QUESTION: In one of your recent posts, you made the statement: "12. Nonduality is a dualistic theory." I was hoping you could elaborate a bit more on this statement, or perhaps point to a sutra or previous work where this is discussed. It is definitely a point which would be considered provocative in some Dharmic circles.
SHORT ANSWER: Nnoduality is a negation and negation automatically creates a duality between itself and what it negates.
LONGER ANSWER: There is certainly a good deal of talk about 'nonduality' in Buddhist circles and it is often advanced as though it somehow defines what Buddhism is all about. However, it is difficult to find any quote from Buddha himself to this effect. Of course, a lot depends on what one means. The term nonduality simply means not-two-ness. One is, therefore, obliged to specify which two things one believes are not really two - earth and heaven? subject and object? me and you? relative truth and absolute truth? etc. Nonduality always points at a duality and asserts that in some sense it is a unity.
So generally nonduality is taken to imply 'oneness'. However, the term itself is constructed as a dualistic term. To be non-anything implies that there is a something else that it is not. Nonduality stands in a dualistic pairing with duality. If we define Buddhism as nonduality (I don't, but for the sake of argument...) then we are defining it as different from duality. In other words, we are asserting a dualistic scheme of things in which nonduality is one part and duality is the other part. Generally speaking in these theories, duality is the empirical part and nonduality is the metaphysical part.
In an Indian context, nonduality is a Hindu idea. In the Indian languages it is 'advaita'. According to Wikipedia, Advaita "is an ontological approach to nondualism, and asserts non-difference between Atman (soul) and Brahman (the Absolute)." Buddha, however, rejected all of these ideas. The wikipedia item is worth having a look at as it shows what a huge range of completely different ideas fly under the 'nonduality' ensign. Are all of these different nondualities nondual? one is tempted to ask.
Nonsingularity is probably an easier theory to defend both empirically and philosophically than nonduality. Nonsingularity would assert that there is nothing that is truly singular, nothing that cannot be divided into parts. Buddha in particular was an analyst. He divided things. Buddhism is full of lists of parts - five skandhas, two truths, three signs of being, seven enlightenment factors, six paramitas, etc. etc. It was not Buddha's style to assert oneness.
Furthermore, analysis can be very practical and helpful, whereas oneness tells one almost nothing. This and that are one... so what? How does that help? It might give a cozy feeling, but it does not aid practice. It might be thought, for instance, that if we believe that 'all people are one' this will make for peace in the world, but it is not at all clear how this will really lead to any concrete action, whereas acknowledging that there are many different kinds of people in the world can readily lead to thought about how to accommodate those differences and meet different requirements.
Another similar fallacy is the equation of 'relatedness' with 'identity'. I have many time heard it said that things are 'one' because they are 'inter-related'. However, to be related items have to be separate. It takes two or more to relate. In any case, the idea of 'inter-relatedness' is overdone. Many things are related in a purely one way fashion. The fact that A depends upon B does not imply that B needs A in any way, necessarily.
I do not believe that Buddha taught that everything is 'one', nor even that all things are 'inter-related' nor 'inter-dependent'. All such ideas tend to undermine ethics because they imply that the bad is just as necessary as the good. Buddha was more for keeping things distinct and making choices with right intention.
Those who assert the theory of nonduality do so in order to distinguish themselves from others who they think have got things wrong. That, however, is a dualistic thing to do. We will get much further by being openly dualistic - or, better, pluralistic - and respecting one another in all our differences.
Sometimes people have profound spiritual experiences and speak of them in what one could call 'nondualistic language'. They might say, 'I felt connected to everything.' I have no objection to this as it is simply a mode of self-expression. When the person has digested their experience it will stand out for them as something special, something not to be forgotten, something different from ordinary life. They will thus be plunged back into the duality of ordinary life versus peak experience. Their 'nondual' experience will have set up an even greater duality for them. There is nothing wrong with this. Such contrasts are the foundation of religion and wisdom.