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Nonduality and Nonviolence
Phra Paisal Visalo


People tend to see the world in dualistic way by differentiating things into two opposing categories: good and evil, happiness and suffering, success and failure. Each category is supposed to be separated from each other Together with this distinction is the preference to one against another.

Nonduality is the negation of such dualistic thinking. Fundamental to nonduality is the idea of interdependence of the world, conceptually and physically. Good is dependent on bad. We cannot identify good without referring to bad. The darkness of shadow exists whenever there is light. Desire for happiness always involving preoccupied with suffering.

Opposing categories not only exist side by side with each other, they also exist within each other. Suffering constitutes a part of happiness, and vice versa. In coldness we can find heat, and vice versa. According to nonduality, the world is a nonplural, integral whole., not the sum of discrete things.

Nonduality is the core teaching of Buddhism which places emphasis on the interrelationship of everything. Nondual perception is crucial for one to achieve spiritual liberation from samsara which revolves around the attachment of opposing categories. Not only spiritual development , but also worldly activities does nonduality play important role


From Buddhist perspective, nonviolence should not be merely a method or strategy of struggle. for worldly purpose. It should also be a spiritual practice for peace and righteousness, personally and collectively. For that to be possible, nonviolent action should be based on nonduality from beginning to the end.

Nondistiction between I and others

Nonviolent action should not aim just for ones own benefit. It should be initiated for the benefit of the others, too. Such nonviolence is possible only with nondual thinking that does not make distinction between I and others. When others suffer, one experience suffering, too. Nondual perception lead to compassion that inspires nonviolent action.

Negation of black-and-white perception

In conflict and confrontation, one tends to see opponents at the wrong side, or worse at the evil one Such perception makes one, which is considered good, feels justified to use any method against them, even resorting to violence, in behalf of righteousness.

With nondual thinking, one is aware that no one is absolute wrong or absolute right. Opponents behavior is always interrelated to ours. The ruler always acts badly and cruelly with the consent or support of its people. How can 30,000 English military govern 300 million of Indian without the consent of the latter, asked Gandhi.

The misbehaviors of people oftentimes is the consequence of unhealthy social structure and systems which is supported or maintained by us. We therefore can not deny our responsibility for their misbehaviors.

Nonduality not only reminds us that we are always involved in contributing to their undesirable behaviour, but also tells us that we should not see the world black and white: we are good and they evil.

However good person we are, deep in our heart always resides the evil or its roots.i.e. anger, hatred, delusion, selfishness, vanity. Nobody perhaps speaks better than Solzhenitsyn:

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?,

Since we are involved, though indirectly, in the misbehaviors of someone , we could not claim the rights to use, or support, violence to get rid of them. And since evil also dwells in our heart, we have to restrain ourselves from using violence to others. Violence nourishes evil, the more one uses it, the more evil develops in ones heart, and finally transforms one into the evil person. Cops who frequently uses insidious method against the criminals finally become criminals themselves. In other word, in the polices dwells the seeds of criminal. Thich Nhat Hanh expresses succinctly this nonduality of reality in this poem:

I am the child in Uganda, all skins and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean,
after being raped by a sea pirate,
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable,
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his debt of blood to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

History repeatedly tell us that black-and-white world view always bring suffering and tragedy to human kind. The genocide by Hitler, Stalin, and Polpot is the outcome of such thinking and consequent attempt to eradicate evil from their worlds. Finally they become more evil than the ones they try to eradicate. Osama bin Laden and George Bush are the latest examples of such thinking which creates suffering to the world.

Nondual thinking is the solid base for nonviolent action. With it , one is aware that only nonviolence can bring the end to evil. The most violence can do is to eradicate evil doers temporarily. It could not get rid of evil. Evil still exists as long as the two factors are intact: the unhealthy and unwholesome social systems and the evil in the heart of people. Both factors could not be transformed or eradicated by violence. Only nonviolent action can do by creating alternative systems and enriching ones hearts with love , compassion, and inner peace.

Violence not only fails to eradicate evil, in the long run it also increases the number of evil doers. New evil doers that emerge are from the perpetrators of violence (though on behalf of good) and the victims of violence by the former.

Nondual action

By its own nature, nonviolent action is to be based on nonduality for following reasons.

Action by nonaction
From nonviolent perspective, action and nonaction are not separated. Nonviolent action oftentime is expressed as nonaction,i.e. noncooperation, refuse the conscription, sitting in front of the factory or the line of tanks.

Nondistinction between meditation and action

According to dualistic thinking, meditation is distanced from action, as are spirituality and social activism. But from nondual thinking of Buddhist nonviolent activists, both can not be separated. Social activism is a part of spiritual development. It helps cultivating such wholesome quality as compassion, and helps one to learn in transforming anger and hatred, for example.

While social action is a part of meditation, meditation can be a part of social and political action. Gandhis ashram where people come to meditate, live simple life, was a very influential poltical statement and action that shook English colonialism at its core.

The nondual nature of meditation and action is also expressed by the Buddhas teaching: Protecting oneself is protecting others. Protecting others is protecting oneself.

Action without actor

Any action that is done with the sense of I as the actor is at risk of being used for ones own personal benefit, despite its original aim to serve the others. Once the sense of I as actor emergers, that action becomes mine and thus the attachment. Conflict and hostility is developed once my work is criticized or disagreed. Once one tends to take criticism personally, relationship is undermined.

Apart from sour relationship, the attachment of my work also brings suffering to I as the actor. If my work fails, I fails too.
If my work succeeds, one is attached to the success and hence suffers when failure takes place.

Nondual thinking helps one to be aware of nondifference of action and actor. In other word, there is action but not actor. With this attitude, nonviolent activists attachment to work and its outcome is decreased. One can work in harmony with others despite criticism or obstacles. Evaluation can be done objectively, without bias. This enables nonviolent action to be spiritual practice of high order: learning to achieve liberation from the delusion of I and experiencing the true happiness


Nonduality is the crucial element of nonviolent action in every phase. Nonduality also redirect nonviolent action in accordance to Buddhist principle. In other word, Buddhist nonviolence should be based on nonduality.

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