Nonduality: The Varieties of Expression Home

Jerry Katz
photography & writings

Search over 5000 pages on Nonduality:



Nondualism and Western Philosophers

by Greg Goode, Ph.D.

Greg is editor of Nondualism, Yogas and Personality Characteristics, author of Presence, and editor of the Buddhist Numbered Lists page.


Comments and suggestions welcome! Send mail to or to Greg.

(Webmaster's note: Greg Goode's webpage is entitled 'Presence')


This page is not just about philosophy, and not just about non-dualism. Its purpose is to assist in the intellectual understanding of non-dualistic philosophy. Using the intellect in this way is a time-honored tradition in Eastern spiritual paths such as orthodox Advaita Vedanta and Madhyamika Buddhism. Spiritual teachers in the West, such as Krishnamurti, Jean Klein and Francis Lucille, have also used this method. The purpose of this method is never dialectic cleverness or the mastery of a body of information. That is, the motive is not intellectual; it is spiritual. The method is merely a tool, one among many, to remove ignorance so that Truth is revealed in its full glory. Not everyone needs this particular tool.

Who Can Use this Tool         (Go Back to Top)

The one who can really use this particular tool is the one who desires to deeply understand non-dualism but feels blocked, intellectually stuck on certain points. For example, I have a friend who travels the world attending non-dualist satsangs, asking question after question about free will. He is troubled, believing that a clear non-dualist understanding would deprive him of free will and hence steal the joy of voluntarily meditating; he also believes that not having free will would turn him into an irresponsible determinist. Another friend couldn't understand what non-dualism was getting at because he had a strong belief that "I'm In Here and the world is Out There." Another friend is very much in love with his guru and even believes that understanding non-dualism will assist in enlightenment. But he also believes that non-dual understanding and enlightenment will put an end to his intensely spiritual and pleasureable feelings.

Though these problems are not unmixed with emotional components, their belief components are intellectual, and are amenable to philosophical tools. For example, the "In Here/Out There" friend learned to see that this duality depends on an arbitrary and dispensible dividing line between inner and outer. Since the moment of that flash of insight, his understanding, peace and happiness have improved dramatically. To paraphrase Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, if the thorn in our foot is an intellectual one, then perhaps an intellectual thorn can remove it. We then throw both thorns away.

Western philosophers have less to say than Eastern philosophers about non-duality as a thoroughgoing metaphysical view. A few Western schools come close, such as the ancient Greek monists, the German idealists, and modern antirepresentationalists such as Donald Davidson and Richard Rorty. Instead, much of Western philosophy operates within the confines of the perennial Western dualities.

Some Classic Western Dualities          (Go Back to Top)

free will/determinism
truth as correspondence/truth as coherence

        (Go Back to Top)

The biggest obstacle to an intellectual understanding of non-dualism is the belief about a duality that it is philosophically necessary. It is the belief that one side or the other of a duality is a true view. It is the notion that our network of beliefs or philosophy of life would be chaotic or intolerable if these dualites were dispensed with.

According to non-dualism however, all dualities can be resolved or dissolved. Eastern philosophies have been accomplishing this for thousands of years, as each generation discovers anew the great non-dualist philosophers and sages such as the Buddha, Nagarjuna, Gaudapada, Shankara, Hui Neng, Sengtsan, Shinran Shonin, Dogen, Yunmen, or in our own times, the crystal-clear dialectics of Krishna Menon and the soft-spoken ideas of Shunryu Suzuki.

How to Use Western Philosophy         (Go Back to Top)

We can employ the method of Western philosophy one duality at a time, by picking and choosing the arguments that will ease our intellectual tension around a certain point. For example, we might feel tension about non-duality because it seems to make the mental world more real than the physical world, yet that pesky physical world just won't go away. Or we might feel tension with non-dualism's seemingly irresponsible take on free will and moral responsibility. Mental/physical and freedom/determinism -- both of these are deeply rooted, sticky Western dualities.

Many of our most stubborn and cherished dualities are the product of Western philosophy! In using the Western philosophical method, we are employing a medication that comes from the same part of the world as the disease. We don't have to swallow the doctor's entire kit bag, just the particular pill for our problem. For example, here is how Western philosophers can help with some of the more intransigent Western dualities. This list is certainly not exhaustive!

Western remedies to dualities         (Go Back to Top)

Good portals to philosophy on-line         (Go Back to Top)

Garth Kemerling's Philosophy Pages
Garth Kemerling's links page
Peter King's index philosophy on the Net
Guide to Philosophy on the Internet
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Don't click here! (

WESTERN PHILOSOPHERS HELPFUL IN THE STUDY OF NON-DUALISM  (In chronological order)         (Go Back to Top)

Ancient Greek Monist Philosophers

They argued that all of reality was composed of single substances, such as:

Thales (ca 615-540)    "All is water."
Anaximander (ca 600-540)   All comes from the Boundless.
Anaximenes (ca 580-500)   All comes from vapor.
Heraclitus (ca 540-480)   All comes from fire.

Plato (427-347 BCE)

Perhaps the Western world's most infuential thinker, Plato is sometimes considered a mystic, but rarely a non-dualist. Web resources include Plato entry on Garth Kemerling's Philosophy Site.

        (Go Back to Top)

Lucretius (1st century B.C.)

Argued poetically that there are only atoms and the void - all other phenomena are incidental properties of these. His principal work is De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of the Universe). Web resources include this.

Plotinus (205-270)

Wrote in the Platonic tradition and argued that all of manifestation is an emanation from the One, and so never separate from it. Web resources include material from Plotinus's principal work, The Enneads, which can be read on-line at The Internet Classics Archive.

Meister Eckhart (1260-1327/8)

Web resources include the Meister Eckhart Page.

        (Go Back to Top)

David Hume (1711-1776)

In A Treatise of Human Nature, Section I. i. 4, Hume argues that causality is nothing more than the regular association of ideas. We infer causality as follows: "F events have always been followed by G ones, and so when a new F event occurs we predict a new G one." But it is unwarranted to think that this inference entails causal powers in the things observed. Web resources include Ty's David Hume home page.

George Berkeley (1685-1753)

Berkeley is the philosopher whose theory gives rise to the problem given out in Philosophy 101 classes. "If a tree falls in the forest when there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound?" Berkeley is said to answer No. He argues that no material substance or object can exist apart from a spirit or mind to perceive it. His most accessible work is the engagingly written Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous, in which Hylas (which means "rock") is the materialist who is intrigued by the immaterialist arguements of Philonous (means "lover of knowledge"), Berkeley's protagonist.

Web resources include a great overall Berkeley "portal" page, and a Comprehensive Berkeley studies page.

Immanuel Swedenborg (1688-1771)

Christian mystic and esotericist. Web resources include the Swedenborg Collection and works (site in German).

        (Go Back to Top)

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814)

One of the more non-dual of the German idealists, Fichte sought in Critique of all Revelation (1792) and Foundations of the Science of Knowledge (1794-95) to dissolve the conventional duality between the knowing metaphysical subject and the known object by seeing God's Being as the only being, and manifestation as a picture or Schema. Web resources and excerpts include the Fichte entry on the Garth Kemerling's Philosophy Site.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

Schopenhauer's principal work is The World as Will and Idea (1819), in which he sets forth his view on the internal reality of all manifestation as will, arguing that this will is one and universal. Schopenhauer studied Hinduism and Buddhism. Web resources include a good Schopenhauer overview page which brings out his familiaritywith Buddhist and Vedic writings, and the Schopenhauer page on the Island of Freedom Website.

William James (1842-1909)

James' most relevant works for the understanding of non-dualism are The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) and Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912). The first book examines religious belief and mystical experiences; the second book deals with the philosophical issues relating to consciousness and objects of consciousness.

For an in-depth examination of James' treatment of the nature of experience in its relation to solipsism, see Two Reflections on William James, Duality and Radical Empiricism.

Web resources on James include Garth Kemerling's William James entry.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

Among many other things, Wittgenstein demystified the notion that language accurately refers to reality. Later in his career, he construed philosophy as a way to "relieve the puzzlement generated by (philosophical) misuses of ordinary language." This quote and one of the best Wittgenstein resources from the Wittgenstein entry on Garth Kemerling's Philosophy Pages. See Wittgenstein.

        (Go Back to Top)

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

Sometimes difficult to read, Heidegger, comes closest to non-dual investigations in Being and Time (1927). He explored the meaning of both Being and of Nothing. As Garth Kemerling writes in his excellent Philosophy Pages:

Although traditional learning focusses on what is, Heidegger noted, it may be far more illuminating to examine the boundaries of ordinary knowledge by trying to study what is not.

     What is Nothing, anyway?

It's not anything, and it's not something, yet it isn't the negation of something, either. Traditional logic is no help, since it merely regards all negation as derivative from something positive. So, Heidegger proposed, we must abandon logic in order to explore the character of Nothing as the background out of which everything emerges.

Carefully contemplating Nothing in itself, we begin to notice the importance and vitality of our own moods. Above all else, Nothing is what produces in us a feeling of dread {Ger. Angst}. This deep feeling of dread, Heidegger held, is the most fundamental human clue to the nature and reality of Nothing.

As abstract as this sounds, there are people who have actually utilized Heidegger's writings in their spiritual investigations of non-dualist understanding. One friend of mine wrote "He's helpful in understanding the human sense of being within primordial nondual being, individual being in the world, being in time, and that this individual being is essential to, inseperable from, the whole of being."

Thanks to Andrew MacNab for information on Heidegger. Web resources include Garth Kemerling's Heidegger page, and lots of links on the Heidegger Home Page.

     (Go Back to Top)

Franklin Merrell-Wolff (1887-1985)

Dr. Wolff was an American mathematician and philosopher who, after many years of searching, had a series of transcendental experiences which led to his formulation of a phlosophy which he called "Introceptualism." He spent the last half of his very long life writing several books and many essays, and teaching small groups who gathered around him at his remote home on the slope of Mt. Whitney.

This is how Merell-Wolff describes his philosophy in his book The Philosophy of Consciousness-Withut-An-Object:

"Consciousness, as such, is original and primary, and thus not merely an attribute of something else."

"The One, nonderivative Reality, is THAT which I have symbolized by 'Consciousness-without-an-object.' This is Root Consciousness, per se, to be distinguished from consciousness as content or as state, on the one hand, and from consciousness as an attribute of a Self or Atman, in any sense whatsoever. It is Consciousness of which nothing can be predicated in the privative sense save abstract Being. Upon It all else depends, while It remains self-existent."

Thanks to Bob Bays for information on Merrell-Wolff. Merrell-Wolff's philosophy is tersely outlined in his 56 Aphorisms on Consciousness-Without-An-Object, the complete text of which can be found at the Integral Science website devoted to him along with detailed information about the man and his work.

     (Go Back to Top)

Brand Blanshard (1892-1987)

Blanshard is perhaps the greatest philosophical stylist in the English language. His crystal clear prose and generous spirit in argumentation make him inspirational to read. The metaphysics of his earlier work can be called a sort of non-dualist absolute idealism -- everything is of the nature of idea. The world is idea in its fully developed form. He argues for this position in the following two-volume work:

The Nature of Thought, 2 Vol. London: George Allen & Unwin LTD; New York: Humanities Press, Inc., 1939. Volume I contents include Perception, The Thing and Its Architecture, The Nature of Perceptual Meaning, The Theory of the Idea. Volume II contents include Coherence as the Nature of Truth, Coherence and Degrees of Truth, Empiricism and Necessity, and Concrete Necessity and Internal Relations. Web resources include the table of contents on the famous Schillp volume, "" (link no longer working)The Philosophy of Brand Blanshard.

For more on absolute idealism, see also Appearance and Reality (1893) and Essays on Truth and Reality (1914) by Francis Herbert Bradley (1846-1924); and The Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885) and The World and the Individual (1901) by Josiah Royce (1855-1916).

Joel S. Goldsmith (1892-1964)

"The illumined walk without fear - by Grace."

Web resources include The Official Joel Goldsmith/Infinite Way website.

        (Go Back to Top)

Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

Catholic contemplative, who interpreted Eastern teachings to the West. Web resources include the Columbia University Thomas Merton Papers collection.

William Samuel (1924-1996)

An American original, William Samuel had been exposed to various Western metaphysical teachings, and while stationed with the U.S. Army in Asia during WWII, learned Taoism. He synthesized this understanding into a compelling non-dual, heart-filled, down-home American idiom in his several books. Although not widely known by the spiritual-seeking community, Samuel wrote books, received visitors and corresponded with his readers from his home in the American South for almost twenty years.

"There are not two selves, God and me. Or, we could say, there is not God
and humanity. There is God and God being Self-aware. God's Self-awareness
is this Self-being-reader, aware of these words. There is no other "you" or "me."
    --From A Guide to Awareness and Tranquillity, William Samuel Foundation,
      Mountain Brook, AL: 1967.

Web resources include the Official William Samuel Foundation page.

        (Go Back to Top)

Richard Taylor, University of Rochester

Ameican philosopher and popular teacher who argues that good and evil are not metaphysically basic or supernaturally founded, but rather, conventional like rules of a game. At the University of Rochester, his ethics class called Good 'n' Evil has perhaps the largest student enrollment in all the humanities. The new edition of his book on this topic is Good and Evil: A New Direction (Prometheus Books, November 1999). Web resources include his ""Debate with William Lane Craig on the basis of morality (link no longer working).

Richard Rorty (1931- )

Prominent philosopher and modern exponent of the work of John Dewey, Donald Davidson and Wittgenstein, Rorty sometimes calls himself an "antirepresentationalist." In Objectivity, relativism and truth, Vol. I (Cambridge University Press, 1991), he argues that knowledge and inquiry are a matter of a reworking the web of beliefs. Further, that beliefs do not represent anything outside of the web. He is an energetic and engaging writer. Web resources include an article on how not to read Rorty: www. (link may no longer working)

A Course in Miracles (ACIM)

Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God. --From Helen Schucman's introduction
to the course.

Based very loosely on Christianity, ACIM is a way to see the Truth of God as the truth that we are. There are many courses and study guides available on-line, in bookstores, and through teaching centers. Web resources include The Official ACIM page, Foundation for a Course in Miracles page.

(Go Back to Top)


Nonduality: The Varieties of Expression Home

Jerry Katz
photography & writings

Search over 5000 pages on Nonduality: