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The Neurology of Awareness and Self: Part Two

Non-Dual Perspectives on Awareness

written by Rick Hanson November 15, 2019
The Neurology of Awareness and Self: Part Two

Part Two: Non-dual Perspectives on Awareness

. . . consciousness, or awareness, and its object are one. – Stephen Bodian


In the nondual literature, the terms duality, nonduality, and awareness can mean different things in different contexts.

We found that a little confusing, plus it makes it easier to stumble into what the Buddha called “a thicket of views.” So we thought it would be helpful to clarify these four domains:

  • Ordinary Duality
  • Objective Oneness
  • Subjective Oneness
  • Transcendental Oneness
Defining the Four Domains

In brief:

  • Ordinary Duality refers to the everyday distinctions apparent in the world between things such as hand and cup, wolf and rabbit, and sperm and egg. All life requires a fundamental distinction between organism and environment. The brain operates fundamentally through the distinction between excitatory and inhibitory processes, and through distinctions between the functions of different parts of it.

For mental health, some dualisms are beneficial, such as those involving theory of mind – that the inner states of other people can differ from those of oneself. Other dualisms are harmful, such as setting parts of the self against each other.

  • Objective Oneness refers to the fundamental property of all the contents of the physical universe that they all arise interdependently, with no absolute distinctions between any of them. Consequently, as we shall see, the world and the body and the brain and the mind are all one . . . not dual.
  • Subjective Oneness refers to the integration of the contents and processes of mind. It can also reflect a kind of philosophical position that the apparent physical, objective reality does not actually exist but is entirely made up by mind in some metaphysical way. The subtle version of Subjective Oneness is that the physical universe exists, but it is a skillful means to relate to it entirely as it is constructed and represented in the mind by the brain.
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