Once again proving my adage that I don't need to buy nearly as many new books as I used to, now that I've realized that every time I re-read a book, it's as a new person, I'm back to taking another look at David Loy's Nonduality.
(That's a newer edition; I have the 2010 version.)
It was just about a year ago that I wrote about the book in my aptly titled post, "Nonduality" is a great book about a fascinating subject. In that post I shared links to three previous posts about the book, the first written in January 2015.
Because I've been writing recently about how nonduality is viewed by Shamil Chandaria in the context of Bayesian predictive processing by the brain, those thoughts are making the book feel fresh again.
I've re-read (or actually re-re-re read, given the different colors of my highlighting in the book) the first few chapters. That reminded me that Loy, who based the book on his doctoral thesis -- he's well qualified both intellectually and spiritually, since he's been a student of Zen for over twenty years and is a Zen teacher -- finds four aspects of nonduality.
The negation of dualistic thinking. The nonplurality of the world. The nondifference of subject and object. The nonduality of duality and nonduality.
His main focus is on the non-difference of subject and object, which also is what Chandaria focused on: the nature of human perception. It's a neuroscientific fact that we don't see the world as it is, but as we experience it.
Meaning, our senses aren't objective transmitters of what's out there in the world, nor of what is in here in the body. For the brain is constantly predicting what will be perceived based on our prior experiences and what the senses are communicating to the brain.
Experience is all there is for us. If we don't experience something, it can't exist for us. So this easy to understand principle, which is unarguable, forms the foundation of nonduality.
There are, of course, objects out there in the world that aren't us. We're not talking about idealism here, where mind or consciousness is the sole reality. All I'm pointing out is that nothing exists for us apart from our experience of it.
Fortunately, we humans have very similar minds and senses. That allows me to approach a traffic light and be very confident that, absent an intoxicated or distracted driver, other cars are going to stop if their light is red and proceed if their light is green, with yellow being an indicator of an impending red light.
Thus even though each of us is necessarily limited to knowing only our own personal experience, the similarities in how we perceive and understand the world allow us to generally inhabit a shared "objective" world. I use quotation marks because there is no truly objective stance we can take to reality.
Nonetheless, here's how I put it last year in Nonduality says nothing about how the world really is.
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.
Nonduality doesn't alter those facts. However, it does allow us to bridge the gap between ourself and the world, since the perceiver, perception, and what is perceived sure appear to be nondual, a unity. They all fit together into a seamless whole, even when we don't consciously realize this.
Science is another way of achieving a shared understanding of reality. For even though scientists are bound by their own inherent subjectivity of personal experience, science has rules and methods for assessing the validity of experience -- as when a scientist reports their observations of a seeming new fact about reality.
Assertions of that sort are put to an inter-subjective test.
A group of scientists looks at the report and critiques it, studying what has been claimed, looking for inadequate conclusions that don't fit the data. While every person inhabits their own experiential reality, it takes a village of scientists to decide whether an assertion about our shared reality holds up.
This is much like the legal system where facts and the law combine to serve as the criteria for a decision by a judge or jury. Facts are detailed observations or experiences. The law is more constant, a benchmark against which the facts of a case are held up to decide innocence or guilt.
Religion is a vastly less reliable guide to knowing the nature of reality since it is largely based on personal experience lacking the validation of others. If someone claims to have experienced God, there's not much that can be said to that person but "that's nice."
It's not like going to Paris and claiming to have experienced the Eiffel Tower. That's a much more credible claim, since the Eiffel Tower is known to exist.
Nonduality of subject and object, of what's perceived and the perceiver, isn't a free pass to asserting that reality is whatever we experience it as. After all, as I noted before, nonduality doesn't say anything about how the world really is.
A psychotic person who hallucinates visions and voices is having a nondual experience -- of their own mentally ill mind.
This gets us into the nonduality of duality of nonduality, where it must be realized that as appealing as nonduality may be for us, a genuine nonduality encompasses the duality of objects that exist, or fail to exist, independent of our experience of them.