What is “Nonduality” and how might it illumine Iain McGilchrist’s writings?

  • What is “Nonduality” and how might it illumine Iain McGilchrist’s writings?

    Posted by Don Salmon on September 11, 2022 at 12:04 pm


    Some have suggested that Iain is talking about what is popularly known today as “nonduality.” Perhaps you’ve come across the writings or talks of Eckhart Tolle, Rupert Spira, or Adyashanti. All of them more or less draw from an Indian philosophic tradition known as “Vedanta,” the highest expression of which is sometimes referred to as “Advaita” or “nonduality.”

    When teaching nonduality, guides for thousands fo years have begun with a fundamental DUALITY which we can all quite readily see in our everyday experience:



    Among these “objects” are

    BOTH the mind and body (the duality of Renes Descartes)

    BOTH yin and yang

    BOTH analysis or detached, analytic attention (LH) and intuition or immersed intuitive attention (RH)

    To illustrate this in more detail, let’s take a text – the Bhagavad Gita. In Chapter 13, Krishna (who symbolizes the Infinite Reality incarnated as a human) and Arjuna (representing the true individual nature of you, me and every human being) discuss a distinction between the “knower” (pure awareness) and the “field” (the objects of awareness)

    This is quite easy to distinguish right now. What is appearing in awareness? Body sensations, emotions, images, thoughts, ideas, plans, cravings, sights, sounds, smells, etc. The way of attending to all these objects ALSO appears in awareness.

    Now, this is clearly a duality, but not the duality of mind/body, wave/particle, or “yin/yang. Those dualities (or polarities if you prefer) are all part of the Field.

    How to resolve this duality?


    Observe the objects of experience, and notice how all are changing, impermanent, in process, flowing.

    Observe also that through all 24 hours of the day (it is possible to be aware throughout even dream and sleep) the FACT of the background Presence fo Pure Awareness remains unchanging (though it is not a static “thing” the mind can grasp).

    As the sense, the feeling of this unchanging quality grows, it can be seen that there is a kind of all pervading Silence, a Stillness which is in the background all the constant experience of ever-changing objects. This Stillness of Pure Awareness is not merely individual – it pervades all of humanity, the entire planet and in fact, the entire cosmos. This is what St. Paul was pointing to when he said that God is that “in which we live and move and have our being.” It is the Kingdom of Heaven both within and among us (and beyond as well!).

    Here is a commentary on the opening of Chapter 13, from Krishna Prem (a Westerner who had a rare understanding of Indian philosophy) giving us a very clear sense of how this distinction between the Knower and the Field can help us in the most practical way in virtually every area of our life, giving us ultimately “a guide through the mazes of this world”

    He uses the word “consciousness” for what I have been referring to as Pure Awareness.


    The first thing that has to be understood is the division between Consciousness and the objects which that consciousness observes. If we examine our experience we find that it is composed of a number of concrete forms all lit up by the light of consciousness. This is the distinction between the Field – that is, the field of Consciousness – and the Knower of the Field, the clear light of awareness itself.

    Reflection will show that the physical body which the ignorant foolishly suppose to be the self is but the focus in which the forms or data of our sense-experience are, as it were, collected. The materialist’s idea of the body as standing in its own right, as a collection of flesh, bones, nerve and so forth, is na artificial mental construction obtained by abstraction from conscious experience, useful, like many other abstractions, for purposes of scientific understanding but an irrelevance in the realm of metaphysics.

    But the analysis of experience does not stop here. If you abstract the Light of the witnessing Consciousness from all the witnessed forms – the forms of sense, of feeling or of thought – you will perceive at once that the light is not something which is different in different beings, but something like the sunshine which is the same whether illuminating the blue sea or the red earth.

    That Light of Consciousness, though associated with an individual point of view, is something which can only be described as all-pervading, something which, however different may be the Fields which are illumined, is the same in an ant as in a man; the same even, though science may not yet be ready to admit it, in a piece of rock as in a living being.

    You will now be in a position to understand why Krishna says that He – as the Atman, the all-seeing Consciousness, is the Knower of the Field in all Fields. If you will follow up this distinction between the Field and its Knower in your own heart, you will find yourself on the highroad to an understanding of the Cosmos; you will have a clue to guide you through all the mazes of the world.

    Don Salmon replied 1 year, 10 months ago 2 Members · 2 Replies
  • 2 Replies
  • Elspeth Crawford

    September 11, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    It seems impossible to reply without getting in to long answers.

    I wrote a post here https://transitionalspace.wordpress.com/2021/05/07/to-value-uncertainty-in-being/ which is long, and contains some of my thinking about that contronym word “duality”. When you say non-duality it appears to mean a logical opposite to Descartes type of duality, while the contronym use of “duality” refers to an entity that contains two qualities. This has nothing to do with separation and split. This thinking follows David Bohm and his concept of implicate order – and Bohm’s dialogues seem to speak to Jungians like Geigerich who bring a “universal soul” forever dynamically coming into BEING [like your being?] in which our wee individual souls – or the elephant’s soul or that of the wasp all play a part. Such thoughts do change the way I am and the ways I interact – in living being.

    Verbal doesn’t work, unless the person hearing already knows something of the grace and gratitude of this experience. Then we all try so hard to pass it on!

    from the post referred to above:

    What if we truly could feel ourselves as nodes that have emerged in the field of being, consciously aware of the perspective we choose to see, consciously aware that making the choice limits us?

    Why limits? Following the quantum uncertainty principle: a
    node that has emerged in the field of being is either aware of itself
    and its position, but cannot at the same time be aware of its direction
    for action. The nature of the observation affects that which is

    It seems to me that many dislike the thought of being limited and veer away from this soul’s truth.

    • Don Salmon

      September 11, 2022 at 4:09 pm

      Hi Elsbeth:

      Thanks for posting here. I read the linked article – LOTS of fascinating observations, and I’m trying to find a way to honor the richness of what you have written yet zoom in on a particular point.

      You wrote: “When you say non-duality it appears to mean a logical opposite to Descartes type of duality,”

      So let me see if I can clarify this in a way that illuminates the theme of this particular group, practice.


      I believe it’s correct to say that even including Bohm’s notion of “implicate order,” this is still all in the realm of objects of awareness. “Objects” is perhaps a very misleading word as we tend to associate it with perceivable physical objects. it might help to add that “objects” includes the archetypal “ideas” that underlie everything in the universe. To go deeper – at least, as far as I understand it – than Plato, Jung or Bohm – even Christ as the “Word” which brings all things into existence “lives and moves and has its being” in that transcendental Awareness.

      The “non duality” of Awareness and Objects of Awareness is God.

      Now, “G_d” is perhaps among the most misused words in the language. So let me see if I can bring that back to practice.

      Jan (my wife) and I studied with a quite brilliant, if deeply problematic, non duality teacher, Andrew Hewson, between 2019 and 2021. He made a very interesting distinction between what he referred to as “Pure Awareness” and – his term for “objects” – ‘Conscious Presence.”

      What does this point to in our immediate experience?

      PURE AWARENESS: There is something that might be called a “Silence” underlying all experience. It is not an experience, but it can be recognized (I know that sounds paradoxical – when you recognize it it’s like a fish suddenly realizing it’s been swimming in water all its life – but that is only a metaphor)

      CONSCIOUS PRESENCE: This is more difficult in a secular context, as it refers even more directly than “Pure Awareness” to a Divine, Infinite Reality. What it “feels” like is something alive, shimmering, vibrant, radiant, which not only permeates the entire Field of experience but which actually CONSTITUTES that field. In that sense, there is nothing but Pure Awareness and Conscious Presence.

      Initially, when either is recognized, it seems like a bifurcation. But as they become more and more familiar, it is seen that Pure Awareness is nothing more than Conscious Presence aware of itSElf. And Conscious Presence is always “purely Aware.”

      I think, if I understand your writing clearly enough, everything you describe as polarity or duality or non dual duality is within Conscious Presence.

      I hope that helps!

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