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Nondualism is the implication that things appear distinct while not being separate. The word's origin is the Latin duo meaning "two" and is used as the English translation of the Sanskrit term advaita. The term can refer to a belief, condition, theory, practice, or quality.


Various usages

Nondualism may be viewed as the understanding or belief that dualism or dichotomy are illusory phenomena. Examples of dualisms include self/other, mind/body, male/female, good/evil, active/passive, dualism/nondualism and many others. It is accessible as a belief, theory, condition, as part of a tradition, as a practice, or as the quality of union with reality.

A nondual philosophical or religious perspective or theory maintains that there is no fundamental distinction between mind and matter, or that the entire phenomenological world is an illusion (with reality being described variously as the Void, the Is, Emptiness, the mind of God, Atman or Brahman). Nontheism provides related conceptual and philosophical information.

Many traditions (generally originating in Asia) state that the true condition or nature of reality is nondualistic, and that these dichotomies are either unreal or (at best) inaccurate conveniences. The American philosopher William James saw nondualism as the culmination of the British Empirical tradition, and coined a word for it, sciousness, or consciousness without consciousness of self. But few of his contemporaries accepted his premise that nondualism was prime reality. While attitudes towards the experience of duality and self may vary, nondual traditions converge on the view that the ego, or sense of personal being, doer-ship and control, is ultimately said to be an illusion. As such many nondual traditions have significant overlap with mysticism.

Nondualism may also be viewed as a practice, namely the practice of self-inquiry into one's own being as set forth by Ramana Maharshi, which is intended to lead a person to realize the nondual nature of existence.

Nondualism can refer to one of two types of quality. One is the quality of union with reality, God, the Absolute. This quality is knowable and can be gained spontaneously and via practice of inquiry. A second quality is absolute by nature, or to put it in words, "conceptual absence of 'neither Yes nor No'," as Wei Wu Wei wrote. This latter quality is beyond the quality of union. It may be viewed as unknowable.

Accessibility is not relevant to the second quality mentioned in the paragraph above, since, according to that quality, an essential part of its gaining includes the realisation that the entire apparent existence of the individual who would gain access to understanding nondualism is in fact merely illusional. Achieving the second of these qualities therefore implies the extinguishing of the ego-sense that was seeking it:

"What is the significance of the statement 'No one can get enlightenment"? ... Enlightenment is the annihilation of the 'one' who 'wants' enlightenment. If there is enlightenment ... it means that the 'one' [ie individual ego] who had earlier wanted enlightenment has been annihilated. So no 'one' can achieve enlightenment, and therefore no 'one' can enjoy enlightenment. [...] if you get [a] million dollars then there will be someone [an ego-sense] to enjoy that million dollars. But if you go after enlightenment and enlightenment happens, there will be no 'one' [ie, no individual ego-sense] to enjoy enlightenment." [1]

Nondualism versus monism

The philosophical concept of monism is similar to nondualism. Some forms of monism hold that all phenomena are actually of the same substance. Other forms of monism including attributive monism and idealism are similar concepts to nondualism. Nondualism proper holds that different phenomena are inseparable or that there is no hard line between them, but not that they are the same. The distinction between these two types of views is considered critical in Zen, Madhyamika, and Dzogchen, all of which are nondualisms proper. Some later philosophical approaches also attempt to undermine traditional dichotomies, with the view they are fundamentally invalid or inaccurate. For example, one typical form of deconstruction is the critique of binary oppositions within a text while problematization questions the context or situation in which concepts such as dualisms occur.

Nondualism versus solipsism

Nondualism superficially resembles solipsism, but from a nondual perspective solipsism mistakenly fails to consider subjectivity itself. Upon careful examination of the referent of "I," i.e. one's status as a separate observer of the perceptual field, one finds that one must be in as much doubt about it, too, as solipsists are about the existence of other minds and the rest of "the external world." (One way to see this is to consider that, due to the conundrum posed by one's own subjectivity becoming a perceptual object to itself, there is no way to validate one's "self-existence" except through the eyes of others—the independent existence of which is already solipsistically suspect!) Nondualism ultimately suggests that the referent of "I" is in fact an artificial construct (merely the border separating "inner" from "outer," in a sense), the transcendence of which constitutes enlightenment.

Nondual realization

To the Nondualist, reality is ultimately neither physical nor mental. Instead, it is an ineffable state or realization. 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. The theory of Sri Aurobindo has been described as Integral advaita.

Ken Wilber comments[2] that nondual traditions:

"...are more interested in pointing out the Nondual state of Suchness, which is not a discrete state of awareness but the ground or empty condition of all states... [They] have an enormous number of these 'pointing out instructions', where they simply point out what is already happening in your awareness, anyway. Every experience you have is already nondual, whether you realize it or not. So it is not necessary for you to change your state of consciousness in order to discover this nonduality. Any state of consciousness you have will do just fine, because nonduality is fully present in each state... recognition is the point. Recognition of what always already is the case. Change of state is useless, a distraction... subject and object are actually one and you simply need to recognize this... you already have everything in consciousness that is required. You are looking right at the answer... but you don't recognize [it]. Someone comes along and points [it] out, and you slap your head and say, Yes I was looking right at it..."

Nisargadatta Maharaj, when asked how to tell when someone is approaching this understanding, commented:[3]

"Even then it is a concept again. But I give you a criterion by which one can sort of judge something. When a stage is reached that one feels deeply that whatever is being done is happening and one has not got anything to do with it, then it becomes such a deep conviction that whatever is happening is not happening really. And that whatever seems to be happening is also an illusion. That may be final. In other words, totally apart from whatever seems to be happening, when one stops thinking that one is living, and gets the feeling that one is being lived, that whatever one is doing one is not doing but one is made to do, then that is a sort of criterion."

Nondual religious and spiritual traditions and teachings


A Course in Miracles

A Course in Miracles is a 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, etcetera. The course parts company at page one with the Bible."[4]

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."[5] 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."[6]


Ramana Maharshi

Advaita (Sanskrit a, not; dvaita, dual) is a nondual tradition from India, with Advaita Vedanta, a branch of Hinduism, as its philosophical arm. The theory was first consolidated by Sri Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century AD. Most smarthas are adherents to this theory of the nature of the soul (Brahman).

According to Ramana Maharshi, the jnani (one who has realised the Self) sees no individual ego, and does not regard himself (or anyone else) as a "doer" of actions. The state of recognition is called jnana which means "knowledge" or "wisdom" referring to the idea that in this state of being, one is constantly aware of the Self. Bob Adamson (Melbourne, Australia), once a student of Nisargadatta Maharaj, who belonged to the Navanath Sampradaya lineage, says that a 'Jnani' is the 'knowing presence' which abides with all (of us) yet this knowing is seemingly covered over by identification with the 'minds content'. Ramesh Balsekar comments that it is in order for phenomena to occur that the illusion of personal existence and doer-ship (ego) is present:

"Consciousness-at-rest is not aware of Itself. It becomes aware of Itself only when this sudden feeling, I-am, arises, the impersonal sense of being aware. And that is when Consciousness-at-rest becomes Consciousness-in-movement, Potential energy becomes actual energy. They are not two. Nothing separate comes out of Potential energy... That moment that science calls the Big Bang, the mystic calls the sudden arising of awareness..."

However, teachers like Adamson point to the fact that the content of the mind is known, recognized by a presence or awareness that is independent of the mind's content. Adamson teaches that we form an identity based on the content of the mind (feelings, sensations, hopes, dreams, thoughts), however our true identity or nature is that which observes all of these things - the seer, the witness or the Self.


All schools of Buddhism teach No-Self (Pali anatta, Sanskrit anatman). Non-Self in Buddhism is the Non-Duality of Subject and Object, which is very explicitly stated by the Buddha in verses such as “In seeing, there is just seeing. No seer and nothing seen. In hearing, there is just hearing. No hearer and nothing heard.” (Bahiya Sutta, Udana 1.10). Non-Duality in Buddhism does not constitute merging with a supreme Brahman, but realising that the duality of a self/subject/agent/watcher/doer in relation to the object/world is an illusion. [7]

In the Mahayana Buddhist canon, the Diamond Sutra presents an accessible nondual view of "self" and "beings", while the Heart Sutra asserts shunyata — the "emptiness" of all "form" and simultaneously the "form" of all "emptiness". The Lotus Sutra's parable of the Burning House implies that all talk of Duality or Non-Duality by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is merely Skillful Means (Sanskrit upaya kausala) meant to lead the deluded to a much higher truth. The fullest philosophical exposition is the Madhyamaka; by contrast many laconic pronouncements are delivered as koans. Advanced views and practices are found in the Mahamudra and Maha Ati, which emphasize the vividness and spaciousness of nondual awareness.

Mahayana Buddhism, in particular, tempers the view of nonduality (wisdom) with respect for the experience of duality (compassion) — ordinary dualistic experience, populated with selves and others (sentient beings), is tended with care, always "now". This approach is itself regarded as a means to disperse the confusions of duality (i.e. as a path). In Theravada, that respect is expressed cautiously as non-harming, while in the Vajrayana, it is expressed boldly as enjoyment (especially in tantra).

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. In Dzogchen, 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.[8]

Zen is a non-dual tradition. It can be considered a religion, a philosophy, or simply a practice depending on one's perspective. It has also been described as a way of life, work, and an art form. Zen practitioners deny the usefulness of such labels, calling them, "The finger pointing at the moon." Tozan, one of the founders of Soto Zen in China, had a teaching known as the Five Ranks of the Real and the Ideal, which points out the necessity of not getting caught in the duality between Absolute and Relative/Samsara and Nirvana, and describes the stages of further transcendence into fully realising the Absolute in all activities.


The God of traditional Christianity is absolute and infinite. The devil or adversary is an opposing character, but is subordinate to God. The Christian faith thus considers God and the devil to be two distinct, opposing persons, though unequal. Traditional Christianity, with its emphasis on the struggle between good and evil, is decidedly incompatible with nondualistic thinking. Some mystical forms of Christianity can be non-dual, as in the teachings of Meister Eckhart, among others.

The Catholic Church, for example, teach in their Catechism that evil - and any manifestations of it - exists in the sense that "only the whole of the Christian faith can constitute a response"[9]. That is, the search or struggle for ones truth is in a sense a search for non-dualism. Sin is a manifestation of erring from that search, Jesus represents hope to find/follow that search and the unity of the Holy Spirit represents divine faith (regardless of brand) in all of us. Perceiving the devil is a corruption of faith and a descent into dualistic thinking. The Holy Office have historically struggled to maintain a non-dualistic message through the times of the Galileo affair and Protestant Reformation. The politics surrounding the papacy of Pope Pius XII and his 1943 papal encyclical Mystici Corporis published during World War II are also characteristic of this struggle. See also Hitler's Pope and The Myth of Hitler's Pope.

A Course in Miracles or ACIM is a modern day Christian non-dualistic teaching. This tradition states, "Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God."[10]

Christian Science might also qualify as non-dualistic. In a glossary of terms written by the founder, Mary Baker Eddy, matter is defined as illusion and when defining individual identity she writes "There is but one I, or Us, but one divine Principle, or Mind, governing all existence".[11]


Since its beginning, Gnosticism has been characterized by many dualisms and dualities, including the doctrine of a separate God and Manichaean (good/evil) dualism. The discovery in 1945 of the Gospel of Thomas, however, has led some scholars to believe that Jesus' original teaching may have been one accurately characterized as nondualism.[12]

The Gospel of Philip also conveys nondualism:

"Light and Darkness, life and death, right and left, are brothers of one another. They are inseparable. Because of this neither are the good good, nor evil evil, nor is life life, nor death death. For this reason each one will dissolve into its earliest origin. But those who are exalted above the world are indissoluble, eternal." [13]


Sikhism is a monotheistic religion which holds the view of non-dualism. A principle 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 your true nature or self, which is the same as God's.


Sufism (Arabic تصوف taṣawwuf, meaning "Mysticism") is often considered a mystical tradition 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 (removal of the subject/object dichotomy between humankind and the divine) through various spiritual exercises and a persistent, ever-increasing longing for union with the divine. "The goal," as Reza Aslan writes, "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," he writes, are veils. He continues: "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." The veils, or rather, duality, exists for a purpose, however, Rumi contends. If God as the divine, singular essence of all existence were to be made fully manifest to us, he counsels, we would not be able to bear it and would immediately cease to exist as individuals.


Taoism's wu wei (Chinese wu, not; wei, doing) is a term with various translations (e.g. inaction, non-action, nothing doing, without ado) and interpretations designed to distinguish it from passivity. From a nondual perspective, it refers to activity that does not imply an "I". 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. The Tao Te Ching has been seen as a nondualist text; from that perspective, the term "Tao" could be interpreted as a name for the Ultimate Reality (which, as the Tao Te Ching itself notes, is not the reality itself).


  1. ^ Ramesh Balsekar, Who cares?, p. 11; italics and quotation marks as in original
  2. ^ Brief History of Everything, pp. 237-238
  3. ^ The Ultimate Medicine, p.101
  4. ^ "Workshop on "The Real World"". Retrieved 2009-04-01.  
  5. ^ The Disappearance of the Universe, Gary Renard, page 33
  6. ^ A Course in Miracles, 3rd edition, page 279 or Chapter 14, Section IV, Paragraph 1, verses 7-8
  7. ^ [ "Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta: Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same?"]. Retrieved 2009-12-20.  
  8. ^ Powers, John (1995). Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Snow Lion Publications. pp. 334–342.  
  9. ^ "The Catechism of The Catholic Church". Retrieved 2009-09-30.  
  10. ^ Schucman (1992) pp ??
  11. ^ Eddy, Mary Baker. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. ISBN 0-87952-259-3.  
  12. ^ Miller, Ronald. The Gospel of Thomas: A Guidebook for Spiritual Practice.  
  13. ^ "The Gospel of Philip". Retrieved 2007-09-06.  


  • Baleskar, Ramesh (1999). Who cares?
  • Byron Katie, Mitchell Stephen (2007) "A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are". New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 978-0-307-33923-2
  • Castaneda, Carlos (1987). The Power of Silence. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-50067-8.
  • Downing, Jerry N. (2000) Between Conviction and Uncertainty ISBN 0-79144-627-1
  • Godman, David (Ed.) (1985). Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. London: Arkana. ISBN 0-14-019062-7.
  • Hawkins, David R. (October 2006). Discovery of the Presence of God: Devotional Nonduality. Sedona, Arizona: Veritas Publishing. ISBN 0-9715007-6-2 (Softcover); ISBN 0-9715007-7-0 (Hardcover)
  • Jeon, Arthur (2004) City Dharma: Keeping Your Cool in the Chaos ISBN 1-40004-908-3
  • Katz, Jerry (Ed.) (2007). One: Essential Writings on Nonduality. Boulder, CO: Sentient Publications. ISBN 1591810531.
  • Kent, John (1990) Richard Rose's Psychology of the Observer: The Path to Reality Through the Self PhD Thesis
  • Klein, Anne Carolyn (1995). Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminists, and the Art of the Self. Boston, Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-7306-7.
  • Kongtrül, Jamgön (1992). Cloudless Sky: The Mahamudra Path of The Tibetan Buddhist Kagyü School. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 0-87773-694-4.
  • Lama, Dalai (2000). Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-157-X.
  • Norbu, Namkhai (1993). The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen. London: Arkana. ISBN 0-14-019314-6.
  • Schucman, Helen (1992) "A Course In Miracles". Foundation for Inner Peace, pg. 1. ISBN 0-9606388-9-X.
  • Tolle, Eckhart (2004) "The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment" ISBN 978-1577314806
  • Trungpa, Chögyam (1987). Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 0-87773-050-4.
  • Watson, Burton (Trans.) (1968). The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-03147-5.
  • Lumiere, Lynn-Marie and Lumiere-Wins, John (2000). "The Awakening West: Conversations with Today's New Western Spiritual Leaders" (Paperback)
  • Waite, Dennis (2004) "The Book of One: The Spiritual Path of Advaita" (Paperback)

External links

Nondualism at the Open Directory Project


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