Good article I read many years ago by David Loy: http://enlight.lib.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-JOCP/jc26559.htm 

Nondual Thinking
By David Loy

Journal of Chinese Philosophy
Vol. 13 (1986)
pp. 293-309

Copyright 1986 by Dialogue Publishing Company




p. 293 Nondual Thinking
Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Vol. 13 (1986)

I never think - my thoughts think for me. (Lamartine [1])

Much of Asian philosophy constitutes a radical critique of thinking as it usually occurs. It is commonly claimed that the superimpositions of thought-projection (vikalpa and prapañca) obscure the actual nature of experience. Given the emphasis on meditation, during which one "lets go" of thoughts, one might conclude that thinking has solely the negative effect of an interference that distorts reality, and hence that we should strive to eliminate or minimize it. This inference would be an error: thought is not to be rejected, but its actual nature must be clarified. If thought-construction distorts perception, so perception might be said to interfere with thought. When the thought-forming activity of the mind is preoccupied with a system of representation and intention, then something fundamental about the nature of thoughts is obscured also. In Ch'an, the fifth of Kuo-an Shih-yuan's Ten Oxherding Pictures describes a stage of enlightenment in which thoughts too are not to be rejected: "Enlightenment brings the realization that thoughts are not unreal since even they arise from our True-nature. It is only because delusion still remains that they are imagined to be unreal". [2]
    The problem is not thoughts per se but more specifically a certain type of thinking, variously called "reasoning", "conceptualizing", "dualistic thinking", etc. But exactly what these terms refer to is not clear, especially if an alternative mode of thinking is supposed. What kind of thinking is left if we eliminate "reasoning"? If "conceptualizing" means "thinking that employs concepts", it is difficult to conceive of what thinking without concepts could be. Dualistic thinking is easier to understand: thinking which uses dualistic categories such as being and nonbeing, samsara and nirvana, pure and impure. The usual criticism of such thinking is that although


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Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Vol. 13 (1986)
distinctions are made in order to choose one half, the interdependence of the two terms means that to affirm one is also to maintain the other: in clinging to life I reveal my obsession with death, and my desire for success is equal to my fear of failure. But isn't all thinking dualistic in its alternation between assertion and negation? If such thinking is eliminated, what remains? What is "nondual thinking"? The concern of this paper is to characterize the difference between such problematic modes of thinking and whatever type is supposed to occur after enlightenment.

I.    Prajña

    Another nonduality, the nondifference of subject and object, is a crucial-perhaps the crucial-concept for several of those Eastern systems which criticize reasoning/conceptualizing-particularly Mahayana Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, and Taoism. This suggests that a fruitful approach to the question of the true nature of thinking might be to investigate whether thinking is (or can be) nondual in this second sense-that is, without a thinker distinct from the thoughts that he thinks. The concept of prajña as developed in Mahayana seems to be an instance of this: Prajña is often defined as that knowing in which there is no distinction between the knower, that which is known, and the act of knowing. D.T. Suzuki begins his paper on "Reason and Intuition in Buddhist Philosophy" by thus distinguishing prajña from vijñana:
    Prajna goes beyond vijnana. We make use of vijnana in our world of the senses and intellect, which is characterized by dualism in the sense that there is the one who sees and there is the other that is seen-the two standing in opposition. In prajna this differentiation does not take place: what is seen and the one who sees are identical; the seer is the seen and the seen is the seer. [3]
In his chart listing the various counterbalancing characteristics of prajña and vijñana, the former includes "Non-duality" in contrast to the latter's "duality". [4] The title of Suzuki's paper derives from his translation of the two Sanskrit terms: Vijñana he translates "reason or discursive under-


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Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Vol. 13 (1986)
standing", in contrast to prajña which is translated, perhaps unfortunately, as "intuition". The main philosophical meaning of intuition is "the immediate apprehension of an object by the mind without the intervention of any reasoning process" [5] -- as in Spinoza's scientia intuitiva, the third and highest form of knowledge, the perception of a thing "through its essence alone", which does not consist in being convinced by reasons but in an immediate union with the thing itself. Thus Suzuki's term is an appropriate one to describe nonduality. However, it may be unwise in that "intuition" more commonly suggests another faculty of mind apart from the intellect, whereas the function of "intuition" here is nothing other than the function of the intellect when it is experienced nondually. As Suzuki repeatedly emphasizes, prajña underlies vijñana:
...if we think that there is a thing denoted as prajna and another denoted as vijnana and that they are forever separated and not to be brought to the state of unification, we shall be completely on the wrong track. [6]
vijnana cannot work without having prajna behind it; parts are parts of the whole; parts never exist by themselves, for if they did they would not be parts-they would even cease to exist. [7]
    The etymologies of vijñana and prajña are revealing. Both have the same root jña, "to know". The vi- prefix of vijñana (also in vi-kalpa and vi-tarka) signifies "separation or differentiation"; hence it refers to that type of knowing which functions by discriminating one thing from another--the most fundamental discrimination being that of the knower from the known. In contrast, the pra-prefix of prajña means "being born or springing up" [8] -- presumably by itself, evidently referring to a more spontaneous type of knowing in which the thought no longer seems to be the product of a subject, but is experienced as arising from a deeper nondual source. In such knowing the thought and that which is conscious of the thought are one. One important implication of this is that it is impossible to observe one's thoughts objectively. The Śiksāsamuccaya of Śantideva contains a meditation on thought which dwells on this point:


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Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Vol. 13 (1986)
...For thought, Kāśyapa, cannot be apprehended, inside or outside, or in between both. For thought is immaterial, invisible,, non-resisting, inconceivable, unsupported and homeless. Thought has never been seen by any of the Buddhas, nor do they see it, nor will they see it. . . . A thought is like the stream of a river, without any staying power; as soon as it is produced it breaks up and disappears. ... A thought is like lightning, it breaks up in a moment and does not stay on....
    Searching for thought all round, he does not see it within or without... Can then thought review thought? No, thought cannot review thought. As the blade of a sword cannot cut itself, as a finger-tip cannot touch itself, so a thought cannot see itself. [9]
But this seems contradicted by our experience. Surely thought can review itself; doesn't this happen often, whenever we ponder the logical implications of some thought as part of a sequence of reasoning? The point of the passage must be that the various thought-elements of such a sequence do not co-exist in the mind at the same time. At any moment there can be only one thought; a "review" of that thought, or any other thought that arises, is a completely new thought. The next section will explore the implications of this.

II.    "An Unsupported Thought"

It thinks, one ought to say. We become aware of certain representations which do not depend on us; others depend on us, or at least so we believe; where is the boundary? One should say, it thinks,just as one says, it rains.
- Lichtenberg [10]

    In the Western philosophical tradition, the denial of a thinker is even more radical than the denial of the subject as a perceiver or an agent. Modern philosophy begins with Descartes' postulation of the subject which functions autonomously as its own criterion of truth, and this subject is founded on the


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Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Vol. 13 (1986)
fact that the act of thinking requires a thinker, an "I" to be doing it.
What of thinking? I find here that thought is an attribute that belongs to me: it alone cannot be separated from me. I am, I exist, that is certain. But how often? Just when I think; for it might possibly be the case if I ceased entirely to think, that I should likewise cease to exist.. . . I am, however, a real thing and really exist; but what thing? I have answered: a thing which thinks. [11]
Descartes argues that it is self-contradictory to doubt my own existence. "For it is so evident of itself that it is I who doubts, who understands, and who desires, that there is no reason here to add anything to explain it". [12] As a proof, this begs the question: To assume that "I" am doubting my own existence is to go beyond what is empirically given. What is experienced is thoughts, some of which involve the concept "I", but from this it is illegitimate to infer a thinker distinct from the thought. No cogito can be derived from cogitans.
    In reaction, Hume's conception of the mind denies the existence of any identifiable self and emphasizes the "intentionality" of all consciousness, that consciousness is always consciousness of something:
I never catch myself at any time without a perception, and can never observe anything but the perception. When my perceptions are removed for any time, as by sound sleep, so long am I insensible to myself, and may truly be said not to exist. [13]
The intentionality of "dualistic" consciousness is essential to the nondualist, for this is implied by the claim that there is no self apart from its experience. John Levy has elaborated this concept into what is perhaps the classic argument against subject-object duality:
When I am conscious of an object, that is, of a notion or a precept, that object alone is present. When I am conscious of my perceiving, what alone presents itself to consciousness is the notion that I perceive the object: and therefore the notion of my


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Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Vol. 13 (1986)
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