This is an introductory article. To discover many more definitions of nonduality, please click here.
Nonduality means “not two” or “non-separation.” It is the sense that all things are interconnected and not separate, while at the same time all things retain their individuality.
We tend to view the world as made up of separated, pretty much isolated “entities.” By entities is meant everything: people, political parties, beliefs, nations, objects in nature, and most importantly one’s very own individual self.
The experience of nonduality
Yet one may know any number of instances in which you — your individual self — fades into an experience. You realize you are not separate from your experience, nor are the apparent entities making up the experience separate from the experience or from you, and that all of it — the experience, you, the players making up the experience — are all essentially one thing . . . much like a dream.
Such an instance may happen from being in nature, from enjoying music or art, or from being deeply involved in a hobby or work. It may be known during sex. It may occur while walking in the park, while dancing, surfing, or having a few beers with some awesome people.
The experience of nonduality may be realized during meditation, yoga, or from reading something that blows your mind.
The nondual moment may happen for no reason at all: maybe you’re sitting on your deck and geese fly by, or maybe you’re driving your car and suddenly everything is different, or perhaps you just woke up from a sleep.
You have almost certainly had at least one such nondual experience in your life, and probably several.
Arising out of this experience might be an uncommonly genuine happiness. However, the experience may also rock your world such that it is never again the same, for now you see the world not as separate entities struggling for survival, but as a single experience of non-separation . . . again, much like a dream.
The Pursuit of Nonduality
If the experience of nonduality is important to you — and no law says it has to be — you may have the need to find out more. If the experience has altered your life, you may have no choice but to understand what happened.
Your pursuit may take you to various websites and online groups, books, and people who might provide guidance and clarity. You may engage spiritual practices, attend meetings with nondual teachers, go on retreats. Whatever you do, whatever happens to you in this pursuit, will be unique for you.
This pursuit could begin at any time. Even if you had a powerful nondual experience decades ago, but never investigated it deeply, you could start today. However, don’t waste your time trying to “bring back” a past experience. Rather, focus on what it awakened.
How do you initiate the pursuit of nonduality? Lots of advice could be given. However, there is endless information online. More essentially, there is you, your existence. You could begin right there, right here, by attending to the fact that you are aware. “I am aware.” . . . “I am.”
In this regard, you might like the works of Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and Wei Wu Wei. Effective living teachers include Adyashanti, Francis Lucille, Greg Goode, Chuck Hillig, Galen Sharp, Bob Adamson, Rupert Spira. Many other guides, confessors, realizers, teachers, sages, gurus, both living and deceased, will be discovered.
Brief descriptions of what nonduality (or Advaita) is:
“Advaita (nonduality) does not mean “one” in the sense of eliminating all differences. The differences are present in the one in a mysterious way. They are not separated anymore, and yet they are there.”
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.
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.
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.
Main Entry: non•dualism
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.
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.  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.
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?
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 dohave people.
Main Entry: advai•ta
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. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (10 Jul. 2008).
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 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.
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 nonduality.com.
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.
Peter Fenner has said 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.
So there ya go. For another hundred definitions please visit http://nonduality.com/whatis.htm
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 today consists of a wide array of expressions on themes of oneness, interconnectedness, non-separateness, and paradox. These expressions are found in many fields of knowledge and endeavor: science, psychology, religion, spirituality, martial arts, poetry, music, art, literature, communication, education.
The desire to awaken often leads to a search and the discovery of some form of nonduality.
The purpose of my work in nonduality is to provide many opportunities for discovery. It considers nonduality as both a practical tool for more effective living and a pointing to what is. My work also includes the deconstruction of nonduality, and the deconstruction of deconstruction.
In other words, there’s both something to nonduality and nothing to it. Out of some colors of existence something is fashioned and it is called nonduality. But what is nonduality, really? Knowing what it really is, there is laughter, enjoyment … and another email to open!
To discover many more definitions of nonduality, please click here.
As well, read the comments and leave your own!