What is Nonduality?

One of the basic questions in science and philosophy is: How do we identify different objects?

In order to distinguish between objects, we employ the five senses.  Based on ‘sense datum’ delivered by the sense organs to the mind, the intellect level of mind recognises the difference between two objects, as being two separate items of their own.  

This is a necessary process for preliminary identification of two objects, but it is incomplete because it does not recognise the “invisible aspect” of interconnectedness of the two items in concern.

Shakyamuni Buddha taught the concept of interconnectedness of seemingly separate things – through the Sermon of the Two Reeds

uppose we have two similar reeds of bamboo sticks or other plants. 

We can easily identify each stick as being separate from the other.  

They are Two and Separate.

However, when the two bundles join in a mutual configuration (or a function binding them together), then the two bundles, although individually distinguished

– are inseprable when forming the common structure. 

They are “Two-but-Not- Separable Two”.

Not Two – does not mean they are one.  It means that there is a general higher function combining both in shared existence. They form a whole despite being two distinguished identities.

Eastern philosophy is based on the concept of interconnectedness. Yin and Yang, black and while, male - female – are visibly TWO but NOT-separablyTWO. 

Interconnectedness = Nonduality of participants.

Implications of Nonduality

The concept of Nonduality reaches the essential investigation of Ontology: the origin of things.  Buddhism teaches the principle of “Dependent Origination”, which means that the origin of anything is dependent on other things, never existing in isolation but dependent on causes and conditions.  In other words, it explains that reality of existence is shared, there is no isolation of self-and-environment.  If one doubts the Nonduality nature of Self and Environment, then one would be convinced by the implication of not breathing the air of the environment for even a while.

Examples of Nonduality

Nonduality means that two fields, different in nature and properties,  are inseparable.  It is a perspective which looks at phenomena with acknowledgment of their broader function and connectivity.  In reality all things are interconnected.

•Daytime and Nightime are two distinguishable, and different fields of reality, each with its own specific properties.  Yet - in the view of Nonduality - they become two elements in one cycle of the 24 H day.  They are two different but inseparable.

  1. Another simple example of Nonduality is viewing a house we live in.  A house has an exterior boundary, or a facade - being cold, rigid, fixed in location and limited in space.  The interior of a house is almost the opposite: it is flexibly designed, warn and spacious, lit and multi functional.  The exterior and the interior of a house are “Two different” aspects of reality but they are “NotTwo separate” in their identifying a house, a higher category of both. It is not possible to separate the interior from the exterior.

  1. Life and Death are two different phenomena, needless to say. Yet they are not inseparable.  There is no individual Life that does not lead to Death - which is its “withdrawal into potentiality” (in the field of death).   Both Living and Death are two different phenomena. But neither is separable of the other.  If living and dying can be seen as a cycle of two alternating phenomena, different but each triggers the other – then we dissolve the tension of facing death. 

The danger of Dualism

Dualism does not give full true description of observed reality.  It is just “fragmentary true” - as it is based on apparent distinction of different phenomena, but mistakenly take them as separate.  It lacks the perspective of interconnectedness and nonseparability.

Western philosophy is based on Dualism, with Descartes views influence regarding the separation of the physical (body) and the spiritual (mind). 

This view of dualism of body & mind comes in agreement with the Abrahamic religions view about separation of the spiritual (God) and the physical (Universe).

Dualism suggests that God is separate from the universe.  But this also implies the absurdity of the concept - as it implies that the whole universe (and all the involved sufferings of its inhabitants) – were unnecessary for God to exists independently, because God – according to Dualism – is a separate entity, which existed happily without the need of the physical universe. 

Dualism then suggests that the spiritual aspect (soul, spirit, God…) can exist without a physical agent.

Nonduality in this regard views the spiritual, mental, intellectual power - as inseparable from its manifestations in the physical field. 

Dualism leading to illusions:

The implication of Dualism – seeing two phenomena of Mental and Physical as two separable – will lead to two results (both unprovable):

  1. -The body (physical) can exist without feelings (mental) – as is the case with the (so called) Philosophical Zombies – creatures who are perceived as human but are robots with no feelings.

  2. -The spirit (mental) can exist on its own - floating without the physical (body).  This leads to beliefs in ghosts and the like.

Such beliefs based on denying interconnectedness of the Physical and Mental – fail to understand reality of life.

Dualism and Segregation

In the moral sense, declaring that “Two Distinguished Phenomena Are Separate” – leads to the extreme of discrimination:

According to Dualism:

White and Black are Different  and Separable.

According to NonDuality

White and Black are Different and inseparable manifestation of  humanity.


The general principle of how to view reality is – according to Nichiren Buddhism:

“That which unites people [at the deepest level, the level of their shared humanity] is good. 

That which divides them [at that level] is evil and base”.

(source: Daisaku Ikeda, speech in May 19, 2000 WT).


Nonduality: The Interconnectedness of all lives


Nonduality: The Oneness of Body & Mind



Author: Darshams

                                                          Rarely Asked Questions