Non-Duality is Not Idealism
Nor is it materialism….
But is it so obvious it’s not materialism? It will be obvious they are two sides of a mistaken coin, once you see it. First, some definitions.
By “Idealism” here we won’t be meaning ethical or socio-political idealism (such as “living up to the ideals of a Judeo Christian ethically-based law”). Here we mean idealism in the philosophical sense (ontological or epistemological idealism, in philosophical language).
In a nutshell, philosophical idealism is seeing the world as all mind-stuff:
“Idealism holds that what we normally think of as physical objects is actually a mental substance” (Greg Goode).Indeed, traditionally, idealism asserted that what we can know (absolutely all) and/or that reality itself – the entire universe of objects, including ourselves – is nothing else, and only, that which is structured by, and made from, ideas that exist in the mind of God or a subjective mind that is universal.
However, if we don’t believe in a God—at least not one “out there”—then where is this “mind”?
The astute reader may have already discerned that need to be careful to differentiate idealism from solipsism: the view that only oneself—one’s ego as it were—is the only real entity, and the world and everyone and everything in it, is a figment of one’s personal mind. This view, while logically very difficult to disprove, is also inadequate to a mature, intelligible, and wise outlook. And frankly just a bit silly (you can do your own research into arguments against solipsism if you’re interested).
Materialism is thinking the world as all, well, material: all hard stuff, all stuff-stuff. This is the same material stuff that supposedly our bodies are made of. This is the defacto worldview of modern, Western society. It is internally inconsistent. This fact is revealed when one begins to scratch beneath the surface just a little bit, and see there is in fact a reality to one’s awareness, and such an awareness cannot be accounted for except with ad hoc explanation made from presumptions, and supported by a religious, dogmatic belief in the brain and matter somehow being responsible for consciousness, though no one knows how, and furthermore that no one knows what matter is (if you ask a good, honest physicist).
Nondualism is a description of reality (not-two) that encompases both idealism and materialism by showing how they arise together under the umbrella of Consciousness. In other words, when there is thinking—the movement that is the mind, the artifice of Time and Space being the analog of apparent change and differentiation—there is a Body, and Mind, and a World (the BMW). In reality, if we grant that the Consciousness-is-All model is true (even though it’s just a model), the BMW is in fact Consciousness, seeming to be a BMW, appearing as illusion. This is why in the Eastern philosophies, they talk of “maya”, and life being a kind of dream.
The illusory nature of the BMW experience accounts for the reason that approaches to the understanding of non-duality (which can never be understood by the mind, but rather experienced as Self) are mistaken for idealism. Consciousness is confused with being a kind of mind-stuff, so all the “objects” of consciousness “out there” are thought of as being made of mind-stuff. This is wrong. While everything is indeed objects in consciousness, there is a valid distinction to be made between mind and the world that is valid and not nondual.
When I go to sleep at night, Los Angeles does not disappear – either for me or for anybody. If we go 20 people together in a room and all of them got some kind of sudden special amnesia about Los Angeles, the city would not cease to exist. While the mind and the world are inextricably linked, nonduality is not a New Age philosophy that says we create our own realities or manifest reality with the personal mind. Nor is it idealism.
Nonduality is an impersonal view, a view from nowhere, that describes reality as not-two: undifferentiated in reality, but differentiated in experience.
Nonduality does not say the BMW is unreal and only mind-stuff. In fact the world is real… as Consciousness. But as Consciousness, as nondual reality, the BMW is more akin to the reality of a movie playing out on an infinitely intelligent 4-D love-light-life hologram, where that which moves—the content of the hologram—has no substance, and that which never changes, the unknown and unknowable hologram substrate, can be said in that sense to be the ultimate reality, the substratum of existence (what is called “The Absolute”).