Understanding Non-Duality

Understanding Non-Duality, Hinduism, Buddhism, Enlightenment & Life!

Non-duality, Hinduism, Buddhism & Enlightenment

Advaita Vedanta & Zen Buddhism 

I did a google search for the term “non-dual” on this very site and got 742 hits!  So I thought it was high time I wrote something on this topic :-D.

Actually, a reader asked if I could help him understand what all this business of non-duality was all about, as he was not quite sure he was grasping it properly, and as understanding non-duality is absolutely key for real spiritual growth, here is hit number 743.

For those who understand Hindu Philosophy, non-duality is Creation (Param Brahman).  From there, emerges multiplicity as Creation pours out into Existence (Bhuh, Bhuvah & Swaha).  But, in my view, to really grasp deeply what is meant by non-duality, philosophical discussion or debate is not the best approach.  I think it is better understood from the point of view of experience, and I will delve into my own personal experiences with non-duality to help clarify this most profound of concepts and phenomenon.

Understanding Non-Duality

Hinduism (Advaita Vedanta) & Non-Duality:

Non-duality is best understood in Hinduism and Advaita Vedanta by the phrase Tat Tvam Asi, or Thou Art That.  I have described in the article, The Miracle of Self Awareness – I AM ALL, my experience with this Truth.  The true nature of reality is that all is just you.  Everything is you.  It is actually how it is. 

The apparent sense of separation of “me” and “you” is actually false.  There is no you.  There is only me, or as put forth by Advaita Vedanta, there is only “I AM”.  The “I” referred to here though is not the ego, but the True Self.  Everything is a part of this big “I”, and when awareness shifts from the egocentric “i” to the real “I”, you actually see that all is just you.  Then there is no duality of any kind.

Another article which goes into Advaita Vedanta, specifically from a meditation and experiential point of view is, Enlightenment via Who Am I – Advaita Vedanta Neti Neti Meditation.

Buddhism (Zen) & Non-Duality:

Buddhism looks at non-duality also as the absence of the sense of a separate ego.  Simply because that is the Truth, it is not Hindu or Buddhist, it is simply the Truth.  Instead of asserting that “You Are All”, Zen simply stops at the negation of the false sense of separation.  This sometimes helps prevent the confusion of the small “i” versus big “I” concepts in Advaita and Hinduism.

In both cases, a shift of awareness is what creates an encounter with the non-dual nature of Reality.  Such a shift of awareness can produce an experience such that one encounters the emptiness or absence of the sense of separate existence.  There are states where the organism continues to function, with each sense organ working perfectly, but there is no center or “i” to be found.

So in my view, Hinduism and Buddhism only differ in the nature of the non-dual experience.  If you are experiencing the natural working of the organism, without any sense of separation, you are enjoying a Buddhist enlightenment experience, while if you feeling the expanded sense of the Oneness with everything, you are experiencing enlightenment from the Hindu perspective.  Of course I may be over simplifying it a bit, but I think you get the idea.

At the end, it does not matter what you label it, and if you wish to argue it differently you may.  The point is that the roots of non-duality lie in the absence of the sense of separation and to help you understand it all even better, let’s expand this idea of no-self even further.

Understanding Enlightenment Experiences of Non-Duality:

You will notice the common ground of non-duality, is the fact of no-self.  But, above you will notice one other common denominator between the Hindu and Buddhist versions of this experience, which is that both result from a shift of awareness.  From here we can formulate the following definition of enlightenment experience (non-dual experience) which I think is very valuable.

A shift of awareness outside of the ego-centric mind, produces an enlightenment experience.

Predominately, we live consumed by our little lives and little self.  All the time dwelling on our personal drama and struggling for a little more pleasure and security.  Those who are lucky, get a chance to experience cracks in this shell of the ego, and when that happens they get a glimpse of what lies beyond the self-obsessed mind.  That experience of Reality, absent of ego-centric thought, is an enlightenment experience.

Such experiences are wide and varied and the nature of these experiences can form the basis of great philosophies and religions.  Here I want to point out that the experiences do not have to always be mind-blowing to be significant.  Any glimpse of the non-dual nature of Reality, is indicative of cracks in the shell of the ego and will provide the inspiration for further challenges to this apparent dualistic reality.

These non-dual (or enlightenment) experiences can range from being swept away by the enormity of the mountains, the flow of great love, the ecstasy of sexual union, to experiences with the greater sense of Self (Big Mind in Zen Meditation), Bliss, Divinity, Natural Spontaneous Living, etc.  So from here I can even come to a definition of life which I am comfortable with…

Life is an opportunity to set the stage for this shift of awareness to occur.

This shift of awareness is something that happens to you.  As explained in the article, Interesting Osho Quote on Enlightenment, the mystic sage Osho simply defines enlightenment as the reward for living a mindful life.  This is echoed by great spiritual masters throughout history.

Enlightenment, or the necessary shift in awareness, is not something you can force or create in any way.  What you can do though, is help set the stage to facilitate it’s occurrence.  This is where meditation, yoga, self-study and spiritual living comes in.  They are the tools for preparing the soil such that the flower of Truth can blossom.

Additional Reading on Enlightenment & Non-Duality:

There are many articles that expand on the ideas above to help you understand more deeply the concept of non-duality and enlightenment.  Here are a few of these for you… 

Zen Definition of Enlightenment 

Jiddu Krishnamurti on the Flowering of Goodness

Shunryu Suzuki Speaks on Enlightenment and Zazen

The Secret to Enlightenment

The Day When My Identification with Anmol Mehta Snapped

The Secret to Compassion

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19 replies
  1. Mark
    Mark says:

    Since there is so much information on the net about WHAT exactly is enlightenment (which is oneness, nullification and absorption within Brahman), it becomes pretty challenging to come across information on how can it actually be achieved. My points is that there is not enough information on the practical—rather than the theoretical—side of Sadhana; there are too much definitions, not enough instructions.

  2. shawkraale
    shawkraale says:

    All of Anmol’s articles are interesting and helpful to the spiritual aspirant. Personally I find her different approaches to meditation interesting.and helpful too. I can’t say I have not come across them before in the teachings of other teachers. I think she is very well read on the subject of meditation and everything related to it. What I don’t know however is if she is a genuinely awakened teacher. Whether she is or not does not really matter because she exposes us to the teachings of the great ones who have attained enlightenment and this in itself is a worthwhile service to humanity.
    Shaw Kraale

  3. Seamus Anthony
    Seamus Anthony says:

    Chris that was great story about your adventures at the the airport. Gratitude is an amazingly powerful tool. I find these days that just being grateful for this amazing life is all the prayer that is needed. Perhaps coupled with Compassion, it’s all God wants of us.

  4. Tom Stine
    Tom Stine says:

    I just discovered your site. I love it. This post on non-duality is what caught my attention. My favorite non-dual “guru” is Nisargadatta Maharaj. His book I Am That is exactly what you were describing under Advaita Vedanta. I’m sure you are familiar with Nisargadatta. I’m going to look around your site some more.

  5. Anmol Mehta
    Anmol Mehta says:

    Hi Ricardo,

    Thanks so much for your insightful comments and contributions.

    I have heard arguments from both sides of the fence (1 vs 0, Self vs no-self), at the end I don’t think they are saying very different things actually.

    The Oneness of Reality can be described in many ways. Non-self is a great approach as negation is the way to this Truth.

    At the end it is best to discover these states for ourselves as then we don’t have to rely on others to understand.

    All Good Wishes,

  6. Ricardo
    Ricardo says:

    There is a great buddhist monk called Thich Nhat Hanh, he is Vietnamese, and has written many books on buddhist teachings adapted to modern – western life.
    Buddhist prefer the term non-duality because if you say there is one, then there has to be two (in other words, duality), however, if there is not two (non-duality), then there cannot be three, or four, etc. but only One. :)

    In one of his books, Being Peace, he explains the matter of non-duality, and he focus on its most practical meaning. He says that if we want to feel peaceful, we have to become Peace, that is, we should be One with Peace. If we only think about having peace, then we are creating a separation between peace and us, and that’s not the point. This is also true for other feelings, even for negative ones. He explains that if we are angry, we are the anger in that moment.

    In Being Peace, he also uses the argument of quantum physics, which says that we are not only observers of reality, but participants too. So reality is not separated from us. That is non-duality too.
    When Thich Nhat Hanh mentions that we are not separated, he introduces the terms “non-self” and “inter-being”. Non-self means trascending the ego. Interbeing means that we are all connected – we are deeply the same, so that’s when he includes another term: “dependence co-arising”.

  7. Anmol Mehta
    Anmol Mehta says:

    Hey Lx,

    Bewilderment, the mystics would say is the best state of all. No need to seek an answer, just rejoice is the wonder.

    Thanks for participating.


  8. Anmol Mehta
    Anmol Mehta says:

    Hey Chris,

    Great experience. If I had to say what is the end result of meditation, yoga and spiritual work, I would sum it up as saying that at the end, you are just yourself and end up fundamentally happy.

    Great to have your contributions and insights.


  9. Anmol Mehta
    Anmol Mehta says:

    Hi Martin,

    I know of Eckhart Tolle. A good friend of mine, is checking into him a bit these days, so will extract from him some more about his teachings and views.

    Am certainly grateful to all who help spread this wisdom and knowledge. Thanks for sharing.


  10. Chris Cade
    Chris Cade says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you that to really understand non-duality, it cannot be talked about. I feel fortunate that I have had some experiences of non-duality.

    For those of us who are not Eckhart Tolle and have mastered living the non-dual life, even brief moments or glimpses of non-duality can be very powerful.

    For example, a few months ago when I was at an airport preparing to return home, I was trying to get a standby flight due to a major mistake (In a moment of stress, I had booked my flight to come home a week later than I actually was). The flights were all packed that night, and it was pretty clear my chances were between slim and none of getting home.

    So before I even knew I had made a mistake, as I was checking in I felt a well of gratitude within me. I wasn’t grateful for anything specific. It wasn’t like somebody did something for me. I simply felt grateful to the core of my being.

    As the evening progressed, I learned of my mistake and people continued to try and help me with no guarantees. Again, I was in a state of gratitude. This continued the whole night, with me never knowing if I’d actually get home that night or not up until about 30 mins before departure when the flight crew called me “The Lucky One.”

    (Yes, that means I got home)

    When I reflected back on that experience, I knew that it didn’t matter if I made that airplane or not. I was in a state of gratitude. There was no me. No other. No ego. No “spirit.” There was only gratitude.

    I’ve had other experiences of non-duality… and I’ve come to really understand that when I am no longer joyful *about* something, but *joyful* independent of what is happening… that is a state of non-duality.

    And when that becomes true for everything I do, every way I go about my life, then I know that I will be living non-duality instead of just occasionally experiencing it as I currently do.

  11. Martin
    Martin says:

    I don’t know if you’re familiar with the contemporary spiritual teacher Eckart Tolle, but his popularity is rising rapidly lately. He’s very good at introducing the non-duality(lack of ego) concept to Western people.

  12. Lx*
    Lx* says:

    Dual Vs. Non-dual : What is after all, all this about? In the existence of the whole universe only the known factor is the vast space. The space is filled in with infinitesimal energy particles, the conglomeration of which due to their inherent whirling motion form themselves into diffeent images. These material objects in whole unity are termed as great macrocosm.The opposite to this is microcosom, ie. a small unit.

    But my doubt still raise the question: where this ‘inherent’ motion power, the "primary force", or "shakti", "Jeevan" come from? — I am bewidered in oblivion!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. What is Zen? | Everything about HEALTH says:

    […] Understanding Non-Duality, Hinduism, Buddhism, Enlightenment Life! […]

  2. […] To understand what I mean by enlightenment experiences you can read, Understanding Hinduism, Buddhism and Non-Duality. […]

  3. […] The goal here is to develop the mind which is highly intelligent, the mind which sees the false in the false, or simply put simply the mind with can perceive the Truth of Non-Duality.  Ordinarily, our mind is constantly jumping from one thought to another, and wandering all over the place, thus preventing us from maintaining moment to moment awareness.  Being able to maintain this awareness, is a very important aspect of developing the spiritual mind.  So what can we do to help us stop this monkey mind, the mind that is jumping around?  […]

  4. […] There are many different insights which can explode during silent meditation that launch one into an enlightened state, and I have shared many of these in the ongoing series Insights from Advanced Meditation Practice.  I have also explained in some detail how one can set the stage for such insights to occur in Chapter 12 of the Silent Mind Meditation Program, The Silent Mind Meditation Technique.  Today’s meditation caused such as explosion, although it did not quite follow the sequence laid out in the Silent Mind meditation technique. […]

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