top of page

                           Dancing Shiva

The significance of the Nataraja sculpture is said to be that Shiva is shown as the source of all movement within the cosmos, represented by the arch of flames. The purpose of the dance is to release men from illusion of the idea of the "self" and of the physical world. 


In recent years the term nonduality has steadily crept into the vocabulary of many Western spiritual teachings, but there is often some lack of common understanding as to just what is represented by nonduality. It is generally accepted that nonduality is a translation of the sanskrit term Advaita, which literally translates as "not two," and is utilized in the naming of the ancient Indian wisdom tradition called Advaita Vedanta. In the modern vernacular, nondual (or non-dual) is a word intended to point to the fact that reality is only one thing - one single reality manifesting in appearance as more than one, but fundamentally there is only the one. One might even say there is only God (or whatever term you might prefer such as Being, Universe, Truth, Life, etc.) and that is not distinct from who you are. It's another way of saying there is only oneness. This is different from saying everything is interconnected, because with interconnectedness there are various things (more than one thing, thus dual) that are connected to each other. Nonduality points toward there being no separate objects, thoughts, emotions, sensations or even universe.  It is all one grand appearance, and it appears to flow in time.


Nondual spiritual teachings are based on the idea that duality, or separation, is only one perspective of the totality of reality, and belief in our separateness forms the basis for most of the difficulties and suffering we encounter personally and globally. Nondual teachings are intended to point toward recognizing an additional perspective of unity, or oneness, different from the ordinary view we learned as children through our collective conditioning. The process leading to directly recognizing and experiencing nonduality often seems to require personal inquiry into the truth of many of our long-standing thought habits, beliefs and concepts. Such inquiry often takes the form of questions such as "Who Am I" or "What Am I" that in turn lead to exploring what is the nature of self, and do I really have a separate independent existence? 


Albert Einstein once said "A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison." These are words reflecting nonduality.


The first line of the Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu states "The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao." So, too, the nonduality that can be described or written is not the direct knowing of nonduality. It's like the taste of chocolate can be experienced directly but cannot be expressed in words. Nevertheless, writers continue to offer their understandings for the benefit of humanity. Here are some of these offerings.

About Nonduality

from Science & Nonduality website

Nonduality is the philosophical, spiritual, and scientific understanding of non-separation and fundamental intrinsic oneness.

For thousand of years, through deep inner inquiry, philosophers and sages have came to the realization that there is only one substance and we are therefore all part of it. This substance can be called Awareness, Consciousness, Spirit, Advaita, Brahman, Tao, Nirvana or even God. It is constant, ever present, unchangeable and is the essence of all existence.

In the last century Western scientists are arriving at the same conclusion: The universe does indeed comprise of a single substance, presumably created during the Big Bang, and all sense of being - consciousness - subsequently arises from it. This realization has ontological implications for humanity: fundamentally we are individual expressions of a single entity, inextricably connected to one another, we are all drops of the same ocean.


There are many shades of meaning to the word nonduality. As an introduction, we might say that nonduality is the philosophical, spiritual, and scientific understanding of non-separation and fundamental oneness.

Our starting point is the statement “we are all one,” and this is meant not in some abstract sense but at the deepest level of existence. Duality, or separation between the observer and the observed, is an illusion that the Eastern mystics have long recognized and Western science has more recently come to understand through quantum mechanics.

Dualities are usually seen in terms of opposites: Mind/Matter, Self/Other, Conscious/Unconscious, Illusion/Reality, Quantum/Classical, Wave/Particle, Spiritual/Material, Beginning/End, Male/Female, Living/Dead and Good/Evil. Nonduality is the understanding that identification with common dualisms avoids recognition of a deeper reality.


There are two aspects to this question, and at first glance they appear to be mutually exclusive, although they may be considered two representations of a single underlying reality.

The first aspect is our understanding of external reality, and for this we turn to science. The word science comes from the Latin scientia, which means knowledge. The beauty and usefulness of science is that it seeks to measure and describe reality without personal, religious, or cultural bias. For something to be considered scientifically proven, it has to pass exhaustive scrutiny, and even then is always subject to future revision. Inevitably human biases creep in, but the pursuit of science itself is intrinsically an evolving quest for truth. But then quantum mechanics turned much of this lauded objectivity on its head, as the role of the observer became inseparable from the observed quantum effect. It is as if consciousness itself plays a role in creating reality.  Indeed, the two may be the same thing. As quantum pioneer Niels Bohr once put it: “A physicist is just an atom's way of looking at itself!”

The second aspect is our inner, personal experience of consciousness, our “awareness of awareness.” We have our senses to perceive the world, but “behind” all perception, memory, identification and thought is simply pure awareness itself.  Eastern mystics have described this undifferentiated consciousness for thousands of years as being the ultimate state of bliss, or nirvana. Seekers have attempted to experience it for themselves through countless rituals and practices, although the state itself can be quite simply described. As Indian advaita teacher Nisargadatta Maharaj said: “The trinity: mind, self and spirit, when looked into, becomes unity.”

The central challenge to understanding nonduality may be that it exists beyond language, because once it has been named, by definition -- and paradoxically -- a duality has been created. Even the statement “all things are one” creates a distinction between “one” and “not-one”! Hardly any wonder that nonduality has been misunderstood, particularly in the West.

Nonduality is not "anti-duality

by Jeff Foster

Nonduality is not 'anti-duality' - how dualistic that would be. It does not reject or deny the astonishing diversity of creation - it embraces totally those myriad appearances, just as the ocean does not reject its waves (how could it?) but loves them to death so they are no longer waves, so that in their infinite, beautiful, intimate, intricate manifestations, they are none other than itself. And so this awakening we speak of is not detached from the world, it is not some arrogant life-denying philosophy, no, it is fully engaged with the world, even if ultimately that 'world' is dream and appearance. But who cares, right? For, grounded in the deep knowing of who you really are, then, my friends, then you are free, finally free, to plunge fearlessly into this awake dream, this mysterious, transparent world, free-falling head-first into the dreamy realities of this life, this precious gift of a life - into rich, intimate relationships, into work, art, family, friendship, love, adventure, sacrifice, exploration, into the mysteries of the body, and the mysteries of death itself - until there is no longer any division between 'real' and 'unreal', 'world' and 'absence of world', 'person' and 'absence of person', 'duality' and 'nonduality', even 'life' and 'death'. 

Until there is only One, and Advaita is a living, breathing, thing, not an abstract philosophy or clever, comforting word-game for the already-comfortable. I know no other Advaita but an Advaita inseparable from the living of daily life, from the chopping of wood and the carrying of water. I know no other Advaita but the Advaita that holds my dear father's trembling hand as he tries to cross an icy patch of road. It is contact. It is being here. It is open. Connected, always connected, forever connected. And ready. The nondual dogmatists retort "who is open? who is ready? whose father? what road? who cares?", and miss the whole point.

What Is Nonduality?

by Jerry Katz

Nonduality can’t be defined in the same way you define … tungsten, for example. There’s no single definition of nonduality that everyone would agree upon. Nor is a definition of nonduality intended to replace full teachings such as Advaita Vedanta or Buddhist traditions, or the teaching of any Guru. Nonduality is to be seen, lived, awakened to, and then, for whatever reason, one may try to define it. 

Having awakened to nonduality or the realization that there is only awareness, the elements of your definition may include a statement that nonduality means non-separation: 

“In the world of things as they are, there is no self, no non self;” a confession from pure knowing, or experience, of what nonduality is: 

“Nonduality is the living heart of being;” a method for experiencing nonduality: 

“Don't keep searching for the truth; just let go of your opinions; a statement that the definition of nonduality rests in seeing or experiencing nonduality, not merely reading words: 

“It is not simply having an occasional experience of unity beyond all division, it is actually being undivided. This is what nonduality truly means;” 

a metaphor: “as the space in a jar delineates a part of main space: when the jar is broken, the individual space becomes once more part of the main space;”

a reference to an authority: “Gaudapada … argues that there is no duality;”

a disclaimer, paradox: “Nonduality is ineffable. Any words that attempt to capture its essence instead hide it from us.”

You’ll see several of those points in this description of nonduality or advaita from Encyclopedia Britannica:

Gaudapada … argues that there is no duality; the mind, awake or dreaming, moves through maya (“illusion”); and only nonduality (advaita) is the final truth. This truth is concealed by the ignorance of illusion. There is no becoming, either of a thing by itself or of a thing out of some other thing. There is ultimately no individual self or soul (jiva), only the atman (all-soul), in which individuals may be temporarily delineated just as the space in a jar delineates a part of main space: when the jar is broken, the individual space becomes once more part of the main space.

Almost all of the elements are found in this experiential revelation of nonduality (which literally means “not two”), composed by Seng T'san, the third Zen Patriarch, in The Mind of Absolute Trust:

Don't keep searching for the truth; just let go of your opinions. 

For the mind in harmony with the Tao, all selfishness disappears. 

With not even a trace of self-doubt, you can trust the universe completely. 

All at once you are free, with nothing left to hold on to. 

All is empty, brilliant, perfect in its own being. 

In the world of things as they are, there is no self, no non self. 

If you want to describe its essence, the best you can say is "Not-two." 

In this "Not-two" nothing is separate, and nothing in the world is excluded. 

The enlightened of all times and places have entered into this truth. 

In it there is no gain or loss; one instant is ten thousand years. 

There is no here, no there; infinity is right before your eyes. 

The tiny is as large as the vast when objective boundaries have vanished; 

the vast is as small as the tiny when you don't have external limits. 

Being is an aspect of non-being; non-being is no different from being. 

Until you understand this truth, you won't see anything clearly.


Most definitions of nonduality or advaita are found in the words of teachers.

     Nisargadatta Maharaj:

When you go beyond awareness, there is a state of non-duality, in which there is no cognition, only pure being. In the state of non-duality, all separation ceases. 

     James Traverse:

Nonduality is the living understanding of one's true nature as that which is empty of itself and full of the unfolding of being. Nonduality is a wave as the living relationship of complementary extremes. Nonduality, like Emptiness or Silence, is not a thing yet no thing can be without it. Nonduality is the Numberless One. Nonduality is the living heart of being. Nonduality is its own knowing as "Form is Seeing and Seeing is Being"  (Quote is from Atmananda Krishna Menon). Nonduality is the path that is formed by walking it.

Some define nonduality at length.

The following is part of a discussion by philosopher James M. Corrigan:

Simple Answer: 

Nonduality is the state or condition of not being separate and distinct even if appearing to be so. It is the condition which allows us to say that there is no true separation between ourselves and anyone else or anything else in the world, for instance. When we say things like “We are all one,” or “God is in all things,” we are asserting that the presence we call ‘reality’ is a nonduality.

A “nondualism” is a systematic description of nondual reality, or the tradition of spiritual practices of nonduality.

More Complicated Answer:

Nonduality is the condition that one arrives at when all distinctions and relations between ‘things’ are removed. Fundamentally, all such distinctions and relations are the result of error on our part because it is we that impose the idea of plurality on the whole. Nonduality is thus a simple wholeness, rather than an “all in one” whole. It is very difficult to clearly contemplate such a simple wholeness, because by thinking about it and conceptualizing it, we have lost the simple wholeness that is the real nonduality that we were trying to grasp, which is always already our very nature – we are reality. Nonduality is the Infinite because we can both indivisibly apprehend it and enumerate it inexhaustibly into parts and relations between parts.

Nondualism according to this understanding is an error because fundamentally anything that we say or think about the Infinite removes this simple wholeness of reality from our grasp.

The Ultimate Answer:

Nonduality is ineffable. Any words that attempt to capture its essence instead hide it from us

Nondualism according to this understanding must be an apophatic* performance that uses words to lead us towards nonduality and then at the horizon of understanding pulls these words away so that reality can stand in its pure simple beauty. For example, in order to say that Nonduality is ineffable, we first posit 'Nonduality', making ‘Nonduality’ a creature of reason and thus positively identifying ‘Nonduality’ as some thing that can be thought about, and then in the same breath we take away this assertion by adding that this ‘what’ of which we speak is ineffable and thus beyond the reach of reason. The point being made by this performance is that Nonduality is not nothing, because then we could not even speak of ‘it’; but it is not something either, because if it were it could not be Nonduality; yet it is all things and no thing itself. Thus the name "Nonduality" is used to indicate a denial of multiplicity, yet the mind, seeing this denial, may assume that it means 'One' as that is the opposite of multiplicity in quantitative reasoning, and while reasoning the mind is locked into certain forms of thought, among them the form of contradictories. But the name "Nonduality," while it denies multiplicity, also denies its contradiction and subsumes both. These words are an apophatic performance. If you can ‘see’ their meaning, you do not need any more definitions.

Want more?

There are many more definitions of nonduality, short and long, at

For an extensive, in-depth comparative study, read Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy, by David Loy:

For a classic and simply told explanation of nondual reality, read Chuck Hillig’s Enlightenment for Beginners. 

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, by Alan Watts is a classic from the Sixties. His use of the word nonduality may be the first in popular spiritual literature in the West.

The book I edited, One: Essential Writings on Nonduality, is filled it with diverse writings from nondual traditions and nondual perspectives. There’s something for everyone.


The word nonduality

One of my stumblings into nonduality was upon the word itself. One day in the early 80s I was sitting at the counter of a deli in Santa Monica and the guy beside me was reading an oversized leather bound book. I casually asked him what he was reading. He said, “The Upanishads.” I asked him what it was about. He didn’t answer me at first. He looked away, up and down, like he didn’t want to be bothered with me, but also as though he felt obligated to say something. After a few seconds he looked straight into my eyes and said the word as though it were a challenge: “Non-du-al-i-ty.”

In that way the unspoken power of the word was given to me. Here are 7 reasons why the word nonduality is powerful:

1. The word nonduality is fresh and untainted by loose-end connotations, such as the words Zen, consciousness, or spirituality are. 

2. The word nonduality, for full understanding, demands its experience.

3. The word is a key that opens search engines and allows you to encounter, engage, and contribute to a multitude of teachings, conversations, and people.

4. The word nonduality is a portal, revealing the nondual perspective of many fields of knowledge: literature, psychology, cinema, education, art, physics, neurosciences, ecology, philosophy, mathematics, architecture, dance, music, martial arts, and more.

5. The word, like any word when it is first heard and valued, is a magnet. Once a person hears the word nonduality, it becomes a magnet drawing attention to other appearances of the word. As well, the user of the word becomes a magnet for others who are sensitive to the appearance of the word nonduality.

6. The word nonduality is a “red pill.” Recall that in the movie The Matrix, Neo was offered either a blue pill or a red pill. The blue pill would have returned Neo back to his dream world whose unreality he sensed but did not understand. The red pill would have awakened him to who he really was, which would have begun his journey through life and to the source. 

The word nonduality could work as a red pill if you value its meaning enough to follow it as deeply as you can. When Neo was being given his choice of pills, his teacher and mentor Morpheus explained to him:

This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes…. Remember, all I’m offering is the truth, nothing more….

7. The word is a pointing to “the seemingly indefinable underlying nature of reality.”  

8. The word is a category holding “the body of works created by those who are open to experiencing life/reality beyond the limiting beliefs and definitions of mind.”

Five Comments About Nonduality

Lama Yeshe 

When you contemplate your own consciousness with intense awareness, leaving aside all thoughts of good and bad, you are automatically led to the experience of non-duality. How is this possible? Think of it like this: the clean clear blue sky is like consciousness, while the smoke and pollution pumped into the sky are like the unnatural, artificial concepts manufactured by ego-grasping ignorance. Now, even though we say the pollutants are contaminating the atmosphere, the sky itself never really becomes contaminated by the pollution. The sky and the pollution each retain their own characteristic nature. In other words, on a fundamental level the sky remains unaffected no matter how much toxic energy enters it. The proof of this is that when conditions change, the sky can become clear once again. In the same way, no matter how many problems maybe created by artificial ego concepts, they never affect the clean clear nature of our consciousness itself. From the relative point of view, our consciousness remains pure because its clear nature never becomes mixed with the nature of confusion.

From an ultimate point of view as well, our consciousness always remains clear and pure. The non-dual characteristic of the mind is never damaged by the dualistic concepts that arise in it. In this respect consciousness is pure, always was pure and will always remain pure. We can compare positive states of mind to water at rest and deluded states of mind to turbulent, boiling water. If we investigate the nature of the boiling water we will discover that, despite the turbulence, each individual droplet is still clear. The same is true of the mind: whether it is calm or boiled into turbulence by the overwhelming complexity of dualistic views, its basic nature remains clear and conscious.

The conclusion, then, is that we all have the capacity to move from the confused, polluted state of ego-conflict to the natural clean clear state of pure consciousness itself. We should never think that our mind has somehow become irreversibly contaminated. This is impossible. If we can train ourselves to identify and enter into the natural, unaffected state of our consciousness, we will eventually experience the freedom of non-dual awareness.

Francis Lucille

Advaita is a Sanskrit word that literally means "not two". Synonyms of Advaita are non-duality (nonduality, non duality). Advaita is not a philosophy or a religion. Non-duality is an experience in which there is no separation between subject and object; a "me" and the rest of the universe; a "me" and God. It is the experience of consciousness, our true nature, which reveals itself as absolute happiness, love and beauty. Consciousness is defined as that, whatever that is, which is aware of these very words right here, right now.


 To awaken to the absolute view is profound and transformative, but to awaken from all fixed points of view is the birth of true nonduality. … Enlightenment means the end of all division. It is not simply having an occasional experience of unity beyond all division, it is actually being undivided. This is what nonduality truly means. It means there is just One Self, without a difference or gap between the profound revelation of Oneness and the way it is perceived and lived every moment of life. Nonduality means that the inner revelation and the outer expression of the personality are one and the same. So few seem to be interested in the greater implication contained within profound spiritual experiences, because it is the contemplation of these implications which quickly brings to awareness the inner divisions existing within most seekers.

Rupert Spira

Nonduality as the phrase implies, literally means not two. There are not two things. It makes reference to the presumption deeply embedded in all cultures, that experience is divided into two things, one, a knower, and two, the known. … The term duality makes reference to these two apparent things, a knowing subject, which is considered to be this body, or in this body, and a known object — other, person, world — which is considered to be outside myself and separate from myself. The term nonduality indicates the true nature of our experience, which, if we make a deep exploration of our actual experience, we find there are not these two things. There is just one. … not two. … That leaves what there is truly, completely open, unnamed, untouched, but yet absolutely present in every experience.

James Swartz

Advaita (pronounced aahdwaituh) is a Sanskrit compound that means ‘not two.’ Although it can refer to anything, it is a particularly important word in the Vedic spiritual tradition because it indicates an important fact about the nature of consciousness, the Self. The portion of the Vedas that deal with the topic of enlightenment is called Vedanta. Vedanta contends that reality is advaita, ‘not two.’ This means that the subject-object distinction that is the most salient feature of what unenlightened individuals consider to be reality, does not actually obtain, although it seems to. This is a very important fact about existence because it is the subject-object distinction that is responsible for much of the existential suffering that characterizes human life. It causes all manner of emotional turmoil because taking the subject-object duality to be a fact puts the individual at odds with objects. 

In duality, the subject, the person I have been conditioned to believe I am, takes his or her self to be limited and incomplete. Because of this fact, he or she feels he needs objects…a house, a job, a relationship, children, etc…to eliminate the sense of incompleteness associated with his or her status as a subject. He or she must develop strategies to obtain desired objects and to avoid undesirable objects. The pursuit and avoidance of objects accounts for considerable suffering. Because both the subject and the objects are subject to change, in so far as they are in time where duality obtains, it is difficult to obtain and keep desired objects. Time, the most salient feature of duality, puts considerable stress on the subject too. His or her desires are constantly changing. When an object is obtained, a change takes place in the subject that causes his or her relationship to the object to change. The constant friction caused by the interaction between the subject and the objects inevitably leads to loss of energy and death.

Vedanta contends that duality is merely a belief brought on by ignorance of the nature of reality, not a fact. In fact, reality is non-dual. This means that the subject-object distinction does not actually obtain. The subject is not different from the objects. Both the subject and the objects are apparent manifestations of the non-dual self or consciousness. Enlightenment is the freedom from suffering that arises when the non-dual nature of the self is fully appreciated. When you no longer take yourself to be separate from the world of objects…yes, people too are objects in duality…conflict dies and the subject is free of the desire to obtain and maintain objects. Vedanta is a time tested means of inquiry into the nature of reality that ultimately resolves the subject-object duality by revealing the non-dual nature of the Self.

see also Quotes about nonduality



bottom of page