Friday, March 11, 2011

Dualism vs Duality - Dogen on the One and the Many

I have noticed a tendency among some in the Buddhist community to misunderstand “duality” as meaning “dualism” or “dualistic.” Confusing duality for dualism can, and does lead some to wrongly view “diversity” and “discrimination” as being somehow discouraged or contrary to the teachings of Buddhism.

To clarify the difference between dualism and duality, then, “dualism” (and dualistic views) refer to presuppositions of real divisions, or actual separations in reality; the existence of independent dharmas (things, beings, entities, instances, events, etc.). In contrast to this, “duality” is the complimentary aspect or “foci” of the nondual unity of “nonduality/duality” – it is the real aspect or quality of differentiation and diversity inherent to reality. In short, “dualism” is a delusional or erroneous view of reality, and “duality” is an intrinsic aspect of reality.

Duality is to nonduality as form is to emptiness; an inherent aspect of a coessential nondual reality (nonduality/duality).

In light of this, we should be wary of accepting (or using) unqualified generalizations about Buddhist doctrines on “oneness,” “equality,” “purity,” etc. For example, to say that the myriad things (dharmas) are all just “one mind” is a generalization that would best be avoided, or at least qualified. Such a statement could only be accurate (in harmony with Buddhism) in a context that clearly acknowledges that the “one mind” is intrinsically “many” (myriad dharmas) as well as “one.”

Failing to acknowledge and account for the duality inherent in “one mind,” “Buddha nature,” “the absolute,” “emptiness,” “prajna,” etc. leads to partial (biased) views privileging “one” as somehow superior to, or more essential than “many.”

The (one) “Buddha mind” that is the experiencer of (many) dharmas, is coessential with the (many) dharmas that are experienced by the (one) “Buddha mind.” In short, the one Buddha mind is the myriad dharmas and the myriad dharmas are the one Buddha mind; both are essential constituents of a nondual unity (nondual/dual) – each is dependent on the other, yet each maintains its characteristic differences.

In, Dogen: On Meditation and Thinking, Hee-Jin Kim provides an example that bring the implications of this to light. In a discussion on the various meaning of three related terms for “satori” (“enlightenment”) – go, kaku, and sho – summarizing the connotations of go (as stressing intuitive insight into true nature) and kaku (as stressing awakening or becoming aware of a previously unknown truth), Kim writes:

By contrast, sho (which means “to prove,” “to bear witness to,” “to verify”) signifies the direct, personal verification of salvific reality/truth through the body-mind (shinjin), one’s whole being. A crucially important point here is, namely, “that which verifies” and “that which is verified” are inseparably intertwined via the body-mind. In this context, sho is typically coupled with shu (“practice”) as in shusho (“practice and enlightenment”). Although go, kaku, and sho are used interchangeably in Zen Buddhism, as well as in Dogen, his most favored term is undoubtedly sho. Thus in speaking of enlightenment (sho), Dogen always presupposes the process of verification in which enlightenment entails practice, and vice versa. To put it differently, enlightenment (nonduality) makes it incumbent upon practitioners to put the unitive vision of all things into practice, in terms of duality of the revisioned world.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen: On Meditation and Thinking, pp.21-22

According to Dogen’s worldview, to exist as a dharma is to be experienced (verified) as a (mind) form, image, or picture in the mind of an individual being, and to be experienced as a form, image, or picture in the mind of an individual being is to exist as a real aspect of that individual being.

When “duality” is mistaken for “dualism,” thus leading to biased views that fail to account for the inherent reality of diversity and distinction, one simply cannot accurately understand Buddhist teachings.

When we accurately grasp this essential point, we can reach an accurate understanding of Buddhist teachings; we can then put them into practice; verify their true significance; and actualize them in the world.

To exist, a dharma (“that which is verified”) must be experienced by an experiencer (“that which verifies”); thus, to experience (verify) the real existence of a dharma, is to experience (verify) the real existence of an experiencer. In its nondual aspect the experienced/experiencer form a unity of mutual existence as it is; in its dual aspect the experienced/experiencer of each particular dharma is as it is experienced, and the existence of each particular experiencer is as it experiences.


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