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The following is reprinted from Nonduality America, with permission from the author.
Greg Goode Nondualism in Western Philosophy
This is a series of pointers to how the Western approach can assist with ones self-inquiry. It is less a historical survey, and more a collection of Western views that might serve as tools for inquiry, along with suggestions on how these tools might be used. The conclusion consists of a practical, forward-looking dialogue. I havent included every philosopher in the Western tradition to have written something that might be considered nondual. Instead, my choices are pragmatic. Ive chosen the writers I have found most helpful in skillfully deconstructing the classic dualisms that seem to block people doing nondual inquiry.
So for example, the well known Heidegger and Nietzsche are not covered, though they wrote several things that can be helpful. Yet the lesser known writers Brand Blanshard and Colin M. Turbayne are covered, as I find that readers may regard their approaches as helpful.
Nondualism is an experience, a mode of existence of the self and world, and a metaphysical view about reality. As an experience, it is a sweet, nonobjective sense of presence, of borderlessness, and lack of separation. As a mode of existence of the self and world, it is said to be a matter of fact. As a metaphysical view, nondualism holds that reality is not composed of a multiplicity of things. This seems vague, and it is because beyond this point, the varieties of nondualism disagree. If reality is not a multiplicity of things, is it then just one thing? Or less? Just what is reality? Some nondualists say that reality is awareness. Some say it is voidness. Some say it is a net of jewels, where each jewel is composed of the reflections from all the other jewels. And some nondualists say that the nature of reality is that it has no nature.
Whats Wrong with Dualism Anyway?
So why is nondualism a goal? Does it feel better? Is it more true?
Most of the philosophers who write on nondualism argue that dualism falsely claims to be an accurate picture of our experience. They also argue that it causes suffering. These are two slightly different approaches.
Nondualisms false claim argument challenges dualisms claim to correctly represent reality. Dualism claims to be a view about how things really are, but when the view and its presuppositions are looked into, they are found not to be in accord with our experience. Our experience, say nondualists, is truly without borders, edges or separation. Therefore, the notion that the world is made up of divisions between self and other, good and bad, here and there, past and future, does not make sense. We only seem to experience these divisions. These divisions do not really exist, so we do not really experience them. Nondualism, it is argued, can correct the misinterpretation of our experience and restore our original wholeness.
Nondualisms argument from suffering has to do with dualisms effects dualism leads to suffering and misery. Nondualists feel that a dualistic and divided experience of the world results in feeling separated (separated from what we take to be external objects, other people, the world, etc.). Feeling separated leads to feeling finite and vulnerable. It leads to suffering. This can be alleviated: a deep intuitive understanding of our nondual, unbroken experience is the end of the experience of separation. Therefore it is tantamount to the end of suffering.
Nondualism East and West
Eastern and Western approaches to nonduality reflect the more general differences between Eastern and Western approaches to philosophy. Eastern philosophy is most often pursued within the context of the Eastern spiritual traditions. Western philosophy can occasionally be found within Western spiritual traditions, but it is much more active outside them.
Eastern philosophy has very strong nondual traditions, which include Taoism, several forms of Buddhism, and Advaita Vedanta (the nondual extension of Hinduism). These traditions are also explicitly soteriological. That is, their purpose is to resolve the big questions of life and death, and to alleviate suffering. The experiential resolution of these matters is regarded as liberation or enlightenment. And the philosophies themselves are illustrated by hundreds of stories in which teachers assist students on their quest.
Western philosophy was originally practiced in a very similar way. Know thyself was inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece. Practiced famously by Socrates, philosophy was engaged as a sort of care of the self, or an investigation into the way the self and world exist. The philosophies of the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Skeptics, and Boethius were avowedly therapeutic. But after the 18th century, philosophy became more and more academicized; it was removed from practical, personal and transformational use. Western philosophys goal became to discover the grounds of scientific truth and the limits of mans ability to know it.
Western philosophy became more a scientific than a salvific enterprise. These days, there is not a generally accepted goal in Western philosophy corresponding to liberation or enlightenment. Whereas Eastern philosophy is practiced in temples and ashrams, Western philosophy is studied in libraries and academies. The West has most often left its life-and-death questions to the churches, cathedrals, synagogues and hospitals.
Before examining the nondualist strands in Western philosophy, we should say a few words about Western mysticism. The writings of the great Western mystics tend to overlap both philosophy and religion. Their writings are not as logically precise as philosophy; neither do they require the same level of faith as religious writings.
Mysticism is often pursued by the nondual inquirer for the depth of its wisdom and how it penetrates mans most subtle experiences. To pursue the mystical path, one does not so much follow a line of argumentation; rather one enters openly and whole-heartedly into experience. Mysticism and philosophy compliment each other. Many people find it more effective to engage both modes than either one alone.
Notable Western mystics and their works include The Gospel of Thomas and other works in the Nag Hammadi Library; the writings of Rabbi Akiva (40-135); The Zohar (150CE) by Shimon Bar Yochai (fl. 135 170); the Sepher Yetzirah; or The Book Of Creation (before 6th Cent.); Dionysius, the Pseudo-Areopagite (BCE 500); Origines Adamantius (Origen) (c. 185-254); the monks of the Philokalia (c200-600); Meister Johannes Eckhart (1260-1327/8); The Cloud of Unknowing (14th Cent.); Theresa of Avila (1515-1582); St. John of the Cross (1524-1591); or Brother Lawrence (c. 1605-1691).
How Nondualism is Done in the West
Proving the nondual nature of reality is not an overall goal for Western philosophy. A few philosophers have created nondual metaphysical theories; and others have argued against metaphysics altogether. But most philosophers who dissolve or dismiss dualities are not nondualists. The dualities left in the dust by these writers are merely casualties of their other work. In fact, the cleverest and most persuasive arguments tend to come from the works focused on narrow and specific issues, and dont discuss all of reality at once. These arguments can be very helpful in the course of ones nondual inquiry. As the old-time news editors used to say, We can use it!
We will examine some of the best known arguments that can be helpful in nondual inquiry, even if a given argument is not used by its author to establish nondualism.
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counselor, Greg is nationally certified by the American
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Greg is a well-known innovator for having combined the ancient direct-path method of self-inquiry with modern electronic media. Nondual inquiry includes the powerful teachings of Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism. Greg studied Advaita Vedanta through the Chinmaya Mission, Sri Atmananda, Jean Klein, and Francis Lucille. He studied the Mahayana teachings of Pure Land Buddhism through Jodo-Shinshu, and studied Chinese Middle-Way Buddhism through the lineage of the pre-eminent scholar of Chinese Buddhism, Master Yin-Shun of Taiwan, P.R.C., author of The Way to Buddhahood.
All text herein copyright
Greg Goode, 2007. All rights reserved. Except for brief
quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this
monograph may be reproduced in any manner without prior
permission from the author.
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