Journal of Indian Philosophy

V.11 (1983)  pp.413-426

 Copyright 1983 by D. Reidel Publishing Company.



The nonduality of subject and object is the central claim of several important Oriental philosophies - for example, Taoism (Chuang Tzu: "When self and other lose their contrariety, there we have the very essence of the Tao."1), Mahāyāna Buddhism (Aśvaghoa: ". . . from the beginning corporeal form and mind have been nondual".2) and Advaita (Tat tvam asi as the nondifference of atman and Brahman). This common claim is so extraordinary, so much at variance from commonsense and yet so fundamental to all these systems, that it deserves more attention than it has received; in particular, comparative and cross-cultural studies of this phenomenon have been lacking.

One cannot study the relevant literature without a suspicion arising. For all the systems that incorporate this claim, the nondual nature of reality is revealed only in the experience of enlightenment or liberation, which is experiencing nondually (or realizing that experience always has been nondual). Enlightenment is the hinge upon which each metaphysic turns. Unlike Western philosophy, which tends to reflect on commonplace experience accessible to all, these systems make far-reaching epistemological and metaphysical claims on the basis of nonordinary experience accessible to very few X or to be more precise, accessible only to those who are willing to follow the rigorous path, who are very few. (It is not that these claims are not empirical, but they are grounded on evidence not readily available, which is of course the root of the difficulty in evaluating them.) Another significant similarity among these different descriptions of enlightenment is that the experience cannot be attained or understood through conceptual means, because it transcends all categories of thought. This means that the nondual experience transcends philosophy itself and all its ontological claims, to which one cannot help but respond: are these philosophies then based upon, and pointing to, the same nondual experience? During the experience itself there is no phil­osophizing, but if and when one "steps down" and tries to explain what has been experienced, perhaps a variety of descriptions are possible. Maybe


conflicting ontologies can be erected upon the same epistemological ground.

Consider the relationship between two systems which are both very close and diametrically opposed: Advaita Vedānta and Mahāyāna Buddhism. T R, V. Murti has characterized them as the Substance-view and the Modal-view of Reality; the former asserts self (atman), substance (svabhava) and permanence in contrast to the no-self, lack of substance and impermanence of the latter.3 The fact that these two views are such mirror-images of each other should awaken our suspicions. Is the question of deciding what is Real X assigning ontological status X a value-decision made according to what one chooses to emphasize? The well-known simile of water and waves is useful here. Water represents the empty Absolute, and waves are its phenomenal manifestation in time and space. The waves never lose their intrinsic nature as water; they have no self-nature of their own, being simply a form or manifestation of the water. Yet to emphasize only the unchanging water is to miss the fact that water does not exist in an undifferentiated state but constantly manifests itself only as waves, currents, eddies, etc. So what really exists? The point here is that a variety of answers are possible, and the difference between these answers is not a disagreement over what is seen but over how one chooses to interpret it. One might say that there is only one thing, the water, and that waves do not really exist, since they are just the forms that water takes. Conversely, one might claim that there are only waves, since there is no undifferentiated formless water. The answer one gives will also determine whether there is permanence or impermanence. If there is only the water, and the waves are dismissed as mere forms, then there is no change: water remains the same, despite any oscillations that may occur. But if there are only waves, and if the unchanging water is dismissed as a thought-construction, then there is only change and no permanence.

Where the analogy fails is that we can identify water and differentiate it from other things (air, land), whereas the śūnyatā of Buddhism and the Nirgua-Brahman of Vedānta cannot be characterized in any way. The simile would work better if water were all-pervasive so that we were in it and of it, and so unable to distinguish it as an it. And this suggests another analogy -which may or may not be more than an analogy.


Comparing śūnyatā  to empty space is an analogy that naturally suggests


itself when we try to describe that which has no characteristics. In Buddhism, for examples, space has been used as a simile for the Yogācāra parinipanna, the dharmadhātu, and the Pure Land.4 In his paper on "Oriental Nothingness,"5 Shin-ichi Hisamatsu lists the space-like "characteristics" of śūnyatā: as empty space itself, Oriental Nothingness is all-pervasive, unobstructed and unobstructing, pure, formless, unattainable, stable, empty, unattached, impartial, voiding voidness (beyond the distinction between void and non-void), and without any distinction between inner and outeran excellent analogy for nonduality. Where the analogy does not work is that empty-space, as usually understood, has neither awareness nor life, whereas emptiness for Mahāyāna, Brahman for Vedānta, and the Tao for Taoism are the source of everything including consciousness.

But let us eliminate this difference by supposing that space is conscious X that as a result of some experience I were to realize that "my" consciousness is not mine at all, but is an aspect of space itself. This follows the analogy of Vedānta which compares liberation to realizing that the space inside a sealed pot is not and never has been separate from the infinite space around it. However, this empty Mind-space (as I shall inelegantly refer to it) is not completely void in one sense: co-existing with it are various things in space, except that this "in" is now peculiar. This infinite Mind-space encompasses all things, so rather than speaking of things as being "in" space, it seems more appropriate to say that they are "of space X that is, they are what Mind-space is "doing" in that particular time-place. Consciousness is now, as Śakara would say, not "of something but "as" something: all phenomena are the various ways in which this empty Mind-space manifests itself. Although this Mind-space has no attributes in itself (the previous list of characteristics is really a series of neti, neti), a multitude of phenomena arise within it and of it in this fashion - yet, paradoxically, the Mind-space remains unchanging and unchanged by these phenomena; their appearing and disappearing do not disturb the peaceful empty Mind-ground from which they arise. These phenomena, of course, are not material and do not persist in themselves, but are rather processes in constant transformation.

Last but not least, this experience seems to be noetic: revelatory of The Way Things Really Are. But if "I", having had this experience, were to be asked what I had realized about the nature of Reality, how would I answer? It seems to me that differing and contradictory ontological conclusions might be derived. We can imagine the following conversation among people who have had this experience:


(A) "There are two real substances, both of which are omnipresent, although they do not interfere with each other or interact. One is unchanging, attributeless Mind-space, which is what I now realize my mind has always been. The other is more difficult to characterize; I suppose we can call it an "energy stuff, or perhaps a fine "matter stuff except that it is dynamic , and constantly transforming, taking different forms although not really changing its nature since these are just the forms that it takes. The difference between these two substances is now clear to me: the problem before was that these two were confused because my Mind-space tended to fixate on various forms of the energy-stuff and so was not aware of its own true empty nature. But now I realize that the unchanging Mind-space and the constantly-changing energy-stuff are quite different from each other and always have been."

(B) "The previous speaker is mistaken. Only one thing exists: this unchanging, qualityless Mind-space, which is what I and everything else really are. The constantly-changing forms arise within and from this Mind-space and are simply illusions which deceive us; they have no substance or reality of their own, for they are only appearances which represent nothing but only manifest the Mind-space. Before, "I" was clinging to these forms and reified them into things that objectively self-exist - something the previous speaker still seems to be doing but I realize now that is an error. There is only one Reality: this Mind-space, which in itself has no attributes and is a birthless, deathless and unchanging whole."

(C) "What the others have called "Mind-space' cannot really be said to exist because it has no characteristics at all: it is empty, literally nothing, and how can nothing be "Real"? What "I" have realized is that there is no "I" at all and never was; all that does exist are those constantly-transforming appearances or rather the "attribute-elements" of which they are composed and which are now experienced clearly. I agree with the others that there are no self-existing physical objects, for these attributes do not depend upon or refer to any material substance; but these constantly-changing attributes are themselves real. It is quite right to say that a cluster of red patches does not represent a flower, but those patches do exist how could that be denied? "I" am not aware of the red patch, for there is no "I" to be aware of it, but the patches themselves do appear and disappear and seem to interact with each other. However, it doesn't matter anymore what attributes arise or pass away. now that the sense of "I" has evaporated."                                

(D) "1 agree with the previous speaker that the first two speakers, by



referring to Mind-space, have made something out of nothing - that is, have hypostatized emptiness into a substance. Yet I must also agree with the second speaker that phenomena are not real, for they too are empty. He says they are empty because they are mere appearances of 'Mind-space', but I say they are empty because they are mere appearances of nothing, without any self-nature of their own. The various attributes arise from nowhere, interact with each other, and disappear - how can such transient, interdependent phenomena be said to be real? Except for the first speaker, we all agree that these appearances do not refer to any material substratum, but the previous speaker tries to make these attributes into little substances. Emptiness is their source and ground; but to say that emptiness is their ground means that they have no ground. Because everything is groundless, then nothing can be said to exist or be real.

"However, merely to say that everything is empty is one-sided. There is not the voidness of empty-space, for myriad phenomena do arise. To denigrate these phenomena as illusion is unfair that is "clinging to emptiness' (or, in the terms of the second speaker, 'clinging to Mind-space'). Perhaps this is an overreaction to the opposite problem of 'clinging to form', which occurred earlier when we were ignorant. But one should cling to nothing. Phenomena are illusory only if we are deceived by them; now that we have realized that they are empty appearances, we should accept them for what they are and play with them freely. That is life: the dance may be empty and have no meaning, but there is still the empty dance."

(E) "I agree with the previous speaker, but he does not go far enough. We have realized The Way Things Really Are, that the world is nondual, but we should not be so infatuated with this new way of experiencing that we become prejudiced against the ordinary, dualistic mode. That too is an over-reaction against duality and in another sense is still dualistic. I grant that nonduality is revelatory of the truth in a way that duality is not, but that does not imply that we should 'cling to nonduality.' We should not dualistically reject one mode in favor of another. Let us accept that there are these two ways of experiencing, without prejudice against either. Our aim should be to understand the relation between these two modes fully in order to be able to experience either at will."

(F) "This experience we have had implies no ontological conclusion; from it we cannot deduce that anything exists or does not exist. We cannot characterize the experience in any way, not even as nondual, for to label


experience is to re-present it, whereas the experience is what present when we are not re-presenting. Yet re-presenting is what philosophy always does. So our experience transcends philosophy and cannot be grasped philosophically why then try to describe it in the dualistic categories of language, which can only be misunderstood? If what is important is to gain this experience, -we should rather be concerned to demonstrate the inadequacy of philosophy, both as a description of this experience and as a method for attaining it."

(G) "All the previous speakers assume that this experience is revelatory of 'The Way Things Really Are', but I do not see that it need be taken as noetic at all. What I experienced was a miracle: God manifested Himself to me and then we merged together into the blissful voidness of the Godhead. But this was only a temporary irruption of God into the natural order. His material creation, from which He later withdrew to end the experience, leaving the physical world to operate as usual according to the scientific laws that He has established to order it. To suppose that this brief union of my soul with Him reveals something about the nature of this world is blasphemy: God is so perfect and I am so sinful and selfish by nature that there is an infinite, insurmountable gap between us which only He in His grace can overcome X and even that is only temporary."

All of these responses, A through G, are possible reactions to the experience of the empty Mind-space. The first view, A's, is that of Sāṁkhya-Yoga, whose dualistic metaphysics distinguishes purua (Mind-space) from praki (phenomena). However, my characterization of that position is not quite satisfactory, for two reasons. First, the analogy had to be constructed in such a way as to falsify the claim that praki is an independent substance. In order to include the Sākhya position, the relationship between Mind-space and phenomena should have been left undetermined and ambiguous, but practically it is impossible for any description to avoid a bias towards either the independence or the dependence of these two; all description must also be interpretation. So a nondual prejudice has been built into the analogy: phenomena and Mind-space do not simply co-exist, but phenomena are a manifestation of Mind-space. This is to presuppose that the Sākhya-Yoga interpretation is erroneous, but that does pinpoint the problem of this system, which is the apparently-insurmountable difficulty of relating two completely independent substances. All the other speakers (except the last,

G) perceive a relationship between the two, some to the point of denying that they are two, that is, distinguishable.


The second problem with my characterization is that it assumes there is only one Mind-space, whereas Sākhya-Yoga postulates an apparently-infinite number of omnipresent yet distinct puruas. Again, this is a necessary deficiency of the analogy, which must be biased one way or the other. But again too, this is a place where the Sākhya-yoga interpretation runs into difficulties. For example, how can these various puruas interpenetrate spatially and have no distinguishing characteristics (for each is exactly the same as every other), yet be characterized as distinct and different?

The first speaker's interpretation did not perhaps bring out fully the similarity between his view of phenomena and that of the third speaker, who referred not to forms but to "attribute-elements" (dharmas). Prakti too is composite, a plurality of three guas which interact to compose the tanmatras which interact to compose the mahābhūtas which interact to compose "material objects" and mental phenomena. Both views agree that objects as we normally understand them are mental constructions (according to Sākhya, under the catalytic influence of purua) from a plurality of distinguishable "bits" of experience. The path of liberation in Yoga seems to involve reversing this evolutionary process in order to experience the tanmatras and eventually the guas as distinct from each other and as distinct from purua, This is similar to early Buddhism, whose vipasyana meditation teaches one to distinguish the various skandhas. It is significant that Advaita Vedānta accepts the gua theory of Sākhya and that Mahāyāna Buddhism accepts the dharma theory of early Buddhism, but in both cases these elements are relegated to a subordinate position and denied any reality: for Vedānta, the guas are ultimately māyā and for Mahāyāna the dharmas are śūnya.

Why I have included the Sākhya-Yoga view, despite the difficulties discussed above, is that it too seems to me to be an interpretation of the experience given in the analogy: the duality-in-nonduality of Mind-space and phenomena. Its response is to distinguish both as independent substances, which is one natural reaction, however inadequate it finally proves to be.

The view of speaker B, that only Mind-space is Real, is that of Advaita Vedānta. Unlike the previous speaker, it emphasizes the dependence of phenomenal forms upon Mind-space (Brahman), to the extent that it denies them any reality at all. But from another perspective the similarity between these views is greater than their difference: They both reveal a strong pre­ference for the Mind-space and bias against the phenomenal. Vedānta shows


this by making phenomena into mere appearances but Sākhya may be said to go even further: Although prakti is granted the status of an in­dependent substance, there is an insurmountable gap between it and purua, which is what 'I' really am. This reflects a more general Indian bias against phenomena, which will be discussed later.

The third view, that of speaker C, turns the previous view upside-down: Sthavīra Buddhism denies reality to the Mind-space but grants it to  phenomena - not to objects, of course, but to the dharmas of which they are composed. In terms of the analogy, such a denial of Mind-space may seem  perverse, but this is also due to the fact that the description given is an  interpretation. However, an attributeless consciousness which pervades  everywhere and encompasses everything, and which as nondual cannot  itself be known ("He is never known, but is the Knower . . . ")6 can just  as well be described as "empty" (śūnya). As Surendranath Dasgupta concluded  in his study of Śakara, "It is difficult indeed to distinguish between pure  being and pure non-being as a category."7 This point is critical to my thesis, but it cannot be elaborated here; I have defended it in an earlier paper.8

In contrast to the first two views, this third one is not so prejudiced against phenomena X although nirvāṇa is still characterized as a peaceful, unchanging condition distinct from the incessant interaction of the composite dharmas. This shift towards phenomena is more pronounced in Mahāyāna, despite the fact that it, like Vedānta, denies them any reality.

The Mādhyamika perspective has been distinguished into two viewpoints, speakers D and F. F reflects the paramārtha-satya, the highest truth that one should not draw any ontological or other philosophical conclusions from the experience. This expresses the "perspective" of the experience itself, which really is no perspective at all. All philosophical issues are attempts to grasp the nature of this ultimate experience from the dualistic standpoint, and hence all answers must be inadequate. In response to the question what is Real, the Mādhyamika, like the Buddha, ultimately remains silent.

The fourth speaker. D, expresses the Mādhyamika savti-satya, the relative truth. This view agrees with early Buddhism that Mind-space does not exist, and agrees with Vedānta that phenomena (dharmas for him) do not exist either, since they are interdependent and relative. However, because the category of non-existence is dependent upon the category of existence (and hence perishes with it) and because phenomena are


interdependent (interact and have causal effects) phenomena cannot be said not to exist either.

In Mahāyāna generally we see more of a balance in perspective between empty Mind-space and phenomena; neither is negated in favor of the other, for both are empty. As the Heart Sūtra says, form is not only emptiness, emptiness is also form. To say that emptiness manifests as form is not quite right, however: As the Heart Sūtra continues, form is no other than emptiness, and emptiness is no other than form - that is, one must be careful not to reify emptiness into something that phenomena arise from, as Śākara and the Mind-space analogy do; it is rather the case that empty phenomena appear and disappear. Here we have the familiar Mahāyāna equation between nirvāṇa and sasāra. This implies a different attitude towards change: the Vedāntic Brahman is static, the early Buddhist dharmas are impermanent, but the Mahāyāna view is more paradoxical: changing yet unchanging, since phenomena change although their nature as empty does not. This is a more dynamic conception than that of Vedānta, which, prejudiced as it is against phenomena, must conceive of the Absolute as static; because for Mahāyāna emptiness is not other than form, the Absolute is understood as more dynamic, as active and creative. In the history of Zen Buddhism, for example, certain masters e.g., Tokusan have been criticized for being "too empty", that is, leaning too much to the emptiness of form and not realizing sufficiently the form of emptiness. Śākara would not have deemed this to be an error, but the two most important Zen systems which codify the various stages of enlightenment - the Ten Oxherding Pictures of Kakuan and the Five Degrees of Tozan - both depict this as incomplete enlightenment. The deep satori of the eighth Oxherding Picture - rendered as a simple circle representing empty unity ~ is followed by "Returning to the Source", which depicts a flowering branch representing particularity. Emptiness at this stage is found in the phenomena of the everyday world. According to Kakuan's commentary, one "observes the waxing and waning of life in the world while abiding unassertively in a state of unshakable serenity. This [waxing and waning] is not a phantom or illusion [but a manifestation of the Source] ",9 In the Five Degrees, Tozan represents the stage of empty unity by the third degree, cheng chung lai, "the One alone" or "enlightenment emerging from universality"; the fourth degree, p'ien chung chih, is "the Many alone" or "enlightenment arriving from particularity."10 The synthetic systems of Tien-Tai and Hwa Yen make the same distinction.


This contrast between Brahman and śūnyatā also applies to Hindu and Buddhist tāntra, and may account for the curious and significant reversal of gender that occurs between them:

... Both the Hindu and the Buddhist Tāntras have another fundamental feature common to them [the first fundamental feature was emphasis on the human body as the means of liberation] - a theological principle of duality in nonduality. Both the schools hold that the ultimate non-dual reality possesses two aspects in its fundamental nature, - the negative (nivtti) and the positive (pravtti), the static and the dynamic, - and these two aspects of the reality are represented in Hinduism by Śiva and Śakti and in Buddhism by Prajñā and Upāya (or śūnyatā and karunā). It has again been held in the Hindu Tāntras that the metaphysical principles of Śiva -Śakti are manifested in this material world in the form of the male and the female; Tāntric Buddhism also holds that the principles of Prajñā  and Upāya are objectified in the female and the male. The ultimate goal of both the schools is the perfect state of union X union between the two aspects of the reality and the realisation of the non-dual nature of the self and the not-self.
                                                                                                                                                           (S. B. Dasgupta)

For Hindu tāntra, the masculine Śiva is negative and static, whereas his feminine consort Śakti is positive and active. This is reversed in Buddhist tāntra where Prajñā /śūnyatā is feminine and Upāya /Karuṇā is masculine. The reason for this reversal is not clear, since it does not seem adequate to explain such an important difference simply by attributing it to the natural gender of the words used - why then were those particular words chosen, and not others? However, the difference in emphasis between Vedānta and Mahāyāna may provide an explanation. The strong Hindu bias in favor of the static Absolute could not allow it a feminine (hence subordinate) gender, to the extreme that the active principle is, rather counter-intuitively, made to be feminine - just as changing phenomena in Vedānta are totally subordinated to Brahman. In contrast, Mahāyāna's greater emphasis on phenomena or more precisely, a more equal weight between the two allows the more plausible conclusion that passive emptiness is feminine and active phenomena are masculine.12

        Let us return to the Mind-space analogy. The view of speaker E is implied by the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching, which distinguishes the two ways of experiencing without discriminating against either. Lines one, three, five  and seven describe the nameless Tao, the source of heaven and earth, which is reality apprehended nondually without intentions. Lines two, four, six and  eight refer to the usual pluralistic world of distinct, self-existing phenomena,


experienced dualistically due to naming and intending, which are not the activities of a self but what create and sustain the sense of self. The apparently blissful peace of the experience of nonduality, and its apparent revelation of True Reality, should not lead to a complete negation of duality. A bias in favor of non-duality is still dualistic; from the highest point of view, then, there are two modes of experience, neither of which should be permanently negated for the sake of the other. In Zen Buddhism, for example, there is a conscious return to "delusion", if only to fulfill one's Bodhisattva Vow, for in the nondual experience there are no sentient beings to be saved and nothing at all to be done. This implies an ultimate acceptance of the phenomenal world which, it is safe to say, could not have occurred in India, even though one might expect this as a further development of the Mahayana viewpoint. This is why Mahāyāna took root in China, whereas Vedānta and Sthavīra Buddhism did not, and is part of a more general contrast between India and China which has had deep philosophical implications. The Indian bias in favor of abstract, negative universals and atemporal otherworldliness is reversed by Chinese pragmatism which is biased in favor of particular phenomena and the pattern of their transformation. The Chinese love of nature and their desire to unite with it (expressed in poetry and painting) must be contrasted with Indian alienation from nature, which, given Indian geography and climate, was perhaps inevitable; consider too the contrast between the Indian renunciate ideal and the ragged, jovial, chubby, barefoot and perhaps inebriate Han-Shan, for whom "ordinary mind is the Tao."13 In terms of our analogy, the difference is between a general Hindu bias towards the empty Mind-space and a general Chinese bias for nondual phenomena, which is probably why Mahāyāna Buddhism, which lies somewhere between these two extremes, was the bridge between these two cultures.

The last speaker, G, was included to suggest that the same experience might provide an explanation of the theistic mystical experience - particularly in its "complete" form of union with God. Some theistic mystics e.g., Eckhart have understood the nondual experience as revelatory of The True Nature of Things, but others have not. Instead, they see it as a miraculous event in which God temporarily interferes with the natural order in order to manifest Himself through it. This would emphasize the significance of cultural conditioning and consequent expectations: If one had been raised in a culture which interpreted the nondual experience in this way, one would expect a temporary blissful union without any noetic implications, and might well


draw no ontological conclusions except to confirm one's belief in God who is yet understood to exist (normally) apart from the phenomenal world, His creation. The presupposition of one's own essential sinfulness X "original sin" - and of God as infinitely perfect could keep one from making any inferences about one's True Nature. We should not confuse this with the paramārtha-satya of Mādhyamika: for Mādhyamika, the experience indeed reveals The True Nature of Reality, but this is such that one cannot express it; no philosophical categories can describe it. We must also be careful not to conclude from this alone that the theist is wrong or misses something that the nondualist does not, for both interpretations are culturally-conditioned: the nondualist too is conditioned to expect an ontologically-revelatory experience.


Let us summarize these various responses to the "Mind-space" analogy by charting the view of each on the ontological status of 'Mind-space' and phenomena:

                                         Is 'Mind-space Real?                 Are Phenomena Real?

1. Sākhya-Yoga                          yes                                            yes

2. Advaita Vedānta                        yes                                                  no

3. Sthavīra Buddhism                     no                                                  yes

4. Mādhyamika Buddhism
(paramārthasatya)                 no ontological claims (silence)

5. Mādhyamika Buddhism
(savrtisatya)                              no                   no

6. Taoism (Tao Te Ching, Ch. I)   both duality and nonduality 'Real'

7. Theism                                          not ontologically revelatory

It is surely significant that the first five views, which represent four of the most important Indian metaphysical systems, are the five possible noetic responses to the question. All the four possible ontological conclusions are included as well as the "silence" which refuses to draw any philosophical conclusions from the experience. What conclusions may be drawn from this?

The "Mind-space" analogy offers us an experience that seems to be susceptible to a variety of ontological interpretations - which interpretations, as we have seen, are usually conditioned by a number of cultural factors. In this way I have tried to drive a wedge between the nondual experience and


its interpretation: the experience itself transcends philosophy, but when one, perhaps inevitably, reflects on it and tries to describe it in language, then divergent and even contradictory perspectives occur.

If the analogy in some sense represents The Way Things Are (which must be the case if the analogy is to be meaningful, although from the "perspective" of Speaker F this is ironic, to say the least), one might conclude that the claim that it is ontologically-revelatory thereby becomes questionable. If the nondual experience is subject to such a variety of interpretations, how can it be said to "enlighten" one regarding The Way Things Really Are? The experience is thereby devalued.

But such a conclusion does not necessarily follow. One might just as well turn this around and maintain that the consequence is to devalue, not the nondual experience, but the ontological question and indeed philosophy generally. The experience is valid as revelatory, but this revelation cannot be represented philosophically. This is of course consistent with the view of the various nondual philosophers themselves, who generally acknowledge that what is important is not the philosophical conclusions derived from the experience but the experience itself,14

National University of Singapore


1 From Chapter two, 'On the Equality of Things and Opinions', as translated in Wm. Theodore de Bary, Wing-tsit Chan, and Burton Watson (eds.). Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol. 1, Columbia University Press, 1960, p. 69. [Back]

2 The Awakening of Faith attributed to Aśvaghoa, trans. Yoshito S. Hakeda, New York: Columbia University Press, 1967, p. 72. The translator's gloss on this passage emphasizes its importance: "The nonduality of mind and matter, spirit and body is the basic concept of the text and a common presupposition of Mahāyāna Buddhism." (Ibid.)  [Back]

3 T. R. V. Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, London: Alien and Unwin, 1960,pp. 10-11.  [Back]

4 See, for example, Vasubandhu'sMadhyantavibhagabhasya, verse 21 and Sukhavativyukopadesa, verse 2: "Ultimately, it [the Pure Land] is broad and limitless, just like space." [Back]

5 Shin-ichi Hisamatsu, "The Characteristics of Oriental Nothingness," in Philosophical Studies of Japan, trans. Richard De Martino, Tokyo: Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, 1960, Vol. II  [Back]

6 Bhadārayaka Upaniad, III. vii. 23.  [Back]

7 Surendranath Dasgupta./l History of Indian Philosophy, Vol 1, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975, p. 493.  [Back]


8 'Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta: Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same?' International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. XXII, No. 1, March 1982, pp. 65-74.  [Back]

9 Philip Kapleau, (ed.). The Three Pillars of Zen, Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1966,p. 310;

his brackets.  [Back]

10 See Chang Chung-yuan, Original Teachings ofCh'an Buddhism, New York: Vintage, 1969, p. 46 ff.; also Kapleau, pp. 300-1. The German mystic Jakob Boehme makes ,

the same point:

... a good act thus begins with the evil particular, passes through the empty universal and ends in a life which endows the limited particular with a universal value.
... Like the negative mystics he [Boehme] asks us to flee the evil world and retreat  to the Absolute, but unlike them he asks us to return to the same world with the " Absolute in tow. The other-world ethics is discovered in an act which transcends nature but which is applied to nature, (from H. H. Brinton's study of Boehme, The Mystic Will. New York; MacmiUan, 1930, pp. 213, 221.)

11 S. B. Dasgupta, An Introduction to Tantric Buddhism, University of Calcutta, 1974,


12 With apologies to all feminists who read this.  [Back]

13 For a discussion of this difference, see Hajime Nakamura's Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples, ed. Philip P. Wiener, Honolulu: East-West Center Book, 1964.  [Back]

14 This paper is part of a larger study on nonduality, which forms a doctoral dissertation to be submitted to the National University of Singapore.  [Back]