What is this like in daily life ? How does it manifest when dealing with insults? Ambition? Materialism?

  • Non-duality is Hinduism (which was adopted by Mahayana Buddhism). I think the questions you have asked and issues you have mentioned can be addressed with teachings other than 'non-duality'. Jul 1, 2018 at 21:27
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    @Dhammadhatu The tag definition for 'nonduality' ends with, "Nonduality is the occurrence of non-self". I think that "non-duality" is a superset of the "non-self" doctrine -- so if you wanted to answer as if the question were asking about "non-self", then I think that might be on-topic (except only that "The Buddha didn't teach anatta to lay-people" wouldn't be much of an answer, however true that may be).
    – ChrisW
    Jul 2, 2018 at 11:15
  • I feel the question is phrased in a tricky way. Non-duality would be the true nature of Reality so we all live with it, knowingly or otherwise. I think you mean what is it like living as a realised master. This question might yield better results.
    – user14119
    Dec 21, 2018 at 14:31

6 Answers 6


Non-duality in essence means that samsara and nirvana are one, and this further corresponds to emptiness and interconnectedness of all beings. For instance, we have mostly positive and comfortable, wealthy lives in the West, but that corresponds to the terrible situation in the third world countries that are exploited to provide West with all the comfort (example given, China or some African, exploited countries). Another common example is that there cannot be Lotus without Mud, one allows the other to exist. Or Left political wing cannot exist without the Right.

Non-duality is mainly Mahayana and Vajrayana concept. If you'd like to know more, read Heart Sutra along with some decent commentary. I recommend "The heart of understanding" by Thich Nhat Hanh, if you are getting lost in the practical way.

Another example from perspective of realised being (Bodhisattva), Diamond Sutra explains it quite well as a universal teaching:

However many species of living beings there are—whether born from eggs, from the womb, from moisture, or spontaneously; whether they have form or do not have form; whether they have perceptions or do not have perceptions; or whether it cannot be said of them that they have perceptions or that they do not have perceptions, we must lead all these beings to nirvana so that they can be liberated. Yet when this innumerable, immeasurable, infinite number of beings has become liberated, we do not, in truth, think that a single being has been liberated

For one there is pledge for non-discrimination, which requires non-dual way of thinking (i.e. Me versus Them, Ugly versus Beautiful), but also aspect of spontaneous helping; helping without distinguishing between the person that's being helped, and the helper.

Concluding, I think what you really mean is not non-duality per se, but applying wisdom of the teaching through Mindfulness. This way is fully described by Buddha in step four of the Noble Truths; Eightfold Path that is.

You don't have to really do much more, everything is there! Do good, avoid evil, purify your mind and also, remember three characteristics; impermanence, no-Self and that there is suffering. If you keep recollection of these at all times, you will transform your drives and habits.

  • Isn't the example in your first paragraph ("wealthy lives in the West") an example of duality, not of non-duality? I thought that a corresponding example of non-duality might be, something like, "(my) charity (to help someone else) improves (my) standard of living (as well as theirs)", or, "everyone lives and dies", or etc.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 2, 2018 at 12:02
  • It is an example of rich elements build of non-rich elements, as in they are contained within each other. All of these examples are from TNH’s Heart Sutra commentary.
    – user13383
    Jul 2, 2018 at 12:25
  • All of these examples are from TNH’s Heart Sutra commentary Are they? I didn't notice it in The Heart of Understanding -- by searching for "West", "rich", "China", or "Africa" ... or "lotus". There is a bit there though about "left" and "right", "good" and "evil".
    – ChrisW
    Jul 2, 2018 at 16:03
  • You should get plenty of hits around page 42 and chapter “Roses and Garbage” although what I have written is not literal quote as I have read it long time ago, it should still convey its spirit and meaning, example (from this chapter): goodreads.com/quotes/…
    – user13383
    Jul 2, 2018 at 16:43
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    Thank you yes, that's a good chapter (its next explanation, after the rose, is to do with whether child prostitutes are impure). FWIW I see nation-scale poverty as relative or comparative, e.g. "China appears to be poor because the West appears to be rich". I do remember seeing China's ambassador to the USA say in about 1990 (on the subject of "what good is the Chinese government doing?") that for the first time in history almost everyone in China now has enough to eat (i.e. that China too, in general, is less poor than it used to be).
    – ChrisW
    Jul 2, 2018 at 17:04

We obviously have names and legal existence. In Other words Im a father,husband and have a job .

I think there is a mistake already in saying "I am a father....". If you only say it as a way of communicating conventionally, then ok. But believing the meaning of the words, then no. Conventionally speaking I am married. But I don't feel a meaning behind those words. There is nothing behind the words. (Sorry, can't put it in better words. See here the limitations of communication. :( )

Things are expected of this body. I know as a Buddhist I am meant to follow the four precepts but day to day how does non duality operate for you ?

On a day to day practice I follow the five precepts. (Your tradition knows four?) But, I'm not meant to do anything. I train myself in the precepts of my own choice. It's a daily thing. Getting up, paying respect to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, then reciting the precepts and then I pick something to train myself in for the next 24 hours. It's my own personal touch of Dhamma practice. So, that one topic can be:

  • paying special attention to the fourth precept (not to ly, speak harshly etc).;
  • keeping an eye on the hinderances;
  • staying with the sense doors;
  • training one of the ten parami (metta or khanti are the ones I pick most of the time);
  • (put other objects of your choice here ....)

How do you deal with material desire? Insults? Etc the slings and arrows of life.

Desire doesn't come up that often anymore. Especially material desire. It's just no longer there. Insults are often just 'hearing, hearing'. But sometimes the mind reacts with aversion. Then I note this as 'aversion, aversion' or 'anger, anger'.. depends.

I guess, you could say that there is no difference anymore between formal practice and daily life.

Hope this helps. I might have misunderstood your question, given that my answer completely differs from what others already wrote.


I think that "non-duality" is a slightly later doctrine, which can be understood as a superset of several earlier/original doctrines -- when I say, "a superset", I mean that earlier doctrines are examples of (or instances of) the more general non-duality doctrine -- that non-duality can include or contain earlier doctrines.

Someone on this site wrote this tag definition (for the tag), which ends with:

Nonduality is the occurrence of non-self.

I'm not sure that's a conventional description of nonduality -- there's a description of the "non-duality" doctrine here, but I'm not sure how to apply that in practice (it seems to me to be discussing or explaining points of doctrine rather than aspects of practical life) -- so instead I'll try to answer your question, by explaining:

  1. How the doctrine described in the suttas is practical or helpful, prescriptive
  2. Why I consider that doctrine to be examples of "non-duality".

The first (and, in my opinion, the most important) bit of doctrine, is the second noble truth -- that suffering co-arises with craving and attachment.

And I think that craving and attachment are examples of "duality", for example:

  • This is where and how I am -- in this situation, with these problems
  • That is where and how I crave to be -- in that situation, without problems, with those assets

"I perceive and vainly wish there weren't an unbridgeable difference between this and that" is IMO an example of duality and of suffering -- and working to erase that perceived difference (different between "this so-called reality" compared to "that fantasy or ideal") is a practical manifestation of non-duality.

Note that Buddhism distinguishes between "craving" (tanha) and "desire" (chanda).

Craving is associated with suffering (because it implies an unbridgeable or an endless craving for things to be other than as they are), but desire (e.g. a skilful desire for non-suffering) may be good.

Another example of "duality" is found in the idiom "it takes two to tango" -- it's defined as (for example), "both parties involved in a situation or argument are equally responsible for it."

On the subject of "insults" I think that this sutta is a clear example of not being insulted: Akkosa Sutta (SN 7.2).

I think there's a similar example (involving anger) in the opening lines of the Dhammapada:

  1. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

  2. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.

  3. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

There I think that "hatred", and seeing a split between "him" and "me", and an unbridgeable gap between "he hit me" and some fantasy ideal in which there's a me who wasn't hit, is an example of dualistic thinking -- and in contrast, "non-hatred" is an example of non-dual thinking.

I think that a further example, of (maybe) "non-dual" thinking, from the Dhammapada comes in the 'Violence' chapter:

  1. All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.

  2. All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.

  3. One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.

  4. One who, while himself seeking happiness, does not oppress with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will find happiness hereafter.

  5. Speak not harshly to anyone, for those thus spoken to might retort. Indeed, angry speech hurts, and retaliation may overtake you.

  6. If, like a broken gong, you silence yourself, you have approached Nibbana, for vindictiveness is no longer in you.

This "putting oneself in the place of another" is an example of healing the perceived duality between self and others -- I think the practice of that is described extensively in Buddhism, e.g. it's the basis for almost all ethics (sīla), and it's related to the Brahmaviharas.

As for "ambition" and "materialism" that's a bit more complicated as a subject - or, if it's not complicated, it's broad. In practice, for example, I think that what's considered right behaviour (and ownership of material possessions) for a monk is different than for a lay-person.

Examples of what may be considered ethical behaviour for a lay-person can be found in e.g. the Sigalovada Sutta (DN 31).

But very broadly I suppose that "ambition" can be summarised along the lines of:

  • Avoiding causing suffering for yourself
  • Avoiding causing suffering for others
  • Helping to liberate others

That's difficult to explain terms of "non-duality" -- because "non-duality" might posit that there's no essential difference between "yourself" and "others"; that any self-view is unwise; or that there's no tangible difference between the real (e.g. samsara) and the ideal (e.g. nirvana).

I think the key is to have an 'unselfish' and 'wise' view (of existence and/or non-existence), to follow through (from that view) with right intention, and so on (with right or noble concentration or mindfulness, behaviour, speech) as outlined in the noble eightfold path.

In summary I think it isn't "having the right thing" that will make you happy -- instead what leads to an absence of remorse (i.e. no difference or duality between "as it is" versus "as it ought to be") is "doing the right thing".

Returning to the Wikipedia definition for a moment:

The Buddhist tradition added the teachings of śūnyatā; the two truths doctrine, the nonduality of the absolute and the relative truth, and the Yogachara notion of "mind/thought only" (citta-matra) or "representation-only" (vijñaptimātra). Vijñapti-mātra and the two truths doctrine, coupled with the concept of Buddha-nature, have also been influential concepts in the subsequent development of Mahayana Buddhism, not only in India, but also in China and Tibet, most notably the Chán (Zen) and Dzogchen traditions.

  • I think of sunyata as an extension of the earlier anatta doctrine.

    For example, anatta teaches more-or-less that any (fixed) "view" of "self" is unwise or untrue -- that the self isn't what you think it is, and that thinking like that is a recipe for suffering and/or a consequence of not paying proper attention -- see e.g. How is it wrong to believe that a self exists, or that it doesn't?

    And I think that sunyata extends that from the "view of self" to the "view of everything else" as well -- e.g. that it's wrong to have a fixed view of things-as-they-are -- because they're not like that, or that's only one aspect of them, or a fixed view is a form of attachment, and so on.

    Also I suppose that many of the anatta techniques or reasoning (e.g. "there's no 'self', only forms and perceptions and feelings etc., impermanent and conditioned") is applicable to sunyata (e.g. "there are no 'things', only forms and perceptions and feelings etc., impermanent and conditioned").

    I think that Western philosophers have spent a lot of effort on trying to understand or explain the difference between subject and object (e.g. between "I perceive", the "I" which perceives, versus "what I perceive", the object which I am perceiving") -- and that that (example of a "duality") is not helpful and is an example of where non-duality is more practical.

  • I guess (correct me if I'm wrong) that the Buddha-nature doctrine is "practical" in that it helps to overcome the duality (the perceived split, the craving) between "I am not enlightened" versus "I want to be enlightened", by teaching that the seed or possibility of Buddha-hood exists.

I guess that (or I wonder whether), even more generally, any word (any use of words) implies some kind of division: that the word "cat", for example, implies the existence of "cat" and "non-cat".

I think there are forms of Buddhism which distrust verbal descriptions.

In early Buddhist doctrine I guess that's possibly evident in, for example, descriptions of "formless" awareness (i.e. jhanas), however in general that the early Buddhism of the suttas is not at all shy about labelling some things in a possibly "dualistic" way, e.g. distinguishing between "wise" and "unwise", "noble" and "ignoble", etc.


Appreciate all the comments and insights. I have realized that for me, when I make decisions on any issues, I ask " what will be my decisions if I take OUT my personal interest from the equation? and what will it be if personal interest is taken into account

When you compare the two you realize the role of the SELF in your life and how it affects your relationship with all things


Non-Duality is a Hindu idea of ultimate liberation or 'Moksha' as they call it, its realized when the 'atman' (permanent-self/soul) joins(coalesce together) with 'Brahman'(universal consciousness). To me, this seems like reaching the 6th jhnana where you realize 'infinity of consciousness'.

But for the sake of your question let us assume that you mean to say,

How does realization of Anatta, Annica and Dukkha help in daily life OR How do Buddhists insights help people live their daily lives?

What is this like in daily life?

Most of Daily life of a present generation lay follower is like anybody else's life only it comes with adding mindfulness everywhere. You try to walk with being mindful of steps, you try to eat being mindful of every bite and you drink tea like its a ceremony, savoring every small sip of that divine potion.

When you start cultivating the 10 Paramis and living with the 8 fold path, you will observe that day by day you start living with a positive mind state, (not to confuse with 'positive thinking') which means instead of spending days and days with hatred, anger, lust, self-pity, loathing, regrets, you start feeling good about yourselves, just because you exist. Taking a deep breath feels like a treat, being here start making a count. You start living in tune with the Dhamma which means, in words of Zen master Bankei,

'when hungry eat when tired sleep'

. That's living with non-duality, the mind is no longer split when you are eating, you are really eating, and not thinking about your work or your wife.

How does it manifest when dealing with insults?

Here is a story of the Buddha Himself dealing with the insults, it's from the Akkosa Sutta.

The more you realize the no-self, the more you drop the Ego, the more you start living without the Ego (but this should not be confused with humbleness or altruism). The less is your Ego, the less are the chances of that getting hurt when people hurl insults at you. It does not mean that you become insensitive, or dumb or numb or you start showing indifference in a passive-aggressive way. It means that your perspective of experience itself changes, instead of reacting to the insult, you start having compassion for that person in the first place for harboring anger, you learn to respond, intelligently.


Ambition is a twisted version of having desires. Having an ambition means you want to be somebody in the future which you are not at the moment, or you want to possess something or somebody in the future or you want worldly pleasures, but that's in the future. And for that desire, you are ready to do efforts hard work. In this process, your ambition ends up becoming part of your Id and Ego, which means if you won't achieve that you will end up in suffering. So what to do?

To quote Zen master Basho here,

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself.”

This does not mean that resort to inaction and just sit there. It means that you change your way of action entirely. You start living in the present moment more and more, you plan, knowing well that they are tentative, subject to change. You keep intention, like, I want to get promoted in the office, but this intention does not become an ambition, that I want to become a CEO. So, with intention, you give your best at the moment, best in the hour and best to the day in the office. When it's not an Ego issue every single bit of your Karma working in the office is going to accumulate and bring flowers of spring which may or may not be a promotion. So, you are not affected by the results anymore and hence not entitled to suffering.


Buddha taught the monks to renunciation and minimalism, but He did not prescribe the same thing for householders. So the problem of materialism can be easily tackled with deep insight into nature of Samsara, i.e. Annicca OR Impermanence. When you live by this insight, you basically learn not to cling to anything, not to get attached, not to create attachments, and simultaneously enjoy all the worldly pleasures that life has to offer. As long as your wife/ girlfriend is there with you, when she is gone, it's equally good, you don't have to cry, it was impermanent anyway, you enjoy nice clothes, good food, a good car, but tomorrow if all of this is not available and the Zombie apocalypse does happen, it should not bother you, you should be in state of equanimity. A deep insight into impermanence brings this state.


The following shows duality in an untaught ordinary person and non-duality in a fully enlightened arahant, in daily life. Duality here refers to what is your self and what is not your self, and the relationship between the two.

From MN 1:

“Here, bhikkhus, an untaught ordinary person, who has no regard for noble ones and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, who has no regard for true men and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, perceives earth as earth. Having perceived earth as earth, he conceives himself as earth, he conceives himself in earth, he conceives himself apart from earth, he conceives earth to be ‘mine,’ he delights in earth. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say.

“He perceives water as water. Having perceived water as water, he conceives himself as water, he conceives himself in water, he conceives himself apart from water, he conceives water to be ‘mine,’ he delights in water. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say.

“He perceives fire as fire. Having perceived fire as fire, he conceives himself as fire, he conceives himself in fire, he conceives himself apart from fire, he conceives fire to be ‘mine,’ he delights in fire. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say.

“He perceives air as air. Having perceived air as air, he conceives himself as air, he conceives himself in air, he conceives himself apart from air, he conceives air to be ‘mine,’ he delights in air. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say.

“He perceives beings as beings. Having perceived beings as beings, he conceives beings, he conceives himself in beings, he conceives himself apart from beings, he conceives beings to be ‘mine,’ he delights in beings. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say.

... “He perceives the seen as the seen. Having perceived the seen as the seen, he conceives himself as the seen, he conceives himself in the seen, he conceives himself apart from the seen, he conceives the seen to be ‘mine,’ he delights in the seen. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say.

“He perceives the heard as the heard. Having perceived the heard as the heard, he conceives himself as the heard, he conceives himself in the heard, he conceives himself apart from the heard, he conceives the heard to be ‘mine,’ he delights in the heard. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say.

“He perceives the sensed as the sensed. Having perceived the sensed as the sensed, he conceives himself as the sensed, he conceives himself in the sensed, he conceives himself apart from the sensed, he conceives the sensed to be ‘mine,’ he delights in the sensed. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say.

“He perceives the cognized as the cognized. Having perceived the cognized as the cognized, he conceives himself as the cognized, he conceives himself in the cognized, he conceives himself apart from the cognized, he conceives the cognized to be ‘mine,’ he delights in the cognized. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say.

On the other hand, a fully enlightened arahant:

“Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu who is an arahant with taints destroyed, who has lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached his own goal, destroyed the fetters of being, and is completely liberated through final knowledge, he too directly knows earth as earth. Having directly known earth as earth, he does not conceive himself as earth, he does not conceive himself in earth, he does not conceive himself apart from earth, he does not conceive earth to be ‘mine,’ he does not delight in earth. Why is that? Because he has fully understood it, I say.

And so on.

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