The term ‘non-dualist’ is widely used to refer to various types of spiritual philosophies or practices, but there are a number of difficulties and confusions involved in the use of term. When I first started developing Middle Way Philosophy in a Ph.D. thesis 15 years ago, I used the term as a primary one to describe my position. But as I found it subject to a great many misunderstandings, I let it recede to the background – though it has still been present as a potential term for the Middle Way.
I have recently made this video to present some of the key ideas around non-dualism and try to head off the misunderstandings.
A useful sense of ‘non-dualism’, then, as I argue here, involves a degree of faith in the possibility of avoiding absolutised beliefs. We do not need to structure our lives around absolutised beliefs, nor assume them for everyday living. That doesn’t mean that we will necessarily get rid of them entirely, but it does mean that experience offers us alternatives to the dualistic stranglehold of opposed and conflicting basic beliefs.
More commonly, however, the term ‘non-dualism’ is conflated with ‘non-duality’, and this is seen as some kind of ultimate truth about the lack of subjects and objects in the universe. Such ‘non-dualism’ is self-undermining and contradictory, because the belief in non-duality itself involves absolutisation. We might have meaningful, archetypal ideas about non-duality, but it cannot helpfully be an object of belief. The same goes for the related term ‘monism’. Monism is the belief that everything in the universe is ultimately one. Again, this is just another metaphysical belief, and does not help us to psychologically identify and work with absolutisation. There is nothing practically different about believing that everything in the universe is ultimately one, and that it is ultimately two or multiple: either way we have to impose that view on our experience and in the process repress alternatives. Our experience is not of ‘things’ nor of the absence of ‘things’, prior to the ways in which we designate ‘things’ for practical reasons.
I made this video tributary to the one on incrementality, because I think incrementality is the aspect of the Middle Way that most directly addresses dualism. Wherever we find a questionable separation between objects and/or subjects, try re-conceiving that discontinuous distinction as an increment or a matter of degree. This is the basis of a range of potential practices that can help us to undermine absolute thinking.