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Nondualism, also called non-duality, "points to the idea that the universe and all its multiplicity are ultimately expressions or appearances of one essential reality."[1] It is a term and concept used to define various strands of religious and spiritual thought.[2]

It is found in a variety of Asian religious traditions[3] and modern western spirituality, but with a variety of meanings and uses.[3][2] The term may refer to the (non-essentialist) nonduality of absolute and relative (advaya) in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition; the (essentialist) non-difference of Ātman and Brahman or the Absolute in Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism and popular vernacular teachers like Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj; and (perennialist and essentialist) "nondual consciousness",[note 1] the non-duality of subject and object, in modern spirituality.

Its origins are situated within the Buddhist tradition with its teaching of the two truths doctrine, the nonduality of the absolute and the relative,[4][5] and the Yogacara notion of "pure consciousness" or "representation-only" (vijñapti-mātra).[6] The term has more commonly become associated with the Advaita Vedanta tradition of Adi Shankara, which took over the Buddhis notion of pure consciousness[6] and provided an orthodox hermeneutical basis for heterodox Buddhist phenomology.[7][8] Advaita Vedanta states that there is no difference between Brahman and Ātman,[6] a stance which is also reflected in other Indian traditions, such as Shiva Advaita and Kashmir Shaivism.

Vijñapti-mātra and the two truths doctrine, coupled with the concept of Buddha-nature, have also been influential concepts in the subsequent development of Mahayana Buddhism, not only in India, but also in China and Tibet, most notably the Chán (Zen) and Dzogchen traditions.

In various strands of modern spirituality, New Age and Neo-Advaita, the "primordial, natural awareness without subject or object"[web 1] is seen as the essence of a variety of religious traditions.[9]



Dictionary definitions of "nondualism" are scarce.[web 2] According to Espín and Nickoloff, "nondualism"

... points to the idea that the universe and all its multiplicity are ultimately expressions or appearances of one essential reality."[1]

The term may refer to the nonduality of Absolute and relative (Advaya),[1] the non-difference of Atman and Brahman (Advaita),[1] the related concepts of vijñapti-mātra and Buddha-nature in Buddhism, and nondual consciousness.[note 2][note 3]

Definition 1 and 2: Advaya and Advaita[edit]

A distinction can be made between advaya and advaita.[10][note 4]

Definition 1: Advaya - Non-duality of absolute and relative[edit]

"Advaya" is a non-essentialist, epistemological approach,[12] which states that there is no absolute, transcendent reality beyond our everyday reality, without granding the existence of inherently existing "things". According to this definition or usage, nonduality refers to the nonduality between absolute and relative. It is the recognition that ultimately every"thing" is devoid of an everlasting and independent "essence", and that this emptiness does not constitute an "absolute" reality in itself.[note 5]. It is a non-essentialist, or non-absolutist, position, denyoing any "transcendent" reality.

It is exemplified by Madhyamaka Buddhism, and its insight into the "emptiness", or non-existence, of inherently existing "things",[13] and the "emptiness of emptiness": emptiness does not in itslef contitute an absolute reality.[note 6] It is the Middle Way between eternalism ("things" have an inherent essence) and annihilationism or nihilism (nothing exists).[note 7]

Definition 2: Advaita - Identity of Atman and Brahman[edit]

"Advaita" is an essentialist, ontological approach,[12] which states that there is transcendent absolute reality which constitutes our core identity, namely Brahman (Vedanta) or Vijñāna.[12][note 8]

According to this definition or usage, nonduality refers to "Advaita", which means that there is no difference between Ātman and Brahman[6] or Vijñāna, "pure consciousness."[12][note 8] It is an essentialist position, which asserts the existence of an absolute reality that transcends everyday reality

Vedanta and other Hindu-traditions[edit]
Main article: Advaita Vedanta

Advaita is best known from the Advaita Vedanta tradition of Adi Shankara, who states that Brahman is pure Being, Consciousness and Bliss (Sat-cit-ananda).[19] Only Brahman is real; the empirical world is unreal, appearance.[20] Yet, Advaita Vedanta is closely related to Madhyamaka via Gaudapda, who took over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra)[6] Shankara harmonised Gaudapada's ideas with the Upanishadic texts, and provided an orthodox hermeneutical basis for heterodox Buddhist phenomology.[7][8] Advaita has become a broad current in Indian culture and religions, influencing subsequent traditions like Kashmir Shaivism.

Vijñapti-mātra and Buddha-nature in Buddhism[edit]

Vijñapti-mātra and the two truths doctrine, coupled with Buddha-nature, have also been influential concepts in the subsequent development of Mahayana Buddhism, not only in India, but also in China and Tibet, most notable in the Chán (Zen) and Dzogchen traditions.

Definition 3: Nondual consciousness[edit]

Nondualism as a modern spiritual movement is a Universalist or Perennialist, and essentialist approach, in western spirituality. It blends Asian religions and philosophies with the Perennial philosophy, attempting to transcend the fundamental differences between advaya and advaita. Various traditions are seen as grounded in a similar non-dual experience, which is expressed in different ways by different traditions.[21][note 9] Nondual consciousness is

[A] primordial, natural awareness without subject or object",[web 1][4]

The idea of a "nondual consciousness" has gained attraction and popularity in western spirituality and New Age-thinking. It is recognized in the Asian traditions, but also in western and Mediterranean religious traditions, and in western philosophy.[9]

David Loy sees non-duality between subject and object as a common thread in Taoism, Mahayana Buddhism & Advaita Vedanta.[4][note 10] According to Loy, referred by Pritcher:

...when you realize that the nature of your mind and the [U]niverse are nondual, you are enlightened.[38]

Advaya - nonduality of absolute and relative[edit]

Advaya is the non-duality of absolute and relative. It has its origins in Buddhist thought on the nature of existence and liberation, but is also recognized by Tantra and Advaita Vedanta.

Buddhism - levels of truth[edit]

Various schools of Buddhism discern levels of truth:

Madhyamaka - Two truths Doctrine[edit]

Madhyamaka, also known as Śūnyavāda, refers primarily to a Mahāyāna Buddhist school of philosophy[40] founded by Nāgārjuna. According to Madhyamaka all phenomena are empty of "substance" or "essence" (Sanskrit: svabhāva) because they are dependently co-arisen. Likewise it is because they are dependently co-arisen that they have no intrinsic, independent reality of their own. Madhyamaka also rejects the existence of an absolute reality or Self.[41] Ultimately, "absolute reality" is not an absolute, or the non-duality of a personal self and an absolute Self, but the deconstruction of such reifications.

The distinction between the two truths (satyadvayavibhāga) was fully expressed by the Madhyamaka-school. In Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā it is used to defend the identification of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda) with emptiness (śūnyatā):

The Buddha's teaching of the Dharma is based on two truths: a truth of worldly convention and an ultimate truth. Those who do not understand the distinction drawn between these two truths do not understand the Buddha's profound truth. Without a foundation in the conventional truth the significance of the ultimate cannot be taught. Without understanding the significance of the ultimate, liberation is not achieved.[42]

Yogacara - Three natures[edit]

Main article: Yogacara

Yogācāra (Sanskrit; literally: "yoga practice"; "one whose practice is yoga")[43] is an influential school of Buddhist philosophy and psychology emphasizing phenomenology and (some argue) ontology[44] through the interior lens of meditative and yogic practices. It developed within Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism in about the 4th century CE.[45]

The Yogācārins defined three basic modes by which we perceive our world. These are referred to in Yogācāra as the three natures of perception. They are:

  1. Parikalpita (literally, "fully conceptualized"): "imaginary nature", wherein things are incorrectly comprehended based on conceptual construction, through attachment and erroneous discrimination.
  2. Paratantra (literally, "other dependent"): "dependent nature", by which the correct understanding of the dependently originated nature of things is understood.
  3. Pariniṣpanna (literally, "fully accomplished"): "absolute nature", through which one comprehends things as they are in themselves, uninfluenced by any conceptualization at all.

Also, regarding perception, the Yogācārins emphasized that our everyday understanding of the existence of external objects is problematic, since in order to perceive any object (and thus, for all practical purposes, for the object to "exist"), there must be a sensory organ as well as a correlative type of consciousness to allow the process of cognition to occur.

Hua-yen Buddhism[edit]

Main articles: Huayan school and Indra's net

The Huayan school or Flower Garland is a tradition of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy that flourished in China during the Tang period. It is based on the Sanskrit Flower Garland Sutra (S. Avataṃsaka Sūtra, C. Huayan Jing) and on a lengthy Chinese interpretation of it, the Huayan Lun. The name Flower Garland is meant to suggest the crowning glory of profound understanding. Huayan teaches the Four Dharmadhatu, four ways to view reality:

  1. All dharmas are seen as particular separate events;
  2. All events are an expression of the absolute;
  3. Events and essence interpenetrate;
  4. All events interpenetrate.[46]

Absolute and relative in Zen[edit]

Main article: Zen

The teachings of Zen are expressed by a set of polarities: Buddha-nature - sunyata,[47][48] absolute-relative,[49] sudden and gradual enlightenment.[50]

The Prajnaparamita Sutras and Madhyamaka emphasized the non-duality of form and emptiness: form is emptiness, emptiness is form, as the Heart Sutra says.[49] The idea that the ultimate reality is present in the daily world of relative reality fitted into the Chinese culture which emphasized the mundane world and society. But this does not tell how the absolute is present in the relative world. This question is answered in such schemata as the Five Ranks of Tozan[51] and the Oxherding Pictures.

Essence-function in Korean Buddhism[edit]

The polarity of absolute and relative is also expressed as "essence-function". The absolute is essence, the relative is function. They can't be seen as separate realities, but interpenetrate each other. The distinction does not "exclude any other frameworks such as neng-so or "subject-object" constructions", though the two "are completely different from each other in terms of their way of thinking".[52] In Korean Buddhism, essence-function is also expressed as "body" and "the body's functions."[53] A metaphor for essence-function is "A lamp and its light", a phrase from the Platform Sutra, where Essence is lamp and Function is light.[54]


Main article: Tantra

Tantra is a religious tradition that originated in India the middle of the first millennium CE, and has been practiced by Buddhists, Hindus and Jains throughout south and southeast Asia.[55] It views humans as a microcosmos which mirrors the macrocosmos.[56] Its aim is to gain access to the energy or enlightened consciousness of the godhead or absolute, by embodying this energy or consciousness through rituals.[56] It views the godhead as both transcendent and immanent, and views the world as real, and not as an illusion:[57]

Rather than attempting to see through or transcend the world, the practicioner comes to recognize "that" (the world) as "I" (the supreme egoity of the godhead): in other words, s/he gains a "god's eye view" of the universe, and recognizes it to be nothing other than herself/himself. For East Asian Buddhist Tantra in particular, this means that the totality of the cosmos is a "realm of Dharma", sharing an underlying common principle.[58]

Although Buddhism had merely become extinct in India at the time of Islamic rule, Tantrism was kept alive in the Hindu yogic traditions, such as the Nath, from which the Inchegeri Sampradaya of Nisargadatta Maharaj descends.[59] Ramakrishna too was a tantric adherent, although his tantric background was overlaid and smoothed with an Advaita interpretation by his student Vivekananda.[60]

Advaita Vedanta - Three levels of reality[edit]

Advaita took over from the Madhyamika the idea of levels of reality.[61] Usually two levels are being mentioned,[62] but Shankara uses sublation as the criterion to postulate an ontological hierarchy of three levels:[63][web 4]

  • Pāramārthika (paramartha, absolute), the absolute level, "which is absolutely real and into which both other reality levels can be resolved".[web 4] This experience can't be sublated by any other experience.[63]
  • Vyāvahārika (vyavahara), or samvriti-saya[62] (empirical or pragmatical), "our world of experience, the phenomenal world that we handle every day when we are awake".[web 4] It is the level in which both jiva (living creatures or individual souls) and Iswara are true; here, the material world is also true.
  • Prāthibhāsika (pratibhasika, apparent reality, unreality), "reality based on imagination alone".[web 4] It is the level in which appearances are actually false, like the illusion of a snake over a rope, or a dream.

Advaita - identity of Atman and the Absolute[edit]

"Advaita" refers to knowledge of a differenceless entity, namely Vijñāna (Yogacara),[12][note 8] Brahman (Vedanta),[12] or Shiva (Shaivism).[1] Although the Advaita Vedanta school of Adi Shankara is best known for the term "advaita," it is also propagated by other traditional and modern schools and teachers.[note 11]


"Advaita", Sanskrit a, not; dvaita, dual, is usually translated as "nondualism", "nonduality" and "nondual". The term "nondualism" and the term "advaita" from which it originates are polyvalent terms. The English word's origin is the Latin duo meaning "two" prefixed with "non-" meaning "not".

The first usage of the terms are yet to be attested. The English term "nondual" was also informed by early translations of the Upanishads in Western languages other than English from 1775.

These terms have entered the English language from literal English renderings of "advaita" subsequent to the first wave of English translations of the Upanishads. These translations commenced with the work of Müller (1823–1900), in the monumental Sacred Books of the East (1879).

Max Müller rendered "advaita" as "Monism" under influence of the then prevailing discourse of English translations of the Classical Tradition of the Ancient Greeks, such as Thales (624 BCE–c.546 BCE) and Heraclitus (c.535 BCE–c.475 BCE).


Main article: Vedanta

Several schools of Vedanta teach a form of nondualism. The best-known is Advaita Vedanta, but other nondual Vedanta schools also have a significant influence and following, such as Vishishtadvaita Vedanta and Shuddhadvaita.[1]

Advaita Vedanta[edit]

Main article: Advaita Vedanta
Swans are important figures in Advaita

The nonduality of the Advaita Vedantins is of the identity of Brahman and the Atman.[67]

The oldest exposition of Advaita Vedanta is written by Gauḍapāda (6th century CE),[6] who has traditionally been regarded as the teacher of Govinda bhagavatpāda and the grandteacher of Shankara. Gaudapda took over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra)[6][note 12] and "that the nature of the world is the four-cornered negation".[6][note 13] Gaudapada "wove [both doctrines] into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad, which was further developed by Shankara.[71][note 14]

Gaudapada also took over the Buddhist concept of "ajāta" from Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy,[14][15] which uses the term "anutpāda".[73] [note 15] "Ajātivāda", "the Doctrine of no-origination"[75][note 16] or non-creation, is the fundamental philosophical doctrine of Gaudapada.[75]

Adi Shankara (788 - 820), systematized the works of preceding philosophers,[76] and provided an orthodox hermeneutical basis for heterodox Buddhist phenomology.[7][8]

Vishishtadvaita Vedanta[edit]

Sri Ramanujacharya, pioneer of Vishishtadvaita Vedanta and the foremost Jeeyar of Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya.

Vishishtadvaita Vedanta, is another main school of Vedanta, which teaches the nonduality of the qualified whole, in which Brahman alone exists, but is characterized by multiplicity. It can be described as "qualified monism," or qualified non-dualism," or "attributive monism."

According to this school, the world is real, yet underlying all the differences is an all-embracing unity, of which all "things" are an "attribute.". Ramanuja, the main proponent of Vishishtadvaita philosophy contends that the Prasthana Traya ("The three courses"), namely the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras are to be interpreted in a way that shows this unity in diversity, for any other way would violate their consistency.

Vedanta Desika defines Vishishtadvaita using the statement: Asesha Chit-Achit Prakaaram Brahmaikameva TatvamBrahman, as qualified by the sentient and insentient modes (or attributes), is the only reality.


Neo-Vedanta, also called "neo-Hinduism"[77] and "Hindu Universalism",[web 9] is a modern interpretation of Hinduism which developed in response to western colonialism and orientalism, and aims to present Hinduism as a "homogenized ideal of Hinduism"[78] with Advaita Vedanta as its central doctrine.[79]

Neo-Vedanta, as represented by Vivekananda and Radhakrishnan, is indebted to Advaita vedanta, but also reflects Advaya-philosophy. Radhakrishnan acknowledged the reality and diversity of the world of experience, which he saw as grounded in and supported by the absolute or Brahman.[web 10][note 17] According to Anil Sooklal, Vivekananda's neo-Advaita "reconciles Dvaita or dualism and Advaita or non-dualism":[81]

The Neo-Vedanta is also Advaitic inasmuch as it holds that Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, is one without a second, ekamevadvitiyam. But as distinguished from the traditional Advaita of Sankara, it is a synthetic Vedanta which reconciles Dvaita or dualism and Advaita or non-dualism and also other theories of reality. In this sense it may also be called concrete monism in so far as it holds that Brahman is both qualified, saguna, and qualityless, nirguna.[81]

Radhakrishnan also reinterpreted Shankara's notion of maya. According to Radhakrishnan, maya is not a strict absolute idealism, but "a subjective misperception of the world as ultimately real."[web 10] According to Sarma, standing in the tradition of Nisargadatta Maharaj, Advaitavāda means "spiritual non-dualism or absolutism",[82] in which opposites are manifestations of the Absolute, which itself is immanent and transcendent:[83]

All opposites like being and non-being, life and death, good and evil, light and darkness, gods and men, soul and nature are viewed as manifestations of the Absolute which is immanent in the universe and yet transcends it.[83]

Kashmir Shaivism[edit]

Main articles: Shaivism and Kashmir Shaivism
Cover of a Shakta Manuscript with Uma-Maheshvara,Ganesha and Skanda

Advaita is also a central concept in various schools of Shaivism, such as Kashmir Shaivism and [1] and Shiva Advaita.

Kashmir Shaivism is a school of Śaivism, described by Abhinavagupta[note 18] as "paradvaita", meaning "the supreme and absolute non-dualism".[web 11] It is categorized by various scholars as monistic[84] idealism (absolute idealism, theistic monism,[85] realistic idealism,[86] transcendental physicalism or concrete monism.[86])

Kashmir Saivism is based on a strong monistic interpretation of the Bhairava Tantras and its subcategory the Kaula Tantras, which were tantras written by the Kapalikas.[87] There was additionally a revelation of the Siva Sutras to Vasugupta.[87] Kashmir Saivism claimed to supersede the dualistic Shaiva Siddhanta.[88] Somananda, the first theologian of monistic Saivism, was the teacher of Utpaladeva, who was the grand-teacher of Abhinavagupta, who in turn was the teacher of Ksemaraja.[87][89]

The philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism can be seen in contrast to Shankara's Advaita.[90] Advaita Vedanta holds that Brahman is inactive (niṣkriya) and the phenomenal world is an illusion (māyā). In Kashmir Shavisim, all things are a manifestation of the Universal Consciousness, Chit or Brahman.[91][92] Kashmir Shavisim sees the phenomenal world (Śakti) as real: it exists, and has its being in Consciousness (Chit).[93]

Contemporary vernacular Advaita[edit]

Advaita is also part of other Indian traditions, which are less strongly, or not all, organised in monastic and institutional organisations. Although often called "Advaita Vedanta," these traditions have their origins in vernacular movements and "householder" traditions, and have close ties to the Nath, Nayanars and Sant Mat traditions.

Ramana Maharshi[edit]

Ramana Maharshi (1879–1950) explained his insight using Shaiva Siddhanta, Advaita Vedanta and Yoga teachings.
Main article: Ramana Maharshi

Ramana Maharshi (30 December 1879 – 14 April 1950) is widely acknowledged as one of the outstanding Indian gurus of modern times.[94] Ramana's teachings are often interpreted as Advaita Vedanta, though Ramana Maharshi never "received diksha (initiation) from any recognised authority".[web 12] Ramana himself did not call his insights advaita:

D. Does Sri Bhagavan advocate advaita?

M. Dvaita and advaita are relative terms. They are based on the sense of duality. the Self is as it is. There is neither dvaita nor advaita. "I Am that I Am."[note 19] Simple Being is the Self.[96]

Natha Sampradaya and Inchegeri Sampradaya[edit]

Main articles: Nath and Sahaja

The Natha Sampradaya, with Nath yogis such as Gorakhnath, introduced Sahaja, the concept of a spontaneous spirituality. Sahaja means "spontaneous, natural, simple, or easy"[web 15]

The Inchegeri Sampradaya of Siddharameshwar Maharaj and Nisargadatta Maharaj belongs to the Nath-tradition. Siddharameshwar Maharaj calls turiya the "Great-Causal Body",[97] and counts it as the fourth body. He describes his method of self-enquiry, in which the three bodies are recognized as "empty" of an essence or the sense of "I am".[98][note 20] This knowledge resides in the fourth body or turiya,[99] and cannot be described.[98][note 21] It is Turiya, the state before Ignorance and Knowledge.[97]

Vijñapti-mātra and Buddha-nature in Buddhism[edit]

Vijñapti-mātra and the two truths doctrine are closely linked to Buddha-nature. Those teachings have had a profound influence on Mahayana Buddhism, not only in India, but also in China and Tibet, most notably the Chán (Zen) and Dzogchen traditions.

Yogacara - Vijñapti-mātra[edit]

Main article: Yogacara

Vijñapti-mātra, "consciousness-only" or "representation-only" is one of the main features of Yogācāra philosophy. It is often used interchangeably with the term citta-mātra, but they have different meanings. The standard translation of both terms is "consciousness-only" or "mind-only." Several modern researchers object this translation, and the accompanying label of "absolute idealism" or "idealistic monism".[68] A better translation for vijñapti-mātra is representation-only.[69]

According to Kochumuttom, Yogacara is a realistic pluralism. It does not deny the existence of individual beings, but denies the following:[68]

1. That the absolute mode of reality is consciousness/mind/ideas,
2. That the individual beings are transformations or evolutes of an absolute consciousness/mind/idea,
3. That the individual beings are but illusory appearances of a monistic reality.[101]

Vijñapti-mātra then means "mere representation of consciousness":

[T]he phrase vijñaptimātratā-vāda means a theory which says that the world as it appears to the unenlightened ones is mere representation of consciousness. Therefore, any attempt to interpret vijñaptimātratā-vāda as idealism would be a gross misunderstanding of it.[69]

The term vijñapti-mātra replaced the "more metaphysical"[102] term citta-mātra used in the Lankavatara Sutra.[103] The Lankavatara Sutra "appears to be one of the earliest attempts to provide a philosophical justification for the Absolutism that emerged in Mahayana in relation to the concept of Buddha".[104] It uses the term citta-mātra, which means properly "thought-only". By using this term it develops an ontology, in contrast to the epistemology of the term vijñapti-mātra. The Lankavatara Sutra equates citta and the absolute. According to Kochumuttom, this not the way Yogacara uses the term vijñapti:[105]

[T]he absolute state is defined simply as emptiness, namely the emptiness of subject-object distinction. Once thus defined as emptiness (sunyata), it receives a number of synonyms, none of which betray idealism.[106]


Main article: Buddha-nature

The Buddhist teachings on the Buddha-nature may be regarded as a form of nondualism.[107] Buddha-nature is the essential element that allows sentient beings to become Buddhas.[108] The term, Buddha nature, is a translation of the Sanskrit coinage, 'Buddha-dhātu', which seems first to have appeared in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra,[109] where it refers to 'a sacred nature that is the basis for [beings'] becoming buddhas.'[110] The term seems to have been used most frequently to translate the Sanskrit "Tathāgatagarbha". The Sanskrit term "tathāgatagarbha" may be parsed into tathāgata ("the one thus gone", referring to the Buddha) and garbha ("womb").[note 22] The tathagatagarbha, when freed from avidya ("ignorance"), is the dharmakaya, the Absolute.


Main articles: Zen, Buddha-nature, Kenshō and Shikan-taza

The Buddha-nature and Yogacara philosophies have had a strong influence on Chán and Zen. The continuous pondering of the break-through kōan (shokan[111]) or Hua Tou, "word head",[112] leads to kensho, an initial insight into "seeing the (Buddha-)nature.[113]

According to Hori, a central theme of many koans is the 'identity of opposites', and point to the original nonduality.[114][115] Victor Sogen Hori describes kensho, when attained through koan-study, as the absence of subject-object duality.[116]}} The aim of the socalled break-through koan is to see the "nonduality of subject and object", [114][115] in which "subject and object are no longer separate and distinct."[117]}}

Zen Buddhist training does not end with kenshō. Practice is to be continued to deepen the insight and to express it in daily life,[118][119][120][121] to fully manifest the nonduality of absolute and relative.[122][123] To deepen the initial insight of kensho, shikantaza and kōan-study are necessary. This trajectory of initial insight followed by a gradual deepening and ripening is expressed by Linji Yixuan in his Three mysterious Gates, the Four Ways of Knowing of Hakuin,[124] the Five Ranks, and the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures[125] which detail the steps on the Path.

Tibetan Buddhism[edit]

Shentong and rangtong[edit]
Main articles: shentomg and Rangtong

In Tibetan Buddhism, the essentialist position is represented by shentong, while the nonimalist, or non-essentialist position, is represented by rangtong.

Shentong is a philosophical sub-school found in Tibetan Buddhism. Its adherents generally hold that the nature of mind, the substratum of the mindstream, is "empty" (Wylie: stong) of "other" (Wylie: gzhan), i.e., empty of all qualities other than an inherently existing, ineffable nature. Shentong has often been incorrectly associated with the Cittamātra (Yogacara) position, but is in fact also Madhyamaka,[126] and is present primarily as the main philosophical theory of the Jonang school, although it is also taught by the Sakya[127] and Kagyu schools.[128][129] According to Shentongpa (proponents of shentong), the emptiness of ultimate reality should not be characterized in the same way as the emptiness of apparent phenomena because it is prabhāśvara-saṃtāna, or "luminous mindstream" endowed with limitless Buddha qualities.[130] It is empty of all that is false, not empty of the limitless Buddha qualities that are its innate nature.

The contrasting rangtong view, of the followers of Prasaṅgika Mādhyamaka, is that all phenomena are sunyata, empty of self-nature, and that this "emptiness" is itself only a qualification, not a concrete existing "absolute" reality.[131] This position is associated with the Madhyamaka school, which dominates both Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.

Main articles: Dzogchen and Rigpa

Dzogchen is concerned with the "natural state", and emphasizing direct experience. The state of nondual awareness, is called rigpa.[citation needed] This primordial nature is clear light, unproduced and unchanging, free from all defilements. Through meditation, the Dzogchen practitioner experiences that thoughts have no substance. Mental phenomena arise and fall in the mind, but fundamentally they are empty. The practitioner then considers where the mind itself resides. Through careful examination one realizes that the mind is emptiness.[132]

Karma Lingpa (1326–1386) revealed "Self-Liberation through seeing with naked awareness" (rigpa ngo-sprod,[note 23]) which is attributed to Padmasambhava.[134][note 24] The text gives an introduction, or pointing-out instruction (ngo-spro), into rigpa, the state of presence and awareness.[134] In this text, Karma Lingpa writes the following regarding the unity of various terms for nonduality:

With respect to its having a name, the various names that are applied to it are inconceivable (in their numbers).
Some call it "the nature of the mind" or "mind itself."
Some Tirthikas call it by the name Atman or "the Self."
The Sravakas call it the doctrine of Anatman or "the absence of a self."
The Chittamatrins call it by the name Chitta or "the Mind."
Some call it the Prajnaparamita or "the Perfection of Wisdom."
Some call it the name Tathagata-garbha or "the embryo of Buddhahood."
Some call it by the name Mahamudra or "the Great Symbol."
Some call it by the name "the Unique Sphere."
Some call it by the name Dharmadhatu or "the dimension of Reality."
Some call it by the name Alaya or "the basis of everything."
And some simply call it by the name "ordinary awareness."[139][note 25]

Nondual consciousness[edit]

A popular western understanding of "nondualism" is "nondual consciousness", the experience of "a primordial, natural awareness without subject or object"[web 16] called turiya and sahaja in Hinduism, and luminous mind, Buddha-nature and rigpa (among other terms) in Buddhism. It is used interchangeably with Neo-Advaita.[web 17] All terms refer to the Absolute, and its usage is different from adyiva, the non-dualism of absolute and relative reality.

Nonduality as common essence[edit]

This nondual consciousness is seen as a common stratum to different religions. Several definitions or meanings are combined in this approach, which makes it possible to recognize various traditions as having the same essence.[21] According to Renard, many forms of religion are based on an experiential or intuitive understanding of "the Real"[140] Though the notion of nondualism as common essence is a modern notion, some of the included traditions themselves also refer to levels of truth which transcend even non-dualism. In Kashmir Shaivism, the term "paradvaita" is being used, meaning "the supreme and absolute non-dualism".[web 18] And Gaudapada, the grandteacher of Shankara, states that, from the absolute standpoint, not even "non-dual" exists.[141]

Nondualism and monism[edit]

Main article: Monism

Nondualism as common essence prefers the term "nondualism", instead of monism, because this understanding is "nonconceptual", "not graspapable in an idea".[140][note 26] Even to call this "ground of reality" "One" or "Oneness" is attributing a characteristic to that ground of reality. The only thing that can be said is that it is "not two" or "non-dual":[web 19][142] According to Renard, Alan Watts has been one of the main contributors to the popularisation of the non-monistic understanding of "nondualism".[140][note 37]

Main article: Taoism

Taoism's wu wei (Chinese wu, not; wei, doing) is a term with various translations[note 38] and interpretations designed to distinguish it from passivity. The concept of Yin and Yang, often mistakenly conceived of as a symbol of dualism, is actually meant to convey the notion that all apparent opposites are complementary parts of a non-dual whole.[188]

Main articles: Subud and Javanese beliefs

Subud is a spiritual movement that began in Java, Indonesia in the 1920s as a movement founded by Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo.[note 39] Java has been a melting pot of religions and cultures, which has created a broad range of religious belief. Muhammad Subuh claimed that Subud is not a new teaching or religion but only that the latihan kejiwaan itself is the kind of proof that humanity is looking for. The name "Subud" is an acronym that stands for three Javanese words, Susila Budhi Dharma, which are derived from the Sanskrit terms suzila, bodhi and dharma.[189][note 40] The basis of Subud is a spiritual exercise commonly referred to as the latihan kejiwaan, the guidance from "the Power of God" or "the Great Life Force". The latihan is a vivid encounter which is fresh, alive and personal. It evolves and deepens over time.

Middle-eastern religions[edit]

Jewish traditions and Hasidism[edit]
Main articles: Judaism, Hasidism and Kabbalah

According to Jay Michaelson, nonduality begins to appear in the medieval Jewish textual tradition which peaked in Hasidism.[191] According to Michaelson:

Judaism has within it a strong and very ancient mystical tradition that is deeply nondualistic. "Ein Sof" or infinite nothingness is considered the ground face of all that is. God is considered beyond all proposition or preconception. The physical world is seen as emanating from the nothingness as the many faces "partsufim" of god that are all a part of the sacred nothingness.[192]

Main article: Christian Mysticism
The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, St John the Baptist, St Antony Abbot

The Cloud of Unknowing an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century advocates a mystic relationship with God. The text describes a spiritual union with God through the heart. The author of the text advocates centering prayer, a form of inner silence. According to the text God can not be known through knowledge or from intellection. It is only by emptying the mind of all created images and thoughts that we can arrive to experience God. According to the text God is completely unknowable by the mind. God is not known through the intellect but through intense contemplation, motivated by love, and stripped of all thought.[193]

Christian Science has been described as nondual. In a glossary of terms written by the founder, Mary Baker Eddy, matter is defined as illusion, and when defining 'I, or Ego' as the divine in relationship with individual identity, she writes "There is but one I, or Us, but one divine Principle, or Mind, governing all existence" – continuing – ". . .whatever reflects not this one Mind, is false and erroneous, even the belief that life, substance, and intelligence are both mental and material."[194]

According to the teachings of The Infinite Way, God is a non-dual experience.[citation needed] Joel Goldsmith wrote that thought and ideas in the mind take people away from the realization of God. To experience God, he recommended meditation and for the subject to tune into the present moment so duality of the subject disappears.[citation needed]

The former nun and contemplative Bernadette Roberts is considered a nondualist by Jerry Katz.[21]

Thomism, though not non-dual in the ordinary sense, considers the unity of God so absolute that even the duality of subject and predicate, to describe him, can be true only by analogy. In Thomist thought, even the Tetragrammaton is only an approximate name, since "I am" involves a predicate whose own essence is its subject.[195]

Main article: Gnosticism

Since its beginning, Gnosticism has been characterized by many dualisms and dualities, including the doctrine of a separate God and Manichaean (good/evil) dualism. Ronald Miller interprets the Gospel of Thomas as a teaching of "nondualistic consciousness".[196]

Main articles: Islam and Sufism

Sufism and Irfan (Arabic تصوف taṣawwuf) are the mystical traditions of Islam. There are a number of different Sufi orders that follow the teachings of particular spiritual masters, but the bond that unites all Sufis is the concept of ego annihilation through various spiritual exercises and a persistent, ever-increasing longing for union with the divine.[197] Reza Aslan has written:

Like most mystics, Sufis strive to eliminate the dichotomy between subject and object in their worship. The goal is to create an inseparable union between the individual and the Divine.[198]

The central doctrine of Sufism, sometimes called Wahdat-ul-Wujood or Wahdat al-Wujud or Unity of Being, is the Sufi understanding of Tawhid (the oneness of God; absolute monotheism).[199] Put very simply, for Sufis, Tawhid implies that all phenomena are manifestations of a single reality, or Wujud (being), which is indeed al-Haq (Truth, God). The essence of Being/Truth/God is devoid of every form and quality, and hence unmanifest, yet it is inseparable from every form and phenomenon, either material or spiritual. It is often understood to imply that every phenomenon is an aspect of Truth and at the same time attribution of existence to it is false. The chief aim of all Sufis then is to let go of all notions of duality (and therefore of the individual self also), and realize the divine unity which is considered to be the truth.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, (1207–1273), one of the most famous Sufi masters and poets, has written that what humans perceive as duality is in fact a veil, masking the reality of the Oneness of existence:

All desires, preferences, affections, and loves people have for all sorts of things [are veils] [...] When one passes beyond this world and sees that Sovereign (God) without these 'veils,' then one will realize that all those things were 'veils' and 'coverings' and that what they were seeking was in reality that One.[200]

Western philosophy[edit]

Main article: Neoplatonism

Scholar Jay Michaelson identifies the origins of non-dualism proper founded in the Neoplatonism of Plotinus within Ancient Greece,[191] and employs the ambiguous binary construction of "the West".[note 41]

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Ananda Coomaraswamy used the writing of Plotinus in their own texts as a superlative elaboration upon Indian monism, specifically Upanishadic and Advaita Vedantic thought.[citation needed] Ananda Coomaraswamy has compared Plotinus' teachings to the Hindu school of Advaita Vedanta (advaita meaning "not two" or "non-dual"),[201] Advaita Vedanta and Neoplatonism have been compared by J. F. Staal,[202] Frederick Copleston,[203] Aldo Magris and Mario Piantelli,[204] Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan,[205] Gwen Griffith-Dickson,[206] and John Y. Fenton.[207]

The joint influence of Advaitin and Neoplatonic ideas on Ralph Waldo Emerson is considered by Dale Riepe.[208]

Process philosophy[edit]

Process philosophy, and especially Alfred North Whitehead's blend, has sought to develop a worldview that avoids ontological dualism but still provides a distinction between body, mind and soul.[209]


The idea of a common essence is objected by Yandell, who discerns various "religious experiences" and their corresponding doctrinal settings, which differ in structure and phenomenological content, and in the "evidential value" they present.[210] Yandell discerns five sorts:[211]

  1. Numinous experiences - Monotheism (Jewish, Christian, Vedantic)[212]
  2. Nirvanic experiences - Buddhism,[213] "according to which one sees that the self is but a bundle of fleeting states"[214]
  3. Kevala experiences[215] - Jainism,[216] "according to which one sees the self as an undestructible subject of experience"[216]
  4. Moksha experiences[217] - Hinduism,[216] Brahman "either as a cosmic person, or, quite differently, as qualityless"[216]
  5. Nature mystical experience[215]

See also[edit]


Metaphors for nondualisms


  1. ^ Called turiya and sahaja in Hinduism, and luminous mind, Buddha-nature and rigpa (among other terms) in Buddhism.
  2. ^ Loy distinguishes even "Five Flavors Of Nonduality":[web 3]
    1. The negation of dualistic thinking in pairs of opposites. The Yin-Yang symbol of Taoism symbolises the transcendence of this dualistic way of thinking.[web 3]
    2. The nonplurality of the world. Although the phenomenal world appears as a pluarality of "things", in reality they are "of a single cloth".[web 3]
    3. The nondifference of subject and object, or nonduality between subject and object.[web 3]
    4. The identity of phenomena and the Absolute, the "nonduality of duality and nonduality".[web 3]
    5. A mystical unity between God and man.[web 3]
  3. ^ See also, FAQ and, What is Nonduality, Nondualism, or Advaita? Over 100 definitions, descriptions, and discussions.
  4. ^ The distinction is made by T.R.V. Murti in his "The Central Phiosophy", and referenced to by Nunen[11] and Davis.[5]
  5. ^ See also essence and function and Absolute-relative on Chinese Chán
  6. ^ Sunyata can also be referred to as "anutpada" (Buddhism), or Ajativada, meaning unborn, without origin.[14][15] The term is also used in the Lankavatara Sutra.[16] According to D.T Suzuki, "anutpada" is not the opposite of "utpada", but transcends opposites. It is the seeing into the true nature of existence,[17] the seeing that "all objects are without self-substance".[18]
  7. ^ Kalupahana: "Two aspects of the Buddha's teachings, the philosophical and the practical, which are mutually dependent, are clearly enunciated in two discourses, the Kaccaayanagotta-sutta and the Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta, both of which are held in high esteem by almost all schools of Buddhism in spite of their sectarian rivalries. The Kaccaayanagotta-sutta, quoted by almost all the major schools of Buddhism, deals with the philosophical "middle path", placed against the backdrop of two absolutistic theories in Indian philosophy, namely, permanent existence (atthitaa) propounded in the early Upanishads and nihilistic non-existence (natthitaa) suggested by the Materialists."
  8. ^ a b c Vijnana can be translated as "consciousness", "life force", "mind"[64] or "discernment".[65][66]
  9. ^ This nondual consciousness is perceived in a wide variety of religious traditions:
  10. ^ According to Loy, nondualism is primarily an Eastern way of understanding: "...[the seed of nonduality] however often sown, has never found fertile soil [in the West], because it has been too antithetical to those other vigorous sprouts that have grown into modern science and technology. In the Eastern tradition [...] we encounter a different situation. There the seeds of seer-seen nonduality not only sprouted but matured into a variety (some might say a jungle) of impressive philosophical species. By no means do all these [Eastern] systems assert the nonduality of subject and object, but it is significant that three which do – Buddhism, Vedanta and Taoism – have probably been the most influential.[37]
  11. ^ This is reflected in the name "Advaita Vision," the website of, which propagates a broad and inclusive understanding of advaita.[web 5]
  12. ^ It is often used interchangeably with the term citta-mātra, but they have different meanings. The standard translation of both terms is "consciousness-only" or "mind-only." Several modern researchers object this translation, and the accompanying label of "absolute idealism" or "idealistic monism".[68] A better translation for vijñapti-mātra is representation-only.[69]
  13. ^ 1. Something is. 2. It is not. 3. It both is and is not. 4. It neither is nor is not.[web 6][70]
  14. ^ The influence of Mahayana Buddhism on other religions and philosophies was not limited to Vedanta. Kalupahana notes that the Visuddhimagga contains "some metaphysical speculations, such as those of the Sarvastivadins, the Sautrantikas, and even the Yogacarins".[72]
  15. ^ "An" means "not", or "non"; "utpāda" means "genesis", "coming forth", "birth"[web 7] Taken together "anutpāda" means "having no origin", "not coming into existence", "not taking effect", "non-production".[web 8] The Buddhist tradition usually uses the term "anutpāda" for the absence of an origin[14][73] or sunyata.[74] The term is also used in the Lankavatara Sutra.[16] According to D.T Suzuki, "anutpada" is not the opposite of "utpada", but transcends opposites. It is the seeing into the true nature of existence,[17] the seeing that "all objects are without self-substance".[18]
  16. ^ "A" means "not", or "non" as in Ahimsa, non-harm; "jāti" means "creation" or "origination;[75] "vāda" means "doctrine"[75]
  17. ^ Neo-Vedanta seems to be closer to Bhedabheda-Vedanta than to Shankara's Advaita Vedanta, with the acknowledgement of the reality of the world. Nicholas F. Gier: "Ramakrsna, Svami Vivekananda, and Aurobindo (I also include M.K. Gandhi) have been labeled "neo-Vedantists," a philosophy that rejects the Advaitins' claim that the world is illusory. Aurobindo, in his The Life Divine, declares that he has moved from Sankara's "universal illusionism" to his own "universal realism" (2005: 432), defined as metaphysical realism in the European philosophical sense of the term."[80]
  18. ^ Abhinavgupta (between 10th – 11th century AD) who summarized the view points of all previous thinkers and presented the philosophy in a logical way along with his own thoughts in his treatise Tantraloka.[web 11]
  19. ^ A Christian reference. See [web 13] and [web 14] Ramana was taught at Christian schools.[95]
  20. ^ Siddharameshwar Maharaj's method closely parallels Buddhist methods of enquiry into the nature of self, as reflected in the Milinda Panha.
  21. ^ According to Nisargadatta Maharaj too, what this "I am" is cannot be described or defined; the only thing to be stated about it is what it is not.[100]
  22. ^ The term "garbha" has multiple denotations. A denotation of note is the garba of the Gujarati: where a spiritual circle dance is performed around a light or candle placed at the centre, bindu. This dance informs the Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine. Interestingly, the Dzogchenpa tertön Namkai Norbu teaches a similar dance upon a mandala, the Dance of the Six Lokas as terma, where a candle or light is similarly placed.[citation needed]
  23. ^ Full: rigpa ngo-sprod gcer-mthong rang-grol[133]
  24. ^ This text is part of a collection of teachings entitled "Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones"[135] (zab-chos zhi khro dgongs pa rang grol, also known as kar-gling zhi-khro[136]), which includes the two texts of bar-do thos-grol, the so-called "Tibetan Book of the Dead".[137] The bar-do thos-grol was translated by Kazi Dawa Samdup (1868-1922), and edited and published by W.Y. Evans-Wenz. This translation became widely known and popular as "the Tibetan Book of the Dead", but contains many misatkes in translation and interpretation.[137][138]
  25. ^ See also Self Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness
  26. ^ In Dutch: "Niet in een denkbeeld te vatten".[140]
  27. ^ James also gives descriptions of conversion experiences. The Christian model of dramatic conversions, based on the role-model of Paul's conversion, may also have served as a model for Western interpretations and expectations regarding "enlightenment", similar to Protestant influences on Theravada Buddhism, as described by Carrithers: "It rests upon the notion of the primacy of religious experiences, preferably spectacular ones, as the origin and legitimation of religious action. But this presupposition has a natural home, not in Buddhism, but in Christian and especially Protestant Christian movements which prescribe a radical conversion."[150] See Sekida for an example of this influence of William James and Christian conversion stories, mentioning Luther[151] and St. Paul.[152] See also McMahan for the influence of Christian thought on Buddhism.[153]
  28. ^ See McMahan, "The making of Buddhist modernity"[153] and Richard E. King, "Orientalism and Religion"[60] for descriptions of this mutual exchange.
  29. ^ The awareness of historical precedents seems to be lacking in nonduality-adherents, just as the subjective perception of parallels between a wide variety of religious traditions lacks a rigorous philosophical or theoretical underpinning.
  30. ^ And called his poodle "Atman".[158]
  31. ^ See also Ascended Master Teachings
  32. ^ The Theosophical Society had a major influence on Buddhist modernism[153] and Hindu reform movements,[162] and the spread of those modernised versions in the west.[153] The Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj were united from 1878 to 1882, as the Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj.[165] Along with H. S. Olcott and Anagarika Dharmapala, Blavatsky was instrumental in the Western transmission and revival of Theravada Buddhism.[166][167][168]
  33. ^ Marek: "Wobei der Begriff Neo-Advaita darauf hinweist, dass sich die traditionelle Advaita von dieser Strömung zunehmend distanziert, da sie die Bedeutung der übenden Vorbereitung nach wie vor als unumgänglich ansieht. (The term Neo-Advaita indicating that the traditional Advaita increasingly distances itself from this movement, as they regard preparational practicing still as inevitable)[179]
  34. ^ Alan Jacobs: Many firm devotees of Sri Ramana Maharshi now rightly term this western phenomenon as 'Neo-Advaita'. The term is carefully selected because 'neo' means 'a new or revived form'. And this new form is not the Classical Advaita which we understand to have been taught by both of the Great Self Realised Sages, Adi Shankara and Ramana Maharshi. It can even be termed 'pseudo' because, by presenting the teaching in a highly attenuated form, it might be described as purporting to be Advaita, but not in effect actually being so, in the fullest sense of the word. In this watering down of the essential truths in a palatable style made acceptable and attractive to the contemporary western mind, their teaching is misleading.[181]
  35. ^ See for other examples Conway[web 25] and Swartz[web 26]
  36. ^ Presently cohen has distnced himself from Poonja, and calls his teachings "Evolutionary Enlightenment".[186] What Is Enlightenment, the magazine published by Choen's organisation, has been critical of neo-Advaita several times, as early as 2001. See.[web 27][web 28][web 29]
  37. ^ According to Renard, Alan Watts has explained the difference between "non-dualism" and "monism" in The Supreme Identity, Faber and Faber 1950, p.69 and 95; The Way of Zen, Pelican-edition 1976, p.59-60.[143]

    Nondualism and "religious experience"[edit]

    Main article: religious experience

    The notion of "religious experience" can be traced back to William James, who used the term "religious experience" in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience.[144] The origins of the use of this term can be dated further back.[145]

    In the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, several historical figures put forth very influential views that religion and its beliefs can be grounded in experience itself. While Kant held that moral experience justified religious beliefs, John Wesley in addition to stressing individual moral exertion thought that the religious experiences in the Methodist movement (paralleling the Romantic Movement) were foundational to religious commitment as a way of life.[146]

    Wayne Proudfoot traces the roots of the notion of "religious experience" to the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), who argued that religion is based on a feeling of the infinite. The notion of "religious experience" was used by Schleiermacher and Albert Ritschl to defend religion against the growing scientific and secular citique, and defend the view that human (moral and religious) experience justifies religious beliefs.[145]

    Such religious empiricism would be later seen as highly problematic and was — during the period in-between world wars — famously rejected by Karl Barth.[147] In the 20th century, religious as well as moral experience as justification for religious beliefs still holds sway. Some influential modern scholars holding this liberal theological view are Charles Raven and the Oxford physicist/theologian Charles Coulson.[148]

    The notion of "religious experience" was adopted by many scholars of religion, of which William James was the most influential.[149][note 27]

    Development of the modern understanding of "nondualism"[edit]

    The idea of nonduality as "the central essence"[154] is part of a modern mutual exchange and synthesis of ideas between western spiritual and esoteric traditions and Asian religious revival and reform movements.[note 28] Western predecessors are, among others, Orientalism, Transcendentalism, Theosophy, the idea of a Perennial Philosophy, New Age,[155] and Wilber's synthesis of western psychology and Asian spirituality.

    Eastern movements are the Hindu reform movements such as Vivekananda's Neo-Vedanta and Aurobindo's Integral Yoga, the Vipassana movement, and Buddhist modernism.[note 29]


    Main article: Orientalism

    The western world has been exposed to Indian religious since the late 18th century.[156] In 1785 appeared the first western translation of a Sanskrit-text.[156] It marked the growing interest in the Indian culture and languages.[157] The first translation of Upanishads appeared in two parts in 1801 and 1802,[157] which influenced Arthur Schopenhauer, who called them "the consolation of my life".[158][note 30] Early translations also appeared in other European languages.[159]

    Transcendentalism and Unitarian Universalism[edit]

    Main article: Transcendentalism

    Transcendentalism was an early 19th-century liberal Protestant movement that developed in the 1830s and 1840s in the Eastern region of the United States. It was rooted in English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Herder and Schleiermacher, and the skepticism of Hume.[web 20]

    The Transcendentalists emphasised an intuitive, experiential approach of religion.[web 21] Following Schleiermacher,[160] an individual's intuition of truth was taken as the criterium for truth.[web 21] In the late 18th and early 19th century, the first translations of Hindu texts appeared, which were also read by the Transcendentalists, and influenced their thinking.[web 21] They also endorsed universalist and Unitarianist ideas, leading to Unitarian Universalism, the idea that there must be truth in other religions as well, since a loving God would redeem all living beings, not just Christians.[web 21][web 22]

    Among the transcendentalists' core beliefs was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. Transcendentalists believed that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupted the purity of the individual. They had faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.

    The major figures in the movement were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Margaret Fuller and Amos Bronson Alcott.

    Theosophical Society[edit]

    Main article: Theosophical Society

    A major force in the mutual influence of eastern and western ideas and religiosity was the Theosophical Society.[161][162] It searched for ancient wisdom in the east, spreading eastern religious ideas in the west.[163] One of its salient features was the belief in "Masters of Wisdom"[164][note 31], "beings, human or once human, who have transcended the normal frontiers of knowledge, and who make their wisdom available to others".[164] The Theosophical Society also spread western ideas in the east, aiding a modernisation of eastern traditions, and contributing to a growing nationalism in the Asian colonies.[153][note 32]

    Perennial philosophy[edit]

    Main article: Perennial philosophy

    The Perennial Philosophy sees nondualism as the essence of all religions.[citation needed] Its main proponent was Aldous Huxley, who was influenced by Vivekanda's Neo-Vedanta and Universalism.[169]

    According to the Perennial Philosophy, there is an ultimate reality underlying the various religions. This ultimate reality can be called "Spirit" (Sri Aurobindo), "Brahman" (Shankara), "God", "Shunyata" (Emptiness), "The One" (Plotinus), "The Self" (Ramana Maharshi), "The Dao" (Lao Zi), "The Absolute" (Schelling) or simply "The Nondual" (F. H. Bradley).[citation needed] Ram Dass calls it the "third plane" — any phrase will be insufficient, he maintains, so any phrase will do.[citation needed]

    This popular approach finds supports in the "common core-thesis". According to the "common core-thesis",[170] different descriptions can mask quite similar if not identical experiences:[171] The "common-core thesis" is criticised by "diversity theorists" such as S.T Katz and W. Proudfoot.[171] They argue that

    [N]o unmediated experience is possible, and that in the extreme, language is not simply used to interpret experience but in fact constitutes experience.[171]

    New Age[edit]

    Main article: New Age

    The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its central precepts have been described as "drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational psychology, holistic health, parapsychology, consciousness research and quantum physics".[172] The term New Age refers to the coming astrological Age of Aquarius.[web 23]

    The New Age aims to create "a spirituality without borders or confining dogmas" that is inclusive and pluralistic.[173] It holds to "a holistic worldview",[174] emphasising that the Mind, Body and Spirit are interrelated[175] and that there is a form of monism and unity throughout the universe.[web 24] It attempts to create "a worldview that includes both science and spirituality"[176] and embraces a number of forms of mainstream science as well as other forms of science that are considered fringe.[citation needed]


    Main article: Neo-Advaita

    Neo-Advaita is a New Religious Movement based on a modern, western interpretation of Advaita Vedanta, especially the teachings of Ramana Maharshi.[177] Neo-Advaita is being criticized[178][note 33][180][note 34][note 35] for discarding the traditional prerequisites of knowledge of the scriptures[182] and "renunciation as necessary preparation for the path of jnana-yoga".[182][183] Notable neo-advaita teachers are H. W. L. Poonja,[184][177] his students Gangaji[185] Andrew Cohen[note 36], and Eckhart Tolle.[177]

    Perceived similarities[edit]

    Apart from Hinduism and Buddhism, nondualist notions may also be discerned in other religious traditions.

    Eastern religions[edit]

    Main article: Sikhism

    Sikhism is a monotheistic religion which holds the view of non-dualism.[citation needed] A principal cause of suffering in Sikhism is the ego (ahankar in Punjabi), the delusion of identifying oneself as an individual separate from the surroundings. From the ego arises the desires, pride, emotional attachments, anger, lust, etc., thus putting humans on the path of destruction. According to Sikhism, the true nature of all humans is the same as God, and everything that originates with God. The goal of a Sikh is to conquer the ego and realize one's true nature or self, which is the same as God's. The gurmukh has realized nondial knowledge.[187]

  38. ^ Inaction, non-action, nothing doing, without ado
  39. ^ The name Subud was first used in the late 1940s when Subud was legally registered in Indonesia.
  40. ^ Pak Subuh gives the following definitions:[190]
    • Susila: the good character of man in accordance with the Will of Almighty God
    • Budhi: the force of the inner self within man
    • Dharma: surrender, trust and sincerity towards Almighty God
  41. ^ As different to 'the East', refer Saïd's utilization of the discourse of 'The Other' in Orientalism (1978)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Espín & Nickoloff 2007, p. 14.
  2. ^ a b Loy 1988.
  3. ^ a b Sarma 1996.
  4. ^ a b c Loy 1988, p. 9-11.
  5. ^ a b Davis 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Raju 1992, p. 177.
  7. ^ a b c Isaeva 1992, p. 240.
  8. ^ a b c Sharma 2000, p. 64.
  9. ^ a b c Renard 2010.
  10. ^ Murti 2008.
  11. ^ Nunen year unknown.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Nunen year unknown, p. 253.
  13. ^ David Kalupahana, Mulamadhyamakakarika of Nagarjuna. Motilal Banarsidass, 2006, page 1.
  14. ^ a b c Renard 2010, p. 157.
  15. ^ a b Comans 2000, p. 35-36.
  16. ^ a b Suzuki 1999.
  17. ^ a b Suzuki 1999, p. 123-124.
  18. ^ a b Suzuki 1999, p. 168.
  19. ^ Raju 1992, p. 178.
  20. ^ Puligandla 1997, p. 235.
  21. ^ a b c Katz 2007.
  22. ^ a b renard 2010, p. 88.
  23. ^ Sarma 1996, p. xi-xii.
  24. ^ a b renard 2010, p. 89.
  25. ^ Sarma 1996, p. xii.
  26. ^ a b Sarma 1996, p. xi.
  27. ^ Renard 2010, p. 91-92.
  28. ^ renard 2010, p. 92.
  29. ^ Renard 2010, p. 92.
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Further reading[edit]


  • Katz, Jerry (2007), One: Essential Writings on Nonduality, Sentient Publications 
  • Loy, David (1988), Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy, New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, ISBN 1-57392-359-1 
  • Renard, Philip (2010), Non-Dualisme. De directe bevrijdingsweg, Cothen: Uitgeverij Juwelenschip 


  • King, Richard (2002), Orientalism and Religion: Post-Colonial Theory, India and "The Mystic East", Routledge 

Specific traditions

  • Kalupahana, David J. (1994), A history of Buddhist philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited 
  • Sarma, Chandradhar (1996), The Advaita Tradition in Indian Philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass 

External links[edit]

Advaita Vedanta[edit]

Nondual Consciousness[edit]