Monism is any philosophical view which holds that there is unity in a given field of inquiry, where this is not to be expected. Thus, some philosophers may hold that the universe is really just one thing, despite its many appearances and diversities; or theology may support the view that there is one God, with many manifestations in different religions.
Monism in philosophy can be defined according to three kinds:
The following pre-Socratic philosophers described reality as being monistic:
Following a long and still current tradition H.P. Owen (1971: 65) claimed that
Although almost all pantheists are monists, some pantheists may also be not-monists, but undeniably monists were the most famous pantheisms as that of Stoics, Plotinus and Spinoza. Exclusive Monists believe that the universe, the "God" of naturalistic pantheism, simply does not exist. In addition, monists can be Deists, Pandeists, Theists or Panentheists; believing in a monotheistic God that is omnipotent and all-pervading, and both transcendent and immanent. There are monist pantheists and panentheists in Hinduism (particularly in Advaita and Vishistadvaita respectively), Judaism (monistic panentheism is especially found in Kabbalah and Hasidic philosophy), in Christianity (especially among Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans) and in Islam (among the Sufis, especially the Bektashi).
While Pantheism means all things are identical to God, panentheism means God is in all things, neither identical to, nor totally separate from all things. Such a concept, some may argue, is more compatible with God as personal while not barring a bridge between God and creation. Historical figures such as Paul Tillich have argued for such a concept within Christian theology, as well as contemporary biblical scholar Marcus Borg.
Monism is found in the Nasadiya Sukta of the Rigveda, which speaks of the One being-non-being that 'breathed without breath'. The first system in Hinduism that unequivocally explicated absolute monism was the non-dualist philosophy of Advaita Vedanta as expounded by Shankara. In short, Advaita declares - All is Brahman. It is part of the six Hindu systems of philosophy, based on the Upanishads, and posits that the ultimate monad is a formless, ineffable divine ground of all being.
Vishishtadvaita, qualified monism, is from the school of Ramanuja. Shuddhadvaita, in-essence monism, is the school of Vallabha. Dvaitadvaita, differential monism, is a school founded by Nimbarka. Dvaita, dualism, is a school founded by Madhvacharya is probably the only Vedantic System which is opposed to all types of monism. It believes that God is eternally different from souls and matter in both form and essence. All Vaishnava schools are panentheistic and view the universe as part of Krishna or Narayana, but see a plurality of souls and substances within Brahman. Monistic theism, which includes the concept of a personal God as a universal, omnipotent Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, is prevalent within many other schools of Hinduism as well.
According to the Pali Canon, both pluralism (naanatta) and monism (ekatta) are speculative views. A Theravada commentary notes that the former is similar to or associated with nihilism (ucchedavada), and the latter is similar to or associated with eternalism (sassatavada). See middle way.
Among the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate nature of the world is described as emptiness, which is indistinguishable from material form. That appears to be a monist position, but the Madhyamaka views - including variations like Prasangika and Yogacara and the more modern shentong Tibetan position - will fail to assert in the ultimate nature any particular point of view. They instead deconstruct any assertions about ultimate existence as resulting in absurd consequences. The doctrine of emptiness is also found in earlier Theravada Buddhist literature.
In Soto Zen teaching, it is said that "All is One and All is Different." Since non-dualism does not recognize a dualism between Oneness and Difference, or even between dualism and non-dualism, it is difficult to state the meaning of this doctrine. All discussion of this teaching by Soto Zen masters falls under the Buddhist concept of skill in means, which is to say, not literally correct, but suitable for leading others to the Truth. Chinese Soto (Cao-Dong) master Tozan (Tung Shan, Dongshan) wrote the Verses of the Five Ranks (of the Ideal and the Actual), which is also important as a set of koans in the Rinzai school. Dongshan describes the Fifth Rank in part thus:
Who dares to equal him
Who falls into neither being nor non-being!
Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien's poem "The Harmony of Difference and Sameness" Sandokai is an important early expression of Zen Buddhism and is chanted in Sōtō temples to this day. Another poem of Tung-shan Liang-chieh on these and related themes, "The Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness", is also chanted in Sōtō temples daily.
Other expressions of this teaching include the koan:
A disciple asked, "What is the difference between the enlightened and the unenlightened man?"
The Master replied, "The unenlightened man sees a difference, but the enlightened man does not."
and Dogen Zenji's personal koan, "Why are training and enlightenment differentiated, since the Truth is universal?" (Fukanzazengi, Instructions for Meditation)
Christianity strongly maintains the Creator-creature distinction, and so firmly rejects metaphysical monism. Christianity maintains that God created the universe ex nihilo and not from himself, nor within himself, so that the creator is not to be confused with creation, but rather transcends it (metaphysical dualism). Immanence is defined as God's omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience, due to God's desire for intimate contact with his own creation. Another use of the term "monism" is in Christian anthropology to refer to the innate nature of mankind as being holistic, as opposed to bipartite and tripartite views.
While the Christian view of reality is dualistic (in regard to metaphysics) in that it holds to the Creator's transcendence of creation, it rejects other types of dualism (or pluralism) such as the idea that God must compete with other (equal) powers such as Satan or Evil. In On Free Choice of the Will, Augustine argued, in the context of the problem of evil, that evil is not the opposite of good, but rather merely the absence of good, something that does not have existence in itself. Likewise, C. S. Lewis described evil as a "parasite" in Mere Christianity, as he viewed evil as something that cannot exist without good to provide it with existence. Lewis went on to argue against dualism from the basis of moral absolutism, and rejected the dualistic notion that God and Satan are opposites, arguing instead that God has no equal, hence no opposite. Lewis rather viewed Satan as the opposite of Michael the archangel.
This position, some may argue, neglects certain very prolific and influential Christian theologians who were monists, including for example Paul Tillich. Since God is He "in whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17.28), it follows that everything that has being partakes in God. Dualism with regard to God and creation also barred the possibility of a mystical union with God, as Calvin rejected, according to Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Such a dualism also leads to the problematic position of positing God as a particular being the existence of which can be argued for or against, failing to recognize God as the ground and origin of being itself, as in Acts 17, or in the Hashem, YHWH, meaning "He causes to come into being." Such a view was called by Tillich panentheism: God is in all things, neither identical to, nor totally separate from, all things. This understanding would be further supported by that understanding of the proclamation of the kingdom of God, increasingly recognized by contemporary new testament scholars, in which it is proclaimed "on earth as it is in heaven." Such an understanding of the kingdom implies a new reality in which old dichotomies between, for example, the sacred and the profane, the temporal and the eternal, body and soul, absolutism and relativism, are overcome. In this way all things are filled with God's Spirit (Romans 8:11), so that in this new creation God is "all in all" (I Cor 15.28; Ephesians 1.23). Such verses, and others like them, can be construed to support thinkers like Tillich, who interpreted Christianity in monistic terms.
Note that, at the same time, Jewish Thought considers God as separate from all physical, created things (transcendent) and as existing outside of time (eternal). For a discussion of the resultant paradox; see Tzimtzum.
According to Maimonides, (see Foundations of the Law, Chapter 1), God is an incorporeal being that caused all other existence. In fact, God is defined as the necessary existent that caused all other existence. According to Maimonides, to admit corporeality to God is tantamount to admitting complexity to God, which is a contradiction to God as the First Cause and constitutes heresy. While Hasidic mystics considered the existence of the physical world a contradiction to God's simpleness, Maimonides saw no contradiction. See the Guide for the Perplexed, especially chapter I:50.
Many followers of Sufism advocated monism. Most notably the 13th-century Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi (1207 -73) in his didactic poem Masnavi espoused monism. Rumi says in the Masnavi, "in the shop for Unity (wahdat); anything that you see there except the One is an idol."
According to Vincent J. Cornell, the Qur'an also provides a monist image of God by describing the reality as a unified whole, with God being a single concept that would describe or ascribe all existing things:"He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward; He is the Knower of everything (Sura 57:3)".
Another verse in the Quran is "To God belongs the East and the West, Wheresoever you look is the face of God.(Sura 2:115)".
There are many other verses such as Quran 15:29, 38:72 etc which say that God blew his breath in man, which are interpreted to mean that an imprint of God is present inside man.
Many forms of Hinduism (including Vedanta, some forms of Yoga, and certain schools of Shaivism), Taoism, Pantheism, Rastafari and similar systems of thought explore the mystical and spiritual elements of a monistic philosophy. With increasing awareness of these systems of thought, western spiritual and philosophical climate has seen a growing understanding of monism. Moreover, the New Thought and New Age movements embraced many monistic concepts during the twentieth century and continue up to the present day.
Monism can be said to oppose religious philosophy altogether by claiming that the idea of spirituality contradicts the monist principle of an indistinguishable mind and body. However, one might consider monism more fundamental than any religious philosophy while taking religion and spirituality as sources of wisdom.
Materialistic monism (or monistic materialism) is the philosophical concept which sees the unity of matter in its globality. For the materialistic monist the cosmos is “one” and comprehensive, then a “one-all” made up of parts such as its effects. The matter is then originary and cause of all reality. The monism duality is Antimatter.
MONISM (from Gr. µovos, alone), the philosophic view of the world which holds that there is but one form of reality, whether that be material or spiritual. The aim of knowledge is explanation, and the dualism or pluralism which acquiesces in recognizing two or more wholly disparate forms of reality has in so far renounced explanation (see Dualism). To this extent monism is justified; but it becomes mischievous if it prompts us to ignore important differences in facts as they present themselves to our intelligence. All forms of monism from Plotinus downwards tend to ignore personal individuality and volition, and merge all finite existence in the featureless unity of the Absolute; this, indeed, is what inspires the passion of the protest against monism. Turning to the historical forms of the theory we may class Plotinus as a mystical monist: he attains to the One which is the All by an act of mystic union raising him above the phenomenal sphere. Spinoza is a materialistic monist with an inconsistent touch of mysticism and a certain concession, more apparent than real, to the spiritual side of experience. Hegel's is an intellectualist monism, explaining matter, sensation, personal individuality and will as forms of thought. The doctrine of Schopenhauer and von Hartmann is a monism of cosmic will which submerges the individual no less completely than Hegelianism, though in a different manner. Haeckel's monism is mere materialism dignified by a higher title. Those who maintain that all these forms of synthesis are hasty and superficial stand by the conviction that the right philosophic attitude is to accept provisionally the main distinctions of common sense, above all the distinction of personal and impersonal; but to press forward to the underlying unity so far as experience and reflection justify.
Monism is the thinking that there is only one thing. All things are not separate but work together as one.