This is a working FAQ on nonduality and other related concepts. Each questions links to its own page that further discusses the concept.
What does nonduality mean?
Nonduality simply means not-two or the one without another. That’s it. It comes from the Sanskrit word Advaita. In Sanskrit the “a” prefix signifies the opposite. Dvaita means two and Advaita means not-two.
Ok. But what does it actually mean?
In a nutshell it says there isn’t a way to carve one thing out to refer to it independently. This is actually quite simple to see in our every day life. If you look at a line you can’t say if it’s short or long until you reference it with another line that maybe longer or shorter than it.
In other words everything is relative to everything else. This also applies to the non-physical world. To our conceptual and abstract concepts. For eg: what does it mean for something to be hard or soft? Or to be in a lot of pain. rich vs poor.
Wait. That sounds like that everything depends on something else?
That’s right. So if you can’t tell hard without also having a concept of soft then hard doesn’t exist independently of soft. As you continue to pull this thread you find that nothing really exists independent of anything else.
There are physical constants in the universe but those relate one concept to another. (Eg: the gravitational constant relates the masses of objects to their gravitational force)
So why is this a big deal?
Part of the reason why nonduality comes up is it is explained as the endgame for a variety of spiritual traditions.
Hinduism: Turiya. Referred to as the fourth consciousness (after waking, deep sleep, and dreaming states of consciousness)
Buddhism: Shunyata, Rigpa: Referred to as emptiness or the ground it’s referred to as the base.
Islam: In Sufi metaphysics it is referred to as Haqiqa or Fanaa.
Note: This is a very simplistic explanation of undoubtedly nuanced concept. If you’re looking for a very philosophically accurate explanation then this isn’t the right place.
Is Nonduality the same as [emptiness, ultimate reality, pure consciousness etc]?
In general (again this is a highly simplified view of spirituality), traditions tend to say that we have a misunderstanding on who we are. That if we look inside we find that we’re not just this physical body and mind but ultimate reality (or whatever else). The belief is that if you awaken or are enlightened you see what this truth is and you are now ‘free’.
So in this sense yes, nonduality is the realization that ultimately the illusion of separateness falls away and what is left is the paradox.
What does nonduality feel like?
This comes out of a misunderstanding of what seems to happen. Sometimes certain experiences come about that give a person an apparent glimpse or new perspective. This can be accompanied with great relief or a change in the emotional state. Unfortunately the feelings are now associated with nonduality or the glimpse. And the feelings are used as a barometer of whether one has reached nonduality or enlightenment. So if you’re using feelings to measure it then you’re likely pointed in the wrong direction.
Why is it so hard to talk about it?
Simple words have long explanations (“depends on what the meaning of is is”). Long words can have simple explanations. In the same vein, nonduality is a simple enough concept but it’s not familiar to us so we tie ourselves into knots trying to talk about it.
In one way it’s what is behind all the words and concepts. Like a screen that upon which a movie can be shown nonduality is underlying everything. It’s easy to mistake the movie for the screen. But it’s there. The movie on the screen is just a projection on the screen.
But just like most things once we have a grasp on it we can have more meaningful conversations about it.