The Challenge of Non-Duality for Theravada Buddhism

The essay is here:, titled Dhamma and Non-duality written by Bhikkhu Bodhi.


Here is a short summary:

The essay explores the complexities created when the classical Theravada Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation encounters the «non-dualistic» spiritual traditions like Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism.

Key Points and Differences

  • Conceptual Frameworks: Merging practices from different spiritual systems can cause dissonance due to conflicting philosophical foundations.
  • Non-Duality Varieties: Non-dualistic philosophies vary significantly. Vedanta, for example, sees the Atman (innermost self) and Brahman (divine reality) as ultimately one, a concept rejected by all schools of Buddhism.
  • Theravada vs. Mahayana: Theravada Buddhism posits the self as impermanent aggregates, opposing any «true self» realization. Mahayana schools often assert an absence of ultimate difference between samsara (cycle of suffering) and Nirvana (enlightenment).
  • Theravada’s Focus: The Buddha’s teachings in the Pali canon emphasize acknowledging and resolving dualities – good/evil, suffering/happiness – to achieve liberation. Nibbana is a distinct, unconditioned reality transcending samsara.
  • The Value of Duality: The Theravada approach respects the evident dualities of the world, aiming to comprehend reality as it presents itself. This focus on actuality distinguishes it from the unity-seeking approaches prevalent in non-dualistic philosophies.

Virtue, Concentration, Wisdom

The text goes on to highlight distinctions between non-dualistic philosophies and the Theravada tradition in these areas:

  • Virtue: Non-duality may view distinctions like good and evil as ultimately illusory. In Theravada, moral conduct remains essential throughout the path, even for the enlightened.
  • Concentration: Non-dual approaches may not aim to purify the mind of defilements, seeing them as unreal. Theravada stresses diligent effort to overcome negative mental states.
  • Wisdom: Non-duality seeks a unifying reality. Theravada wisdom discerns phenomena in their particularity to understand them as they are, fostering detachment rather than identification with an «All».

The text concludes by emphasizing the Theravada tradition’s grounding in reality and the ongoing value it places on concrete dualities, seeing profound truth in their understanding and resolution.

My commentary:

Actually, this deepens my philosophical confusion, but creates awareness of the importance of moral conduct. I can certainly attest moral importance in my own life and its practical-meditation benefits, but cannot ignore its relativity, ¿Is it absolute to say: «doing hurtful things is -hurtful- based in relative concepts, but hurtful nonetheless»? I would say that.