The intrigue part stems from a desire most of us have, me certainly included, to look upon the world without feeling so separate from it. That separateness is inherent in a central fact about we humans.
Each of us views things from an inescapable subjective perspective.
Meaning, we are subjective beings in an objective world. Or at least, what sure appears to be an objective world.
No one knows what it is like to be us other than ourselves. I can do my best to describe how I feel about something, but in the end, all that describing can't encompass my direct subjective experience of that feeling.
Same is true for you. Same is true for everybody.
We are subjects to ourselves, and objects to other people. Each of us assumes that other people also have a subjective life, but their subjectivity is off limits to us, as our subjectivity is off limits to them.
As Loy notes in his book, Western philosophy has pretty much accepted that reality is dualistic.
Even though it has moved beyond the dualism of Descartes, where mind and body are distinct entities, there's still an assumption that the subjective inner side of us is qualitatively different from the objective outer world.
Eastern philosophy, though, has explored ways we humans could attain a nondual way of experiencing reality.
Basically, Indian philosophy (Vedanta, notably) holds out the idea that soul, or atman, can merge with God, Brahman. You know, the whole drop becoming the ocean thing. So nonduality is achieved by consciousness expanding to become the entire cosmos.
The emphasis here is on an experience of an ethereal universal force/energy/power that lurks behind everyday reality yet is distinct from it. So closed-eye meditation is viewed as a means of achieving a state of being one with everything.
Chinese and Japanese philosophy, Loy points out, is quite different. Here the emphasis is on experiencing the physical world. Instead of expanding to become everything, the goal is to shrink one's personal perspective as much as possible so only the world remains.
Bingo! Nonduality, but approached from the opposite direction favored by Indian/Vedanta philosophy. Nature is revered. Making tea is revered. Chopping wood and carrying water is revered.
I've over-simplified Loy's arguments here, which are considerably more sophisticated. Check out this 2015 blog post for a more expansive description of how Loy analyzed how various Eastern philosophies view the relation between dualism and nonduality.
He concludes that an experience of nonduality can be interpreted in various ways. Thus experience can't tell us how reality actually is. A nondual experience can be compatible with the soul merging with God thing, or compatible with the consciousness being absorbed in the world thing.
Loy also shows that for Taoism and Yoga, both nonduality and duality can be "real." That word is in quotation remarks, because the reality being spoken of in a consistence with those philosophies, not with how things really are in an objective sense.
Which gets me to the irritating part of nonduality.
I'm fine with viewing nonduality as a word game, or as philosophical speculation. I'm also fine with the notion that nonduality and duality aren't incompatible opposites but the extremes of a continuum. Meaning, we humans can look upon the world as more or less nondual or dual.
There isn't a right or wrong way to do this. Just different ways. At times we can feel separate and distinct from the world; at times we can feel that we're an integral aspect of the world.
But all those feelings say nothing about how the world actually is in an objective sense. So when people have some sort of experience that leads them to claim nonduality -- basically, oneness -- is an inherent feature of reality, that's irritatingly absurd.
Their experience is simply an experience. They're entitled to speak about it, obviously. However, a subjective experience of nonduality in which the difference between us and the world narrows markedly shouldn't be mistaken for a groundbreaking discovery about the nature of reality.
We've all had those kinds of experiences.
Maybe in deep meditation. Maybe in a breathtaking connection with nature. Maybe in a psychedelic drug trip. Maybe in an intense sexual orgasm. There's no end to the ways people feel closer to other people, to the world, to the cosmos.
Yesterday I mowed part of our property, plus our lawn, on a dry Saturday that was a break from an unusually rainy April here in western Oregon. About a month ago I wrote a blog post about how much I'm liking the John Deere X394 lawn tractor that I bought last year.
Now that I'm familiar with what the X394 can do, and am comfortable with the controls, mostly I can sit back and enjoy the power, the four-wheel steering, the power steering, and yes, the cup holder.
I can't say that yesterday afternoon I became one with my lawn tractor. But I definitely felt a pleasing harmony where the mowing flowed harmoniously, in part because mowing on the challenging non-lawn parts of our property requires constant attention.
Branches fall in high winds. I have to look out for them. There's rocks and tree stumps I don't want to mow over, so I have to remember where they are. I have to miss trees and shrubs. All in all, it was a nondual'ish experience, since I felt that the mower and the mowing and the person controlling the mower (me) weren't really separate.
But in no way can I claim this says anything about reality. It was just an experience that I had.