Holistic Nonduality offers a simple balanced understanding of the Oneness (Advaita) vs. the Middle Way (Advaya) debate that brings them together harmoniously while still respecting their individual differences.
Nondual means no division, no separation, all is One. It is usually denoted by the ancient Sanskrit term ‘Advaita’, which means One without a second such that it is Oneness, the Self, the Absolute. The Sankaracharya explains it as follows: “That which permeates all, which nothing transcends and which, like the universal space around us, fills everything completely from within and without, that Supreme, non-dual Oneness – that thou art.”
At a more fundamental level, Advaita also means not-two. This not-two is not even One; it is not any dualistic “thing.” So it is every-thing and no-thing in that it does not appear as any particular thing because it is everything that appears. Not-two transcends duality. Alan Watts has compared it to an architect’s two dimensional drawing of a structure. This image gives us an impression of a three dimensional structure, yet it can never be mistaken for the actual structure.
Yet ultimate reality as a transcendental realm poses problems in that any nonduality that rejects duality is itself dualistic. So we need a more holistic understanding that incorporates both duality and nonduality. This holistic understanding of nonduality can be seen as Oneness with room for two-ness and it is that that lies at the heart of love and relating since to be is to be in relationship. As J. Krishnamurti explained: “Life is relationship. To be is to be related, and without relationship, there is no life.”
Therefore, being is not superior to living. Being is living minus the stories about life we mistake for life. This means we wake up to the world, not from it. This holistic approach to nonduality does not transcend the world; it transcends the division within us. As Ramana Maharishi explained, “The world is illusory. Brahman alone is real. Brahman is the world.” Yet as some Advaita advocates would agree with this viewpoint, we have to look at holistic non-duality outside of Advaita.
A lesser known Sanskrit term for nondual is ‘Advaya’, which means being free of the two extremes. The first extreme is the belief that things are real and the second extreme is the belief that things are illusory. The view that only Oneness, i.e. the Self, is real is the first extreme and the view that duality, i.e. the world, is an illusion is the second extreme.
At a more elementary level, Advaya is the Middle Way. This is the understanding that real and illusory define each other. They arise together and dissolve into each other. They are not One nor are they are dualistic – they are empty. Empty means something has no inherent existence or self-nature, it is no-thing in that it is real, but not self-existent; it is not real, but not an illusion. The Middle Way means duality is not the problem, rather the belief that it is inherently real is. As a result, Oneness is not the actual solution, no longer believing in its inherent existence is. But even emptiness is not the solution. Without form there is no emptiness. Emptiness is the space where forms exist, yet emptiness is not even nothing without forms.
Advaya is more noticeably holistic than Advaita. However, Advaita says implicitly what Advaya says explicitly. So, they are not two nor are they are extremes of each other. Advaya addresses the problems that can occur with Advaita. It is neither separate from nor better than Advaita. Advaya is a deeper understanding of nonduality for those who need it, i.e. those who get lost in Oneness. It brings them back into the world, their hearts and their lives. As some Advaya Middle Way advocates would agree with this viewpoint, we have to look at holistic nonduality outside of Advaya.
Advaita and Adyava are both nondual in their own complementary ways such that they are both holistically nondual. Yet the irony of two opposing nondualities is generally lost on zealots of both sides. But since when is judgment better than openness and debate better than dialogue? Why be divided in two by nonduality? If anything, such division demonstrates:
- The realness of duality,
- The absence of Oneness,
- Anything but emptiness,
- The one-sidedness of the Middle Way
For what use is awakening if it does not penetrate the heart? So, let’s cross the nonduality divide together and learn from all traditions and none by addressing the divisions within that foster the divisions without. And when nonduality moves into the heart and the gut, the show really begins. Advaita and Advaya are only concepts anyway. In real terms, awakening begins where debates about it end.