Nirvana & Non-Duality

When I read the following words of the Buddha, I see Nirvana as perfect non-duality:

[Aggivessana Vacchagotta:] “But, Master Gotama, the monk whose mind is thus released: Where does he reappear?”

[The Buddha:] “‘Reappear,’ Vaccha, doesn’t apply.”

“In that case, Master Gotama, he does not reappear.”

“‘Does not reappear,’ Vaccha, doesn’t apply.”

“…both does & does not reappear.”

“…doesn’t apply.”

“…neither does nor does not reappear.”

“…doesn’t apply.”

"How is it, Master Gotama, when Master Gotama is asked if the monk reappears… does not reappear… both does & does not reappear… neither does nor does not reappear, he says, ‘…doesn’t apply’ in each case…

Freed from the classification of form, Vaccha, the Tathagata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea. ‘Reappears’ doesn’t apply. ‘Does not reappear’ doesn’t apply. ‘Both does & does not reappear’ doesn’t apply. ‘Neither reappears nor does not reappear’ doesn’t apply.
Nibbana: nibbana

Please compare the above words of the Buddha to the Non-Duality Chapter of the Vimalakirti Sutra:

In the words of Rev. Walpola Rahula, “Nirvana is beyond all terms of duality and relativity. It is therefore beyond our conceptions of good and evil, right and wrong, existence and non-existence.”

Parinirvana is a perfect state of non-duality, beyond existence and non-existence, beyond any sense of separation or distinction between Nirvana and oneself.


Does not apply.


Some see nirvana as perfect duality?

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I feel like Ven Nāgārjuna would say something like “phenomena are characterized as neither dual nor non-dual”. My guess.

Perfect non-duality is beyond duality and non-duality, just as emptiness is empty of inherent existence.

In a way, you are exactly right:

When the bodhisattvas had given their explanations, they all addressed the crown prince Manjusri: “Manjusri, what is the bodhisattva’s entrance into nonduality?”

Manjusri replied, “Good sirs, you have all spoken well. Nevertheless, all your explanations are themselves dualistic. To know no one teaching, to express nothing, to say nothing, to explain nothing, to announce nothing, to indicate nothing, and to designate nothing - that is the entrance into nonduality.”

Then the crown prince Manjusri said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, “We have all given our own teachings, noble sir. Now, may you elucidate the teaching of the entrance into the principle of nonduality!”

Thereupon, the Licchavi Vimalakirti kept his silence, saying nothing at all.

The crown prince Manjusri applauded the Licchavi Vimalakirti: “Excellent! Excellent, noble sir! This is indeed the entrance into the nonduality of the bodhisattvas. Here there is no use for syllables, sounds, and ideas.
Vimalakirti Sutra - Chapter 9: The Dharma-Door of Nonduality

We are ultimately talking about a reality beyond words and concepts.

Nirvana is not samsara. Destinations matter not whether it is dual or otherwise.

Ajhan Chah said those who think Nirvana is Samsara haven’t meditated enough!


This sounds more like Advaita, the merging of Atman with Brahman. Is this another one of your perennialist threads?

I don’t think the Mahayanists would agree. :yum:

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There’s at least two ways one can take a “neither X nor non-X” statement.

Hint hint!

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One last cryptic hint from me suggests readers take a look at the eighteenth section of MMK and see “neither self nor no-self” as a general “neither X nor not X” statement. There are basically two ways to read such a statement. One of them is Madhyamaka, one of them is beyond the pale. One of them takes the words at face value, not this, not that, and the other extrapolates, not this, not that, maybe because there is both this and that?

Which suggestion leads to the ending of speech?

Perhaps if Ven Nāgārjuna is guilty of any heresy, it is not suggesting that nirvana is samsara, but rather, suggesting that there is no nirvana. At which point I would recommend the twenty-fifth section of MMK, which contains the infamous so-oft-called “non-dual” phrase conflating nirvana and samsara:

涅槃與世間 無有少分別
[Between] nirvāna and this world [there is] not even a slight disparity

世間與涅槃 亦無少分別
[Between] this world and nirvāṇa [there is] also not [even] slight disparity

涅槃之實際 及與世間際
[From] nirvāṇa’s true apex towards this world’s apex

如是二際者 無毫釐差別
like this there are two apices [and like this there is] not the smallest sliver of disparity [between them]


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We can talk about how Nirvana is no different from Samsara, but I haven’t mentioned that yet.

Instead, I’ve focused on the experience of Nirvana itself as beyond existence and non-existence.

Because Nirvana is thus expressed in negative terms, there are many who
have got a wrong notion that it is negative, and expresses self-annihilation. Nirvana
is definitely no annihilation of self, because there is no self to annihilate. If at all, it is
the annihilation of the illusion, of the false idea of self. It is incorrect to say that
Nirvana is negative or positive. The idea of ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ are relative, and
are within the realm of duality. These terms cannot be applied to Nirvana, Absolute
Truth, which is beyond duality and relativity

So Nirvana, Mutti or
Vimutti, the Absolute Freedom, is freedom from all evil, freedom from craving,
hatred and ignorance, freedom from all terms of duality, relativity, time and space

Nirvana is beyond all terms of duality and relativity. It is therefore beyond
our conceptions of good and evil, right and wrong, existence and non-existence.
Chapter 4 - What The Buddha Taught

In the experience of final Nirvana, there is no sense of separation or distinction between Nirvana and oneself.

If you’d like to talk about how Nirvana is no different from Samsara, that’s also mentioned in What the Buddha Taught:

The realization of this Truth, i.e., to see things as they are without illusion or
ignorance is the extinction of craving ‘thirst’ and the cessation (Nirodha) of dukkha,
which is Nirvana. It is interesting and useful to remember here the Mahayana view
of Nirvana as not being different from Samsara. The same thing is Samsara or
Nirvana according to the way you look at it - subjectively or objectively. This
Mahayana view was probably developed out of the ideas found in the original
Theravada Pali texts, to which we have just referred in our brief discussion.
Chapter 4 - What The Buddha Taught

Was Rev. Walpola Rahula a perennialist?

This would be non-duality between existence and non-existence, self and non-self.

Of course, all divergent views derived from Buddhism were derived from the Buddha’s original words. It hardly justifies buddha nature ending up as atta for example.

The teaching that Nirvana is no different from Samsara might be misunderstood.

It’s not that Nirvana and Samsara are one and the same. It’s obviously not the same for those still stuck in cyclical existence.

It’s instead that there’s no ultimate separation between Nirvana and Samsara.

Or that neither one exists. The world does not exist. Why would Nibbāna? There are at least two ways to read the equivalence.

We can set aside the teaching that Nirvana is no different from Samsara and just look at the Buddha’s words in the Pali canon related to the experience of Nirvana.

If Nirvana is the unconditioned, then it’s unconditioned by any kind of duality. The fourth Dharma seal is that Nirvana is beyond extremes, i. e. beyond all duality.

Is there something scary about the term non-duality?

That might be an extreme interpretation of Madhyamika. There is a very good reason why Nirvana exists rather than doesn’t exist:

‘O bhikkhus, there is the unborn, ungrown, and unconditioned. Were there not the unborn, ungrown, and unconditioned, there would be no escape for the born, grown, and conditioned. Since there is the unborn, ungrown, and unconditioned, so there is escape for the born, grown, and conditioned.’
The Third Noble Truth - Walpola Rahula: What the Buddha Taught

A “sattva” also exists. Only it also doesn’t. It depends on your perspective. It all depends on your perspective. Ven Nāgārjuna’s outlined perspective, on its own metrics, is informed by the cessation of body, speech, and mind. Which Madhyamaka is most conducive to those cessations?