What is Nonduality?

What is Nonduality?

Simple Answer:

Nonduality is the state or condition of not being separate and distinct even if appearing to be so. It is the condition which allows us to say that there is no true separation between ourselves and anyone else or anything else in the world, for instance. When we say things like “We are all one,” or “God is in all things,” we are asserting that the presence we call ‘reality’ is a nonduality.

A “nondualism” is a systematic description of nondual reality, or the tradition of spiritual practices of nonduality.

More Complicated Answer:

Nonduality is the condition that one arrives at when all distinctions and relations between ‘things’ are removed. Fundamentally, all such distinctions and relations are the result of error on our part because it is we that impose the idea of plurality on the whole. Nonduality is thus a simple wholeness, rather than an “all in one” whole. It is very difficult to clearly contemplate such a simple wholeness, because by thinking about it and conceptualizing it, we have lost the simple wholeness that is the real nonduality that we were trying to grasp, which is always already our very nature we are reality. Nonduality is the Infinite because we can both indivisibly apprehend it and enumerate it inexhaustibly into parts and relations between parts.

Nondualism according to this understanding is an error because fundamentally anything that we say or think about the Infinite removes this simple wholeness of reality from our grasp.

The Ultimate Answer:

Nonduality is ineffable. Any words that attempt to capture its essence instead hides it from us.

Nondualism according to this understanding must be an apophatic* performance that uses words to lead us towards nonduality and then at the horizon of understanding pulls these words away so that reality can stand in its pure simple beauty. For example, in order to say that Nonduality is ineffable, we first posit 'Nonduality', making ‘Nonduality’ a creature of reason and thus positively identifying ‘Nonduality’ as some thing that can be thought about, and then in the same breath we take away this assertion by adding that this ‘what’ of which we speak is ineffable and thus beyond the reach of reason. The point being made by this performance is that Nonduality is not nothing, because then we could not even speak of ‘it’; but it is not something either, because if it were it could not be Nonduality; yet it is all things and no thing itself. Thus the name "Nonduality" is used to indicate a denial of multiplicity, yet the mind, seeing this denial, may assume that it means 'One' as that is the opposite of multiplicity in quantitative reasoning, and while reasoning the mind is locked into certain forms of thought, among them the form of contradictories. But the name "Nonduality," while it denies multiplicity, also denies its contradiction and subsumes both. These words are an apophatic performance. If you can ‘see’ their meaning, you do not need any more definitions.

* Apophasis - the Greek designation for language that 'speaks away' or 'unsays' what it first affirms.

Here is a metaphor: Think of a light prism. On one side there is a single beam of white light, which includes all possible frequencies of light, yet the beam of light is a single beam. On the other side those frequencies are each separated apart, distinguished from one another. Yet they are not separate beams of light, nor is Blue light the same as Red light. Physics tells us today, that the photons of light that make up that beam, and in the separated colors, are never independent no matter how far apart in 'space' and 'time' they are, because they originated in that single beam, and thus were 'entangled' (Google: "spooky action at a distance"). So even though we have apparent separation of colored light ‘beams’ there is still only one. What acts as the prism? You!

There is a longer description of Nonduality, using this prism metaphor in my essay “Understanding Nonduality.

Here is another metaphor. I like to use the Colorado Aspen tree to show what I mean by nonduality. These trees grow from a single root system, and even though they appear to be separate trees above the ground, there are tell-tale signs that they are in fact one whole tree, such as when all the leaves on all the 'trees' in a stand turn color at exactly the same time.

The ground, in this metaphor stands for a kind of horizon beyond which we can't see -- after all, we can't see the shared root system below the ground, although we can assume that there is one there. And this root system can be thought of as an immortal 'ground' from which the individual trees appear. The trees seem to be separate above the ground (except for those hints which bear witness to their true nature), but they are not separate in reality, i.e. below the ground. They are the growth of a single nature.

In one sense, that is looking at it from 'above the ground', we are all separate, yet we intuitively see these hints that we share something in common. Looking at it from 'below the ground' we see clearly that there are "not many" trees.

Copyright 2008, James M. Corrigan, All Rights Reserved

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