I have been studying Nonduality (Advaita, Emptiness and other approaches) for a couple years, using resources on the internet. There are lots of people writing blogs, books and giving interviews (such as on Conscious.TV and Buddha At the Gas Pump) about current experience of nondual awareness.

I would like to know who is writing about that in a secular way. One example is Sam Harris' 2014 bestseller: "Waking Up - A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion". I think it is a good explanation which accords with my own experience. He cites a lot of research (and points out a lot of bad conclusions) from contemporary neuroscience and psychology. Is it Philosophy as well? I would say no.

  • I'm confused by your last two sentences "Is it Philosophy as well? I would say no." How does this tie to your question (which I took to be are their philosophers who study non-duality from a non-religious perspective?) Could you perhaps edit to make your question clearer?
    – virmaior
    Dec 17, 2015 at 5:21
  • @virmaior: My meta-question is: Is there any point in me attempting to bring the subject of Nonduality (as I am using the term) to this site? I would say no, because if I am the first person to bring it up here, then either there is no one else interested or it is off-topic. So, I asked a question intended to test that hypothesis. Cheers!
    – user16869
    Dec 17, 2015 at 12:52
  • @virmaior: this does not seem to fit here at all. Not sure where to go next.
    – user16869
    Dec 21, 2015 at 17:50
  • @16869- Spinoza maintains that the 'motion and rest' which exists from the circulation of your blood the air you breath, the intake of oxygen through your skin, throughout the movement among people in motion, the winds, the oceans, the motion of the earth, the solar system, the galaxy, the entire cosmos, virtually the entire universe; that this 'motion and rest' combines the entire 'creata' into one contiguous entity. He called it 'facies totus universi'. Mind and matter and spirit are part of one integrated, eternal, infinite, self-perpetuation. See his TIE, and "Ethics" or 'substance monism'
    – user37981
    Sep 28, 2019 at 14:04

8 Answers 8


There is a vast literature on the topic. You mention Sam Harris but he is not a trustworthy source for this topic and seems to misunderstand it. The crucial piece of information you would need in order to relate nondualism to academic philosophy and onwards to physics is that it endorses a neutral metaphysical position. Once you 'grok' this then you will see that all this talk of nondualism being irrelevant, vague, anti-scientific, irrational, untestable and so forth is nonsense.

One problem you face is that for the nondual philosopher the focus is on exploration and experience, not book-learning, which means that much of the literature is little help to a philosopher seeking to understand nonduality within the framework of Western philosophical thinking. Not many pursue it as an academic topic and it can be lonely field of research. One the plus side this means that researchers tend to quickly become relatively expert by general standards.

I cannot be sure what angle you wish to approach from or how much you know already, but some relevant references that come to mind would include...

Francis Bradley Appearance and Reality, George Spencer Brown Laws of Form, Radhkrishnan S The Philosophy of the Upanishads, Khenpo Gyamptso The Sun of Wisdom, Ulrich Mohrhoff The World According to Quantum Mechanics, Plotinus Enneads, Ramesh Balsekar The Ultimate Understanding

This is omitting the obvious mainstream texts such as the Baghavad Gita, the Upanishads, A Course in Miracles etc. The shortest introduction might be Know Yourself by Ibn Arabi. I happen to like the teachings of Wei Wu Wei, a friend of Spencer Brown, and there are a couple of useful websites devoted to him.

Among living philosophers I'd recommend any book by Rupert Spira. The choice is considerable but all the books say the same thing and Spira is very accessible.

Search terms would be 'nonduality', 'neutral metaphysical position', 'Unity', 'Unicity', 'Perennial philosophy', 'Middle Way', 'advaita'. The second of these may be the most productive if it's the formal aspect of nondualism that you're exploring, rather than enlightenment.

It's a little difficult to know who to mention since there are so many. If you want more targeted recommendations I'd need to know more about your particular interests.

  • Great. Still not a big topic on this SE though.
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 30, 2022 at 13:40

If I understand what you mean by nonduality, Georges Bataille's writing from 1939-1945 falls into this category. He never addresses the term nonduality specifically but a lot of his writing is along similar lines. In this answer I try to pick out a few concepts and ideas that bear a similarity to nonduality.

His philosophy revolves around the notion of pure subjective experience which he describes as "fusion of Subject and Object". His philosophy emphasizes experiencing everything and a refusal to reject anything from his experience in the world as he sees everything in subjective experience linking together in a thread that he refers to as Continuity.

He was initially interested in Christian Mysticism during this period but came to criticize it for including the idea of God and having Salvation as an end goal. For Bataille, all "sovereign" experiences lead to nowhere and the notion of God would thus represent another trap that would ground one in an experience that has a specified end. Any sovereign experience is one that includes a loss of self-mastery where the individual loses their sense of self/awareness in the moment and loses any ties to knowledge (where knowledge represents God in this particular case), the future, or any form of utility. It is unknowable because it lies outside objective awareness. Bataille is not exactly an Atheist but he does believe that the notion of God is not compatible with the notion of subjective experience as he describes it - it as an experience that is "free of any ties". In this sense his approach is definitely secular.

Finally, Bataille's work is based on a kind of duality between two types of systems but he argues that one of these systems (the heterogeneous system) disrupts the difference between its opposite (the homogeneous system) such that no differences exist. The result of this interaction is somewhat similar to certain descriptions of nonduality. Bataille describes himself as reversing Hegel's Dialectic which is based, in part, on knowledge. He believes that the structure of knowledge would collapse in the final dialectic before Absolute Knowledge could be attained, similar to the treatment of knowledge in some Hindu interpretations of knowledge. This brings about an "unknowable" state that he calls sovereignty.

I would suggest starting by reading the following books, collectively referred to as the Summa Atheologica (which was unfinished by the time he died). It includes the following: Inner Experience, Guilty, On Nietzsche, and The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge. For all of these books, the translation by Stuart Kendal is best in my opinion.

  • There isn't someone who is not French?
    – user16869
    Dec 21, 2015 at 16:05
  • Well, what language/culture are you interested in? Authors in numerous East Asian traditions have written extensively on this topic. Are you interested in only English-speaking authors? If you cannot read French, most of Bataille's important works are translated into English and they are quite good. Nietzsche comes close at times (see jobermark's answers) but his works were originally written in German. Is this not what you are looking for?
    – syntonicC
    Dec 21, 2015 at 16:22
  • Norman Mailer in The White Negro said: "Only the French, alienated beyond alienation from their unconscious could welcome an existential philosophy without ever feeling it at all; indeed only a Frenchman by declaring that the unconscious did not exist could then proceed to explore the delicate involutions of consciousness, the microscopically sensuous and all but ineffable frissons of mental becoming, in order finally to create the theology of atheism and so submit that in a world of absurdities the existential absurdity is most coherent." So French people disqualify themselves.
    – user16869
    Dec 21, 2015 at 17:18
  • That seems likely a really poorly constructed and offensive generalization. I highly doubt that every single French writer/philosopher is the same in both thought or approach. I don't claim that Bataille will provide the answers you are looking for but as a word of advice, making blanket statements about groups of people, while both offensive and rude, is also a great way to alienate yourself from cultures and traditions that are different from your own.
    – syntonicC
    Dec 21, 2015 at 17:36
  • 1
    Well, sarcasm/humor is often lost online! It probably is more widespread than that but I don't know too much about it. Bataille is one philosopher whose work I am comfortable enough to post about on here so I thought I'd give my two cents. Good luck finding what you're after.
    – syntonicC
    Dec 21, 2015 at 18:58

I would claim that all philosophies involving intersubjectivity and non-determinacy, including all non-classical logic take something from the notion of nonduality. In their own spirit, such choices are themselves non-dual, so these perspectives share the notion not in its radical form, but only in part.

This includes a huge space 'right in the middle' of modern philosophy whose corners I see vaguely as:

  • transpersonal psychoanalyic approaches from Jung to Ken Wilbur in an psychological direction,

  • consensualist notions of meaning and language from the late Wittgenstein to DeSassure and Lacan in a logical direction,

  • anti-objectivist stances generally considered 'nihilist' from that of the ancient Skeptics and Cynics to Neitsche's in an ethical direction, and

  • by the standard models of quantum physics and a Kuhnian notion of scientific evolution in a scientific direction.

To put the relevant aspect I see in those contributions that are lifted straight out of either an Eastern or a Hermetic notion of non-duality most simply:

  • (Jung/Wilber) If we are all part of one another, the duality of internal vs external reality, of self and culture, is just a matter of shifting perspective.

  • (Wittgenstein/Desassure) If meaning is constructed by participation, the natural boundary between true and false interpretation is flexible, and dissolves at a small scale.

  • (Diogenes of Sinope/Nietzsche) If genuine ethics derives from a culturally or personally selected sense of destiny, our shared rulesets are compromises we make with nature, that lack any real cohesion, may in fact not themselves be ethical, and again, break down in the fine grain.

  • (Copenhagen QM) If none of our intuitions about the nature of space split our range of available models cleanly and still address the data, so that there is always a questionable area between existing or not existing, between being somewhere or everywhere, etc. then again, in any detail, we cannot be right about the facts and still truly understand what is really going on.

  • (Kuhn/Feyerabend) And if our perspective on these things changes in ways that are not due to some direct logical mechanism, we are most right when we can handle multiple conflicting models at once, and sustain an ongoing sense of instability in our theories.

  • These are not the nonduality I was looking for. I wish to discuss the experience / perspective, not an idea.
    – user16869
    Dec 21, 2015 at 16:02
  • Then you have answered your question beforehand, since philosophy is about ideas -- so someone should close the question as unrelated to philosophy. But these are ideas, I think, that are available only because of that experience, especially Hermetics and other mystics having the experience and attempting to write about it, or to write instructions for getting there.
    – user9166
    Dec 21, 2015 at 16:52
  • It is also pretty much condescending nonsense to insist that reality has a single basis, about which we make needless distinctions, and then nitpick the distinction between a perspective and an idea. How is a perspective not an idea? How is an experience not a memory? Only in terms of a highly rigid dualism.
    – user9166
    Dec 21, 2015 at 17:06
  • I am not sure what it means: "to insist that reality has a single basis". What else could it possibly have? I am just wishing to discuss the "nonduality" that I read about people currently exploring through Advaita, Emptiness, Self Inquiry and so on. If this does not belong here, I will take my lamp and keep wandering the streets.
    – user16869
    Dec 21, 2015 at 17:13
  • The entire point of Advaita is the non-distinction between Atman and Brahman. That what seems to be two worlds, really has a single basis. It is not hard to see that this is what I mean, unless you are trying not to listen.
    – user9166
    Dec 21, 2015 at 17:21

Swami Sarvapriyananda. That is the man you're looking for.

He talked about topics like Hard problem of consciousness and many atheistic questions.

He may not be secular in a Christian sense, but I haven't seen him outsource any question to some kind of miracle or to God (again in Christian sense. In Advaita, you're god. kind of.)

He is also very much involved in new neuroscience developments and psychology studies.

Some links:

A random introductory video

Another introductory level video

You can find many other videos in youtube, including some advanced level lectures.

papers and talks

  • Would you have links to sources for more information about him? This is an opportunity to point the reader to texts you find most useful by this author. Welcome. Sep 26, 2019 at 16:29

You can find a nondual, philosophical treatment of spirituality and religion in Jacques Derrida's 'Of Spirit' and 'Acts of Religion', particularly in the latter's essay 'Hospitality'.

As an aside, note the connection between hospitality (hospitable), host, guest and ghost (latin spirit), all mentioned in these books.

Re. ghost - Gæst in Beowulf (old English)

In this article, I discuss ... through an investigation of the meanings of the word gæst, which appears initially to binarize a social relationship into one of hosts and guests. Closer examination of the word's Sanskrit root *ghas "to consume," highlights its deconstruction as a differentiating marker of the most intimate of social categories.

... In this text, there is an apparent opposition between the terms gæst, "ghost, spirit, demon" and gist, "guest, stranger, visitor." ... Gæst

... The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots notes that gæst meaning "guest" derives from*ghos-ti, meaning "stranger, guest, host," and "someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality." Reflexes of the word include Germanic *gastiz, Latin hostis "enemy" and Greek xenos, "stranger." Lewis and Short note that Latin word hostis, derives from the Sanskrit root *ghas- to eat, consume, or destroy" and that the Germanic gast is derived from the same word. The compound of this word in Latin, hospes, adds the suffix "pa" "to feed," thus combining the idea of feeding with the word for stranger, and then contracting to "hospites" or "he who entertains a stranger." The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots gives gist as deriving from *gheis in an unclear original meaning, having to do with "fear or amazement," with the "suffixed o-grade form *ghois-do in Germanic *gaistaz, a ghost." The Oxford English Dictionary notes that word's etymological relations are "fury, anger....the root "*gheis-, *ghois- appears with cognate sense in ON geisa to rage, Gothic usgaisjan to terrify; outside Teutonic the derivatives seem to point to a primary sense "to wound, tear, pull to pieces." This last may suggest a link between the two original words, since both roots have to do with consumption, with a possible development from the relatively neutral *ghas- , "to consume", to the more negative *gheis-, "fear."

Re. spirit - 'Of Spirit', page 98 (Derrida quoting Heidegger)

What burns itself up is Being-outside-itself (das Ausser-sich) which illuminates and makes shine, which also, however (indessen auch), can devour tirelessly and consume everything up to and including the white of the ash (in das Weisse der Asche verzehren kann).

... Trakl envisages "spirit" on the basis of this essence which is named in the originary meaning (in der ursprünglichen Bedeutung) of the word "Geist," for gheis means: to be thrown (aufgebracht), transported [or transposed, deported: entsetzt, again -- and I believe this is the most determining predicate], outside itself (ausser sich).

So a great deal revolves around this multiply extended proto-Indo-European root word 'gheis', all in a very nondual manner.

  • I know someone who likes at least some of what she read in Derrida, I have not encountered his writing. From what I see here, he is a Neo, and so is probably comprehensible only to himself. I was not really interested in religion, theology, or what is normally called spirituality. I am interested in the experience of nonduality, which is growing and widespread, and now, with Harris' book, in the mainstream. I only wondered if this subject is applicable to Philosophy as well. So that I could bring it up here. But it seems that if it was Philosophy, someone would already be discussing it.
    – user16869
    Dec 17, 2015 at 13:04
  • From a quick look it does appear Harris's duality is science vs supernatural. My point shows that even spirit can be 'treated' non-supernaturally leaving everything nondual. In such philosophy there is no duality, so the topic of 'nonduality' doesn't arise. Dec 17, 2015 at 13:23
  • So for Philosophers, Nonduality is beneath consideration, like asking the mathematician what the plus sign means. OK. Thank you. No wonder they are all so far ahead of everyone else. Maybe we could discuss the issue of purpose and happiness. But those are solved problems for Philosophers also, I suspect. Like the ancient Brahmins that Alexander the Great met.
    – user16869
    Dec 17, 2015 at 13:40
  • I mean at least some philosophers are in nondualist territory, even when they address 'non-science' topics that may ordinarily appear to be dualistic ones. Dec 17, 2015 at 14:03
  • 1
    I'm sorry but I don't understand your comment. Mine could have been a lot more clear. My quibble was that Derrida is not known for knowing anything about this topic and does not claim to do so, so he is an odd reference and there is no other given. It's hard enough to get into this topic at the best of times and thinking Derrida is a useful starting point might make it impossible, so I was prompted to make a critical comment. I should have made it more clearly. . .
    – user20253
    Sep 27, 2019 at 15:34

"An analysis which is not merely a theoretical analysis, but at the same time another writing of the question of Being or meaning: deconstruction is also a manner or writing and putting forward another text. It is not a “tabula rasa”, which is why deconstruction is also distinct from doubt or from critique. Critique always operates in view of the decision after or by means of a judgment. The authority of judgment or of the critical evaluation is not the final authority for deconstruction. Deconstruction is also a deconstruction of critique. Which does not mean that all critique or all criticism is devalued, but that one is trying to think what the critical instances signifies in the history of authority. Deconstruction is not a critique. Another German word of which deconstruction is a kind of transposition is “Abbau,” which is found in Heidegger, and also found in Freud." (Derrida)

mark alan forshee

  • Another comedian.
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 30, 2022 at 13:40

You could try:

Nonduality :A Study in Comparative Philosophy David Loy

The first book to examine thoroughly and demystify the concept of nonduality, a concept central to Asian religion and philosophy. Loy explains what Buddhist, Taoist, and Advaitic sages have thought about nonduality and also identifies references to nonduality in the work of Western thinkers.

Probably not the first book but relevant to your question.

  • All of Loy's books are worthwhile.
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 30, 2022 at 13:37

To put the old names to work, or even Just to leave them in circulation, will always, of course, involve some risk: the risk of settling down or of regressing into the system that has been, or is in the process of being, deconstructed. To deny this risk would be to confirm it: it would be to see the signifier-in this case the name-as a merely circumstantial , conventional occurrence of the concept or as a concession without any specific effect. It would be an affirmation of the autonomy of meaning, of the ideal purity of an abstract, theoretical history of the concept. Inversely, to claim to do away immediately with previous marks and to cross over, by decree, by a simple leap, into the outside of the classical oppositions is, apart from the risk of engaging in an interminable “negative theology,” to forget that these oppositions have never constituted a given system, a sort of ahistorical, thoroughly homogeneous table, but rather a dissymmetric, hierarchically ordered space whose closure is constantly being traversed by the forces, and worked by the exteriority, that it represses: that is, expels and, which amounts to the same, internalizes as one of its moments.


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    – J D
    Nov 10, 2019 at 22:52
  • I was about to downvote the word-salad, then I saw it was by Derrida. Very amusing!
    – Scott Rowe
    Aug 30, 2022 at 13:36

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