Lotus Buddhism / FAQ / What is Nonduality?

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 our five senses.  Based on ‘sense datum’ delivered by the sense organs to the mind, we recognise the difference between two objects, as being two separate items of their own.  

This is a useful process for the 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”:

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

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

The two bundles 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 inseparable when forming the common structure that combines them together. 

Together, 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 a 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. 

The concept of Interconnectedness of components in a certain process means Nonduality of the participating components.

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 the reality of existence is shared, there is no isolation of self-and-environment. 

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 Nighttime are two distinguishable phases of the 24 H day. Each is a different phase, having 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 phases but inseparable.

•    Another simple example of Nonduality is viewing a house we live in.  A house has an exterior boundary, or a facade - being probably cold, rigid, fixed and limited in space.  The interior of a house is almost the opposite: it is flexibly designed, warm and spacious, lit and multi-functional.  The exterior and the interior of a house are “two different” aspects of the house, but they are “Not-Two-separate existences”.  It is not possible to separate the interior from the exterior.

•    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 the “withdrawal of life into potentiality” (in the field of death).   Both Living and Death are two different phenomena. But neither is separable from 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 Perspective of Dualism

Dualism does not give a full true description of observed reality.  It is just “fragmentary true” - as it is based on apparent distinction of different phenomena - implying their separateness.  Duality lacks the perspective of interconnectedness and non-separability.

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

•        The 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 as a creator is independent and separate from the universe.  But this also implies that the whole universe (and all the involved sufferings of its inhabitants) – were unnecessary for God, who - according to Dualism - is a separate entity, which existed self-sufficiently without the need of the physical universe.  This deprives the existence of the Universe with the huge sufferings involved - of any need or purpose.

•     Dualism suggests that the spiritual aspect (soul, spirit, …) can exist floating without a physical agent. This leads to the suggestion of the existence of ghosts, angels - as well as so-called “philosophical zombies” or beings who have no mind and no feelings.

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.



-     Nonduality: The Interconnectedness of all lives


-     Nonduality: The Oneness of Body & Mind