What does it mean to say everything is one, not two? Doesn’t it seem like the world is full of many different things? Or is separateness just an illusion? This week we’re thinking about Nonduality and the Oneness of Being.
What Is It
Some branches of Hindu philosophy propose that reality is nondual in nature. Such schools of thought—called advaita schools, from a Sanskrit word meaning “not two”—see the material world either as an aspect of ultimate reality (“Brahman”) or as a mere illusion. So how do we make sense of the appearance of variety in a metaphysics of oneness? Is there room for individual selves within advaita philosophy? What can be known? And what possible sources of knowledge are there in a nondual epistemology? Josh and Ray become one with Elisa Freschi from the University of Toronto, author of Duty, Language, and Exegesis in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā.
What does it mean to say everything is one? Is separateness just an illusion? Josh explains how the oneness of being is conceptualized in Advaita Vedanta, a Hindu school of thought. Everything is pure consciousness, which in turn means that everything is actually just one thing. Ray considers the benefits this point of view might have, including increased compassion and decreased selfishness, but they also question why this perspective exists in the first place.
The co-hosts welcome Elisa Freschi, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto, to the show. Elisa begins with a general description of Brahman, which is taken to be the only real thing that exists. In response to Josh’s request about a more comprehensive definition, Elisa calls it pure, contentless consciousness that is ultimately blessed. However, she also explains the difficulties of characterizing Brahman. Ray asks why we should believe in nonduality, and Elisa suggests looking at religious texts and the weaknesses of alternatives such as naive realism.
In the last segment of the show, Josh, Ray, and Elisa discuss the differences between Advaita Vedanta and Vishesh Advaita Vedanta. Josh asks about the relationship of God to Brahman, prompting Elise to talk about how both schools of thought share similarities with pantheism. Ray brings up the problem of the accessibility of salvation and reconciling nonduality with actual inequalities, and Elise describes how some Vishesh Advaita Vedantic thinkers are involved with social reform and critically analyzing the caste system.
Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 4:41) → Holly J. McDede talks to practitioners of nonduality, including spiritual teachers, former Zen monks, and clinical psychologists.
- Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek to 45:41) → Ian Shoales considers transcendental meditation, mantras, and where duality shows up in the world.
What does it mean to say everything is one?
Doesn't it seem like there are many things?
Is separateness just an illusion?