Consciousness Is Non-dual

symmetryThere are several meanings to the term non-duality. I’ve already covered one of them in my four part series refuting the external world – Consciousness is all there is. Another aspect of the term is that our experience is non-dual. This means that the triad of perceiver, act of perception and object perceived isn’t part of our direct experience, but is a product of thought; a mind-made superimposition, not only giving rise to the sense of the world being independent of me, but the sense of me as the perceiver of that world, and thus the separation between us.

In my articles on refuting the external world, I speak of consciousness as it were a thing; a perceiver that creates and witness experience. This duality is introduced as a conceptual model to help the reader understand the main point of the writing – to realize that there is no external world beyond perceptions. Once the penny drops, the model has done its job and can now be deconstructed.

Consciousness is not a thing. It would be more accurate to think of it as a verb. Consciousness is not the perceiving of phenomena, but it is the phenomena itself. Or rather, there is actually no phenomena, but only perceiving. Perceiving is what consciousness is. Confusing? Read further.

No separation

What is seeing? Our usual understanding of seeing includes three aspects. There’s the seer of course, which is me, then there’s the act of seeing, which is a faculty of myself, and finally there’s the object seen, which has independent existence of me. But upon close examination, we realize that what’s actually given in the direct experience is nothing but patterns of color. There are never any objects seen, nor is there a perceiver given in direct experience.

The visual objects of our experience aren’t actually objects until we think of them as such. An ever-changing field of patterns of color is divided by thought into a multitude of objects. We think that objects are given in direct experience, but all that we are really seeing are colors.

But what is color? There is actually no separation between the seeing and the colors, but to realize this we need to examine the notion of color (which we think of as “the seen”) and the notion of seeing.

What we mean by color is the presence of color in our experience. But that happens to be the same definition that we use to describe “seeing”. So both the words “color” and “seeing” refer to the same thing, namely the presence of color in our experience. By thinking, we have divided our experience into “seeing” and “seen” where there is only seeing. This conceptual split, this objectifying of seeing gives rise to the felt sense of separation. Furthermore, in objectifying pure subjectivity – when making seeing into ‘objects seen’ – we are necessarily conjuring up an imaginary subject to which these imaginary objects appear. It is the counterpart in the subject/object duality where the presence of an object always require a perceiving subject. Cease to objectify phenomena and the imaginary subject vanishes – leaving only non-dual consciousness.

There is no perceiver. There is only seeing. A seer, a subject “behind” the seeing is never given but only inferred. We imagine a perceiver behind the scenes, but where could such a perceiver be located? There is no backstage. Since there is nothing beyond experiencing, there is no space in which a perceiver could be located. There is only seeing – no seer and nothing seen.

There is only hearing – no hearer, nothing heard.

There is only touching – no toucher, nothing touched.

There is only thinking – no thinker, no thought.

There is only perceiving – no perceiver and nothing perceived. This is consciousness.

Further reading:

27 Responses to Consciousness Is Non-dual

  1. This is good stuff. I have been looking for this kind of exposition. This is well-written. I am a Theosophist from the Philippines. More power to you Goran!

  2. Santhosh Palathinkal says:

    This is excellent and considered to be the valuable scriptures, it spreads light to the seekers of Truth. Evolve to become a Buddha.

  3. Pingback: Unified Discussion Scientists take on Consciousness



  5. Winston Anderson says:

    “There is only seeing”! Wow!!!

  6. Neerav says:

    I would have to disagree with the premise in terms of the last part, as it would then indicate that seeing, hearing, etc… exists inherently, since it is not dependent on the seer, hearer, etc… as well as the object being seen or heard, and the circumstances and conditions by which they all come together.

    I base my statements on the teachings of Madhyamika (Middle Way) Buddhism of the Buddha, and later, his predecessors, Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti. Here is my stanzas in that light with respect to the perceiving subject and perceived object within a duality to reflect Madhyamika Buddhism.

    Subject & Object within A Duality

    By: Neerav B. Trivedi
    11th January 2014

    Without a subject perceiving, there is no object being perceived.
    Without an object, there is no perception for the subject.
    A nonexistent subject cannot perceive an existing object.
    An existing subject cannot perceive a nonexistent object.

    A nonexistent subject cannot perceive a nonexistent object,
    And a nonexistent object cannot be perceived by a nonexistent subject.
    Therefore, both the perceiving subject and the perceived object,
    Are therefore empty and dependently arisen.

    Hence, it can be verily established then that
    Neither the subject that perceives,
    Nor the object that is being perceived,
    Are either existent or nonexistent.

    If you cannot have one without the other,
    How can one exist without the other,
    Since they both arise together,
    And they both fall together?

    • Göran Backlund says:

      There’s no sense in which anything can be dependently arisen – unless there’s an objective reality of time and space in which all of these causes and conditions can exist. There’s not.

    • Neerav Trivedi says:

      If that was the case, Goran then the teachings of the Middle Path or Middle Way of the Enlightened Buddha, and his later predecessors, Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti and Aryadeva, would then be wrong based on what amounts to a belief or idea that you have read and that your mind agrees with. Fortunately (and thankfully), Goran, such is not the case, nor is it the reality of things. The objective world DOES indeed exist, and the Buddhist teachings on the Middle Way, with their doctrines of emptiness (shunyata) and dependent arising/origination (pratityasamutpada) describe properly how everything in the world is interconnected, interrelated and dependent upon everything else to exist without any fixed, permanent, uncaused and unchanging self-nature or essence (svabhava), and thereby helps eliminate grasping (i.e., wants, needs, hopes, expectations and desires), and hence, both suffering and samsara, which also lead to Enlightenment/Liberation.

      Indeed, the objective/external world neither exists inherently as self-standing or self-existent, nor does it not exist (i.e., non-existent), which would then fall into the dualistic extremes of eternalism/essentialism and nihilism, respectively, which the Buddha and his latter predecessors such as Nagarjuna, looked to avoid, in order to overcome samsara and more importantly, suffering.

      To the point that you make and insist on repeatedly in your essays:
      1) The external/objective world exists
      2) The external/objective world does not exist.
      3) The external/objective world both exists and does not exist.
      4) The external/objective word neither exists nor does it not exist.

      This is the “tetralemma” of Nagarjuna in Madhyamika (Middle Way) Buddhism, which speaks of all possibilities. However, according to Nagarjuna, all of these views or positions mentioned above are to be ultimately and eventually negated such that:

      5) Neither does the external/objective world exists,
      6) Nor does the external/objective world does not exist,
      7) Nor does the external/objective world both exists and does not exist, and,
      8) Nor does the external/objective word neither exists nor does it not exist.

      As you can see, all four of the previous views or positions (i.e., numbers 1 to 4) with respect to the external/objective world have now been negated (i.e., number 5 to 8), which leaves you with no view or position whatsoever with respect to the external/objective world. Instead, the external/objective world simply just “is”, as they say in Zen Buddhism. So not only is your view/position that the external/objective world does not exist (i.e., is nonexistent) is refuted, but the other views that the objective/external world exists, that it both exists and does not exist, and that it neither exists nor does it not exist, have also been refuted, such that no view or position whatsoever with respect to the external/objective (and everyone and everything in it, including your own self) can be made and taken.

      This is what the deconstructive methods/techniques in many of the traditions both East and West, including Madhyamika Buddhism, does, essentially.

      You, Goran, unfortunately fall into the dualistics extreme of both nihilism and eternalism/essentialism, respectively, and grasp at these views or positions consistently in almost all of your essays that you have posted here on your website and in your book that you recently published, and so, you will have no choice but to continue to suffer and remain in samsara. And this is despite your realization of Oneness, which, unfortunately, cannot then said to be Oneness in the truest sense of the term. What you present is still very much dualistic in nature, and hence, one-sided and limited in scope.

      You say that “seeing”, “hearing” and “experiencing”, etc… exist on its own without either the person who is seeing/hearing/experiencing/etc…, the object being seen/heard/experienced, as well as the causes and conditions that not only bring them about, but to bring them all together. Hence, seeing, hearing, experiencing, etc… are then said to have “own existence” and hence an essence (svabhava), by which they can then be said to be inherently existent. This would then be falling into the dualistic extreme of essentialism/eternalism by which you will remain in the realm of suffering and samsara.

      Likewise, you also say that nothing at all exists, including the objective/external world, and both the subject (including one’s self) and the object, the universe, trees, skies, other people, etc… and even yourself, thereby falling into the other dualistic extreme of nihilism, by which, you will also remain in the realm of suffering and samsara.

      Unless you relinquish all of your views about anything and everything, and cease grasping at things such as various views and positions, including with respect to yourself, then you will never be free…….never experience Enlightenment, Awakening or Liberation. Again, this is the essence of the deconstructive method/technique in many of the spiritual traditions of the East, and maybe of the West too, such as the ancient Greeks. As long as you (or rather, your mind) holds onto a certain view or views about something, instead of not only being free of all views and positions, but free from all views and positions, your suffering will never cease. You may have realized Oneness/non-duality, but you still grasp and reify views or positions that are dualistic, many times, to an extreme nature, that are philosophically tenable and spiritually dangerous, more so the ones that fall into the extreme of nihilism (i.e., Nothingness or nonexistence).

      Let this be a warning to you, Goran, that you need to cease with any view or position of your mind that is one-sided, limited and dualistic, and relinquish these and all other views, “IF” you want Enlightenment/Liberation. I wish you all the best in your spiritual journey. Namaste!

    • peter says:

      Neerav – your logic is flawless, unfortunately it rests on the unfounded concept that such a thing as “an object” can actually be found…

      Perception is originally non-dual due to the fact that we only ever experience “effects” of things which must then be inferred to have some kind of objective existence, but which themselves never appear.

  7. don salmon says:


    Nagarjuna’s is one way of stating things. I think you’re falling into the error that many fall into when approaching Indian philosophy – that the philosophers are presenting arguments about what is “right” or “wrong”.

    The yogacarins present a way of seeing that is similar to what goran presents. Many have thought they are contradicting Nagarjuna, but if you look more closely, they’re not.

    Start with word definitions. The “external world” that Goran is talking about is not contained within the tetra lemma. it’s a means to seeing, not a logical argument (though it is perfectly logical within the context Goran is using it)

    • Neerav says:

      This is what I responded to:

      “There’s no sense in which anything can be dependently arisen – unless there’s an objective reality of time and space in which all of these causes and conditions can exist. There’s not.”

      Here, he is falling into the dualistic extreme of nihilism by denying the external world and for that matter, himself…….a DANGEROUS move, spiritually.

  8. AP says:

    “There’s no sense in which anything can be dependently arisen – unless there’s an objective reality of time and space in which all of these causes and conditions can exist. There’s not.”

    In my understanding of dependent origination, the above claim is not true. “Time” and “space” are themselves dependently originated, and do not need a pre-existing objective reality for that to occur.

    • Göran Backlund says:

      Space can’t be dependently originated since that would imply a process of causation, which itself is dependedent on there being an independently existing space already in place. Therefore such a claim is circular.

      I’ve heard elsewhere, in similar discussions, a claim that space is only the spatial relations between objects (and therefore would depend on them, or be “caused” by them), but one must realize that there can be no objects to begin with, among which there can by any relations, unless space is there first.

    • Taylor says:

      Relativity would support the argument of dependent origination because of the interchangeable nature of spacetime. Such is the nature of electromagnetism as well. One can be increased to a limit at which point the other seems to cease.

    • Taylor says:

      What if Nothing is in fact real, the only real thing, but Nothing is not the same as not-existant, being composed of that which negates it’s existence relative to things that co-originate. Consider the quantum electrodynamic vacuum is in fact merely relatively balanced Electromagnetic waves. Empty space is not even empty. There is Nothing which can subdivide itself into Something as long as it is polarized and repays it’s temporary debt to Nothing eventually

  9. Antonia says:

    I’m curious about why you have a Ying Yang as a symbol or your site. Isn’t the Ying Yang about duality? Please explain

  10. Troy says:

    Thanks for writing your thoughts and experiences this clearly.
    When you say there is just seeing, hearing etc., what happens after the death of physical body?
    I can’t seem just seem to understand this. Will seeing/hearing/thinking still exist after death?

  11. Lazarus says:

    Hello, quick question here.

    I would like to know, if you truly believe that there is only perceiving, thinking, seeing, etc. how did the perceiving, thinking, seeing acknowledge it’s existence. For if there is only thinking and no thinker then there is nothing to process the existence of thinking, it merely is. If there is only thinking, what entity came to that conclusion, thinking itself? Thank you!


    • Göran Backlund says:

      Hi Lazarus!

      Any conclusion would merely be another thought (Or an instance of think-ing).

    • Lazarus says:

      So are thoughts existent then? But even then a thought cannot think of itself otherwise it would be considered a thinker then. Say there is just a thought which says, “This thought exists.” But if there is no thinker it is merely emitting its “energy” to nothing, and nothing could come to the conclusion that the thought exists, right? Sorry, really not trying to be argumentative for the sake of arguing, I’m just trying to understand your views. Great writing by the way, it’s quite hard to explain these topics but you do a fairly good job.

    • Göran Backlund says:

      The duality you suggest, of a thought and something (someone?) else concluding something, isn’t valid. In your proposed scenario, all there is to any conclusion is a single act of thinking.

    • Lazarus says:

      But what knows that there is thinking, what is receptive of the thinking? What came to the conclusion that there is thinking? The thinking itself? Then the thinking would be the thinker.

    • Göran Backlund says:

      I see two questions!

      1) What is receptive of the thinking? (what is observing it)
      Thinking doesn’t require a thinker or an observer. Thinking is just part of the field of subjectivity, which is reality.

      2) What came to the conclusion of there is thinking?

      A ‘Conclusion’ isn’t a process that exist outside of thinking, it’s just a label we put on certain phenomena. Nothing ‘has’ the conclusion. The conclusion isn’t a result of a causal process. All there is to a conclusion is a thought – which is nothing other than think-ing. And think-ing doesn’t depend on a thinker; think-ing is an aspect of subjectivity, which is not a subset of reality, but reality itself.

      Does thinking come to a conclusion? No, that’s like saying that seeing ‘sees’, or that hearing ‘hears’. It’s a division of experience that isn’t there. Thinking merely _is_. It’s just subjectivity manifesting.

  12. Super Lol says:

    I think Nagarjuna’s purpose was to clear the table. He was an anti-realist who wanted to get rid of concepts. His just wanted to point out what’s left after all conceptual speculations have stopped. Experience alone remains. And no one can say what experience is. Experience is empty. Is there experience beyond concepts?

    • Super Lol says:

      So when Nagarjuna declared Middle Way, he wasn’t saying things are _or_ aren’t, or are _and_ aren’t. He was pointing that the conventional way of seeing the reality is wrong. Experience “exists”, and experience itself is empty. As mentioned above, Yogacara states something similar.

    • Super Lol says:

      Quote from Nagarjuna: “Where there is no existent, there is no absence.” This is it. Things do not exist and they cannot not-exist. What’s left is experience. Experience doesn’t “exist” as we normally think things exist. This is the Middle Way, not something realist position between existence and non-existence.

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