Definition of Nondualism

Dictionary definitions of nondualism, or any form of the word, are practically non-existent. You can find definitions of nondualism in encyclopedias, but not standard dictionaries.

Today I checked the Oxford English Dictionary Online, which includes quarterly updates, and there is no definition for nondual, nondualism, or nonduality.

Here is a definition I found today from
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002.


Nondualism Defined:

Main Entry: non•dualism
Function: noun
Etymology: 1non- + dualism
1 : a doctrine of classic Brahmanism holding that the essential unity of all is real whereas duality and plurality are phenomenal illusion and that matter is materialized energy which in turn is the temporal manifestation of an incorporeal spiritual eternal essence constituting the innermost self of all things
2 : any of various monistic or pluralistic theories of the universe

Citation format for this entry:

“nondualism.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (5 Jul. 2008).

I find the above to be a very limited definition of nondualism, although I like the metaphysical, almost poetic feel to it. I don’t know how useful the definition is.

Dualism Defined:

Now here’s the definition of dualism from the Oxford English Dictionary Online. I’m showing it because it could serve as model for defining nondualism, except it would include quotations from different cultures and nondual perspectives.

Entry printed from Oxford English Dictionary Online
Copyright © Oxford University Press 2008

dualism SECOND EDITION 1989
( dju l z( )m) [f. DUAL + -ISM: cf. F. dualisme (1755 in Hatz.-Darm.).]
1. The condition or state of being dual or consisting of two parts; twofold division; duality.
1831 CARLYLE Sart. Res. II. ix, In Teufelsdröckh there is always the strangest Dualism. 1833 Diderot Misc. Ess. 1872 V. 53 Among the dualisms of man’s wholly dualistic nature, this we might fancy was an observable one. 1841-4 EMERSON Ess., Compensation Wks. (Bohn) I. 41 An inevitable dualism bisects nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to make it whole. 1877 E. CAIRD Philos. Kant ii. 12 A dualism between knowing and being, between the ‘me’ and the ‘not me’.

2. Gram. The fact of expressing two in number.
1874 SAYCE Compar. Philol. vii. 276 We find many others [languages] in which the formal expression of plurality has never passed beyond that of dualism.

3. A theory or system of thought which recognizes two independent principles. spec.
a. Philos. The doctrine that mind and matter exist as distinct entities; opposed to idealism and materialism.
b. The doctrine that there are two independent principles, one good and the other evil.
c. Theol. The doctrine, attributed by his opponents to Nestorius, that Christ consisted of two personalities.

1794 MATHIAS Purs. Lit. [1798] 65 Then he introduces..the two principles or dualism (a little more French jargon) the monde animé and the monde machine. 1836-7 SIR W. HAMILTON Metaph. (1877) I. xvi. 293, I would be inclined to denominate those who implicitly acquiesce in the primitive duality as given in Consciousness, the Natural Realists or Natural Dualists, and their doctrine Natural Realism or Natural Dualism. 1847 BUCH tr. Hagenbach’s Hist. Doctr. I. 93 The Gnostic doctrine of two supreme beings (dualism). 1864 PUSEY Lect. Daniel (1865) 529 The characteristic error of the Zend religion, its Dualism, was its blot from the first. 1872 LIDDON Elem. Relig. iv. 148 Manicheeism was the Dualism which had acquired a Christian flavour by coming into contact with Christianity. 1882 FARRAR Early Chr. I. 263 The dualism the existence of matter as the source of evil apart from God finds a distinct expression in the Wisdom of Solomon. 1882-3 SCHAFF Encycl. Rel. Knowl. I. 669 According to dualism existence itself is based on a contrariety which appears in philosophy as spirit and matter.

4. Chem. The theory, originated by Berzelius, now abandoned, that every compound is constituted of two parts which have opposite electricities.

1884 MUIR Princ. Chem. I. ii. iii. §54 Dumas’ discovery of the chloracetic acids which marks the beginning of the revolt against the compound radicles of dualism.

Defining Nondualism:

You can see how much of a challenge and, really, how much fun it would be to define nondualism using the OED model. What’s the earliest use of the word nondualism? What quotations would you select? How about the words nondual, nondualist, nondualize, nonduality? They, too, would have to be defined in the same detail. Certainly there are fine quotations using those words.

And how about definitions for neo-nonduality? Neo-nondualist? Neo-nondualism? Or — I think I just invented a word — neo-nondualize?

–Jerry Katz

Also see What Is Nonduality?

7 thoughts on “Definition of Nondualism

  1. Ted Biringer

    Great post!

    Here are some of my favorite definitions/expressions/explanations of Nondualism” from the Zen tradition:

    “When one side is revealed, the other is concealed.”
    ~Dogen

    A monk asked Joshu, “All things return to the One. Where does the One return to?”

    Joshu said, “When I was in the province of Sai, I made a cloth shirt. It weighed seven pounds.”
    ~Blue Cliff Record, Case 45

    “Light has no front or back.”
    ~Traditional Zen Saying (See, for instance, “Zen Sand” by Viktor Hori)

    And of course, the perenial favorite:

    “What is the sound of a single hand?”
    ~Hakuin
    (Note: This is often mis-quoted as “one hand clapping.” –“Clapping” has nothing to do with the main point of this koan and is misleading.)

    Thanks again!
    Ted

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  2. nonduality Post author

    Those are the real ways to define nonduality. Thank you. I’m dragging my ass through the linear world to harvest definitions.

    I’m still stuck on the koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping to Hava Nigela since the other hand is holding a piece of cocktail rye with a shmeer of chopped liver on it?”

    Jerry

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  3. Ted Biringer

    Jerry,

    Ahhhh yes… The old “One Hand Chopped Liver” koan. Definitely a “nanto” koan (difficult to penetrate), yet well worth the effort.

    Strive On! Strive On!

    Ted

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  4. Arek

    OK friends, but NO words/knowledge will help people who are anxious – afraid of their bosses and of losing their jobs – frustrated – angry – hypnotized by thought… Right? 🙂

    Therefore, please try this:

    NONDUALITY IS ALWAYS PERCEIVING EVERYTHING PERCEIVABLE AT THE BEGINNING!

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  5. George Poggemann

    The philosophy of Non-Dualism is the point of view that there is one Absolute Reality without a second and that each of us is one with that Reality, just as a wave is one with the ocean. It asserts that experiencing Ultimate Reality is the goal of life. Advaita, another name for Non-Dualism, sees other religions, practices and philosophies as tools that ultimately lead to the direct experience of Absolute Reality.
    To discriminate between what is real and what is not real, it is necessary to define what is meant by real and not real. In this philosophy only that which neither changes nor ceases to exist is real. No object or knowledge can be absolutely real if its existence is only temporary. The unreal includes every “thing,” all names and forms, our minds and thoughts, everything. The universe looks real but is not permanent. It is an illusion. We can’t say it exists nor can we say it doesn’t exist. It is neither real nor non-existent. It is magical. It’s a mystery.
    Reality is not a thing at all. It is no-thing, nothing. An innocent term for it would be pure spirit, or pure consciousness. It has no parts. If we look for it, we are an eye looking for itself. It is experienced but cannot be described. It is ineffable. This Pure Consciousness is permanent existence, knowledge and bliss and is one with man’s inner self.
    When we wake up from a dream the dream world disappears. Non-Dualism teaches that when we wake up to reality this world disappears. The world of thought and matter is a misreading of pure spirit and nothing more. It has a phenomenal or relative existence superimposed upon Absolute Reality by ignorance and remains superimposed until ignorance is destroyed by knowledge of reality, commonly called Spiritual Enlightenment.

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  6. icjr

    Thanks for all these concepts, interpretations, ideas and expressive thought conveyed. It helps as I mutter through this complicated definition for nonduality, nondualism or its derivatives. I see the word as two parts to a whole. Keeping them in balance. Also not split but whole in thought and actions.

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