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In the meditation community it is often claimed that "everything is one", that "we are all the same Spirit", that "there is no separation". (Among other things, the book The End of Your World by Zen practitioner Adyashanti makes this claim many times.)

What is that supposed to mean?

Sure, sure, it's ineffable and beyond language and all that jazz. But what I mean is: What are the implications? What are the ramifications? Does it have any?

My impression so far is that nonduality is not actually a philosophical position. It is not a claim that can be true or false. It does not have pragmatic ramifications. Rather, as far as I can tell, nonduality is a mindset or perspective. It is a way of viewing the world, and this way of viewing has ramifications for one's subjective experience - it can lead to the reduction or end of suffering and to states of bliss.

(This is conjecture. Personally I have not been able to experience nonduality as anything other than a confusing thought.)

Is this correctly understood? Or is nonduality an actual philosophical position? If the latter, what does it imply?

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    The question, "Is it a 'philosophical' claim?" might be better answered on Philosophy.SE. I don't understand the question.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 22 at 10:46

5 Answers 5

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First, let me point out that any philosophical claim is an introduction or induction to a mindset. The point of philosophy is to bring the reader into a different, deeper, and ostensibly better way of understanding and interacting with the world. The objective/subjective distinction this question seems to be making is philosophically underdeveloped. That will (perhaps) become clearer a bit later in this post.

The essence of nondualism is that we perceive the world through the lens of mental categories that are intrinsically dualistic in the 'this'/'not-this' sense. Categories might be opposed pairs (left/right, up/down, hot/cold) or focal points (human/non-human, tree/non-tree, etc), but the point is that our mind picks out some feature of the world and latches onto it — interpreting it as unique, isolated, separate, and self-contained — while brushing all other features of the world into the collective background. That's useful. It's nice to be able to distinguish between a tree, a pedestrian, and a paved road when we're driving, and to have some sense about how each thing is going to behave (e.g. that the tree won't jump in front of us, but the pedestrian might). But ultimately these categories are purely mental objects, with a tenuous relationship to the 'objective' world. This isn't to say that there aren't 'things' in the world, but that the world is much more holistic and integrated than our categorical structures allow. The example I like to use is an ant colony: we see it as a bunch of individual ants scurrying around to serve the queen, but an alien might look at it an see the entire colony as an individual organism, with separable parts organized by chemical transmissions. Either way of looking at it is credible, which merely demonstrates that neither way of looking at it is precisely right.

The idea that all categories are superficial mental dualisms leads to some philosophical self-reflection. How much of ourselves ('I' or 'we') are superficial and dualistic categories that we've placed ourselves in? When I say I have a career, a gender, a race, a position in society, a house, a spouse, a pet mouse, that's just me saying that I have 'this' and 'not that'. What's left of 'us' when we look past all of those superficial dualisms? What is our essential beingness? Whatever it is it's common to all of us, but it isn't really necessary to see what it is. All we need to do is keep an eye on what it's not.

When we start to look into that it (necessarily) changes our attitude toward the world, the same way that letting the air out of a ballon (necessarily) changes its shape. In Eastern philosophy all disordered thought and conduct comes because we've latched onto categories and forgotten the intrinsic beingness that's common to all of us. If we (say) feel jealousy it's because in our minds we 'have' a person categorized as 'significant other', but don't see the beingness of that person (his/her capacity to feel affection towards us). That person becomes an object we must struggle to retain. When we see the person under the category, that jealousy disappears. There may be actions to be taken (e.g., if we see that our affection isn't returned), but there's no need to struggle against the world to maintain a category that was only ever superficial.

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"My impression so far is that nonduality is not actually a philosophical position. It is not a claim that can be true or false. It does not have pragmatic ramifications."

This is a very wrong impression.The whole issue is explained by Nagarjuna.

If you study philosophy, you will discover that all positive or extreme metaphysical positions are logically indefensible. This is what all philosophers discover, and what Nagarjuna proves in his Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way. This is the reason why all metaphysical questions are undecidable. They are not so in a mathematical sense, but in the sense that both their extreme (yes/no, this/that) answers do not make sense and give rise to contradictions.

The trick is to see that the claim 'All is One' does NOT imply it is a numerical One. Rather, it implies Unity or Unicity. It is on this point that so many philosophers founder. It is significant that the term advaita means 'not-two', thus carefully and explicitly avoiding the implication it is a numerical one.

This is the exact reason why mainstream Western metaphysics has made no progress since the days of Plato.

Nagarjuna's doctrine, expressed philosophically, is a neutral metaphysical position. It predicts that all metaphysical questions are undecidable, and they are! It would, therefore, be impossible to understand philosophy correctly without understanding Nagarjuna. in particular it is the idea of unity, emptiness and non-duality that must be grasped, at least to some extent.

I short, if we don't understand non-duality we don't understand philosophy, or not as any more than a large collection of intractable problems.

You will never understand non0duality until it has become for you a real phenomenon. However, it is possible to make sense of it in philosophy and employ it pragmatically as a solution for all its problems.

Non-duality, therefore, is definitely a philosophical position and, as Nagarjuna shows, is demonstrably right or wrong. It has vast pragmatic implications that extend into all areas of life and death. Not just this, but these ramifications may be calculated as a matter of logic even by a non-practitioner.

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I was hoping PeterJs answer would include a bit more on Nagarjuna's doctrine of emptiness as I think that is fundamental to what you're asking here. It's not that there's anything incorrect with that answer; I just think the emphasis is in the wrong place.

Let me start by saying that the doctrine of emptiness isn't really a doctrine at all. Emptiness is an experience that is subsequently leveraged for the purposes of insight. You can't be convinced that emptiness is true or false. It's not an ontology that one can subscribe to based evidentiary claims. Emptiness is apprehended only through meditative practice. You see emptiness as fruit of what you're doing on the cushion. Emptiness belays a fundamental shift in consciousness away from the stream of conventional thought and rumination toward a psychology that is marked by spaciousness, openness, and less preoccupation with the self. It is not a mindset or an opinion. It is a radical shift in consciousness.

But emptiness is not the whole story. This is what uniquely distinguishes Buddhism from Hinduism (or, at least, the historical Buddha's first teachers) and really just about every other religion or spiritual practice that places its highest value in the apprehension of the numinous. Once we are able to deeply and consistently enter into emptiness, the Buddha then asks us to take that experience and explore its implications in the conventional world. This is the collapsing of the world of form and emptiness as celebrated in the Heart Sutra. Through this ongoing process of entering into emptiness and coming back into form, we begin to see how form is really emptiness and emptiness is also form. This is the process of insight - the deepest definition of vipassana.

There are countless avenues that one can explore as a part of this process of integration (I mean, the final 1/3 of the Visudhimagga is dedicated to objects of insight, there's also the hundreds of Zen koans that seek to do the same, etc.) These can include things as varied as the nature of sensory perception, our own personal psychology, the nature of mind, the nature of reality, and so forth. Each of these propositions are vehicles - prompts if you will - for insights that are available to us in a mind marked by emptiness.

All that being said, nonduality is just one of hundreds of different avenues we can explore once we've got a good handle on entering emptiness. It's not that nonduality cannot be spoken of in conventional language. It can and has been pretty much ad nauseum in the Sanskrit canon. But everything written there is really just an exploration and a deepening of that initial insight where emptiness is brought to bear on the proposition of nonduality. To make all of this a bit more concrete, I can tell you a hundred different ways that that nonduality is the collapsing of subject and object, but until you hear a bird song that you know beyond reason originated within you, the concept of nonduality will remain meaningless. Until you've heard the person on the cushion next to you cough and you swallow in sympathy, nonduality is just a fancy idea. All of the canonical developments concerning nonduality that follow will lack the necessary antecedent without the the mind first actualizing the experience of emptiness. Even the richest texts become Aquinas' "handful of straw" without meditative accomplishment.

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When we talk about anything, we hold on to some context to make things clear. In our QA, the context of the theme non-duality is awareness property of the mind.

The mind cannot exist without it's contents. And what are the contents? Any sort of ordering viz perceptions, feeling, volition, consciousness, etc.

When one's mind is absolutely still, the mind becomes absorbed with the outside environment and any activities in the outside world will feel like it's happening within itself. For example, the sounds become the mind, or we might as well say the mind becomes the sound.

These are not some extra ordinary experiences because these things are happening all the time by default when we are awake. However, in non-dual state, the mind is in some sort of samadhi where the awareness becomes the object of absorption.

The non-dual state also reveals the emptiness of phenomena. What we call our mind is conjoined with the contents which we then take as a self.

A human being is really empty in itself just like a mirror. A mirror is empty in itself, whatever we see as the image is just the reflection of outside world.

Our mind is just like a mirror.

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A view can arise I am awareness, awareness is mine , awareness is myself. This is called non duality(Advait tradition in Hinduism). Consider another view , I am body , body is mine , body is myself. The view I am body seems to be self evident. You don’t need to develop the view I am body but there was a time when this view came into existence. This view became obvious. It became part of your consciousness. Similarly, the view I am awareness comes into existence. It becomes self evident or quite obvious. It becomes part of your consciousness(which includes mentality). However, as over a period of time, it is realised that I am not body , we realise that I am not awareness also holds true. This happens because all Dhamma are not self. Awareness, just like the body , is a Dhamma.

The non duality starts as a view then it gets realised but finally the view is abandoned because it is impermanent.

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  • Last line is very important. The view that gets realised. it becomes nibbana.
    – enRaiser
    Feb 29 at 8:07
  • @enRaiser That is not Nibbana because non duality is impermanent. Feb 29 at 11:13
  • exactly. thats what non duality teacher says... now you decide which view you want to cling. Mahayan buddhism is very close to non duality. and according to it , true mind, nibbana,bodhi, tathta,tathagata , infinite consciousness all means same zenawakened.com/chinul-true-mind
    – enRaiser
    Feb 29 at 11:34
  • @enRaiser Nibbana means extinguishment. It is unborn , uncreated, unbecoming. Feb 29 at 13:12
  • Extinguise into infinite awareness.
    – enRaiser
    Mar 1 at 13:34

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