QUESTION: In one of your recent posts, you made the statement: "12. Nonduality is a dualistic theory." I was hoping you could elaborate a bit more on this statement, or perhaps point to a sutra or previous work where this is discussed. It is definitely a point which would be considered provocative in some Dharmic circles.

SHORT ANSWER: Nnoduality is a negation and negation automatically creates a duality between itself and what it negates.

LONGER ANSWER: There is certainly a good deal of talk about 'nonduality' in Buddhist circles and it is often advanced as though it somehow defines what Buddhism is all about. However, it is difficult to find any quote from Buddha himself to this effect. Of course, a lot depends on what one means. The term nonduality simply means not-two-ness. One is, therefore, obliged to specify which two things one believes are not really two - earth and heaven? subject and object? me and you? relative truth and absolute truth? etc. Nonduality always points at a duality and asserts that in some sense it is a unity.

So generally nonduality is taken to imply 'oneness'. However, the term itself is constructed as a dualistic term. To be non-anything implies that there is a something else that it is not. Nonduality stands in a dualistic pairing with duality. If we define Buddhism as nonduality (I don't, but for the sake of argument...) then we are defining it as different from duality. In other words, we are asserting a dualistic scheme of things in which nonduality is one part and duality is the other part. Generally speaking in these theories, duality is the empirical part and nonduality is the metaphysical part.

In an Indian context, nonduality is a Hindu idea. In the Indian languages it is 'advaita'. According to Wikipedia, Advaita "is an ontological approach to nondualism, and asserts non-difference between Atman (soul) and Brahman (the Absolute)." Buddha, however, rejected all of these ideas. The wikipedia item is worth having a look at as it shows what a huge range of completely different ideas fly under the 'nonduality' ensign. Are all of these different nondualities nondual? one is tempted to ask.

Nonsingularity is probably an easier theory to defend both empirically and philosophically than nonduality. Nonsingularity would assert that there is nothing that is truly singular, nothing that cannot be divided into parts. Buddha in particular was an analyst. He divided things. Buddhism is full of lists of parts - five skandhas, two truths, three signs of being, seven enlightenment factors, six paramitas, etc. etc. It was not Buddha's style to assert oneness.

Furthermore, analysis can be very practical and helpful, whereas oneness tells one almost nothing. This and that are one... so what? How does that help? It might give a cozy feeling, but it does not aid practice. It might be thought, for instance, that if we believe that 'all people are one' this will make for peace in the world, but it is not at all clear how this will really lead to any concrete action, whereas acknowledging that there are many different kinds of people in the world can readily lead to thought about how to accommodate those differences and meet different requirements.

Another similar fallacy is the equation of 'relatedness' with 'identity'. I have many time heard it said that things are 'one' because they are 'inter-related'. However, to be related items have to be separate. It takes two or more to relate. In any case, the idea of 'inter-relatedness' is overdone. Many things are related in a purely one way fashion. The fact that A depends upon B does not imply that B needs A in any way, necessarily. 

I do not believe that Buddha taught that everything is 'one', nor even that all things are 'inter-related' nor 'inter-dependent'. All such ideas tend to undermine ethics because they imply that the bad is just as necessary as the good. Buddha was more for keeping things distinct and making choices with right intention.

Those who assert the theory of nonduality do so in order to distinguish themselves from others who they think have got things wrong. That, however, is a dualistic thing to do. We will get much further by being openly dualistic - or, better, pluralistic - and respecting one another in all our differences.

Sometimes people have profound spiritual experiences and speak of them in what one could call 'nondualistic language'. They might say, 'I felt connected to everything.' I have no objection to this as it is simply a mode of self-expression. When the person has digested their experience it will stand out for them as something special, something not to be forgotten, something different from ordinary life. They will thus be plunged back into the duality of ordinary life versus peak experience. Their 'nondual' experience will have set up an even greater duality for them. There is nothing wrong with this. Such contrasts are the foundation of religion and wisdom.

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Replies to This Discussion

David does non-locality from quantum physics relate to this non-duality? 

Sorry, Charlene, I've no idea.

Thank you Dharmavidya.

I was hoping you could perhaps elaborate on the consequences of this viewpoint upon, e.g., the Prajnaparamita teachings. For example, the famous line from the Heart Sutra that "form is emptiness, emptiness is form." Is this a teaching that is discarded and ignored from a Pure Land perspective or is there a way to reconcile them?

For example, in the article by Taigen Dan Leighton which you linked, it is written that "Thereby the world is a site of radical inter-subjectivity, in which each event is the product of the interdependent co-arising of all things." That would seem to contradict your teaching above.

Many thanks. Thanks for humoring my attempts to find the Buddhadharma.

Gassho,

Neal.

Yes, personally I do not find the 'inter-dependent co-arising' idea very helpful. I prefer the earlier Buddhist notion that things arise sequentially over time according to relations that involve dependency that is generally one way. I depend on the sunshine but the sun is not at all bothered whether I am here or not.

Of course, the sun can symbolise the Dharma light and here again, in a certain way, the Dharma is unconcerned - it shines on all alike just as, to change the metaphor, in the Lotus Sutra, the Dharma rain falls on all irrespective of whether they pay attention to it or not.

Great sages, of course, advise us to pay attention to it hence Honen's "only those who turn toward it can carry it in their hearts".

As for prajnaparamita, it seems to be the day for it - I was asked to explain prajnaparamita by a visitor this morning. I'll do a separate reply on it.

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form - Shiki fu i ku, ku fu i shiki

Ku, emptiness, is emptiness of my selfish projections. So Amitabha is ku. Dharma is ku. True refuge is ku.

Shiki means 'form' or 'colour'.

Buddhas have form/colour. Dharma life is colourful. All the forms around us are ku insofar as they are not hijacked by our own ego.

Pureland does not deny the truth of the prajnaparamita teachings. It just does not make a lot of use of them.

Very nice to have you with us, by the way. Welcome!

Thank you Dharmavidya.

I am reminded of the phrase in the Genjokoan that it is not the nature of ash to turn back into firewood. I feel like your answer is in that spirit. This is certainly true of course unless one does not concern oneself with the thermodynamic arrow of time. Which is not a very safe thing to ignore!

I'm not familiar with this usage of emptiness (i.e., emptiness of my selfish projections) but it is a useful one. Thank you. This is another topic I am hoping to understand in the context of Amitabha.

Gassho,

Neal.


David Brazier said:

Yes, personally I do not find the 'inter-dependent co-arising' idea very helpful. I prefer the earlier Buddhist notion that things arise sequentially over time according to relations that involve dependency that is generally one way. I depend on the sunshine but the sun is not at all bothered whether I am here or not.

Of course, the sun can symbolise the Dharma light and here again, in a certain way, the Dharma is unconcerned - it shines on all alike just as, to change the metaphor, in the Lotus Sutra, the Dharma rain falls on all irrespective of whether they pay attention to it or not.

Great sages, of course, advise us to pay attention to it hence Honen's "only those who turn toward it can carry it in their hearts".

As for prajnaparamita, it seems to be the day for it - I was asked to explain prajnaparamita by a visitor this morning. I'll do a separate reply on it.

Thank you for your kindness!

David Brazier said:

Very nice to have you with us, by the way. Welcome!

If my answer is in the spirit of Genjo Koan, then I'm happy :-)

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