What is nonduality

Wat is non-dualiteit, dutch

Pia de Blok


‘Many thanks to Douwe Tiemersma’

Wat is non-dualiteit; translated by Kik van der Willigen

You can recognize non-duality in a very simple daily experience. This is e.g. when you are talking to somebody. There is then that certain shared ‘something’. It cannot be given a name to and yet it is there. It is a memory of something that you both know. At the same time there are differences. We all differ in outer appearance; we think differently; our lives are different. Background: school, education, friends: everything is different for all of us. This is why we cannot speak of unity. Neither can we speak of duality. This then is non-duality. In Sanskrit it is called: a-dvaita. It means Non Duality. There is no complete unity; neither is there complete  separation. Everything is bound together. It is what binds us together that reminds us of the something that we have in common. When you are with a special close friend and you close your eyes it is there; find it out for yourself, all forms dissolve. In this shared experience you feel no separation. This experience is more than just a physical emotion. It is like being in love or feeling happy. People tell you how ‘radiant’ you look. This is indeed how you are feeling; besides feeling in love, you shine like the sun. This cannot just be your body; it is an awareness of something on a much grander scale: you experience space.


Duality: tension, fights, war, suffering, limitation
Non-duality: unity, relaxation, friendship, freedom, space

Non-duality in our daily lives.
In our daily lives we all experience limitations, inhibitions, tensions and negative emotions all produced by duality, separation. Oppositions are seen as facts of life. It’s because of this belief that conflicts and suffering are inevitably created. Conflicts arise when two matters are placed in opposition; when one human being is opposed to another human being. Separation is the root of all conflicts. We can only solve our problems if we radically reconsider our own limitations and the differences between ourselves and others; in doing so we will experience for ourselves to be part of something bigger. There will always be differences but at the same time they do not disrupt a fundamental unity.

When enjoying a good conversation we experience non-duality. At such a moment we share something that we have in common; you can call this ‘life’ or ‘source’. It is a recognition of something that we both know. But we can also see the differences between ourselves. We differ in appearance; our thoughts differ; we lead different lives;  we have different friends, different parents; we have different school experiences. So there is no complete unity though at a fundamental level there is one, and this is why we do not completely differ from one another. Unity and diversity join hands together. This is called non-duality or a-dvaita in Sanskrit: the absence of duality. It is named thus because there is no more duality. It is all about recognizing one’s own inner self which is also the other person’s inner self. The inner self is about freedom; peace, happiness. Openness. Openness knows no suffering any more. It is about respect and love for our fellow human beings.


Non-duality and relaxation
When we are totally relaxed we feel no longer separated and this is why non-duality is so closely related to relaxation. Feeling deeply relaxed we experience no separation, not even in our relationships. What we feel is rest and peace which experience will have an equal influence on the people around us. Relaxation, namely, is just as contagious as tension and stress are. We are all familiar with the feeling of basic relaxation. We all know these moments of peace – when we are about to slip into a hot bath; when we are enjoying a hot sunshine; just before we drop off  to sleep. Thus explained the awareness of non-duality is not something for the privileged few only.


Non-duality and health
When we are deeply relaxed, a tension knot unwinds which is cause why many psychosomatic complaints may disappear (hyperventilation; sleeplessness; muscle complaints; feelings of depression and so on).


Non-duality and meditation
There are many different meditation techniques. Most of them concentrate on things outside ourselves such as visualization techniques. If it is possible for us to experience relaxation and peace in these forms of mediation then everything is ok. This is something that belongs to us; relaxation is inside of us; it is an essential part of who we are. Other meditation techniques focus on our inner selves; looking at our thoughts and our breathing. Finally there is self meditation which is primarily focused on our inner selves and which eventually leads to non-duality. The key question here is: ‘Who am I?’ The answer to this question lies hidden deep within ourselves where there are no thoughts and where there is no time; sometimes we realize that all of a sudden it is an hour or so later. It is an alert awareness of being. We were not without time but outside of it. Free from time. At such a moment we are free from space, movement, thoughts and ego. This is openness about which there is nothing more to tell.


The creation of non-duality and its shutting down during adolescence
n the very first phase of our lives the sphere of non-duality is virtually intact; the unborn child is still at one with itself and the world around it. He is still living in complete openness. This ultimate sphere of non-duality is also apparent when a baby is lying in its mother’s arms and looking at her in utter contentment: nothing is needed; there is only wordless peace. In the beginning there is not yet the individual awareness of the body; the child only awares things; there is not yet the need to defend a certain point of view.
Although this sense of unity will become more and more out shadowed by the separation between the child and the other; between the child and the world; this sense of unity will serve as a constant background in life.
Children develop rapidly during their first years of living. In a very short time they learn an enormous amount of everything and what they experience changes dramatically during this time. Their world is expanding at great speed and they are gradually becoming aware of existing differences. They learn to distinguish between their own bodies and those of others and they are becoming aware of the space around them. When they hurt themselves, they feel pain. They also learn to differentiate between themselves and their parents or their little brother or sister. The child is told: ‘You are John, this is your father, this is your uncle Kees and so on’.
In this manner the first duality between the inner self and the outer world is established. In later years child nursing, school and society will be added; the amount of situations in which there is a sense of separation increases. It is because of how they are developing physically and mentally and because of all of the learning processes that they must go through and because of education that much of the initial openness of children shuts down. The child feels itself to be an individual in a body whose existence has no ties with the world and people around it. A young and happy child oftentimes transforms into a cramped and unhappy teenager who will try and find happiness outside of himself. From an open and boundless  situation the child enters into a situation in which it is aware of its own body and thoughts. Subconsciously it starts to identify with this situation simultaneously creating the child’s ego.  From now on the child will separate itself from others with all the inherent limitations. This situation will almost remain unaltered in later life. This is a great pity because the original state of non-duality could be consciously be with us for the rest of our lives.


When non-duality shuts down during adolescence. An experience.
Somebody told me about how she was wont to greet her father. ‘I ran up to him and jumped into his arms; he tossed me around. Full of confidence and full of trust I would be caught; a joyful turning and tossing together: it was lovely. There was no longer a father; no longer a daughter; I was only conscious of space. And it was lovely. Then my mother said: ‘You’d better stop that. What will other people think; you’re too old now for that sort of thing. You’re a woman now’. (I had just had my first period). It was as if lightning had struck. I felt this separation between me and my father; between me and my mother and between me and the rest of the world. For the first time I saw my father as the other person. No longer would I feel safe with anybody else any more; gone was the feeling of togetherness and openness.


Experiences of relaxation and non-duality
Once when I was a young child I was lying in my room on some soft cushions half asleep; it was very quiet; I was very quiet within myself; only some distant voices in the background. There was an atmosphere of mere peace, no body. Thoughts and feelings; I had the feeling of being carried in an endless space.
This kind of atmosphere is often experienced by children. They are no longer aware of an I-person that experiences things; there is only peace and justice; they feel relaxed and carried.
There is a sense of completeness; nothing needs to be done any more.
Practical matters take care of themselves; in a relaxed, tenseless atmosphere all that needs to be done is simply done. Another example is when we are lying in a hot bath; totally relaxed; there’s nothing more that needs to be done.
Picture yourself at the seaside; you sit down on a dune top while you gaze at a wonderful sunset. All coming-and-goings are gone. The only thing for you to experience is nature in its grandeur only to become one with nature. You experience a sense of peace, happiness, glory, silence. Your breathing slows down. Your breathing and your awareness of being alive undergo changes; you experience total relaxation.


Duality: separation is the root of all conflicts
Many people relive the openness of their youths in their contacts with children. Although often hidden away the openness is still there. That’s why people often search for this openness in order to experience it all over again. Because everybody is pining for this situation of non-duality, ‘relaxation’ and ‘self development’ are much commercialized in our society. This is why people will search for it outside of their own selves: in parties; in alcohol; drugs etc. In this so-called prescribed relaxation they try to relive the sense of completeness that they experienced during their first years of their lives. But they are all temporary solutions.
During the relaxation classes youngsters realize that surrogate matter may give them momentary pleasure but that it doesn’t make them really happy. They continue their search for something new only to find out that they get more and more dependent on things outside of their own selves rather than on things within their own selves. This duality between the self and society is the cause of conflicts. This can be solved during relaxation. It can only take place if one realizes that there is a mutual dependency between relaxation and non-duality. Only non-duality can be lasting.
So as children we were already aware of non-duality yet at the same time lacking the necessary understanding. Youth and grown-ups alike can be made aware. The practical exercises that focus on the understanding of non-duality can trigger this awareness.


Teaching non-duality
Teaching the techniques of relaxation together with offering awareness of who you really are – without duality – brings you into contact with non-duality. Non-duality is all about the unspeakable (it goes further than life) alliance with everything that is around us: with nature, the cosmos and all other living creatures whereas there are outer differences everywhere. Non-duality is about the awareness of being united and different at the same time. Each pupil is connected with his fellow pupils; by making them do specific exercises youngsters understand that there  is no longer any need for bullying or fighting; for feeling superior or inferior etc. They also understand that all of their own emotions and feelings are shared with everybody else. This will also make them respect their teachers more which is sometimes far gone these days.


The philosophy behind non-duality
Non-duality is an appreciation of man and the world from a particular perspective. Boundaries and divisions between myself and the other; between body and spirit; microcosm and macrocosm; subject and object; man and God; these are all considered to be self-taught and relative. This non-dualistic view was elaborated on by Shankara in the 8th century AD along the tradition of Advaita Vedânta, an Indian cult originating from the Upanishaden, the oldest ones of whose tales dates back to the 8th and 6th century BC. The Upashinads are esoteric writings of the so-called forest schools: small groups of pupils gathered around a teacher living in seclusion in the woods. They were educated in the most important questions of mankind such as: who am I? Their main target was to bring out the deepest insight. At the heart of the teachings of the Upashinads – elaborated on in the Advaita Vedânta –  lies the idea that one should always be oneself  without form or limitation thus being one with the very heart of everything and everybody. This is a ‘presence of being’ that everybody can adhere to and which precedes ‘I think’. (From: De elf grote Upashinaden, Douwe Tiemersma, Advaida Publishers; www.advaitacentrum.nl ).

In the Upashinads children are already taught about what they are themselves:


Chandogya Upanishad.

‘Put this salt into the water and come back to me tomorrow’.
Shvetaketu did as he was told.
His father: ‘Bring me the salt that you put into the water yesterday evening’. He felt for it but he could not find it. His father spoke: ‘You cannot find it because it has totally dissolved. If you want to experience it, taste the uppermost part. What does it taste like?’.
‘Salt, sir’.
‘Taste the middle part, what does it taste like?’
‘Salt, sir’.
‘Taste the bottom. What does it taste like?’.
‘Salt, sir’.
‘Put it away and come back to me’.
Then his father said: ‘That salt is there always and everywhere. Likewise our Being is truly everywhere  around, you cannot perceive it, but it is truly there. That which determines this subtle essence, all of that has That as the self. That is the truth. That is atman. That is you, Shvetaketu.


Non-duality and other traditions
The concept of non-duality is also present in other traditions such as buddhism, taoism, jewish and christian mysticism and sufism. When Jesus says: ‘Love thy neighbour like thyself’ the ‘like thyself’ refers back to non-duality. In fact you are also the other person. This is the basis of non violence. Gandhi (‘You will not accompany violence’), Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama have all shown this before. At the same time they made clear that in real situations you do not have to tolerate everything (non-violent resistance). Another example is Nelson Mandela. He did not continue the duality of the apartheid; he surpassed it. This is why the abolition of apartheid was implemented without any serious problems.

The literature on non duality shows that there is fact nothing to say about this particular state of insight. This insight precedes spiritual understanding; it even comes before words. It is beyond the scope of this book to enter deeper into non duality and its philosophy. (For those who would like to learn more about non duality I recommend the book Non-dualiteit – de grondeloze openheid, by Douwe Tiemersma; www.advaitacentrum.nl).


Misconceptions about non-duality (a-dvaita)
1) Advaita equals unity
Non-duality does not mean: Unity in the sense of experiencing everything in life as the same. Everybody has their own life to live.
Duality means separation. When you are living in duality it means to say that you are living a totally separated life apart from all other beings and nature.
Non-duality, or a-dvaita means no-separation or no-division. That is to say: there’s not just unity but neither is there only duality. We can experience this unity ( let’s call it life) as a situation in which there are no true divisions, not between yourself and the other person or between yourself and the world. We look upon the differences as symptoms; all of them go together so long as there is life. Duality creeps in when we look upon the other person as totally different from our own selves. In such manner we only value our mutual different outer appearances in form.
As soon as you touch on unity you touch on its opposition duality in the same breath. Hence the word: a-dvaita, non-duality: no division.
Ultimately the coming together of unity and separation in one unity is by definition a unity but here it goes beyond the concept of non-duality.

2) Forming a unity: enabling us to read the minds of other people
It’s not about clairvoyance at this point. The other person will specifically remain Jan, Piet, Ellie. It’s how we communicate. We are unified in our source. That’s where we originate from and will dissolve back into. It is with us in the here and now. Birth and death are daily occurrences. Our source surpasses birth and death. It is from our own experiences that we understand the here and now.

3) I belong to that which you are not
We are all born as empty seeds. We only had our own personal Awareness. Then mother says: ‘You are Peter, or Maria’. My mother said: ‘You are Pia’. I believed this and so I developed my own ego. In general it is at this point that separations will arise. You will experience others as the other and they will experience you in the same way. School, education, friends, your living areas etc., they will all determine who you are going to be. In fact you already exist by the concepts of others in which you have come to believe yourself. But we all forget that we all originate from the same source. But no matter how separated you may think we all are we do know that we have things in common. We all know about hunger, thirst, having to go to the bathroom, sleep, sorrow, gladness, sexuality etc. We are made out of the same material and all breathe the same air etc.

4) We experience reality as duality
When you feel one with your lover. One with nature. One with a young baby looking at you. One with a child you are playing with. One with the sunset. One with your football club scoring a goal etc. Are not these moments during which you experience this unmentionable oneness? Gone has the other person. Who is watching, what is being watched and the watching itself all integrate and unite. The same goes for the symptoms; they may be there for a spell but in these examples they have all disappeared. Find out for yourself.

5) Scientifically there is no proof.
Science is constantly on the move; it’s no fixed item. Science constantly changes; many years ago the earth was flat; our family doctor insisted that my eldest child had to sleep on his tummy whereas nowadays this is strictly advised against etc.
Only recently has it been discovered that the tiniest particle in any material e.g. wood is also present in the human body. And so it goes on.

6) The source omits description
This is true. You can only yourself adhere to it as: ‘This is it’. Everything else is automatically and by itself, let go. Followed by the acceptance of all that is and all that is not. The relativity of it has been discovered. Practical matters continue because a physical life and ‘This is it’ and a daily life can actually co-exist. Emotions all but disappear and feelings remain. They will be seen as not quite the most important truth.

7) Nobody shall ever know anything
This is true: it is said in the Upanishaden that He who says he knows, doesn’t know. It is no mindful knowledge. Being in love, likewise, is not mindful either. Your ego will have left you (in the case of true love). So there is nothing that needs to be explained; there is just reference. It is a higher knowledge referred to as insight.
It stems from a different reality; it’s not about seeing and experiencing because that is all about symptoms and therefore relative. You will perceive things such as; how your body changes; how your thoughts change; how your emotions come and go. These are objects but you as subject remain present unchanged and independent. This experience is to be experienced by everybody in the meaning of : hey, that’s me, independent of all tensions. It’s like when you awake in the morning and you continue to experience a short moment of nothingness, emptiness, peace, oh how lovely. Or when you are about to fall asleep: you have let go of everything only thinking ‘this is lovely’ and you drop off to sleep.

8) You have to die first before you can eliminate duality, then  one half is gone and the other half remains to be immersed by all the atoms of the deceased.
This is one of Darwin’s suppositions. It has not yet been proved to be true.
Biologically speaking, atoms form part of the body. But it is not about atoms or bodies; it’s about a different reality from every-day reality. This different reality can be experienced during the deepest moments of stillness during meditation where relaxation plays one of the key parts. And so we are back at the relaxation exercises as I practice them.

9) This unity no one shall ever know about but there is nobody left to know
So we can already experience unity in life itself. Because it is not something that stands apart from life. There is no real separation. Looking at the examples above we know that it has always been around. Mostly people experience it at their moment of death. Often this moment is preceded by a life full of sorrow and pain.
It is about letting go of all the things that you would cling to before. Yes here we have to do with a verb; that’s why the relaxation exercises are there; then no more. As soon as the insight has stepped in everything goes by itself.

10) Advaita teaches to let go of everything, everything in the whole world
It is about letting go of all your inhibitions.

11) Yoga counters this notion
Yoga does not counter this. Have a look at Yoga Vedanta and Wolter Keers. Here it is about the knowledge and insights that have been passed on coming from the Vedas, the oldest writings known by man. It is true that Yoga lore sometimes differentiates. Non-duality (a-dvaita) embraces them all. Everything is allowed to be there as it is. Go find out for yourself.


Differences between Buddhism and Advaita (thanks to Douwe):
Buddhism doesn’t recognize the ‘self’; in later Buddhism this is more complicated. In opposition with Buddhism, advaita Vedanta uses the ongoing awareness of the Self as the means of creating the state of complete non-duality. This same concept forms the centre of Buddhist lore; therefore the two traditions do not differentiate in these issues.
Advaita and Mindfulness. Mindfulness focuses on strengthening acute awareness but at the same time allows for an observing self. Following advaita Vedanta your awareness progresses further, first the observing self then the cosmic self. This all-encompassing awareness then embodies this worldly and observing self. Finally there is That about which there is nothing to tell.


I would like to refer you to my book for the real experience: Onbeperkt Ontspannen voor Jongeren. It contains 140 short and long exercises that all refer to That which you are yourself. Publishers; www.toorts.nl  Uitgeverij De Toorts, Haarlem.
© 2011 Pia de Bok, e-mail; piamaria@planet.nl  Website; www.a-dvaita.net