite nothingness is considered the ground face of all that is. God is considered beyond all proposition or preconception. The physical world is seen as emanating from the nothingness as the many faces "partsufim" of god that are all a part of the sacred nothingness.
The Cloud of Unknowing an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century advocates a mystic relationship with God. The text describes a spiritual union with God through the heart. The author of the text advocates centering prayer, a form of inner silence. According to the text God can not be known through knowledge or from intellection. It is only by emptying the mind of all created images and thoughts that we can arrive to experience God. According to the text God is completely unknowable by the mind. God is not known through the intellect but through intense contemplation, motivated by love, and stripped of all thought.
Christian Science has been described as nondual. In a glossary of terms written by the founder, Mary Baker Eddy, matter is defined as illusion, and when defining 'I, or Ego' as the divine in relationship with individual identity, she writes "There is but one I, or Us, but one divine Principle, or Mind, governing all existence" – continuing – ". . .whatever reflects not this one Mind, is false and erroneous, even the belief that life, substance, and intelligence are both mental and material."
Griffiths' (1906–1993) form of Vedanta-inspired or nondual Christianity, coming from the Christian Ashram Movement, has inspired papers by Bruno Barnhart discussing 'Wisdom Christianity' or 'Sapiential Christianity'. Barnhart (1999: p. 238) explores Christian nondual experience in a dedicated volume and states that he gives it the gloss of "unitive" experience and "perennial philosophy". Further, Barnhart (2009) holds that:
It is quite possible that nonduality will emerge as the theological principle of a rebirth of sapiential Christianity ('wisdom Christianity') in our time."
Eastern contemplative techniques have been integrated in Christian practices, such as centering prayer.[web 35] But this integration has also raised questions about the borders between these traditions.[web 36]
According to the teachings of The Infinite Way, God is a non-dual experience. Joel wrote that thought and ideas in the mind take people away from the realization of God. To experience God, Joel recommended meditation and for the subject to tune into the present moment so duality of the subject disappears.
Thomism, though not non-dual in the ordinary sense, considers the unity of God so absolute that even the duality of subject and predicate, to describe him, can be true only by analogy. In Thomist thought, even the Tetragrammaton is only an approximate name, since "I am" involves a predicate whose own essence is its subject.
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Sufism and Irfan (Arabic تصوف taṣawwuf) are the mystical traditions 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[note 40] through various spiritual exercises and a persistent, ever-increasing longing for union with the divine:
The goal 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 [are veils] [...] 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.
Scholar Jay Michaelson identifies the origins of non-dualism proper founded in the Neoplatonism of Plotinus within Ancient Greece, and employs the ambiguous binary construction of "the West":[note 41]
Conceptions of nonduality evolve historically. As a philosophical notion, it is most clearly found for the first time in the West in the second century C.E, in the Neoplatonism of Plotinus and his followers."
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Ananda Coomaraswamy used the writing of Plotinus in their own texts as a superlative elaboration upon Indian monism, specifically Upanishadic and Advaita Vedantic thought. Ananda Coomaraswamy has compared Plotinus' teachings to the Hindu school of Advaita Vedanta (advaita meaning "not two" or "non-dual"),
Advaita Vedanta and Neoplatonism have been compared by J. F. Staal, Frederick Copleston, Aldo Magris and Mario Piantelli, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Gwen Griffith-Dickson, and John Y. Fenton.
Theriault (2005) in a thesis explores comparative non-dual experience and the psycho-spiritual mechanisms that bring this awareness about.
Lewis (2007) in her thesis explores a number of specific women's experiences on their journey to wholeness and healthfulness in the nondual path of Tantra post-sexual trauma and identifies common themes.
A Course in Miracles is an expression of nondualism that is independent of any religious denomination. For instance in a workshop entitled 'The Real World' led by two of its more prominent teachers, Kenneth Wapnick and Gloria Wapnick, Gloria explains how discordant the course is from the teachings of Christianity:
"The course is very clear in that God did not create the physical world or universe - or anything physical. It parts ways right at the beginning. If you start with the theology of the course, there's nowhere you can reconcile from the beginning, because the first book of Genesis talks about God creating the world, and then the animals and humans, et cetera. The course parts company at page one with the Bible."
A Course in Miracles presents an interpretation of nondualism that recognises only "God" (i.e. absolute reality) as existing in any way, and nothing else existing at all. In a book entitled The Disappearance of the Universe, which explains and elaborates on A Course in Miracles, it says in its second chapter that we "don't even exist in an individual way - not on any level. There is no separated or individual soul. There is no Atman, as the Hindus call it, except as a mis-thought in the mind. There is only God." A verse from the course itself that displays its interpretation of nondualism is found in Chapter 14:
"The first in time means nothing, but the First in eternity is God the Father, Who is both First and One. Beyond the First there is no other, for there is no order, no second or third, and nothing but the First."
Metaphors for nondualisms