There is not [was not] a tag for nonduality. Would someone please make a correspondence between nonduality and Buddhism as to "stage" or "attainment", qualifications, or whatever is applicable?

EDIT: I was thinking of Nonduality as a stage, but it is apparently seen more as a position or way of describing things? Mariana Caplan, in the book "Eyes Wide Open - Cultivating Discernement on the Spiritual Path" has this paragraph at the top of page 163 (paperback):

Ngakpa Chogyam, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher from Wales, offers a perspective on nonduality that includes all of life as a direct expression of the nondual core of truth. He explains that nonduality, or emptiness, has two facets: one is empty, or nondual, and the other is form, or duality. Therefore, duality is not illusory but is 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 the 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.

This accords with the Heart Sutra. So, I was actually asking about the Experience of this, rather than whether it is true or not. "Both is, and is not. Neither is, nor is not." (Buddha)

Second Addition: I find a correspondence between the formal / post-formal operations distinction and the observation that some people get stuck when thinking of abstractions like nonduality, and others do not. Some people are more literal and fundamental, and others are more mystical. I think this is the key to understanding differences, and post-formal thought is an ability that develops through use. Here is a link from a teacher's experience.

  • Audio recordings on Buddhist non-dualism by Ajahn Amaro and Joseph Bobrow: audiodharma.org/series/5/talk/1847
    – ruben2020
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 8:48
  • If you're not getting the answer you're looking for, can you try a more focused or specifically-Mahayana question? Like "what's the difference between non-self, emptiness, and non-duality" or something like that? Or define what you mean by non-duality and ask whether Buddhist teachers have written for or against a similar concept? Or formal versus postformal might be a modern and non-Buddhist point of view, might you be able to ask about this on e.g. Philosophy.SE?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 12:21
  • @ChrisW: I took a look, it seems like you have the Philosophy.SE camp covered. I really did not want Nonduality to be about philosophical argument when it is plainly a matter of experience. "There is no need to debate, go there and see yourself."
    – user2341
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 12:50

2 Answers 2


There's an article on that subject Dhamma and Non-duality by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

The following is basically all direct quotes from that article, except very summarized (I'm extracting sentences and sentence fragments).

Non-dual system

For the Vedanta, non-duality (advaita) means the absence of an ultimate distinction between the Atman, the innermost self, and Brahman, the divine reality, the underlying ground of the world.

The Mahayana schools, despite their great differences, concur in upholding a thesis that, from the Theravada point of view, borders on the outrageous. This is the claim that there is no ultimate difference between samsara and Nirvana, defilement and purity, ignorance and enlightenment. For the Mahayana, the enlightenment which the Buddhist path is designed to awaken consists precisely in the realization of this non-dualistic perspective.

Not a non-dual system

As for the Theravada tradition:

  • Virtue

    • Non-duality: the adept isn't bound by rules because "The sage has transcended all conventional distinctions of good and evil"
    • Theravada: "the liberated one lives restrained by the rules of the Vinaya, seeing danger in the slightest faults"
  • Meditation:

    • Non-duality: defilements are mere appearances devoid of intrinsic reality
    • Theravada: hindrances are "causes of blindness, causes of ignorance, destructive to wisdom, not conducive to Nibbana"
  • Wisdom:

    • Non-duality: concrete phenomena, in their distinctions and their plurality, are mere appearance, while true reality is the One: either a substantial Absolute (the Atman, Brahman, the Godhead, etc.), or a metaphysical zero (Sunyata, the Void Nature of Mind, etc.). For such systems, liberation comes with the arrival at the fundamental unity in which opposites merge and distinctions evaporate like dew
    • Theravada: wisdom not in the direction of an all-embracing identification with the All, but toward disengagement and detachment, release from the All

So to answer your question, if I understand the article, it's saying that "non-duality" in Buddhism includes statements like "nirvana and samsara are the same" and "everything is equally empty" ... but non-duality is not a feature of Theravada Buddhism (it's a feature of Mahayana Buddhism, and of Tantrayana).

  • "For such systems, liberation comes with the arrival at the fundamental unity in which opposites merge and distinctions evaporate like dew." So Beautiful... Thank you.
    – user2341
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 1:50
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    @Buddho Pirsig wrote that that the ancient Greeks' search for arete (virtue, excellence, quality) eventually reminded him of the daoists' Tao -- "[he] remembered Hegel had been regarded as a bridge between Western and Oriental philosophy. The Vedanta of the Hindus, the Way of the Taoists, even the Buddha had been described as an absolute monism similar to Hegel’s philosophy. [he] doubted at the time, however, whether mystical Ones and metaphysical monisms were introconvertable since mystical Ones follow no rules and metaphysical monisms do."
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 8:02
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    I think having no disease or no suffering after enlightenment is an exaggeration. Conditioned existence will continue afterwards too. While an Arahat isn't going to run to Vegas to win at blackjack using his celestial vision, he will have to exist among people, among famines and times of plenty. There's a story about a female Arahat who's raped and she only has compassion for her attacker, and pleads with him to stop for his sake. When he steps out of the kuti, the earth swallows him, unable to bear his weight. Compassion and nirvana go together, it's not only good times after the big E.
    – Buddho
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 8:47
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    @ChrisW Moved this discussion to chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/24864/…
    – Buddho
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 9:01
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    Bhikhu Bodhi views on Mahayana are false and denigrate Mahayana. In fact, emptiness in Mahayana is empty itself. Therefore in Virtue it doesn't reject rules, but only shows their conditional (empty) nature. In Meditation, it doesn't refute that causes lead to effects, it only shows their conditional (empty) nature, which helps to abandon them, for example, instead of keeping attempts to battle them. So Mahayana doesn't refute the truths of Buddha, it only shows better ways to their realization. In Wisdom, true reality is NOT the One. "The One" is just an illusory idea. Be careful.
    – chang zhao
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 15:55

The experience of form is very sobering, that is when we encounter a person who is angry or destitute, we experience the wrath or the suffering of the person.

When we experience the world as empty we see that the angry or destitute person is empty in that its physical existence is dependent on conditions and the the way we see the situation is dependent on our own conditioned mind, created by our own conditioned mind.

Supposing we do not understand what the person is saying then our experience would be totally different.

And supposing that someone tell us that some of these destitute persons are actually some stingy millionaires and we believe those stories, then our perspectives become different.

These are just simple examples on how the world is illusory because it is perceived in a way that is conditioned by the mind.

Now if we pursue further we can say that since physical forms are empty and the visual forms are also empty because it is illusory. The world is empty!

If we just engaged with just the formless then we become complacent and stay at equanimity, if we see emptiness correctly; if we did not see emptiness correctly, it becomes coldness, or even cruelty.

Engaging with just the formless is an extreme. Just try saying to a tree, falling in your direction that it is empty and see what the result is!

Engaging with just the form is what most people do that, believing things to be solid, that there is a "person" purposely doing all those things to annoy us.

When we see the middle way, both the form and the formless as being the true aspects of reality (both conventional and absolute), then we can act compassionately, or with the perception of oneness.

How? Is another question!

  • For what it's worth, Tai Chi might teach not to resist the tree but instead to move (remove) your own centre away, out of the path of the heavy falling tree (or, rotate in order to deflect the tree and so make it bypass your centre). When you walk (shifting weight from one foot to another and so on) , the load-bearing foot is "solid" (substantial, immobile) and the other foot is "empty".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 15:25
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    @ChrisW Just mind the branches, though 90% of the tree is empty!
    – Samadhi
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 16:02
  • I have been thinking of the differences of people on the path (and not consciously on it) similar to stages of thought development: concrete, formal operations, post-formal. It would certainly explain things like extreme fundamentalism, and the mystical sects. So many branches to get caught in... Even it not being there is ensnaring.
    – user2341
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 1:07
  • As far as I can tell, what you are describing here is emptiness and dependent arising, not nonduality. It is unclear to me what your explanation has to do with nonduality. Commented Feb 21 at 15:19

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