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BEWARE THE DUAL NONDUAL

A COURSE IN MIRACLES


Roger Walsh, MD, Ph.D. (BIO)


Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior

University of California College of Medicine

“Nondual” has become somewhat of a buzz- word in spiritual circles. In part this is probably because it has traditionally indicated the “highest” or most profound metaphysical view, in part perhaps because it sounds wonderfully esoteric. But it is subtle and tricky. Likewise, the Course is sometimes said to be “nondual.” However, many of the supposedly nondual interpretations seem to be actually quite dualistic, at least from traditional perspectives. For example, within the Course community, the views that only God, or only the oneness of heaven, exist, have been described as nondual views. The discussion gets rather tricky here because of the limits of language and intellect. However, it is debatable whether such a view is actually nondual, or rather, strongly dualistic. Because to say that heaven is the only reality is to make (an at least apparently) radical dualism between heaven and everything else. Yes, the Course can be interpreted as implying nothing else but heaven exists, but this can still be seen as making a dualistic claim. Traditionally, the term “nondual” has been used quite differently. As implied by numerous traditions—Advaita Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, Plotinus and Meister Eckert—nondualism is something subtler. Here nonduality implies, just as the previously discussed Course interpretation does, that the world is unreal and to be distinguished from the Absolute, which is real. However, traditional nondualism then goes further to suggest, apparently paradoxically, that the world is the Absolute. This view was wonderfully summarized by the great Hindu sage Ramana Mahashi who said: The world is illusion, Brahman (God) alone is real. Brahman is the world. Numerous other quotes could be given to exemplify this view, but perhaps the most succinct is Mahayana Buddhism's claim that “nirvana (the Absolute) and samsara (illusion) are one.” Historically, this nondual meaning has emerged later than earlier metaphysics and has often been regarded as the deepest. Moreover, it is a perspective that probably cannot be fully appreciated until one has a direct experience of the Absolute and this nonduality. That is, intellectual appreciation of this metaphysics is necessarily limited by the depth of our experience. The relevance of this for Course students is two-fold. First, the term “nondual” can be used in different ways. Second, it is possible to interpret some of the Course’s metaphysical statements in the traditional nondual way. A number of Course statements seem consistent with this metaphysics, and it can provide a coherent framework for the Course’s teaching.

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