Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Philosophy Index: Aesthetics · Epistemology · Ethics · Logic · Metaphysics · Consciousness · Philosophy of Language · Philosophy of Mind · Philosophy of Science · Social and Political philosophy · Philosophies · Philosophers · List of lists

Nondualism may initially be viewed as an -ism in order to find contexts for explanation. Among the meanings of -ism are belief, condition, theory, practice, quality.

Nondualism may be viewed as the belief that dualism or dichotomy are illusory phenomena. Examples of dualisms include self/other, mind/body, male/female, good/evil, active/passive, and many others.

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).

Many traditions (generally originating in Asia) state that the true condition or nature of reality is non-dualistic, and that these dichotomies are either unreal or (at best) inaccurate conveniences. While attitudes towards the experience of duality and self may vary, nondual traditions converge on the view that experience does not imply an "I". In most nondual teachings, the ego, or sense of personal being, doer-ship and control, is ultimately said to be an illusion, and as such many nondual traditions have significant overlap with mysticism.

Nondualism may also be viewed as a practice, namely the practice of inquiry as set forth by Ramana Maharshi.

Nondualism is a quality. Two qualities may be discussed. 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.

Nondualism is accessible as a belief, theory, condition, as part of a tradition, as a practice, or as the quality of union with reality. Accessibility is not relevant to the second quality mentioned in the paragraph above, since, according to that quality, the one who would gain access to understanding nondualism does not exist.


The term "nondual" is a literal translation of the Sanskrit term advaita. That literal translation is "not two," meaning non-separateness. That is, things remain distinct while not being separate.

Nondualism versus monism

The Western philosophical concept monism is similar to nondualism. But monism holds that all phenomena are actually of the same substance. Nondualism proper, on the other hand, holds rather that different phenomena are inseparable or that there is no hard line between them, but that they are not the same. The distinction between these two types of views is considered critical in Zen, Madhyamika, and Dzogchen, all of which are nondualisms proper, whereas Advaita Hinduism is monist — it maintains that all phenomena are Brahman). 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.

Nondual realization

To the Nondualist, reality is ultimately neither physical nor mental. Instead, it is an ineffable state or realization. This ultimate thing can be called "Spirit" (Aurobindo), "Brahman" (Shankara), "God", "The One", "The All" (Plotinus), "The Self" (Ramana Maharshi), "The Dao" (Lao Zi), "The Absolute" (Schelling) or simply "The Nondual" (Bradley). Ram Dass calls it the "third plane"—any phrase will be insufficient, he maintains, so any phrase will do.

It should be pointed out that technically, there can be no such thing as a nondual perspective or theory or experience, only a realization of Oneness or nonduality. One cannot accurately claim to experience nonduality, because the concept of experience depends on the subject-object distinction, which is a duality. The subject experiences an object, which is something separate from the subject. This is incompatible with a truly nondual realization. Thus, technically, there cannot truly be an accurate verbal account of this union, only words that insufficiently point to the realization.

Ken Wilber comments[1] that nondual traditions:

"...are more interested in pointing out the Nondual state of Suchness, which is not a discreet 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:[2]

"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."

Further comprehensive definitions of the nondual world view are given in the articles on Ramesh Balsekar and Nisargadatta Maharaj.

Nondual religious and spiritual traditions


In the Buddhist canon, the Diamond Sutra presents an accessible nondual view of "self" and "beings", while the Heart Sutra asserts shunyata — the "emptiness" of all "things". 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.

Not Two, Not One

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.


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.


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. Adherents to this theory of the nature of the soul (Brahman) are known as Smarthas.

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 phenomenae 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 idenity 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.


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".


Sufism (Arabic تصوف taṣawwuf) is a mystic tradition of Islam based on the pursuit of spiritual truth as it is gradually revealed to the heart and mind of the Sufi (one who practices Sufism).

The central doctrine of Sufism, sometimes called Wahdat al-Wujud or Unity of Being, is the Sufi understanding of Tawhid. Put very simply, Tawhid states 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.


Since its beginning, Christianity 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.[3]

The Gospel of Philip, another of the Apocryphal books, 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." [4]

Individuals subscribing to a non-dual view of reality

Ancient Western philosophers

Medieval Western philosphers

  • Hildegard of Bingen -- Mechteld of Magdeburg -- Meister Eckhart -- John of the Cross -- Teresa of Avila

Modern Western philosophers

Asian philosophers and spiritual leaders

  • Nagarjuna -- Shankaracharya -- Aurobindo -- Ramana Maharshi -- Nisargadatta Maharaj -- Ramesh Balsekar -- Jiddu Krishnamurti -- Mahatma Gandhi -- Lao Tzu -- Gaudapada -- Uddalaka Aruni -- Yajnavalkya -- Bhartrhari -- Meher Baba


  • Richard Bach -- Kahlil Gibran -- Neale Donald Walsch


See also

External links

Western approaches to nonduality:


  • Baleskar, Ramesh (1999). Who cares?
  • Castaneda, Carlos (1987). The Power of Silence. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-50067-8.
  • Godman, David (Ed.) (1985). Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. London: Arkana. ISBN 0-14-019062-7.
  • HH The Dalai Lama (2000). Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-157-X.
  • Klein, Anne Carolyn (1995). Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminists, and the Art of the Self. Boston, Beacon Press. ISBN 0807073067.
  • Kongtrül, Jamgön (1992). Cloudless Sky: The Mahamudra Path of The Tibetan Buddhist Kagyü School. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 0-87773-694-4.
  • Norbu, Namkhai (1993). The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen. London: Arkana. ISBN 0-14-019314-6.
  • 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.


  1. Brief History of Everything, pp. 237-238
  2. The Ultimate Medicine, p.101
  3. Ronald H. Miller, The Gospel of Thomas: A Guidebook for Spiritual Practice
  4. The Gospel of Philip


This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).