Author Topic: Some Essential Marks of Non Dualism - Philip Renard.  (Read 3286 times)


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Some Essential Marks of Non Dualism - Philip Renard.
« on: October 29, 2013, 02:22:06 PM »
(from Mountain Path, Oct. - Dec. 2013).

(The author from Amsterdam is also the author of Sri Ramana Upanishad in Dutch.)

For sometime I have looked for the essential marks or characteristics with which non dualism is inextricably connected.  Marks
that apply for all true, radical schools of non dualism like Advaita,  Ch'an (Zen) and Dzogchen, and which highlights how non
dualism differs from other ways.  Next to obvious 'not-two'-ness (which is in fact a non characteristic) and its explicit term non
duality (advaita or advaya1 or its Chinese and Tibetan equivalents, bu-reh and gnyis-med respectively), five characteristics
came to mind.  I continued to look for more, but all subsequent characteristics turned out to be another term for one of the
five already found.

(1 Advaya is a term that is being used by Buddhists as well as Advaitins.  The term Advaita is not as far as I know not applied
by Buddhists.)

In thinking about a possible sixth characteristic, representative of the point in non dualism, I came up with unconditional.
Truth is not conditioned by anything.  Truth is inherently present everywhere, in all circumstances.  However, because in the
texts the unconditional is mostly used in an implicit way and rarely a point of attention itself in the way the other five marks are,
I have not included it in the list.

The five essential marks are -

1. Awareness (Chit)

2. No-mind (& emptiness, shunyata; conceptlessness);

3. Immediacy - (Pratyaksha)

4. Changelessness (kutastha)

5. Naturalness (Sahaja).

The first characteristic is paramount; the other four are inextricably connected with it (by mentioning the original Sanskrit
terms it can be seen that these characteristics have always been present in the Great Tradition, in other words they are not
a modern 'invention')

This list is of course for temporary accentuation only.  In reality, there is no clear demarcation between the characteristics
-- naming one immediately invokes the other, as will be seen in a number of quotations.


Arunachala Siva.         


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Re: Some Essential Marks of Non Dualism - Philip Renard.
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2013, 12:34:49 PM »


1. Awareness:

The first characteristic, which you could call the basic principle of non dualism, is the total emphasis in all expressions of non dualism,
on Awareness, Consciousness, direct knowing and understanding.  It refers to the primary fact of life, the fact that YOU ARE.
'You Are', that is to say, You are Conscious.  Everyone knows that he is, that he exists.  You own conscious presence is the only
thing that cannot be denied.  As to deny this you first need to be consciously present.  Sankara made the following now classic
statement regarding this:

'And it is not possible to deny such a Self;
for it is an adventitious thing aloe that can be repudiated,
but not so one'w own nature.
The Self constitutes the very nature of the man
who would deny it.'

(Brahma Sutra Bhashya of Sri Sankara. Translated by Swami Gambhirananda, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta.  This is verse II.3.7,
and almost literally repeating I.1.4.)

Descartes' famous expression cogito ergo sum, 'I think, so I am', is in fact a limited version of Snaraka's.  I call this limited,
as already before a thought can arise there is conscious presence.  Every thought form is a limited phenomenon arising in
something that is unlimited, something that is best indicated with a word like 'awareness' or 'consciousness'.    (The English
terms awareness and consciousness are often used in different schools of non dualism for different levels.  The fact that the
one school is using the one term as the higher of the two and another school the other way around gives me the freedom
to consider the terms rather exchangeable here.

In the New Webster Dictionary, consciousness is defined as 'the faculty of knowing what effects or what goes on in one's
own mind;  immediate knowledge.'  In this the emphasis is put on a 'faculty', something that is not yet filled in.  However,
in daily use, the term 'consciousness' is mostly applied in combination with something else, to indicate that you are conscious
of 'something'.  Consciousness ITSELF, consciousness as such or awareness as such never appears as an object, resulting
in it generally being overlooked.

In non-dualism the invitation is made to cease overlooking this, and to notice consciousness itself, to recognize that you ARE
this Consciousness, consciousness that precedes any form, any particular color.

Why is this invitation made?  Because all there is, everything that manifests itself CAN only manifest itself thanks to that which
we call 'Consciousness' or 'Awareness'.  All form existing in the world exists in Consciousness.  All degrees of good and evil,
all experience of freedom  and lack of it exist entirely IN consciousness.  This implies that everything you seek, happiness for
example, is to be found in Consciousness -- and you ARE already Consciousness yourself now.  The direct way of non dualism
is 'direct' simply because it reveals this fact to you without having you first to make a detour via a long-winded search.  In
the Tibetan Dzogchen text Self Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness, where the emphasis is on mind being in
fact immediate present awarenss, it is said:

"To desire something other than this is just like having an elephant (at home), but searching for its tracks elsewhere. (...)
Similarly if you do not understand that everything derives from the mind. (...) By not seeing that your own mind is actually
the Buddha, Nirvana becomes obscured."  (John Reynolds, Self Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness. Barrytown,
New York: Station Hill.  1989.)


Arunachala Siva.                                   


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Re: Some Essential Marks of Non Dualism - Philip Renard.
« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2013, 12:40:23 PM »
1. Awareness: continues...

The understanding or recognition expressed in this quotation is the essential point. You can philosophize as long as you like
about the 'Buddha' or 'ever present awareness' but it is only once you 'see' or 'recognize' this that it becomes a Reality.  This
is seeing or recognizing of awareness - for a brief moment, as long as it needed for the explanation, it is useful to use two
different terms, and then suddenly in actual awareness, it becomes clear that they are one and the same.  Being aware of
Awareness. Light sees pure Light, or seeing sees seeing.  You could say that the teachers of non dualistic schools have always
sought to keep this point completely pivotal: 'recognize' that you are already knowing.' Recognize, or see, that you are living
constantly in this knowing or cognizing, and see that all form that you experience, including your perception of the outer world,
'consists of this knowing'.  Form has a temporary reality 'granted' to it the moment Awareness or Knowing as such takes on
'that' specific form. Immediately afterwards another form has Reality, as Awareness has now taken on that form.  That which
has continuous reality is the cognizing element, Awareness, Knowing itself. The invitation is: recognize this.

You can recognize true non dualism and distinguish it from other ways by the emphasis or lack of emphasis on Awareness or Consciousness as the essential point of teaching.  The fourteenth century Dzogchen teacher Longchen Rabjam (Longchenpa)
expressed it in his Choying Dzod as follows:  'From the higher perspective of the great perfection (Dzogchen), all views
and meditations of these other approaches are considered to be for the spiritually undeveloped, for whatever is done
misses the point, in that the essence of awareness is not perceived. (This is in Longchenpa's own commentary, Lungki Terdzod.
In A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission. Tr. Richard Barron.)

Exemplified in another tradition: Ch'an Buddhism only became what you would call 'radical non dualism' with Hui-neng's
accent on seeing (chien) your true nature (hsing), the direct recognition of yourself, of your mind.  By bringing recognition
or insight (chih hui), Chinese for prajna, insight, understanding (I consider it an error to use the word 'wisdom'  for this
prajna or chih hui.) into the center of attention, he brought a shift of emphasis, away from a climate of meditation only
(ch'an is the Chinese translation of dhyana, meditation).  He emphasized the unity of the two, insight and meditation.
Thereby he removed the 'method'.  What is essential is immediate seeing, and this does not happen by the use of a method
or a tool.  The same emphasis can be found in Advaita Vedanta.  In Advaita, the term Jnana is completely pivotal.  The term
for understanding insight, awareness itself.  In many Advaita texts it is emphasized that Jnana itself is all that is needed
for liberation, any 'doing' can only lead to a continuation of suffering. 


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Re: Some Essential Marks of Non Dualism - Philip Renard.
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2013, 12:10:38 PM »

2. No-Mind:

The second characteristic is that of 'no-mind'.  This term has been introduced in the West by Daisetz T. Suzuki in his
The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind.  (The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind by D.T. Suzuki, Rider and Co. London. The term no-mind
is the translation of the Chinese wu-hsin; this term is exchangeable with wu-nien, 'no thought'.  Suzuki's own term
'the Unconscious' for this is rather awkward and misleading).  You could even use 'non conceputality' as synonym for
non duality.  'Concept' is used here as a term for any form that our thinking can take, for all our knowledge. Ultimately,
therefore non dualism comes down to 'no-knowledge'.  'No knowledge'  or 'no mind' means that it is impossible to
know the Truth by thinking and knowledge.  Seeing this impossibility can seem like a frustration, but it is not.  It is a
blessing.  A sigh of relief as nothing needs to be understood by the thinking mind, as nothing can be understood. Just
as was said in the oldest Upanishad, in the attempt to describe the ultimate Self: "neti neti, not this, not this."  No single
term is able to cover it.  (Br. Up. III. 9. 26).  This corresponds with what Madhyamika Buddhists refer to as 'emptiness'
(sunyata): the unreality of separate things, of the independent existence of something. All belief in the reality of appearances
is caused by the continuation of the belief in concepts, by continuing to accept concepts as real.  As soon as the blind trust
in concepts is recognized and resolved, separateness and bondage is also resolved.

Every concept is a limitation, and the Reality is unlimited. Every form that arises is 'empty' with respect to the realness of its
separate existence.  Recognition of this aspect of emptiness and conceptlessness gives clarity on the true nature of all
phenomena, including 'yourself' as personality.  What is important is to see that in fact all phenomena are without a past,
they are always beginning right now, and therefore immaculate and new.  They are already flawless, so there is no need to
go back to some 'flawless beginning'.  You are bound to nothing.   

Buddhists do not mean by 'emptiness' a blank state, or a vacuum.  The term indicates that objects cannot exist INDEPENDENTLY
(as they always arise in mutual relationship and dependency), and in fact, are not concrete, no matter how 'concrete' empirically
spoken an object is.

The Buddhist emphasis on emptiness is also an aid in avoiding certain traps in the language of Advaita Vedanta.  There are
elements in the Vedantic language that tend to make out matters like 'the Absolute' and 'the Self' a substantial entity, some sort
of 'Highest Entity'.  Nisargadatta Maharaj understood this very well and therefore even made conceptlessness the trademark
of his teaching.  For example, one of his many essential points is: It is very complicated riddle.  You have to discard whatever
you know, whatever you have read, and have a firm conviction about That about nobody knows anything.  (Prior to Consciousness,
Durham, NC. Acorn Press.)


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Re: Some Essential Marks of Non Dualism - Philip Renard.
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2013, 04:52:06 PM »

By recognizing all phenomena, including the most subtle, as completely transparent and empty, without any value as entity,
and no matter how nobly written, that not one single doctrine or story is true, no matter how nobly written, you really
experience how simple reality is.  All so called 'knowledge' is then seen as an unnecessary addition to something that is
infinitely incomprehensible, open and having no origin.  No-mind or No-knowledge reveals the Truth, in which all phenomena
spontaneously arise. 

Something  implied here that appears to be pure Peace.  All disputes in the field of religion come down to a struggle due to
a belief in the reality of concepts and noble stories.  Only the total release of all concepts and stories makes it possible for
Peace to become Reality.

Incidentally, due to this aspect of no-mind or no-knowledge there are those who share the opinion that reading books is an
impediment for liberation -- after all books are a source of knowledge.  Yet, this is a misunderstanding.  True awareness of no-
knowledge, the actual awareness that book knowledge has nothing to do with direct awareness, deems books as something
innocent.  They offer not a single threat.  The only hindrance comes from remaining entangled in concepts, and this includes
the concept 'books are a hindrance.'

Before Nisargadatta's era, the term 'empty' was taken by most non-Buddhists to be a knotty affair.  It was considered as nihilistic,
an inhospitable 'nothingness', something that destroys everything leaving nothing to remain.  Even in the Buddhist community,
the sole reduction of everything to emptiness was at a certain point (probably around the fourth century) experienced as
insufficient, as something that did not completely correspond with Reality.  So the emphasis on 'consciousness only' came into
being, as it was seen that emptiness could only be experienced as 'empty' when there is KNOWING of this fact, consciousness
or awareness illuminating this. Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen, influenced by both the traditions, combined the two coalesce into
one inseparable whole.   The inseparability of cognizance and emptiness is the Dzogchen designation  for our essential nature.
In my view, you could in fact call the two characteristics, Awareness and No-Mind the two 'main characteristics' in our list of five.     


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Re: Some Essential Marks of Non Dualism - Philip Renard.
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2013, 11:57:54 AM »


Every form of radical non dualism can be referred to as the direct way.  By this is meant that pure Awareness is independent of any
activity occurring over time, and independent of any means by which you could reach a goal.  Your true being, is already present,
and the invitation is to recognize this immediately, right now.  Any postponement of this is a protective measure against recognizing

The aspect of immediacy first dawned in the West with the introduction of Zen Buddhism in the 1920s, and particularly during the
50's when it received a certain degree of popularity.  Stories referring to 'sudden enlightenment' (tun-wu; Japanese: tongo,
satori) induced by Zen masters placing all emphasis on 'now and encouraging students to speak and act from here, made a
deep impression.  Until that moment, all teachings in the West were of a gradual nature, a slow development  towards something.
Because all personal factors seem stuck to us like a sort of glue, a shock is sometimes required to recognize that his glue is non-
existent.  In the shock, recognition of our 'original face' as it is called in Zen, can occur, being an expression for our true nature
that precedes personality. Together with the characteristic 'no-mind' emphasis on the immediate has evoked such expressions in
Zen as, 'Whether you are facing inward or facing outward. wherever you meet up with just kill it !  If you meet a Buddha, kill the
Buddha.' (The statement of Lin-chi or Rinzai;  see The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi).  Seeing immediately, so that you no
longer remain under the influence of an idea.

Though usually expressed less spectacularly, the same emphasis is to be found in Advaita Vedanta.  The experience of real
inseparability with the Absolute is referred to as pratyaksha or aparoksha.  As long as it remains indirect, paroksha (literally
'out of sight') there is still the possibility to ponder, theorize, and therefore the possibility of uncertainty, of doubtfulness. 
When all indirectness has fallen away, what remains is unambiguous, doubtless openness. It is immediate awareness,
direct recognition.  The difference between recognizing and thinking is to be found in the immediate, the direct.

Padmapada, a student of Sankara from the eighth century, wrote of aparoksha:  'Immediacy or self evidence (aparoksha-ta) as
such, is always one and the same in different acts of awareness and perception. (...) Experience itself, which is of the nature
of immediacy, is one and the same with regard to all individuals, and it must ultimately  be identical with the self luminous
'witness' or 'Self'. (Panchapadika, X.24 and 19. Quoted in Wilhelm Halbfass, India and Europe. Albany, NY SUNY Press, 1988.)                                   

The essential meaning of immediacy is also valid in the field of emotions.  Whatever emotion comes up, you can experience
it DIRECTLY.  Pure feeling, with no holding onto the story of emotion. Because in this totally direct experience there is no
restraint of emotion, the story is no longer experienced as real and the stuck togetherness of the components in the story
is recognized as not real.  Because the emotion is no longer distinguishable as an emotion apart, the directness of feeling
as such cuts through the need to explain or the familiarity with the past, and so the emotion resolves in its own nature.


Arunachala Siva.
« Last Edit: November 03, 2013, 02:35:25 PM by Subramanian.R »


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Re: Some Essential Marks of Non Dualism - Philip Renard.
« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2013, 02:45:06 PM »

This is also the emphasis in Dzogchen.  Emotions are not transformed, no correction is made.  Direct recognition of the true
nature of a specific emotion present is something that is compared to a drawing on still water, which unaided immediately
fades into the totality of the water.  Water does not go 'into action' in order to erase the drawing.  Another comparison used
in Dzogchen is that of snowflakes falling onto a hot iron plate or stove.  The snowflakes immediately disappear as soon as they
touch the stove. 

One of the most powerful and influential texts in Dzogchen is Tshigsum Nedek, 'The Three Statements that Strike the Essential
Point,' by Garab Dorje, who introduced Dzogchen into Tibet, probably during the seventh century.  You could say that Dzogchen
on the whole is based on the first of these Three Statements.  The first Statement says, 'One is introduced directly to one's
own nature.'  (Tr. John Reynolds in The Golden Letters, Ithaca, New York. Snow Lion 1996.).  The second and third statements
are really commitments on the first, and you can say the same of all further Dzogchen teachings. First, the direct recognition
of your true nature, and then the rest.  In this way any tendency to create a gradual path, a climb to some 'Almighty High'
is prevented.  The important point is immediate awareness of Reality, so that the training (to integrate this recognition into
daily life) is based completely on Reality.  For me this is true for all forms of radical non dualism.


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Re: Some Essential Marks of Non Dualism - Philip Renard.
« Reply #7 on: November 04, 2013, 11:10:21 AM »

4. Changelessness:

Many original schools of Buddhism looked upon the term 'changeless' as a pertinent untruth, one of the fundamental mistakes
of Hinduism.  All that is real, so they concluded, is a succession of very short moments of change.   Though the term 'changeless'
was occasionally used to describe Nirvana, this always indicated an end state, which could only be reached by following an
array of instructions.  (See for instance, Dhammpada, Verse 225: "The Sages (...) go to the unchanging place, where, having
gone, hey sorrow no more."   The Dhammpada, Tr. Irving Babbitt. New York: Oxford University Press. Ed. of 1965). 

This changed however, mostly due to the acknowledgement in subsequent Mahayana Buddhism of something referred to as
'Buddha nature.'  Buddha nature is described as inherently present, always, and unchanging, the essential nature of every
sentient being.  Although the manifestation of this may know growth, growth toward full Buddhahood, the Buddha nature
itself is not subject to change.  The 'growth' in the manifestation is not an enlargement of something, but an evaporation
of the clouding or covering of something.  Buddha nature is the most direct reference to Dharmakaya, the changeless Absolute,
the essence of all form, timelessness without any possibility to differentiate or change.  Tulkyu Urgyen, one of the greatest
Dzogchen teachers of the twentieth century, referred to the benefits of recognizing the changeless:  'The perceiver, which is
in essence is empty cognizance (...) is not impermanent. Otherwise, what you would be the use of pursuing buddhahood,
if it was impermanent and would only be lost again."   (As It Is. Vol.2, Tr. by Erik Pema Kunsang, Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe,

In countless places, the Dzogchen teachings emphasize the permanent, unchanging character of Buddha Nature.

Also in Zen many statements exist referring to the changeless.  For example the seventeenth century Japanese Master
Bankei:  "The place in which there is no difference in the hearing of those sounds is the Unborn, the Buddha-mind, and
it  is perfectly equal and absolutely the same in each of one of you. (...) You see, are always unborn."  (Norman Waddell,
The Unborn, San Francisco: North Point, 1984).             

In Advaita Vedanta the Changeless has become something like the corner stone of talking about reality.  Training the
power of discernment is about seeing the difference between that which is real and unreal, or between that which is
constant (nitya) and inconstant (anitya).   Something is real only if it is always real.   The above Sanskrit term nitya
is often translated as 'eternal'. Is 'eternal' the right word for what is meant here?  The word have a strange effect -
something that we cannot experience or see and having something to do with 'sometime', is still some kind of an idea.
'Changeless' in the sense of 'constant', 'uninterrupted', is observable in the current experience. Sri Sankara, the founder
of Advaita, described liberation as being already the case, therefore not needing to be acquired.  He said it is already eternally
the case. Eternal (nitya) not in the sense that something is or becomes eternal through change, like transformation (parinimitya)'
comparable to the above described nirvana as 'sometimes later attainable changelessness'), but in the sense that it undergoes
no single change (kutastha nitya). It is unchangingly permanent in an absolute sense, ever content and self effulgent by nature.
(Brahma Sutra Bhashya of Sri Sankara. Tr. Swami Gambhirananda). Kutastha is an essential term in Advaita, it points out to
our essential nature.  It means 'as a rock', 'as granite', truly unassailable.

How is it possible to speak of the 'changeless'?  We are referring here to something that is not an object, something that is
impossible to perceive.  Everything that can be perceived has a beginning and an end and therefore undergoes change.  But
that which is the objectless is not 'something', and therefore, has not trace of a beginning, no birth. You are looking FROM it
already, and that is just the same as from where you just looked.  It has undergone no change in the meantime.  That from
where you look is an unassailable source, always, fresh, clean, unspoiled and unchanged awareness.


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Re: Some Essential Marks of Non Dualism - Philip Renard.
« Reply #8 on: November 05, 2013, 12:46:22 PM »

5. Naturalness:

The fifth characteristic of universal non dualism is naturalness (sahaja).  Generally what is meant with the term 'natural' is
that although you can on the direct way indeed speak of a training, this has nothing to with a training involving willpower,
or forcing yourself to go in a particular direction.  This just quoted Tulku Urgyen referred to this with: "Since this training is
not act of meditating, why worry about whether our meditation was good or not good?  This is a training in not meditating.
a training in naturalness, in letting be."  (As It Is. Volume 1. Tr. Erika Pema Kunsang, Boudhanatha: Rangjung Yeshe, 1999.)

You may think that this naturalness is a fine description of 'the sage who spontaneously does everything without doing,' indeed,
but what about training: could such a thing really be natural?  Is this not natural not just another end result?

I see this as an essential point in radical non dualism.  Admittedly, it is only on the total realization of your true nature that
you can speak of 'being established once and for all in the natural state', but training in the true sense is a training of
the intuitive recognition of this natural state, and  "abiding" in that.  It is giving expression, in a spontaneous way, to the
ever present Buddha nature.  This training only happens once seeking has come to an end.  Everything happens as it happens,
naturally, spontaneously. 

In fact, naturalness is the same as effortlessness: that word could also be used to describe the fifth characteristic.  There is
nothing to acquire in non dualism, your essential nature is all that there is, it has never been absent, and is always free.
Intuitive understanding of this brings about a deep relaxation. There is nothing to improve, nothing to change, you simply
have "to allow" the manifestation to happen, so that That which is constantly the case can become clearer and clearer.

Everything in non dualism revolves around the natural state.  This is the state where nothing is experienced as 'special' any
more, no peak experience, far off or high states.  IT IS THE STATELESS STATE.  Everything is full of what the Tibetans call
'the same taste'  (ro-snyoms). Whatever the object of experience is, the experience itself always has the same taste.  That is
the taste of naturalness.


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Re: Some Essential Marks of Non Dualism - Philip Renard.
« Reply #9 on: November 05, 2013, 03:56:34 PM »


The point of naturalness highlights clearly the difference between radical non dualism and other ways.  A devotee of Sri
Ramana Maharshi once told the story of meeting with a student of an advanced yogi.  They sat waiting together until the
yogi was ready to give a talk; this was to depend on how long the yogi would remain in samadhi, that is to say in the state
of total absorption in objectlessness.  At one point the student of yogi asked: 'At what times is Bhagavan in samadhi?'
At this the Ramana devotee could not suppress a burst of laughter.  'There is no schedule for Jnani's.  They do not go into
samadhi or come out of it at specific times. Sri Bhagavan is always in the Sahaja-state, the natural state.'  (David Godman,
ed. The Power of the Presence, Part II, Boulder, CO, Avadhuta Foundation, 2001.). 

This article has been written in an attempt to create a framework for talking about non dualism and liberation, to sharpen
the view of it, and to provide a certain basis for communication about the current forms of it.  In short you could summarize
this article with the following five fold definition of non dualism.

'Natural, Immediate Awareness of Uninterrupted No-Mind.'

The point of going into detail of the characteristics in this article is to demonstrate that the diverse true ways had a correcting
effect on each other --- something that is worth paying attention to. On further investigation it becomes increasingly clear
what exactly the differences are with the ways based on the limitations of the mind and belief in ultimate reality of time, place,
and gradualness.  This clarity can also arise if you should want to access some teacher or teaching, by asking the question if
these five essential marks are applicable. 

In emphasizing the three mainstreams of advaya or non dualism (Advaita, Ch'an and Dzogchen) it is important to highlight
in which sense each stream has contributed something essential. 

(Tr. from Dutch by Jenny Wase)

Philip Renard was born in Amsterdam. In 1999 he compiled and published the Ramana Upanishad, the collected writings
of Bhagavan in Dutch translation.  He founded in 2000 the Advaya Foundation to facilitate non duality in Western translation.
He has earlier written for Mountain Path, a series of four articles titled 'I' is the Door.)


Arunachala Siva.