Duality or something else

The Dvedhavitakka Sutta speaks to two ways of thinking. Help me understand how this Sutta isn’t dualistic. Thank you.

Greetings EWW and welcome to the Discourse forum of Sutta Central. :slight_smile:

Could you provide a reference number for the sutta you are asking about please. Doing a quick search using the title you gave, I couldn’t find it.

Also it is easier for people to answer your question if you make it really clear what you are looking for, as such perhaps you can elaborate on your questions a little.

All the best

Metta :slightly_smiling_face:


Here’s the link!
Two Types of Thought Dvedhāvitakka Sutta MN 19

Hi @eww. I think from your question maybe you’re coming at it from a non-dual background? Maybe you’re familiar with some non-dual teachings? Otherwise maybe you’ve heard references in the Mahayana tradition?

First thing to mention is that dualism and non-dualism are terms that have lots of different meanings in different contexts. Some say there is a degree of “nondualism” in some later Buddhist traditions but they are often quite different from the very specific teachings of the contemporary non-dual movement. Thise teachings have usually arisen out of the Hindu tradition or have come out of more recent consciousness movements like those espoused by Ekhardt Tolle and Mooji. But these are not necessarily ideas that we can retrospectively apply to the thought world of the Buddha. It’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges.

Contrary to some ideas that are out there in the world, in the early Buddhist texts, the Buddha didn’t teach a non dual doctrine. He often spoke about the path in dualistic terms. We can see this most especially in the two terms kusaka and akusala which are opposite mental states actions and speech. Kusala is wholesome/good/skilful/beneficial. In terms of Right Effort (Sama Vayama) these are states which we should try to develop and maintain. Akusala on the other hand are unwholesome/bad/unskilful/unbeneficial states, which we should prevent and abandon. This combination of cultivating the good and abandoning the bad is at the very core of the Buddhist path, and so, we need to be able to distinguish thoughts of each type. Essentially this is what the Two Types of Thought Sutta is about.

In the Sutta the Buddha is remembering a period when he was not yet enlightened, when he was still the bodhisattva. He deliberately divided his thoughts into two categories:

‘Why don’t I meditate by continually dividing my thoughts into two classes?’ So I assigned sensual, malicious, and cruel thoughts to one class. And I assigned thoughts of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness to the second class.

This is the second factor if the Noble Eightfold Path,
Sama Sankappo or Rightt Thought or Right Motivation. Here the division pairs each type of right thought with its opposite: renunciation is the opposite of sensual thought etc.

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that these different mental qualities have certain results. Seeing this, the bodhisatta can determine which types of thought to cultivate and which types of thought to abandon to overcome the problem of suffering.

I understood: ‘This sensual thought has arisen in me. It leads to hurting myself, hurting others, and hurting both. It blocks wisdom, it’s on the side of anguish, and it doesn’t lead to extinguishment.’ When I reflected that it leads to hurting myself, it went away. When I reflected that it leads to hurting others, it went away. When I reflected that it leads to hurting both, it went away. When I reflected that it blocks wisdom, it’s on the side of anguish, and it doesn’t lead to extinguishment, it went away. So I gave up, got rid of, and eliminated any sensual thoughts that arose…

This has important ramifications for us, as over time the results of the ways we think will end up defining us:

Whatever a mendicant frequently thinks about and considers becomes their heart’s inclination. If they often think about and consider thoughts of renunciation, they’ve given up sensual thought to cultivate the thought of renunciation. Their mind inclines to thoughts of renunciation. If they often think about and consider thoughts of good will … their mind inclines to thoughts of good will. If they often think about and consider thoughts of harmlessness … their mind inclines to thoughts of harmlessness.

So the purpose of deliberately creating a dualistic framework in this sutta is to help people understand the different types of thoughts that arise, and how to recognise which ones are helpful and unhelpful to overcome suffering.

In this sutta, we see that there are qualities like investigation and evaluation of the types of thoughts arising and the act of letting them go or cultivating them. This might seem a bit “thinky” for some non dual teachers, who prefer to go beyond verbalising or beyond mental concepts, but it demonstrates the ethical nature of thought in the Buddha’s meditation practice. The Buddha didn’t insist that all meditation should be free of thought. In fact, in this Sutta he acknowledges that thinking occurs and tells us how to work with it for the best results.

Also note that in the sutta, these thinking and evaluating processes occur prior to the description of jhana and are only used up to a point before being abandoned for more stillness and deeper meditation :

If I were to keep on thinking and considering this all night … all day … all night and day, I see no danger that would come from that. Still, thinking and considering for too long would tire my body. And when the body is tired, the mind is stressed. And when the mind is stressed, it’s far from immersion. So I stilled, settled, unified, and immersed my mind internally. Why is that? So that my mind would not be stressed.

Maybe they could be considered like a contemplation or a preliminary practice, which helps to prepare the mind for the deeper states of jhana. That is where we can expect to see discursive thought disappear, the hindrances being suppressed and the mind becoming unified. This experience of ekkaagata, one-pointedness or unification is not dualistic, the mind is completely unified and absorbed. It’s reaches it peak in the 4th jhana:

With the giving up of pleasure and pain, and the ending of former happiness and sadness, I entered and remained in the fourth absorption, without pleasure or pain, with pure equanimity and mindfulness.

It’s in jhana that all the boundaries and distinctions dissolve. This is sometimes talked about as oneness or integration or non-dual, but it’s quite debatable that it is the same exact thing that we find talked about in non-dual teachings. Still, this feeling of oneness and connection is something that many meditators feel at various stages of the path.

Hope this helps with your question.


Theravada practice is based on duality.

“The Blessed One said, "Monks, before my self-awakening, when I was still just an unawakened Bodhisatta, the thought occurred to me: ‘Why don’t I keep dividing my thinking into two sorts?’ So I made thinking imbued with sensuality, thinking imbued with ill will, & thinking imbued with harmfulness one sort, and thinking imbued with renunciation, thinking imbued with non-ill will, & thinking imbued with harmlessness another sort.

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose in me. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.’

"As I noticed that it leads to my own affliction, it subsided. As I noticed that it leads to the affliction of others… to the affliction of both… it obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding, it subsided. Whenever thinking imbued with sensuality had arisen, I simply abandoned it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence.”

  1. MN 19 gives a valuable insight into the mind of the Bodhisatta and the kind of thought process that leads to enlightenment. We see his initial discovery that simply by creating duality in the mind whereby unwholesome thoughts are isolated and identified and their repercussions traced and studied, then that recognition in itself leads to their subsiding.

  2. That process was after enlightenment codified under the enlightenment factor of Investigation of Phenomena:

“There are karmically good and karmically bad things… right and wrong counterparts of bright and dark things, and an abundance of right reflection on them is the reason conducive to the arising of the non-arisen enlightenment factor of investigation” —-MN 10

  1. In SN 14.11 a further exposition is given of the necessity of the recognition of contrasts which is fundamental to Theravada practice:

“"Monk, the property of light is discerned in dependence on darkness. The property of beauty is discerned in dependence on the unattractive. The property of the dimension of the infinitude of space is discerned in dependence on form. etc.”

  1. "thinking imbued with renunciation, thinking imbued with non-ill will, & thinking imbued with harmlessness "—MN 19
    This is the second link of the Noble Eightfold Path, Right Resolve and above is mentioned the second factor of enlightenment, which together show the beginnings of the Buddha’s doctrine emerging in MN 19 pre-enlightenment.

Identity view is dualistic. With identity view there is “me” and there are “others”. MN19 starts with the dualistic view of listeners and encourages the abandoning of dualistic identity view. There are other “dualities” (e.g., the Buddha had a left eye and a right eye), but the dualistic view to be abandoned is identity view.

MN19:26.11: ‘The safe, secure path that leads to happiness’ is a term for the noble eightfold path, that is: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right immersion.


I consider those suttas about Before his enlightenment later suttas. But my opinion is Buddha still said you have to even let go of good Dharma. Non-duality is actually probably inspired in Buddha Time by Buddha preaching to Brahmins. For example in Sutta Nipata he talks how others talk about duality and are attached to that. So it’s all about going beyond duality. Leave bad Dharma. Cultivate good Dharma. Leave higher good Dharma. Leave everything. Let go of good and bad.


Indeed, there are not many, different, perennial truths In the world, except by means of perception.
So having contrived a speculation from among the views They speak of a duality of “truth” and “falsehood.”

  1. The seen, the heard, morality and observances, and the felt— Depending upon these he is disdainful;
    And standing in his discrimination, scoffing,
    He says “The other is a fool, not an adept.”

Correct me if I’m wrong Bhantes. But Wasn’t the simile of the boat to be used only to cross the river and left behind. Meaning leaving even attachment to virtues that is only to cultivate higher Dharma. Like some monks are asked by a “devadata” why they don’t recite stanzas anymore. It’s because they have already done the work. No attachment anymore to such things. In verses to devadatas in Samyutta Nikaya.

But Buddha does say we have to observe duality. But I think is to learn and leave both behind. Let go. Where there is a beyond natural feeling of not inferior, not equal, not superior.

But we actually it’s only different to Normal teaching of non duality because he really teaching the best way to let go of everything. Letting go of identity view until you mind can’t go further. Non-identity. No life or death. Because no new karma is born. And there won’t be new death in next life. Mental dharmas is seen as just rising and ceasing. And not yours.


I suspect this is the Mahayana trap.

I suspect that what we take to be an expression of non-duality is in fact Zen teachers’—past and present—attempts to jolt us out of words and thinking altogether. When we keep arguing about it, we probably miss the point.

Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh quotes this anecdote to illustrate misunderstandings of the Heart Sutra:

The novice monk joined his palms and replied [to the teacher]:

“I have understood that the five skandhas are empty. There are no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind […] and even wisdom and attainment do not exist.”

“Do you believe what it says?”

“Yes, I truly believe what it says.”

“Come closer to me,” the Zen master instructed the novice monk. When the novice monk drew near, the Zen master immediately used his thumb and index finger to pinch and twist the novice’s nose.

In great agony, the novice cried out, “Teacher! You’re hurting me!” The Zen master looked at the novice. “Just now you said that the nose doesn’t exist. But if the nose doesn’t exist, then what’s hurting?

Similarly confusingly, Korean Zen monk Seung Sahn used the metaphor of the “Zen circle” to illustrate the changing views of a Zen practitioner through her/his journey. The point that the Zen circle attempts to make is that when you get “enlightened,” you arrive at where you started: you traveled from zero to 360 degrees. You are supposed to abandon the view that “everything is emptiness” (illustrated at 180°).

I doubt that any of these attempts at explaining Buddhist practice have anything to do with the Pali canon. I also doubt that any of these attempts were aiming to create more thinking.

And specifically the view that “all is one” seems to be in direct conflict with nirodha: the cessation of all things. There can’t be one where there is none.

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One thing nirodha. If that is one thing. All greed, hate, delusion. Gone. Freedom. That is One. There is only one feeling. Freedom. Don’t ask if freedom where not supposed to be in duality. When the man finally goes out of jail. He feel free, but there is still worldy worries. Where is my family? Shall I find a job? Shall my enemies come to kill me? Imagine all this mental worries gone. Stepping out of jail. Is just stepping out of jail. Whatever language is used to explain your getting out of jail. Can not actually be compared to the freedom you just got. But you just call it freedom so people can understand you. The phone call you did before going out of jail, was a explanation to your friend, that your finally getting your freedom today. But the time of stepping out. That Freedom. It’s not the same you said on phone. But you did one thing. Step out of jail. And one thing. Get your freedom. Nothing else. That’s the only thing that matters. Happiness. Just sit down. Let go. Of all the greed , hate , delusion of being inmate. Now is the only time that matters. There is no going back. Once you had that last step. No words. But out of compassion you explain the youth to not follow the path as you did in your past. You try best to explain it. But some fall into the trap. Some become professional at staying out of the game. Sadly some join the circus. :circus_tent: and keep jumping around doing tricks just like monkeys :monkey: :rofl:

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Not cessation of all things .
Nirodha is about cessation of dukkha , not about the five aggregates . It is the defilements that ceased to be .


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In Theravada there is always a duality between samsara and nibbana even for arahants. The arahant sees and knows suffering but is not attached to it.

“Sensing a feeling of pleasure, he senses it disjoined from it. Sensing a feeling of pain, he senses it disjoined from it. Sensing a feeling of neither-pleasure-nor-pain, he senses it disjoined from it. This is called a well-instructed disciple of the noble ones disjoined from birth, aging, & death; from sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs. He is disjoined, I tell you, from suffering & stress.” —SN 36.6


DN 15 on dependent origination must be saying something about this but I am not fluent enough yet.

I don’t want to deviate from the topic of this OP, but here is a post by Bhante Sujato that might help you understand cessation better:

Hi bradif1,

If I may offer a brief suggestion, cessation means both that everything completely ceases, and that things partly cease.

A paradox? Not really! It’s just a matter of time.

When someone attains arahantship, certain of the aspects of dependent origination cease immediately, such as ignorance, craving, and grasping. Things such as rebirth in a new life also “cease” immediately, although in a somewhat different sense, because here what is meant is the potential for rebirth.

Other things, like feelings, six senses, and so on, do not cease immediately. But since the cause for them is no longer present, they will inevitably cease in the future, i.e. when the person dies.

This distinction stems from the nature of the conditions in the series. The nature of the conditional link between members of the series varies in complex ways. However they have one thing in common: they are a necessary condition.

So when the causal link is broken, the exact manner in which that manifests will vary. However, there is one thing they all have in common: when their necessary condition is gone, the thing itself will cease.

tl;dr: in dependent origination, when ignorance ceases, everything else ceases, but some things take some time.


Looks like you forgot to link Bhante Sujato’s post.
With Metta


Practitioners at an intermediate stage are able to experience this to a degree. It proceeds from the mental seclusion which develops from practising non-attachment and this link should become a subject of observation, as well as increasing categorization of conventional reality. No knowledge of dependent origination is needed, but monitoring and belief in psychological cause and effect is necessary.

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Hi , two ways , three ways , many ways not necessarily something “dualistic” , it just an analysis . Buddha was an analyst .



I found a sutta that explain properly that it’s about the one that sees with wisdom . I thought I share for future user’s.

“This world, Kaccana, for the most part depends upon a duality—upon the notion of existence and the notion of nonexistence. But for one who sees the origin of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of nonexistence in regard to the world. And for one who sees the cessation of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of existence in regard to the world.

The misunderstanding comes actually when you think it’s already like that. But it comes when you become Arahant.

And besides that. Nirvana. And parinirvana is two different things. That’s why Buddha still hurt himself. One is having Nirvana in this life. The other is getting out of it.

The other misinterpretation came because. Nirvana and Samsara was believed to be something about heaven and earth.

Because Anāgāmi will go heaven. But that’s the main reason Mahayana started with Buddha Land. Because they thought that’s the final goal , heaven. But we can’t control our karma of the past. That’s why the two different Arahants. But truly it’s in this life. We are aiming for Nibbāna.

I think the discussion that created in the beginning of history of Buddhism was that Arahant can fall. That created all these doubt in the teachings of Buddha.

On top of that scriptures was being lost in India so there came bunch of new interpretations. That’s why now in modern times we stick to early teaching.

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This is so so helpful addressing a confusion I’ve had. Thank you! :pray:


I was thinking more about this concept of duality and non-duality. As mentioned in a separate post, I agree with the concept that the Buddha’s teachings are based on duality as Bhikkhu Bodhi mentioned in the post you kindly referred me to elsewhere (Dhamma and Non-Duality ). One phrase that had me confused, though, was in MN137. There, the Buddha states:

Therein, relying on equanimity based on unity, give up equanimity based on diversity. 20.2 That’s how it is given up. 20.3 Relying on non-identification, give up equanimity based on unity

The Buddha is using duality as a technique to progress along the path (use one to give up the other), but he also, interestingly, mentions them as a sequence–starting with diversity, then unity and finally, non-identification.

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I also recently read MN121, and Piya Tan’s helpful commentary on it. In MN121, there is frequent mention of “oneness” (ekatta) based on contemplating emptiness. For example:

Furthermore, a mendicant—ignoring the perception of people and the perception of wilderness—focuses on the oneness dependent on the perception of earth. Their mind becomes eager, confident, settled, and decided in that perception of earth.

This progresses through the arupa ayatanas and beyond to conclude with “focuses on the oneness dependent on the signless immersion of the heart” leading to nirvana. This seems to parallel the structure of MN137 (which as mentioned earlier outlines a sequence–starting with diversity, then unity and finally, non-identification) where awareness of oneness (ekatta) is part of the path, but ultimately discarded.

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