Category Archives: Nonduality, defining (also see What Is Nonduality page)

What Is Nonduality? Responses from the Science and Nonduality Conference 2009. Part Three.

Science and Nonduality Anthology, Volume 3
Interviews of participants at the Science and Nonduality Conference 2009.

3-DVD set, 21 interviews, 600 minutes

The following are excerpts from responses to the question, What is nonduality? They are found on Volume 3 of the DVD set:

What Is Nonduality?

Peter Russell, Author, Philosopher:

Nonduality … means the universe is not dual, there is one common essence to the universe. … Science is nondual. It’s basic philosophy is that there is a unified field, a oneness which we are approaching. In spiritual circles … the nonduality is where the essence is awareness … consciousness … a different sort of nonduality … both of them see the fundamental nature of things, the oneness behind everything.

Thomas Ray, Professor of Zoology and Computer Science, University of Oklahoma:

Nonduality involves absence of self or sense of self and the feeling of oneness or unity with everything, with the universe. I’ve believed that nonduality is just the plain truth. The universe is one thing and we’re all part of the universe and that it isn’t nonduality that needs explanation, it’s duality that needs explanation. In fact, there is a mental organ that produces duality, just one. Without the activity of that mental organ, we would experience nonduality as the normal state.

Shaikh Kabir Helminski, Author, Sufi teacher:

The way we see it in the Sufi tradition is that — particularly for mystic consciousness — we understand that everything is rooted in the divine. Everything is unified in a field of oneness. Practically speaking what that means is that my consciousness, my love, my will, my generosity if I have any, my capacity for forgiveness, all of these have their attributes in the source of the divine. … This nonduality has a kind of quality to it … that is deeply personal as well as cosmic and impersonal because we realize the human being is the ripened fruit of that nonduality. The nonduality doesn’t cancel our human individuality. … We don’t make a big deal about nonduality because we know and trust that everything comes from God. The God that we’re talking about is subtle and integral to this whole creation. … Poetry suggests it. We communicate more through poetry than through abstract theory.

John Prendergast, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology, CIIS

Nonduality, for me, points to the basic absence of difference between self and other, between subject and object, between perceiver and perceived. When the Buddha said form is emptiness and emptiness is form, this is statement of nondual perception. When nothing looks out and sees that it’s everything, this is the experience of nonduality. The apparent division between self and other is seen through. … The reality of the seamless wholeness nature of reality reveals itself. … It’s a deep understanding and knowing that there is essentially no separation.

Olga Louchakova, Director, Neurophenomenology Research Center, ITP Prof.:

Nonduality is the certain perspective on self and consciousness which makes one to experience being and consciousness as undivided and nonseparate from every other consciousness which can be perceived initially as different. It’s the experience of consciousness as being undivided, experience of your own being as being connected with the rest of the universe, and being one with the rest of the universe even though you may not have the perception of the whole universe at the moment. Most importantly, the experience of nonduality is the experience of authenticity, of authentic, unlimited, nonconstricted being, experience of being yourself, experience of living life with no fear.

Tim Freke, Scholar, Author, Stand up Philosopher:

My experience is that fundamentally reality is characterized by polarity. For me it’s not nondual or dual. It’s both at the same time. … Polarity is opposites, but they can only exist together. … They’re two and one at the same time. The paradox of our predicament is that it’s two and one at the same time. I see no reason to prejudice one over the other. In fact, I see a necessity to be conscious of both. What I’ve looked for is an image that can capture that experience. For me the image is lucid living, which is a state comparable to lucid dreaming, only now. … On the one hand I am Tim … I’m actually so individual that I inhabit this unique point in space and time and no one else can or ever will inhabit it. Then there’s the discovery of this deeper nature, the subject itself, not the object, the “I”, that which is witnessing this, and if I go deeply into that now it is a vast spaciousness in which all this is arising just like in a dream. And those two exist together, so “here” it’s all one, “here” it’s all separate. Which is true? They’re both true.

Science and Nonduality Anthology, Volume 3
Interviews of participants at the Science and Nonduality Conference 2009.

What Is Nonduality? Responses from the Science and Nonduality Conference 2009. Part Two.

Science and Nonduality Anthology, Volume 2
Interviews of participants at the Science and Nonduality Conference 2009.

3-DVD set, 21 interviews, 600 minutes

The following are excerpts from responses to the question, What is nonduality? They are found on Volume 2 of the DVD set:

What Is Nonduality?

Francis Lucille, nonduality teacher

The definition for nonduailty would be that there is one single reality. We all have the knowledge that we are conscious and that consciousness is real. That which hears the words is consciousness. That is beyond a shadow of a doubt. …The world is only a concept which is inferred from perceptions. Perceptions are mind stuff. … Consciousness is the reality of our experience. If there is only one reality … the reality of all minds must be the same. That is the fundamental understanding of nonduality.

Robert Dittler, Abbot/Bishop, White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

[Silence. The video shows him smiling, shrugging, nodding, being.]

Jeremy Hayward, teacher of meditation, science, and Buddhism with Shambhala Buddhism

Literally what we’re talking about is the non-distinction of nonduality of I and other primarily … distinctions come from the conceptual mind that divides the world into this and that and the primary one is the distinction between me and you, me and that, me, me. That’s duality. It becomes a problem when we forget there is no me. … There’s just a flow of energy and awareness and then something pops up and says, “ME” and that’s starts duality. But duality and nonduality are two sides of the same coin. You can’t separate one from the other, you have to see the whole thing, which is duality and nonduality together.

Jeff Foster, nonduality teacher

I really don’t know what nonduality is anymore. Years ago I could have told you a lot about nonduality. The word nonduality is just a pointer. It points to life as it’s happening and the possibility that we’re not separate from life. The moment you talk about nonduality you kind of missed the point. … The moment you talk about it you’ve made it into something separate from something else … which is completely dualistic. So what is nonduality. I guess the answer is there when the question isn’t, somehow.

Nahid Angha, Co-director of the International Association of Sufism

The question of nonduality has been the concern of human beings since the beginning of civilization, because we want to see if there is any essence to all that there is. … What is nonduality when we see around ourselves duality? Is there any essence to [duality]? … In Sufism we come to the metaphor of raindrop and ocean. When it falls into the ocean it realizes that it is the ocean. So unless we find that reality within our own selves, then duality remains.

Bernard Baars, The Neurosciences Institute of San Diego

Nonduality in Sanskrit … is the theory that one can perceive the world in a completely unified fashion. … Nondualism is said to be the ultimate state that one may arrive at, after many years or perhaps very quickly.

Science and Nonduality Anthology, Volume 2
Interviews of participants at the Science and Nonduality Conference 2009.

3-DVD set, 21 interviews, 600 minutes

What Is Nonduality? Responses from the Science and Nonduality Conference 2009

Science and Nonduality Anthology, Volume 1
Interviews of participants at the Science and Nonduality Conference 2009.

3-DVD set, 21 interviews, 600 minutes

The following are excerpts from responses to the question, What is nonduality? They are found on Volume 1 of the DVD set:

What Is Nonduality?

Peter Fenner:

I can’t give you a definition of it because there’s nothing to define. That’s the definition. It’s the one and only thing that can be defined, in a way, by its absence. The nondual awareness: we can’t say what it is, we can’t say where it is. In fact, it’s going beyond existence and non-existence. That’s what it means to be nondual. If we say it exists, that’s in contrast to it not existing, that’s not nondual. If we say it does not exist, that’s in contrast to it existing. So here you can already feel that we’re way beyond the mind. The mind does not know what we’re talking about. … I don’t know what I’m talking about at this point, and that is one of the ways we can point to nondual awareness.

Stephen Wolinksy:

There’s no such thing as nonduality … Nonduality is just a word, it’s a pointer. But once you have nonduality, you have duality. So the question is, is there such a thing as nonduality prior to the word nonduality?

Rupert Spira:

Nonduality as the phrase implies, literally means not two. There are not two things. It makes reference to the presumption deeply embedded in all cultures, that experience is divided into two things, one, a knower, and two, the known. … The term duality makes reference to these two apparent things, a knowing subject, which is considered to be this body, or in this body, and a known object — other, person, world — which is considered to be outside myself and separate from myself. The term nonduality indicates the true nature of our experience, which, if we make a deep exploration of our actual experience, we find there are not these two things. There is just one. … not two. … That leaves what there is truly, completely open, unnamed, untouched, but yet absolutely present in every experience.

Vijay Kapoor:

Nonduality would be not the absence of duality. It is something which transcends duality. … In our experience we have youth, we have old age, we having the waking state, dream state, we have lots of different dualities, male, female… What we find is the very basic consciousness has no duality. It is independent of time. … Consciousness has no dependence whatsoever. … The very content of duality does not have duality.

Rabbi Hoffman:

If you name it you’ve already changed it. Our basic idea about nonduality is … an infinite light with no end that has no differentiation in it, no light or dark, no positive or negative, … or any of these dualities. … We don’t supress any question. We pray our questions. Our doubts are very holy. Out of a good question comes a lot of thinking. … The question is, “What motivated the creation of the universe?” Because there was no room in this nonduality for the so-called narcissistic ego that could choose to rebel against the nonduality and assert its individuality selfishly against the nonduality. This is the puzzle of Torah. We start from there then we go on to celebrate the existence of both. What we’re interested in is the conversation between the duality, or the left brain thinking — the “I” that strategizes — and the right side, which feels part of a unity without any differentiation. How do you give way to both sides and create a conversation between the two? What we believe is that G-d is the name of the one that cannot be named. How do you create G-d as the oscillating tension between the two that exist in the conversation. My operant metaphor for that is somebody walking a tightrope.

Science and Nonduality Anthology, Volume 1
Interviews of participants at the Science and Nonduality Conference 2009.

3-DVD set, 21 interviews, 600 minutes

Nonduality: Definitions, Non-Definitions, Un-Definitions, and Anti-Definitions

There are endless definitions, non-definitions, un-definitions, and anti-definitions of nonduality. They are all pointings to the nondual.

I like to say that nonduality means there are not two things, so no things are separate. Yet things appear distinct, separate, and highly individualistic.That’s paradoxical, crazy, humorous, and not the case. But it’s a definition you can sort of “get.” It gives the mind something to chew on. It’s a definition with traction.

Just minutes ago I heard Peter Fenner on a video say that nonduality is “going beyond existence and non-existence.” There’s no traction with that definition. It’s “way beyond the mind,” Fenner says. It’s a different way of defining nonduality; it’s more of a non-definition. But it’s a pointer.

Dan Berkow has said that “defining nonduality is like adding legs to a snake.” That’s an un-definition.

Kenneth Madden recently gave this anti-definition: “Non-duality or Advaita then becomes the last refuge of the individual who is under threat. It is fodder for the mind. It becomes the new, best concept in town as it were.”

Stephen Wolinsky, at the last Science and Nonduality Conference announced cheerfully and insistently to a large audience, “There’s no such thing as nonduality!” Another anti-definition. He says the same thing on the video I mentioned above.

So there ya go. For another hundred definitions please visit

Start with a definition you can “get” but don’t settle for it. Question it. The consideration of definitions of nonduality is itself a form of inquiry, a spiritual practice.

Nonduality, by Colin Drake


by Colin Drake

Nonduality – not ‘the quality or opposition of being dual (two).’
— not ‘the opposition between two concepts or aspects.’ (Oxford English Dictionary)

Or to put it simply ‘not two’ (of anything). It is put this way, rather than saying ‘all is one’, for the very term ‘one’ implies (that there could be) two or more… In fact the term ‘nonmultiplicity’ would be more accurate for what is being suggested here is ‘not many’ rather than ‘not two’.

What we are trying to get a handle on here is that there is actually no (permanently existing) thing in existence, and that all apparent ‘things’ are manifestations of the same essence.

This can be shown by investigating the nature of our own subjective experiences, which is actually all that any of us have to investigate. For each of us any external object or thing is experienced as a combination of thought (including mental images) and sensation, i.e. you may see it, touch it, know what it is called, and so on … Thus everything in the external world is experienced as a mixture of thoughts and sensations, and when we attempt to investigate any ‘thing’ it is these that we are investigating.

In any given moment of direct experience there are only three elements: thoughts (including all mental images), sensations (everything detected by the senses) and awareness of these thoughts and sensations. All thoughts and sensations are ephemeral objects (the perceived) which appear in this awareness (the perceiver) which is the constant subject. So at a deeper level than the ever-changing objects (thoughts and sensations) we are this constant subject, awareness itself.

To put this in a slightly different way, we can easily notice that every thought and sensation occurs in awareness, exists in awareness and dissolves back into awareness. Before any particular thought or sensation there is effortless awareness of ‘what is’: the sum of all thoughts and sensations occurring at any given instant. During the thought or sensation in question there is effortless awareness of it within ‘what is’. Then when it has gone there is still effortless awareness of ‘what is’.

Reiterating, for each of us any external object (or thing) is experienced as a combination of thought and sensation, i.e. you see it, touch (feel) it, know what it is called, etc. Therefore in our direct experience everything arises in, exists in and subsides back into awareness itself.

Awareness can also be defined as universal consciousness when it is totally at rest, completely still; aware of every movement that is occurring within it. In our direct experience we can see that awareness is still, as there is awareness of the slightest movement of mind or body. In fact this is the ‘stillness’ relative to which any movement can be known. Every ‘thing’ that is occurring in consciousness is a manifestation of cosmic energy, for the string theory and the earlier theory of relativity show that matter is in fact energy, which is consciousness in motion (or motion in consciousness). For energy is synonymous with motion and consciousness is the substratum, or deepest level, of all existence.

Now all motion arises in stillness, exists in stillness, is known by its comparison with stillness, and eventually subsides back into stillness. For example, if you walk across a room, before you start there is stillness, as you walk the room is still and you know you are moving relative to this stillness, and when you stop once again there is stillness. In the same way every ‘thing’ (consciousness in motion) arises in awareness (consciousness at rest), exists in awareness, is known in awareness and subsides back into awareness. Awareness is still, but is the container of all potential energy which is continually bubbling up into manifestation (physical energy) and then subsiding back into stillness.

Thus there is no dichotomy or duality between the physical world and ‘awareness’ for they are both manifestations of the same essence. The physical universe is just cosmic energy (consciousness in motion) when it is manifest into physical form, and awareness (consciousness at rest) contains this same energy in latent form as potential energy. Therefore there is in reality no multiplicity (nonduality) as there is only consciousness existing in two modes, in motion and at rest.

~ ~ ~

Colin Drake is the author of

Beyond the ‘Separate Self’
The End of Anxiety and Mental Suffering

A Simple Guide to Awakening

Based on the Meditations, Contemplations, and Experiences
of Forty Years of Spiritual Search and Practice

Learn more and order here.

The Nonduality Definer

Silence, non-definitions, anti-definitions, koan-like responses, or a whack with a Zen stick, may be the best responses to the question, “What is nonduality?”, but allow me to be more language-bound. Responding the following points will guide you in constructing a commonplace definition of nonduality:

A statement that nonduality means non-separation

A confession from your knowing

A statement that defining nonduality requires experiencing it

A method for experiencing nonduality

A metaphor

A reference to an authority

A disclaimer based on the paradox exposed by trying to define nonduality

Add another element, such as etymology, quotations from different periods of time, or different short definitions such as would appear in a dictionary.

For more information and examples of definitions containing these points, please visit

Submit your definitions as a comment to this entry.

Also, if you are a lexicographer or have an serious interest in the history of the use of the words nonduality, nondual, or nondualism, and would like to work on a project defining those words for the Oxford English Dictionary, leave a comment or contact me at jerry at

Advaita by Webster

It’s so rare to find definitions of nonduality in regular dictionaries. To find a definition of advaita, which is Sanskrit for nonduality, in Webster’s dictionary seems even more uncommon. But here it is. There must be a lexicographer who is into nonduality. I’m glad we got people in the dictionary biz. And believe me, we do have people.

Main Entry: advai•ta

Function: noun
Usage: usually capitalized
Etymology: Sanskrit, from a- + dvaita duality, from dvi two — more at TWO
: Vedantic nondualism that denies the separateness of any aspect of reality from the impersonal oneness of Brahma

Citation format for this entry:

“advaita.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. (10 Jul. 2008).

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. (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?