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LATEST DIALOGUES Nondualism in Western Philosophy: a Series of Pointers (8/11)

Photo by David Hemmings

Photo by David Hemmings

This is a series of pointers to how the Western approach can assist with one’s 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. Every week we will publish one new article on this topic in a total of eleven articles.

And Away from Metaphysics

Beginning in the early twentieth century, Western philosophy began to sprout reactions against the metaphysical urge. Philosophers such as John Dewey, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Nelson Goodman and Donald Davidson have criticized metaphysical claims that there is a way the world truly is. These writers have inspired anti-metaphysical movements such as pragmatism, existentialism, hermeneutics, deconstructionism and postmodernism.

The individual philosophers and movements lie beyond the scope of this chapter, but many of them are summarized quite nicely by Richard Rorty in a recent article. Rorty, who has referred to himself as an “antidualist” or an “anti-essentialist” or a “pragmatist” or a “nonrepresentationalist,” has written tirelessly against metaphysics ever since his well known book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Rorty, 1981). In his recent article “A World without Substances” (Rorty, 1999), he summarizes the various philosophies that have turned away from making metaphysical claims. He sees most anti- metaphysical philosophies as trying to shake off the traditional dualisms such as essence/accident, substance/property, appearance/reality and subject/object. There are certain other commonalities as well. Anti-metaphysical views do not hold that there is a way that things really are. Instead, they hold that

  • No description of things is intrinsically privileged over others. Its “betterness” depends upon the purpose at hand.
  • Things do not consist of essences but of relations to other things.
  • We never know a thing-in-itself. We never know anything in a description-neutral way; we only know true sentences about it.
  • “Objective truth” does not mean “in touch with reality,” but instead means “in consensus with other inquirers.”
  • The old, invidious distinction between appearance vs. reality has given way to the new, pragmatic distinction between less useful descriptions vs. more useful descriptions.

    The anti-metaphysical approach is somewhat like Nagarjuna’s teaching, in which phenomenality is likened to Indra’s net of jewels. In Indra’s net, no jewel is primary or basic, and there is no basic substratum or essence holding everything together. Rather, each jewel reflects only the reflections of all the other jewels. Anti-metaphysics can be seen as nondualistic, not by claiming that “reality is One,” but by not falling into dualistic claims. Instead of advocating a new replacement for the essences that have been dropped, anti- metaphysics says, “Let’s change the subject.”


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Greg Goode is a long-time writer in the traditions of Western and Eastern philosophy. He has studied and taught in the areas of Skepticism, Pragmatism, Idealism, Hermeneutics, Derridean Deconstruction, Advaita-Vedanta, Madhyamika Buddhism, and the Direct Path. In Greg's experience, nondual realization is possible through any and all of these approaches. Greg holds a doctorate in philosophy, and serves on the editorial board of the peer-reviewed journal "Practical Philosophy: Journal of the American Practical Philosophers Association". He has written the well-known books "Nonduality in Western Philosophy", "Standing as Awareness", "The Direct Path", and "Emptiness and Joyful Freedom". He is currently writing a book about going beyond the paths of nondualism.

3 Responses to “Nondualism in Western Philosophy: a Series of Pointers (8/11)”

  1. March 12, 2015 at 3:27 pm, David Allen Kolb said:

    When you say Advaita Vedanta, I am assuming you mean the Nirvishesha Advaita (unqualified nondualism) of Shankaracharya, but of course this is not the only form a nondual vedanta, there is the vishishta advaita (qualified nondual) of Ramanujacharya, the dvaitaadvaita (simltaneous dual/nondual) of Nimbarakacharya, and the shuddhaadvaita (pure nonduality) of Vallabhacharya as well, and there are also the tantric nondual theological schools of Kaula shakta, and kashmer Shaivism, and the Vaishnav Panchratra. All though all these schools are philosophically nondual based, there are subtle and not so subtle philosophical differences amongst them.

    • March 12, 2015 at 4:21 pm, David Storoy said:

      Vedanta is not a philosophy.

      “Vedanta is called a “brahma vidya” which means “the science of consciousness.” It is an objective analysis of the true nature of reality – and the logic of your own un-examined experience, based on the facts. Like any other science, it is not personal and it has a methodology – which, if followed with great dedication and commitment, will provide irrefutable knowledge that will lead to moksa, if the student is qualified. Vedanta is simply the truth about you. Not your truth or my truth or anyone’s truth: The Truth.

      This is why Vedanta is called apauruseya jnanam, meaning “not the philosophy or experience of one person” like a prophet or a mystic. It is an impersonal and independent teaching given to consciousness by consciousness so that the self could be revealed in a pure mind. This is because awareness is not an object of experience, so the means at our disposal to know anything, perception and inference, are too gross to know the self, awareness. The object cannot know the subject because the object is not conscious. The mind or subtle body appears to be conscious but it only appears this way because awareness shines on it, pervading every atom. The mind is an object known to you, awareness, and awareness is that by which everything is known.

      So how do you know awareness? By purifying the mind and submitting it with great dedication to self-inquiry into the true nature of reality under the guidance of a qualified teacher. Liberation is the negation of the doer and discriminating you, awareness, from the objects that arise in you, which also means that the binding vasanas have been rendered non-binding. Although this sounds like a doing, liberation is not something you achieve because it is who you are; self-knowledge does the work of removing the ignorance from the mind so that your true nature as whole and complete, non-dual, actionless, unlimited and unchanging, ordinary awareness is revealed in the mind.

      Vedanta is sruti, which means “what is heard.” It is revealed to the mind of man, not thought up by us. This is why you can trust it. You have come to the right place, you have found the Holy Grail. You just need a little help to understand what it means to be self-realised and to live the knowledge.”


  2. March 12, 2015 at 4:16 pm, David Storoy said:

    “Nondualism is an experience, a mode of existence of the self and world, and a metaphysical1 view about reality.”

    For me nondualism is not mainly an experience but knowledge of the Self. Experience is impermanent and knowledge is permanent. We chase or search for experience to get more understanding of nondualism,but the best way to deal with it in my opinion is through self-inquiry(means of knowledge). I mean follow the teachings of traditional Vedanta.

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Nondualism in Western Philosophy: a Series of Pointers (11/11)

  This is a series of pointers to how the Western approach can assist with one’s self-inquiry. It is less a historical survey, and more a collection of Western views that might serve as tools for…


Nondualism in Western Philosophy: a Series of Pointers (10/11)

This is a series of pointers to how the Western approach can assist with one’s self-inquiry. It is less a historical survey, and more a collection of Western views that might serve as tools for inquiry,…

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