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Emptiness/Fullness and Nonduality/Duality

Charles Day

Following are thoughts on emptiness/fullness and nonduality/duality in

response to email questions from a meditator exploring the differences
between dualistic and nondualistic philosophies:

From a "nondualistic" point of view, one must be careful not to consider the
perceiver/conceiver and the perceived/conceived to be separate from the
whole. There is only the indivisible, undivided unified whole, without
distinction between nondual and dual, between emptiness and
manifestation, between self and no-self, between subject and object,
between knower and known, between perceiver and perception, between
me and you, between the individuated Atman and the indivisible Brahman.
To talk about "it" suggests there is a non-it; language separates and
categorizes, creating the illusion of distinctions, differences, and

Awareness is aware of itself. There is nothing other than awareness

manifesting as an indivisible whole. What is perceived and a perceiver are
individuated parts of that unified undivided whole. The illusion of a
difference arises when we separate the whole into so-called individuated
parts, forgetting that the "we," "the act of separating" and "calling one
interpretation real and another illusion" are not different from but are in fact
merely parts of an indivisible unified whole.

Spiritually speaking, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts; only
humans have decided otherwise because they perceive themselves as
standing outside the whole without realizing that they and their perceptions
are just being conceptually separated out as individuated parts or
manifestations of an otherwise undivided whole.

Admittedly, the drama, the game, the play of life as we know it, and have
been conditioned to know, experience and think about it, and to take that
conditioning literally and seriously, definitely does not comport with our
spiritual reflections about an eternal now or presence, an indivisible whole,
emptiness, and nonduality. Our parenting, socialization, education, and life
experiences all aim at producing the sense of a separate and mature self
that perceives and conceives in consensually agreed upon ways of
physical and mental objects as separate and distinguishable from one
another, assisted, if not entirely based upon, the evolutionary instinct to
survive. And language is an intrinsic part of facilitating these psychological
and social developmental processes.

Dualistic thinking and living is how the vast majority of us experience

conventional space/time reality. A proponent of dualism who claims never
to have had an experience of nonduality - an experience that is
characterized by mystics in all religious traditions as transcending the
dualistic ego and its experiences of form, time, birth, and death - might
contend that such is really just a unique form of dualistic experience.
Dualistic thinkers can ask whether dualism is the illusion or is nondualism
the illusion, are both illusions, or are neither illusions? And this brings us
full circle.

According to the mystic, until nonduality and egolessness are deeply

experienced, the person with the sense of a separate self or ego raises
these issues and questions as debatable or unanswerable out of
inexperience, misunderstanding, skepticism, or doubt. The nondualist
mystic, on the other hand, who has transcended the sense of
separateness, may participate in a discussion about emptiness/fullness and
nonduality/duality, but it will be with the realization that the issues and
those discussing them are merely individuated parts of an indivisible whole.

Philosophy and theology deal with different conceptual points of view,

sometimes emphasizing differences, sometimes reconciling "apparent"
differences. Zen Scholar Alan Watts and nondualistic Buddhist and Advaita
Vedanta philosophies try to reconcile them, as is my inclination, as well.
From a nondual point of view, there is only the timeless, formless, birthless,
deathless unity, the whole, the oneness without an opposite, that contains
simultaneously all dualities, opposites, dichotomies, divisions, and
differences. Robert Wolfe calls it "presence" in his excellent book "Living
Nonduality: Enlightenment Teachings of Self-Realization." See

In conclusion, I remind myself and I caution you to remember that Buddha

repeatedly emphasized not becoming too attached to any concept, point of
view, opinion, or judgment, to anything I've said or to anything you think. As
stated in the first verse of the Third Zen Patriarch's Faith Mind poem: "The
way is not difficult for those not attached to preferences."