NONDUALISM: The Radical Perspective.
Copyright 1986 by Becky Fitzsimmons, Philosophy 267, Devon Edrington (instructor), 17 May 1986.

Nondualism: The Radical Perspective
© 1987 by Becky Fitzsimmons



During a 1984 lecture in introductory philosophy, my teacher, Devon Edrington, was elucidating the terms "monism" and "dualism" and the implications of their concomitant realities when I asked what an alternative to these two worldviews might be. His answer: "Nondualism." In the nearly two years since that lecture, I have found little written explicitly on the topic. Neither the "subject" catalogue of my campus library nor that of the main branch of the city library contain such a listing. Encyclopedias of philosophy and religion, to the extent of my research, have borne no such entry. Rather, the word crops up in widely dispersed works which might be regarded as versions of the philosophia perennis. Still, such discourses did not always apply the term to the concept. In order to select material for this paper, I was required to establish at least an implicit governing principle for gathering pertinent sources.

As my teacher explained in Philosophy 100, if one collects all snakes in order to determine the essence or identifying qualities of snakeness, one has made some preliminary assumptions, that is, one had to have known what to collect. Therefore, I have included material which may, rather than address "nondualism" by name, approach the subject in different ways. I have admitted (at least in principle) the following types of subject matter:
  1. That which directly opposes dualism without substituting monism, pluralism, or nihilism
  2. The obverses of the above
  3. That which I have intuited to be appropriate with respect to the subject at hand.

My teacher gave me very good leads into the subject with suggestions to seek out Spinoza, David Bohm, and the concept of annatta or "no-self." Beyond these & other suggestions, I am indebted to him for every decent through that has crossed my awareness for the past two years. Nearly every reference to formal philosophical concepts and religious traditions are products of his teaching, and the ability to open myself to possibility is also his gift. As a current student of his "Problems in the Philosophy of Religion" my cup runneth over again, and I anticipate a future in which (again) his ideas and the methods of participation he has shared will seem to expand as I grow to encompass them. His insistence on involvement with the subject of study represents his truly nondualist method of teaching.

He will recognize so much of what he has taught, and even what he has written in his article "Neomorphosis: The Art of Radical Change," that I may be failed for plagiarism. I can only plead "Guilty," and assure him that I have used nothing that has not become a part of me, on whatever level it is that I understand it. I have stolen, but it has become my own. Where my understanding is incomplete, he cannot be held accountable. He holds out these gifts the same to everyone, but it is only to our individual ability that we can accept and incorporate them.




And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
--Gen.2:16.17 (KJV)

Though dualism is at least as old as Plato's division of ideas as "true existence" from the ontologically "inferior" material world (Reese, 136), the Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion attributes the introduction of the term to Thomas Hyde who, in 1700, used it to describe the "good-evil conflict" in Zoroastrianism (136). While Christian Wolff termed mind and matter a metaphysical dualism, Kant extended the term to epistemology with dualisms of the "formal and material, transcendental and empirical, analytic and synthetic" (136). For the purposes of this paper, the "religious," "metaphysical," and "epistemological" aspects of being will be treated as a whole. To treat of them separately would be to cut into many pieces that which has already been rent. As one Easterner put it, "for some centuries now European intellectuals seem to have been born with knives in their brains" (Lin-yu-tang in Conze, 214.(1)

The inherent consequences of a dichotomous ontology are both unattractive and inauspicious. The division of being into arbitrary categories of sacred and profane, sentient and nonsentient, living and mechanical, or even into the attributes of thought and extension,(2) harbors an incipient adversariality which manifests itself as a pervasive devaluation of at least half of being. Because this position implies (in practice if not in principle) prejudice toward the "other," the devalued, the "lesser" of the pair, it seeks to destroy that which it omits from its own category, both in the whole of being and in the person of the severer.(3) Hence holocausts, prisons, ghettos, mental institutions, wars, hunger, damnation and the state. Dualism bestows upon us taverns and churches, ladies and whores, heavens and hells. This is the penalty of the knowledge of good and evil. This is life and death after the fall.



He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

-- Lewis Carroll

To that which dualism does violence by dividing and devaluing, monism does murder with denial. Christian Wolff is responsible for the term, with which he labeled those who "acknowledge only mind or only body" (Reese, 366). Of the particular reductio ad absurdum of mind-as-body, which has been called "Peter Pan neuroscience" (Bohm, 1980), we shall let a current textbook perjure itself:

Everything that the brain does when it works properly and when it does not, rests upon the events taking place in specific, definable parts of the brain.... But does it also include mental acts-- thoughts and dreams, musings and insights, hopes and aspirations? In previous eras, those "mental acts" have been separated from the functions of the brain and placed in a much more nonmaterial and private place called "the mind." This book takes the view that "the mind" results when many key cells of the brain work together, just as "digestion" results when the cells of the intestinal tract work together. You may find this hard to accept, but that should not stop you from being curious.
--Bloom, Lazerson and Hofstadter (27)

The perjurous character of the foregoing lies not in its admission of curiosity-- that, of course, is but another artifact of brain function. Nor is there a logical problem with such statements as, "Everything the brain does...rests upon the events...of the brain." The subterfuge goes beyond analyticity to association. For "previous eras," read: archaic, unenlightened, primitive, obsolete. For "much more nonmaterial," read: unreal, nonexistent, hypothetical, imaginary. for "private place called 'the mind,'" read: my mistake, my delusion, my nonconformity, my insanity. From this point of departure the properly adjusted student will gratefully accept the view that "(t)his book takes." Mind is a small price for the purchase of conventionality.

The statement is apotheothetic, as well. The hubris in the claim does not lie in the exaltation of the brain as an organ of incalculable capabilities, though this axiom is ignored as attempts are made to survey and map every cerebral mountain and stream. It lies, rather, in the denial of capacities and properties which neuroscientists are incapable of disproving. Such arrogance from those who claim to treat of only that which can be quantified reliably and verifiably confesses gnosticism that destroys not only that which science denies, but the governing principles of science itself. Huston Smith, author of Forgotten Truth, divides science from scientism:

With science there can be no quarrel. Scientism is another matter.... For as the contention that there are no truths save those of science is not itself a scientific truth, in affirming it scientism contradicts itself.
Nothing in what science has discovered controverts the existence of realms other than the one with which it deals. Meanwhile our growing understanding of the scientific method shows us that there are things science bypasses. Whether these neglected items belong to a distinct ontological scale, science, of course, does not say; it says nothing whatever about them.
For some of us the line is not so clean. Consider the place of morality in science. Science claims to be amoral. Quantification as opposed to qualification. "How many U-235 isotopes are needed to make a 20 megaton bomb?" "How might we make napalm more cost-effective?" In practice, the amoral becomes the immoral. Nor are scientists themselves immune from scientism, as with the neurology text, authored by scientists, in the illustration given. Often scientists themselves, those most rigorously trained in the scientific method, are scientism's arch proponents. Though neither the Harvard Ad Hoc Committee to Examine the Definition of Brain Death (Veatch, 123-129) nor the President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research (in Schneidman, 130-143) have resolved the question of how to determine (other than legally) whether or not a person is dead, a biologist was eager to share with our class the definitive secret of life: "Life begins at the cellular level." Oh.

No explosion, no outward convulsion. Most of the universe banished from the living. Fundamentalists want the actual bang. Monism is the consequence of dualism; division and devaluation taken to its extreme conclusion. "There is good, and there is evil. Evil must be destroyed." Judgment, armageddon. "Be not concerned with the things of this world." "I alone am unattached. Nor do I have an ego." "This is the world of illusion; those people only appear to be starving. Barbeque on Sunday?"

He was in the world, and the world knew him not.



To overcome the dualism would be to awake out of sleep; to arise from the dead.
--Norman O. Brown

The alternative worldview is by nature paradoxical, elusive, and, in the West, radical. It is also eternal, beatific, and ultimate. A sense of the nondual perspective may be gleaned through a kaleidoscopic view of selected esoteric doctrines and practices. Since doctrines and practices are necessarily the dry shells of Spiritual Matter, one must place oneself in the center of a mandala of lifeless words and set the self and the words in motion, until the bits and pieces whirl and spin into transient patterns of unlimited beauty, their intricacies as inwardly boundless as their unfolding is ever new, yet always perfect.

Nondualism as Perspective

In attempting to gather explicit material on nondualism, I developed a sympathy for Aquinas as he must have struggled to formulate the characteristics of God. As my teacher analogized: "What do you tell your thirteen-year-old daughter when she asks what it is to be in love?" There is a thread here: What is nondualism, What is God, What is it to be in love; but the thread is just that, and nothing more. The most that can be expected from the following products of research is that they will remove some barriers to experience by challenging the intellectual constructs which most severely constrict efforts to see in this new way. As the title of this paper suggests, nondualism is, in a very important sense, a perspective. Perspective comes to permeate all aspects of being. For the nondualist, there is no boundary between experiencer and experience.

Perhaps the best case for an entire shift in worldview is made by John H. Hick (89-90), who describes the lessons of Jesus as a radically new, yet ultimately sound way of experiencing. Hick presents Christ's reality as the antithesis of the Hobbesian war of every one against every one. For Hick, Christ's agapeistic way of life flows naturally from seeing the universe as it really is, that is, a universe in which it is utterly safe to trust, to lose one's self, and to restore what remains to its rightful "place" in the "body" of the infinite; to love. Hick explains:

Jesus was far from being an idealist if by this we mean one who sets up ideals unrelated to the facts and who recommends that we be guided by them rather than by the realities of our lives. On the contrary, Jesus was a realist; he pointed to the life in which the neighbor is valued equally with the self as something indicated by the actual nature of the universe. He urged people to live in terms of reality. His morality differed from our normal human practice because his view of reality differed from our normal view of the world.

Paul Tillich sees Christ's message as one of transformation from the old view to the new:

In our English Bibles, the Greek word for eon is translated "world." This is somehow misleading. When we speak of world we think of the universe. But the universe, including our earth and everything in it, is the product of incessant divine creativity here and now. It is good in its created form, and it is the place to which the kingdom of God shall come, as we pray in the Lord's Prayer. It is one of the most dangerous misunderstandings of the Christian message to deny this word and its created glory, and to direct our eyes to a superworld, unrelated to the original creation. The Bible speaks of a new heaven and a new earth in contrast to the old heaven and the old earth. And now we understand what Paul means when he speaks of conformity to this eon: he means the untransformed old earth and the untransformed old heaven.

But how does such a transformation take place?

Nondualism as Nondualism

The conflict between right and wrong is the sickness of the mind.
Gnothi seauton.
--inscription on the temple at Delphi
In Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis one encounters the term 'annatta'; "no-ego" (Fromm et al, 31-32). This concept of the no-self is common to many Eastern traditions, especially in Buddhist practices. The Christian corollary might loosely be that one must "be a baby to get to heaven." Loss of the finite self, the ego, the "me"-experience, as well as a "nonattachment" to the world of illusion, are prerequisites to enlightenment in most Eastern traditions. On the surface, there appears to be a thoroughgoing dualism in this ontology. In the exoteric forms of these faiths, and especially as they are transplanted to Western soil, and to beginners of the practice, this is so. However, upon enlightenment, the dualism disappears. The immediate, personal identity and the world as it appears to the unenlightened give way completely to the Self-that-is-All. There is identification with the Ground of Being which is indicated in the philosophia perennis. This identification precludes the old attachments, for they are seen as false. This does not imply, however, as many Westerners suppose, a callousness toward others. On the contrary, the Self-that-is-All is recognized in all of reality, and the enlightened respond to this new world (or new heaven) accordingly. Edward Conze makes this point as he describes Mahayanist ahimsa, a "state of mind...a condition of the heart" (212):

A traveler is invited to tea by Tibetan monks; a fly falls into his cup; there is a big ado, until the fly has been fished out, safely placed on a dry spot, and gently blown upon so that its wings may dry quickly; whereafter the cup is courteously returned to the guest.

In Dostoyevski's Ivan (The Brothers Karamazov), we find the tension of a man torn between compassion and salvation. In Albert Camus' brilliant analysis of the situation, we find Ivan's sad solution: "If the suffering of children serves to complete the sum of suffering necessary for the acquisition of truth, I affirm from now onward that truth is not worth such a price." "I would persist in my indignation even if I were wrong." As Camus says, "He rejects the bargain....In addition, Ivan is the incarnation of the refusal to be the only one saved, He throws in his lot with the damned and, for their sake, rejects eternity." Camus sums his case: "There is no possible salvation for the man who feels real compassion...we arrive at Everyone or No One." (Camus, The Rebel, 56-57).

For the nondualist, the dilemma dissolves. Salvation, enlightenment, Nirvana; even nonattachment itself, do not preclude but, rather, encourage compassion:

'Impartiality' is clearly and unmistakably defined as including friendliness and compassion, when at first sight it seemed to exclude them. Far from excluding compassion, impartiality ensures that the Buddha is equally compassionate to all, 'as if they were his only son,' and 'it is the desire that comes of its own accord to do good to all beings without the least craving for their love'....Paradox and contradiction are inseparable from all statements that can be made about selfless behavior. The Bodhisattvas 'practice compassion, but are not given to petty kindnesses; they practice loving kindness, but are not given up to attachments; they are joyous in heart but ever grieved over the sight of suffering beings; they practice indifference, but never cease benefiting others.' These paradoxes cannot possibly be translated into the ordinary logic of common sense, because that is based on self-centered experiences which are here set aside.
--Conze, 218

This passage was in reference to all Mahayanist forms of Buddhism, but something in it strikes a chord of universal tones. In Nasr's Sufi Essays we find, "See but One, say but One, know but One, In this are summed up the roots and branches of faith" (84-85). In the Upanisads (Muller), we find the reunion of the elements "Rik" and "Saman" for the practitioners of Khandogya (13-15). For the British physicist David Bohm, the explicate (observable) order is but the implicate (total) order "relevated" to our attention (1980). For Spinoza, there is "a being single and infinite; in other words, it is the sum total of being, beyond which there is no being found" (26). For the Mahayanist, "If the Element of the Buddha did not exist (in everyone), There would be no disgust with suffering, Nor could there be a wish for Nirvana, Nor striving for it, nor resolve to win it" (in Conze, (229). There is one. And the striving to reach Nirvana from Samsara, this dualism, too is overcome. Conze tells us:

...there is neither self nor not-self. In fact, the view of a not-self is no more true than that of a self, to which it is an antidote.
...when someone no longer discriminates about his practice, his practice may well be called a 'non-practice.'
He goes further to explain that "Nothing of Samsara is different from Nirvana; nothing of Nirvana is different from Samsara. The limit of Nirvana is the limit of Samsara. There is not even the subtlest something separating the two" (228). But if Nirvana is the ultimate, and it is no different form Samsara, what is the point? Is Nirvana nothingness? First no-self, and now no difference? Alan Watts speaks to a special kind of nothing in The Supreme Identity:

...when certain metaphysical doctrines describe the infinite as the No-thing, they most certainly do not mean that it is nothing....They mean simply that the infinite is not in the class of finite objects; that it is other than all known and knowable things. Nothing is the opposite and negation of something; but the infinite No-thing, so far from being the opposite of things, is their essential ground. The impossible problems raised by the Cartesian dualism of spirit and matter are the result of the dualism: spirit and matter must not be considered as opposites.

Is there not a dualism between the seeker and the enlightened? Conze explains a "non-exclusive Nirvana," wherein:

The defilements are rejected, but Samsara is not abandoned. Ordinary people are immersed in this world, the Disciples and Pratyekabuddhas wish to escape into Nirvana. From self-interest a Bodhisattva has supreme wisdom, and so the defilements have no power over him. Out of concern for others he has the 'great compassion' and does not cease to live among the beings who need him. When the cognition has been reached that Samsara and Nirvana, both equally empty, are just the same, then one sees no reason to either leave Samsara or to obtain Nirvana distinct from it. One does not stay in Samsara, because it has lost its samsaric character, and one does not stay in Nirvana, because it has been realized within Samsara itself.
What then, are the defilements that have been rejected? Could these be other than dualisms? Norman O. Brown commands us to overcome them: "From the sacred set apart to the holy whole. Hierophanies everywhere; no privileged times or places. Every book a bible; and books in the running brooks. Christ the direct and omnipresent object of perception--Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his" (229).

In the West, where both Calvinists and Madison Avenue teach us revulsion for our own bodies, it is worth making a point of confronting them, learning to love them, and to truly live in them. Again, Norman O. Brown:

The dreamer awakes not from a body but to a body. Not an ascent from body to spirit, but the descent of spirit into body: incarnation not sublimation. Hence to find the true meaning of history is to find the bodily meaning. Christ, the fulfillment, is not an abstract idea but a human body. All fulfillment is carnal.
Sleepers awake. Sleep is separateness; the cave of solitude is the cave of dreams, the cave of the passive spectator. To be awake is to participate, carnally and not in fantasy, in the feast; the great communion.
Pentecost is madness.
The god is Dionysus.

We cannot be unattached to that of which we are afraid, physical or mystical, nor can we see them separately. Asceticism and orgies are the same. "God bless you" and "I love you" are identical. Prayers are magic. The nondualist may be indifferent to these, and may not. The indifference and caring go hand in hand. The sage is awake, and chooses, and knows that every act is both meaningless and the most important act in the world. Inner and outer are one. When "I am" ceases, i am and I AM are one. My teacher says of the Vedantist tradition, when atman (personality, ego) vanishes, and becomes Ahtman (the self that knows Brahman, the all), then "Ahtman IS Brahman."

"The alternative to dualism is dialectics; that is to say, love --" (Brown, 154). To be unattached, to have compassion, to know that you are nothing and to be able to give, to behold everything as a prism, emanating the Infinite, each point of the prism its own source of light; to see the colors of the world and to know that they are coming from your own eyes. To know love as having no need of an object, but for every "object" to evoke love. To be love. My teacher calls it the capacity for intimacy. He adds Rilke's caution to the fainthearted: "Every angel is terrible." What is the sublime without terror? He knows whereof he speaks. But he does not advise to turn back. From the pastoral to the ecstatic--and back again. But the green countryside is now the Emerald City. The curtain falls down and The Great Oz is exposed for what he is--The Great Oz. Transformation. "Each journey of ten thousand miles begins with one step." The universe is transformed within my cells. There is only all. The untransformed is mine, and the journey must begin with that one step:

I tried to die near the end of the war. The same dream returned each night until I dared not go to sleep and grew quite ill. I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept onto my lap again, clutching at my clothes. Until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible...but I kissed it. I think one must finally take one's life in one's arms...
( Arthur Miller, "After the Fall," 492-3)

This is a universe in which it is utterly safe to trust, to open oneself, to love. When I have met the monster in myself and blessed it, all monsters become angels. And all angels become near.



(1) Though the context of this quote was more to the point of the aggressiveness with which Westerners attack each others' positions, it is readily applicable to Western ontology itself. (By "ontology" I refer to the study of being in its broadest sense, not as divided against "cosmology," etc.)

(2) See Spinoza, On the Improvement of the Understanding, Wiley, 1901.

(3) See Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom, Farrar & Rinehart, 1941, and T.W. Adorno, et al, The Authoritarian Personality, Harper & Brothers, 1950, as well as Norman O. Brown's Love's Body, Random House, 1966.


Works Cited

Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D., & Sanford, R.N. The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper, 1950.

Bloom, F., Lazerson, A., Hofstadter, L. Brain, Mind, and Behavior. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1985.

Bohm, David. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980.

Brown, Norman O. Love's Body. New York: Random, 1966.

Camus, Albert. The Rebel. New York: Vintage, 1966.

Conze, Edward. Buddhist Thought in India. Michigan: U. of Mich. Press, 1982.

Dostoyevski, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. New York: Bantam, 1972.

Fromm, Erich. Escape From Freedom. New York: Rhinehart, 1941.

Fromm, Erich, Suzuki, D. T., and De Martino, Richard. Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. New York: Harper, 1960.

Hick, John H. Philosophy of Religion. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1983.

Miller, Arthur. "After the Fall." In Arthur Miller: Eight Plays. Garden City: Nelson Doubleday, 1981.

Muller, Max (transl). The Upanisads. vol 1. New York: Dover, 1962.

Nasr, Seyyed H. Sufi Essays. Albany: U of N. Y. Press, 1973.

Reese, W. L. Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion. New Jersey: Humanities, 1980.

Schneidman, Edwin S. Death: Current Perspectives. 3rd ed. Palo Alto: Mayfield, 1984.

(The original typed paper is a dozen years old, and I may have lost a second page of references when sharing it.) --RFR
Becky Fitzsimmons
Philosophy 267
Devon Edrington (instructor)
17 May 1986

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