Dualism vs. Nondualism Intro Notes


Dualism Photo

Check out the intro notes from this afternoon’s philosophy discussion. If you missed it, feel free to leave a comment here!


Welcome to the Citta Bhavana Ashram everyone! Thank you for joining us today. I’ll give a brief introduction before opening the floor for discussion. Please hold all questions and comments until after the intro.

Please consider leaving a donation if you like what you see and want to see more. All donations go towards the sim tier. The donation jar is the candle just beside the fire.

It is most often thought that dualism is a Western idea and non-dualism is an Eastern idea. But, even within traditions we find opposing ideas. Let’s explore a bit what dualism and non-dualism are.

These are ideas put forth in the philosophy of mind, as well as religion. Very generally, there are two fundamental categories of things. Typically these are the difference between mind and body, and sometimes even mind and brain. In other words, the dualist/nondualist debate is arguing whether or not mind is separate from matter.

Now, since we don’t have an agreed upon definition of mind, I’d like us to explore it from the point of view of whatever it means to you – whether it is consciousness, spirit, soul, awareness, divine, whatever. I don’t want us to get caught up in this, since it could mean any of these things or more, and I feel that it’s meaning is a bit of a personal matter. I’d rather we focus on the difference between this and the material world.

On a personal level, body can be considered to be the physical experience, including, sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch. Mind can be considered to be immaterial experience: thoughts, patters, self, ego, memory, awareness. If you think of it like a venn diagram, what comes in the middle?

It has been debated, too, that body has memory – some may say “muscle memory” but others also speak about fascia as holding physical memory. Hence why sense objects can be a trigger for memories. However, this is not of as much importance in our discussion today.

In Indian philosophy, there are two concepts: purusha (consciousness, spirit) and prakriti (matter, nature). These are considered in nondualist philosophy to be AND – as in, they are inseparable and of the same importance; whereas in dualist philosophy it is purusha versus prakriti – as in, one always struggling for importance. In some dualist traditions they may consider that either purusha or prakriti is more important (depending on the tradition), though most often they say purusha (conscoiusness, spirit) is more important, and in fact more true reality than the material world.

We find this same idea all over religion, spirituality, and philosophy. Many dualists do consider that the material world is real – we can all experience it more or less the same. What is in debate is the non-material world, or mind.

Descartes, in his “Meditations,” argues for the point of view of mind and God as being one and the same. This is echoed in Eastern traditions through the concept of prana and qi (energy or life force), and even Atman and Brahman (individual consciousness and universal consciousness) – in other words, the part of us that is also in everything else. The most true essence of existence.

We know that all material things are subject to change. All things change over time, and this is unavoidable. So many schools of thought would argue that if it changes, it is not real. So that which is unchanging, this purusha (consciousness, divine, etc), is the most true, or the most real.

In nondualism, it is recognized that all things are ultimately the same. That nothing is unique, and even our consciousness is not our own. By that, it is meant that we are all drops of the same ocean – that we are all small parts of one big whole. That we are not existing without everything else, and everything else is not existing without us.

So, do you think that we have something in us, something perhaps divine or extensive in nature, that exists separate from the material world, or do we have an innate connection to that which surrounds us and can be experienced?

Are we unique individuals, or are we really part of one big whole?

Can our minds exist without our bodies?

Does whatever makes up the “I” exist in our minds, our bodies, or neither?

I open the floor. What do you think?