Nonduality and the Oneness of Being

Sunday, June 6, 2021

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.

Comments (8)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, April 29, 2021 -- 6:55 AM

There appears to be a

There appears to be a connundrum nestled away in this problem. Illusion is slippery. As is Truth. Religious doctrines are diverse and anyone who believes there is but one true way is choosing a preference over all the other possible ways, seems to me. A successful actress who survived a devastating illness is a Buddhist. She presumably chose that discipline because it helps her focus on what matters in her life. The practice of meditation also helps her find purpose and serenity. Not a bad bargain. She is doing the best she can with what she has and knows. I have said there is usefulness in such things. But, no one need take my word for that. MJA knows. We do what works for us.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, April 30, 2021 -- 2:18 PM

I finally got to read some of

I finally got to read some of the author's remarks on his book: Is Consciousness Everywhere? It is out of MIT Press and the writer's name is Koch. The subject of the book bears at least a tangential relationship to the subject(s) of this post, seems to me. In an email to the MIT folks,I said I did not think the answer was yes, citing efforts to 'explain' consciousness ( Dennett and Combs), and a notion from Gerald Edelman, positing what he called primary consciousness vs higher-order consciousness. I also took issue with whether consciousness is everywhere. I just don't think so. Just don't see it, you see. Let's take a practical matter stance: the viral pandemic we are trying to dig ourselves out of.. would anyone sincerely suggest that Covid is conscious? How about chicken pox? Come on now.
Metaphysics has a place. Some things discussed by Jung and,Sheldrake were fantastical---until one lived through them and wondered: how the heck did/does that/those things happen? Well. They do I am not into miracles. Jung's notion of synchronicity is now believable to me, inasmuch as I have experienced it. Sheldrake wrote of pets who 'know' when their masters are coming home. Yeah, they do. But that is nothing more than primary consciousness. Conditioning.
Does a microbe or a virus have where-with-all to add two and two? No. Not consciously. Not at all.
Remember: beliefs are shady. Dewey said so. If, and only if, I can get it through my library, I may read the book. I'm just curious, as when reading Jung and Sheldrake. Maybe, I'll learn something...or learn there was nothing to learn. We need to make mistakes. Dennett said so all good..

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, April 30, 2021 -- 5:07 PM

And all of the above is, as

And all of the above is, as Cronkite used to say, the way it is.
Good night. And good luck. (that was Murrow...) I miss such wisdom.

Robert Paul's picture

Robert Paul

Friday, May 7, 2021 -- 6:38 AM

I am interested in the

I am interested in the Mahamudra and Dzogchen understanding and experiences of non-duality in relation to the interface of human consciousness and physical reality. I am not interested in who said what when. I am interested in an analysis of what non-duality could possibly mean in the context of knowledge about physical reality and the brain-mind relationship. Knowledge requires evidence and justified reason, hence in this topic physics and neuroscience, informed by phil sci and phil mind. What is mind? How can things non-trivially be one? What does this really mean, without vague handwaving kumbaya unjustifiable statements like 'we are all interconnected', or 'consciousness is everywhere' that become clearly nonsense when terms are defined and justifications are sought ? Where is mind as an outgrowth of the brain-body chemical machine, e.g. GWS, HOT, AST theories that have become prominent in neuroscience, and how does it relate to what we see when we rest in non-duality within meditation?

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, May 7, 2021 -- 11:04 AM



Thanks for this comment. This show is in production, soliciting questions, and this might push the conversation more to the neuroscience view.

Friston's PCM and Tononi's IIT are also theories that could benefit from an Advaita Vendanta view.

I have cracked Frischi's book - Duty, Language and Exegesis in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā, but I am not finding direct help on Advaita philosophy. There is this piece in the glossary defining Antahkarana, which Elisa translates as 'inner organ.'

"The Advaita Vedanta assigns the tasks of perception, cognition, recollection, and others to an entity conceived as the "inner instrument" (antahkarana). [...] the inner instrument includes the mind (manas) manifesting attentivity, the intellect (buddhi) meaning the capacity for determination and ascertainment, and citta, a storehouse of past impressions and memories. The inner instrument is a crucial aspect of the embodied person that coordinates the functions of the senses and the body whilein constant interaction with events within the body and its surroundings. The inner instrument is said to "reach out" to objects in the environment through the senses, and to become trans-formed into their shapes, so to speak. The inner instrument is constantly undergoing modi cations, depending on the objects it reaches out to, and it tries to 'know' them by itself being trans-formed into their shapes."

That is a direct quote from Anand C. Paranjpe's book - Self and Identity in Modern Psychology and Indian Thought.

Hindu philosophy has been mining models of the brain for a much longer while than western philosophers (if they ever have.)

If Advaita philosophers incorporate mind/body ideas into their monism – that isn't monism? Regardless it is relatively accurate to many of the developing theories in neuroscience.

The mind/body distinction is dead to me. Mind in any real sense has no meaning as detached from the body. I am interested in brains and bodies. Advaita thought has traction in this context, and I think it is helpful. Hindu philosophy and Indian psychology are a novelty to me, however.

Hopefully PT will integrate your questions into the show. I would very much like Elisa to respond. If she doesn't, she has a very well done blog - and is approachable.


Daniel's picture


Saturday, May 8, 2021 -- 4:07 PM

Where does that leave the

Where does that leave the picture/body distinction? If I see your body, does that mean my eyes must belong to it? How is it clear that you've got your own body? When I feel a pain I might say "ouch", which is a description of a state of affairs of the type: "it is raining". But if I make the claim that "my body is in pain", the subject of the sentence becomes an axiomatic assumption for purposes of a causal explanation of how said state of affairs came into existence, based on what we can say we know about the world. Or again, isn't it just an indemonstrable assumption that when, 20 minutes after ordering a pizza at a busy pizzeria, my number is called out and I stand up to pick up the order, that I in fact stand up? Would it make just as much sense if, after deciding to stand up, I remained seated and everyone else stood up instead? How is this last possibility precluded without the arguably indemonstrable and therefore arbitrary claim that "I have a body"?

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, May 9, 2021 -- 3:13 PM

Is Consciousness Everywhere?

Is Consciousness Everywhere? Yes and no. It is, I hold, the sum of human cognition. Although it lies in some primary form, within other animal life. Not viruses or bacteria. Anyone theorizing otherwise relies upon some abstract metaphysics ---as, perhaps, there is intelligent life on Mars. There are true paths. There is not only one. My brother and I have discussed consciousness and truth issues. We have similar and differing opinions from an experiential view. Try harder. Think you can, and so on. Picture/body distinction? That is just another way of talking, after the non-duality/oneness of self. Time goes by. Terminology changes to suit convenience; choice and preference(s). The Next Big Thing is always exciting, until someone asks: but what if we look at it THIS way? The beat goes on.

Daniel's picture


Sunday, May 9, 2021 -- 6:39 PM

It's another way of talking

It's another way of talking after talk about the mind/body distinction goes away. You're still left with body's distinction from other things, like pictures of bodies. Therefore the switch in terminology can not be merely conventional, as you suggest, but is rather related to the occupation of space: a body in three dimensions, the image of a body in only two. My point is that if you take away the mind and leave the body, you're going to have to get rid of the body too, as indemonstrable and arbitrary. What you're left with is a thought about the body: the picture of it, with some identity-tag reading "mine", "yours", "his", and so on. Because the determination of these is brought about by topical, terrestrial conditions of experience, however, there can be no unconditional ground of why one "identity-tag" should belong to one more than another.