Reply To: The Experience of Art

  • Don Salmon

    June 22, 2023 at 12:45 pm

    This is a very interesting point about nonduality I was thinking of bringing up before – but wondering how difficult it would be to talk about.

    Well, I’ll give it a try.

    In his book, “The Matter With Things,” Iain makes a comment about “going beyond both duality and nonduality.”

    He has, in other words, made a duality between duality and non duality.

    But non duality is not one side of a duality.

    Non duality actually does NOT mean

    (a) a pure awareness experience


    (b) the absence of subject and object.

    Nonduality simply means NOT making a duality of subject and object. But even to say that is wrong, because then you’ve set up another duality: (a) making a duality of subject and object; and (b) NOT making a duality of subject and object.

    This is why Zen and Advaita teachers traditionally did not set out definitions. I’m not meaning to be anti intellectual here – in fact, one of the best illustrations of this mistake about nonduality I’ve ever seen is in a highly intellectual book by a Zen teacher, Steve Hagen, who has worked as a science and math researcher, “How the World Can Be the Way It Is.”

    Here’s an extremely simple illustration of why our minds fall into the same trap again and again when we try to talk about non duality.

    Remember the old cowboy movies in which the good guy wore a white hat and the bad guy wore a black hat?

    You’ve got a duality now. White hat = good; black hat = bad.

    Now, how do you get out of the duality?

    Easy, Hagen says: “no hat.”

    Now, if you look closely, you may see for a split second, you’ve just stepped out of duality, but if you aren’t careful, you’ve just set up a new duality:

    Hat = bad, duality

    No hat = good, nonduality.

    So nearly 2000 years ago, Nagarjuna tried to stun the folks who thought Nirvana (the pure awareness experience) was the goal of Buddhism, by saying “Samsara” (the world of duality) = Nirvana.

    But way, is he saying duality is the same thing as nonduality?

    Yes and no (!). It is the “same” but it’s a “sameness” which the mind cannot comprehend. It’s also not the same, in the way that wearing a hat is not the same as not wearing a hat.

    It’s the sound of one hand clapping.