Readings from David Loy – “Nonduality” (updated 9/14/10)

This is a running log of my readings of David Loy’s, “Nonduality”. The most recent comments are at the top of the post.

I am merely jotting down impressions, thoughts and questions as I read Professor Loy’s book. There is absolutely no attempt to systematize a critique or even make assertions that are not hugely bracketed.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Chapter 3

The discussion of wei-wu-wei in Taoism, action that is non-action, has some good illustrations. I like the illustrations of how children play. Certainly, children have action (frenzied at times) and could rarely be characterized as ‘laid back’. They also have intention. What they lack is a very well developed sense of ‘I’. This does mean they are not self-centered at times. What it means is that they are not burdened and encumbered with angst, guilt, morality, inhibition, etc. These kinds of descriptions seem to be more associated with being older.

I also like the quotes from Nietzsche. His inversion, the body does the mind, roots the un-rooted metaphysics of the Occident in the ‘unseen’, going under. Just as the techne of the artist produces the work of art, ‘I’ is the work of the body. By ‘body’ I would think that phenomenology could add some meaning.

History in not reenacted in every cerebral event of ‘now’ moments. It is carried along in its entirety throughout dasein’s (the there of human being’s) stretch of lived time (as Heidegger thought). An infant is not a tabula rasa that has to learn everything from scratch. Historicality is carried along in our being, our body. (1) It is worlding as Heidegger calls it. Worlding is how the whole, language and pre-cognitive understanding, is always already in our ‘theres’. However, it does not seem to start out as a well developed theme, a canon. It seems that the ‘work’ of every human is to actualize it as ‘I’. The narratives of history that we adopt get taken up as ‘I’. Children have not yet refined and actualized the work of ‘I’. This does not mean they are ‘I-less’ (although autism is a kind of retardation of this development) but that they are less inhibited in action and intention. They do not need to consult their ‘I” about their activity. They simply act from innocence and the sheer joy and newness of (their/the) ‘there’. This seems to me to get at wei-wu-wei.

The criticism that Dr. Loy brings up about pure wantonness or acting like a spoiled child probably deserves more thought. There is a difference from what we call in the Deep South a ‘red neck’ and a spoiled child. A child’s wantonness is not captivated by their sense of ‘I’. It is more like an immediate impulse in the absence (but on the way to) an ‘I’. The drunken bravado of the ‘red neck’ is perhaps also an immediate impulse but from the point of view of an ‘I’ that is captured by itself and is no longer on the way to its development. Additionally, there are pathological examples of the development of the ‘I’ that are more extreme than a ‘red neck’ like vegetative, psychopathic, sociopathic, serial killer that seem to all involve a deviation from normal social development of the work named in ‘I’. Children have the potential for the development of the ‘I’ as normative. Those that are older have actualized their disposition to an ‘I’, as pathological or normative. Just as adult bones are capped, the epiphyseal plate completely ossifies, so ‘I’ caps worlding of ‘there’. I think that the normative ‘I’ is not monotonic but has ranges from closed to open, oriented to the past or the future, totalitarian or other oriented, etc. Just as the artist’s techne determines the work, normative beings are more than passive with regard to the ‘I’ of (their/the) ‘there’. In any case, as Aristotle pointed out, the cause of the ‘I’ as I am suggesting here would be: hule (raw material, the whatness), telos (goal, the fulfillment and completion, the towards which), eidos (the knowledge of the artist about materials, brush strokes, etc,, the how) and techne (a gathering or bringing together of the other causes, the from which) (2) The capacity for the work of the ‘I’ is what makes anything such as self-determination and Absolute Spirit of Hegel, the alienation of Marx, social contract theory, psychology, an overman of Nietzsche, the enframing (standing reserve) of Heidegger, etc. possible. It is also the possibility for enlightenment, the extinction of ‘I’, as Dr Loy discusses.

I am not so thrilled with what I see as the devolution of Dr. Loy’s discussion into idealism or realism but I understand that this was very much a part of the audience he was writing to in the eighties and probably still applicable in Occidental, analytic philosophy. I can see that Dr. Loy has been influenced by empiricists, positivists, analytic philosophers, etc. but that is not uncommon in the United States. (3)

(1) Perhaps other contributing evidence would be
a. Chomsky’s deep language structures that cannot be reduced to one individual’s activity
b. Jung’s cross-cultural symbols that cannot be linked as cause and effect but are better explained as psychological archetypes
c. Freud’s psychic structure of conscious/unconscious and id, ego, superego
d. Capacities embedded biologically by evolution
(3) It is amazing to me that Colorado University’s philosophy department in Boulder is chiefly analytic. Generally, students can always get into those classes but one continental philosopher, Dr. Michael Zimmerman, always has his classes full…you would think the department would have to think analytically about that…I guess capitalism and careers is an impediment to academia and logic…


Friday, September 3, 2010
Chapter 2 continued

Heidegger would not deny nondual, meditation, Samadhi, exceptional, profound, ecstatic, mystical or pathological experiences. As a phenomenologist he would try to see in these experiences what shows itself. Dr. Loy is also looking into what shows itself and thus, in this sense, is acting as a phenomenologist. His primary method is to find what shows itself in the texts. He also wants to bring his theory (theoria; his way of seeing) into praxis with the actual experiences of others. Phenomenologists were very cautious about bringing theoria into observations because as human, we are historical and they did not want to repeat the mistakes of historical ‘seeing’. Thus, Heidegger did not want to read the ontology through the lens of Latin and subsequent Christendom. This is why he read ontology through the Greeks and Aristotle. In this way he saw the beginning of ontology in a radically different way and found what he thought were the mistakes that derailed Occidental history, the loss of the difference of being and beings and their presencing, the ‘there’ of being. Form this abstractions such as space as linear, time as a succession of ‘now’ moments, substance, mind/body, subject/object – dualism, Occidental history lost the ‘there’ of our experience and wandered in the wasteland of abstractions for millennia. However, fundamentally he found his way by noticing that our lived experience diverged from our abstraction of how we thought we lived. This gave him another clue, that as ‘there’ we are historical beings. We ‘see’ (theoria) from our history not merely some ‘brute facts’ of ‘reality’. He saw that this way of seeing was a mode, a historical mode, of understanding our ‘there’ as present-at-hand. He also saw that there are other ways of being ‘there’ such as instrumentality. The result of this is that our theoria guided our common understanding and diverged from our common experiences.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010
More impressions in Chapter 2

It seems to me that Dr. Loy’s description of Zen and the sound of the bell (previously remarked upon) are very reminiscent of Heidegger and my initial discussion of the different modalities of being already mentioned in this post. He has spent a lot of time on the notions of savikalpa (perception that has been differentiated into names, forms, labels, recognizable categories, etc.) and nivikalpa (‘bare’ perception that is not yet differentiated into savikalpa) in early Buddhism. It seems to me that one impediment to understanding this is to be looking for some sort of ‘mystical’ state in non-dual nivikalpa.

At the beginning of Western metaphysics stands Plato’s Forms. The Forms were the perfection of everything perceived by the sense. Thus the ideal triangle was the perfection of all empirical triangles perceived by sight. Aristotle rejected Plato’s Forms and wanted to show that physics (phusis), the original word for being (ousia), was a riddle, a conundrum (aporia). Physics is the co-arising of empirical observations (more accurately ontic, phenomenological observations) and ideals (more accurately ontological, phenomenological observations). Aristotle thought Plato’s Forms were simply generalized logical conceptions drawn from lived experiences, sensations (in the reduced modern and historical sense of the word). For Aristotle perceptions (and inductions) were ‘the real’ and Forms were a privileged, apotheosis of the one over the many.

In Heidegger’s interpretation of Aristotle the word physics (phusis) is the original word for being (ousia). Physics is a conundrum (aporia). It is the generative (Brahman), multiple manifold of the ‘there’ of beings AND the unity of nonduality (in Dr. Loy’s terminology), the persistence of the ‘there’ of Being. Metaphysics in Aristotle is not to be thought after the scholastic, Latin interpretation of Aristotle (where phusis is thought as substance and not ousia) but from the Greek texts themselves as the philosophical thinking of physics. Aristotle was not thinking of Forms or substance that stood behind the manifold of beings but of how beings understand their experience of the ‘there’ of being. In this regard, I think Heidegger has some relevant discussions of how nivikalpa can be thought from an Occidental perspective.

The Heideggerian notion as spatiality (regions of lived space as opposed to linear, abstract, historical notions of space as linear extension) is not composed of separate geometric spaces that we assimilate after the fact in our mind (nous). Our ‘there’ is lived as a manifold of regions that are dynamically (dunamis) desevered, brought near and far, in everyday experience. Thus, we could be riding and ox in search of an ox because we have brought near the region of searching for an ox while relinquishing the ox we are riding on to the hinter region.

Temporality (the lived stretch of time as opposed to a linear, abstract, historical notion of Now moments) is experienced in our ‘there’ as spread across a past and a future. Our notion of a linear succession of ‘nows’ is a misunderstanding of our essential (wesen) temporal ecstasies (Sorge – the structure of the practical way we experience temporality – see my whimsical and exploratory article The connection Heidegger makes to our practical experience of the temporalizing of our ‘there’ has similarities to the idea of Tat tvam Asi of Vedanta. The lived experience of time is not just a personal, private, separated, purely subjective experience but a shared experience of histories and futures that is already understood prior to ‘thinking’ about it (pre-cognitive). It is important to understand that Heidegger in no way thinks this as a underlying form (peras) of our experience but as he calls it, a thrown nullity or void, empty, nothingness (apeiron is the Greek word translated chaos but the fertile void is closer to its meaning – sunyata perhaps). The temporalizing ‘there’ of our being is not a thing or can be modeled after a thing. It is how we find ourselves situated in the null throwness of our ‘there’. There is no ‘Latinized’ underlying substance of how we are called ‘time’.

Additionally, Heidegger’s notions of present-at-hand (Vorhandenheit; how we are in the scientific, abstract, objectifying modality of being) and instrumentality or readiness-to-hand (Zuhandenheit; how we are when using a tool for instance where the hammer disappears in use) certainly move us in the direction of the distinctions of savikalpa and nivikalpa. When we are in the modality of instrumentality we and the hammer meld without abstracting from the hammer – we are the bell. When we drive a car we are not abstracting away from the car but ‘are’ together and undifferentiated with the car (unless the car breaks…then the car becomes present-at-hand). Some psychologists might suggest we are in a quasi-hypnotic state (nirvana) many times during the day as we go through the day.

I think where Dr. Loy goes wrong (which may be driven by the texts he is interpreting) is where he is trying to dissect the senses (hearing, seeing, etc.) to get at these Buddhist notions of perceptions. He alludes to “phenomenalism” and Heidegger’s insistence that ‘sense data’ is already an abstract, historical step away from how we experience the world. We never experience sense data as separate experiences. Our lived experiences are always an amalgamation of ‘sense’. To analyze them separately is already a step away from lived experience. Additionally, he imputes the abstract notion of temporality as a linear succession of moments when he starts discussing how the visual sense differs from the other senses. On page 74 he states, “Vision provides us with a “co-temporaneous manifold”, whereas all other senses construct their perceptual “unities of a manifold” out of a temporal sequence of sensations.” He goes on to suggest that vision is built on a different temporality that is not just a “passing now” as the other senses but a sense of the “idea of the eternal” as vision “remain[s] the same” and “never changes and is always present”. I think all of these distinctions are driven by the initial, abstract, historical way of dividing the senses in an attempt to ‘explain’ lived experience. Vision never happens in some hermetically sealed analytic. We can abstract away for the experience of vision to understand it that way but that is not how we experience vision. Vision is always inseparably experienced in a context, a horizon. Our experiential horizon is comingled with other senses and with lived spatiality, temporality, and the various ways which we are comported to being (i.e., in the mode of instrumentality, science or present-at-hand, etc.).

Furthermore, in Dr. Loy’s discussion he refers to Hume’s statement that Adam could not have inferred from fluidity and transparency of water that it would suffocate him. The whole notion of an Adam that pops onto the scene is abstract. If Darwin is right we would have known about water since we crawled out of it. In any case, Dr. Loy asserts that the association with water and drowning is “subconscious” now and “automatized”. He suggests that this “thought-constructed” “unity of apperception” can be undone vis-à-vis nonduality. This suggests a kind of “pure sensation”, undifferentiated, that precedes the names and forms we attach to it later.

Dr. Loy goes on to assert that the non-dual “pure sensation” cannot be fundamentally derived from Heidegger. He is probably right here because Heidegger would not understand an order of experience where a sound devoid of associations occurs and then an abstract ‘mental link’ makes sense of it. Dr. Loy thinks Berkley can refute Heidegger (and phenomenalism). It rests on the fact that if I never heard the sound of a motorcycle I would not be able to make the association ‘motorcycle’. Since I must have made a historical association of the sound of the motorcycle to make ‘sense’ of it, it means that the sound of the motorcycle does not co-temporaneously arise with the association to a motorcycle. He thinks this proves:

1. Initially, there must have been a sound first that I heard (without knowing what it was)
2. I looked to see it was a motorcycle
3. Thereafter, I subconsciously associate the sound with a motorcycle.

However, this is not a refutation of Heidegger. If you noticed every time I used the word ‘abstract’ above I also used the word ‘historical’. I did this because phenomenology gives us a mechanism for what Dr. Loy calls savikalpa. It is because we ‘are’ as historical beings. We have personal histories (Heidegger calls existentiell) that meld with collective histories (an example may be language [Chomsky’s deep structures of language, i.e., every baby does not have to learn all words and associations by rote] or scientific/technological, religious, Now moments, linear space, etc.). Abstraction or savikalpa arises because we ‘are’ historical, both collective and individual (ontological and ontic) historicality. To say that we associate the sound of the motorcycle with the abstract concept of the motorcycle is proof that Heidegger is right – we are in the world as historical beings. I think Dr. Loy would find an ally in Heidegger by taking our ability to abstract away from lived experience as mistaking the rope for a snake, the finger pointing at the moon as the moon and riding an ox in search of an ox. Heidegger gives an excellent path for Occidentals to access savikalpa and nivikalpa. We pick our own pocket and sell us our own watch when we mistake abstract, historical pre-cognitive understanding for lived experience.

Additionally, Heidegger’s notion of whatness (quiddity) seems to me to come very close to suchness. Whatness is not about a noun. It is a transitive verb that has swallowed its nouns. One example could be the bridge quoted below, “The bridge gathers to itself in its own way earth and sky, divinities and mortals.” The quiddity or whatness of the bridge is more like a regionality, an environmental gathering together, flowing together savor of sensations not a mere denuded noun, an object for a subject. The lived experience of a bridge is not one noun among many, one object surrounded by other objects, but a cohesion that cannot be subdivided into parts without losing or changing how it shows itself (aletheia).

In “The Origin of the Work of Art” Heidegger asks the question. “What is a thing?” He uses the example of an artwork by Van Gogh that portrays a pair of peasant shoes. He understands that the observer of art (in this case The Peasants Shoes by Van Gogh) and the work of art is a kind of time-space transformative participation in the peasant’s field and toil. Heidegger says of this that “… at bottom, the ordinary is not ordinary; it is extraordinary.” We certainly meld or flow together with our world during much of our everydayness. Only when we pull away, abstract from, do we experience anything such as a subject and an object. This way of being in the world is what Heidegger would call semblance (remind you of Maya). In everydayness (or ignorance) we forget how we are authentically experiencing our ‘there’ and lapse into our historically acquired notions of things, separate objects composed of substance.

Heidegger certainly has a way of understanding our ‘there’ that does not rest on some ‘mystical’ apprehension of muddled wholes (gestalt). To lapse into an abstract analysis of separate senses and individual brains that, ad hoc, associate concepts (savikalpa) to ‘pure sensation’ (nivikalpa) is to hold to a historically ‘Latinized’ understanding of separate individuals that somehow put together thoughts and concepts to make sense of their senses. It is an absurdum reduction to individualism that rebuilds the world on a separate person by person basis.

“what is perceived is the individual, but the perception is in relation to the whole”…“it is clear that we must know that which is first by epagoge [induction]. For even perception [aesthesis] lays claim to [empoiei] the whole [katholou] in this way.” Aristotle, Posterior Analytics 100 a16 and b4

Let me add that I have skipped ahead to later works and articles by Dr. Loy that indicate a more subtle and developed understanding of contemporary, Occidental philosophy so these critiques are conditioned with the knowledge that “Nonduality” was written very early in his career. I look forward to more dialog with his works.


Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
Impressions in Chapter 2 of “NonDuality”

I am highly impressed with the work that Professor Loy has put into “NonDuality”. He obviously has an incredible handle on Eastern philosophy. I plan to do some more research in the library on some of the questions that follow but here are some questions that come to mind:

The Indian philosophy of nirvikalpa and savikalpa reminds me of Husserl’s notion of noema and noesis and eidetic intuition. The problem with this kind of analysis is, as Derrida reminds us, the problem of origin (arche). Anytime an arche is posited (evolutionary/primitive , intuition, stream of consciousness, etc.) dualism necessarily follows. The diachrony of presence/absence, before/after (internal time consciousness), semantic/syntactic is pragmatic. Any soteriological analysis must reverse the pragmatic proliferation of symbols to some form of non-differentiation (i.e., nonduality, monism, etc.). The problem this inevitably runs into is how to differentiate this kind of mysticism from a vegetative state. I think this is where the notion of detachment may come in but this also raises questions. Feeling-flow (as Husserl observes) has then been severed from dianoia (thoughts) and we are again encumbered with another arche of duality. This is a knot that knots in on itself and seems to get more tangled as one tries to untangle it…


Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
From: David Loy, “NonDuality”, page 33

“When I heard the temple bell ring, suddenly there was no bell and no I, just sound.”

Kapleau, “Three Pillars of Zen”, 107, 137

Compare this with:

“The bridge swings over the stream “with case and power. It does not just connect banks that are already there. The banks emerge as banks only as the bridge crosses the stream. The bridge designedly causes them to lie across from each other. One side is set off against the other by the bridge. Nor do the banks stretch along the stream as indifferent border strips of the dry land. With the banks, the bridge brings to the stream the one and the other expanse of the landscape lying behind them. It brings stream and bank and land into each other’s neighborhood. The bridge gathers the earth as landscape around the stream. Thus it guides and attends the stream through the meadows. Resting upright in the stream’s bed, the bridge-piers bear the swing of the arches that leave the stream’s waters to run their course. The waters may wander on quiet and gay, the sky’s floods from storm or thaw may shoot past the piers in torrential waves-the bridge is ready for the sky’s weather and its fickle nature. Even where the bridge covers the stream, it holds its flow up to the sky by taking it for a moment under the vaulted gateway and then setting it free once more. ”

“The bridge gathers to itself in its own way earth and sky, divinities and mortals.”

Building Dwelling Thinking
by Martin Heidegger
from Poetry, Language, Thought, translated by Albert Hofstadter, Harper Colophon Books, New York, 1971.
Section II


Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
Preliminary Observations from My Reading of David Loy

I am going to keep a running journal of my readings from David Loy’s “NonDuality” and “Lack and Transcendence”. I finished both introductions and decided to start with “NonDuality”. I like David Loy’s areas of interest, both East and West, and have trod similar grounds in my own readings. I hope that my observations do not come off as critical. My intention is to engage the works and express impressions not to suggest or imply any sense of “rightness” or “wrongness”. I am all too happy to be wrong and in need of further instruction…

With regard to the notions of subject and object, I think that much of analytic philosophy and epistemology have been preoccupied with certain historically narrow readings found most exquisitely in Rene Descartes but with roots also in Aristotle with the notion of substansia (substance). This hermeneutic tradition has been preoccupied with dualism as Professor Loy suggests. Historically, those well trod paths have frenetically and obsessively worked themselves into a Kierkegaard-ian, Either/Or anxiety. They seemed to have lost themselves in the metaphysical play of oversimplifications and unquestioned assumptions.

More specifically, I think Heidegger offers another reading of Western philosophy and the Greeks. By appealing to the pre-Socratics he follows Nietzsche in “The Birth of Tragedy” in un-cuffing and elucidating a different reading of the Greeks and thus, Western metaphysics. Abstractly, an object certainly can be anything other than “Me” but Heidegger wants to ask the question, “How do we experience objects?” If we look at our experience of “objects” we find that while the experiences can be made to surreptitiously correspond to a highly abstract and historically homogenized hermeneutic of all that is “Not Me”, this perspective strains the credulity of our common experience and traps experience in the quagmire of “standing reserve”. The “Not Me” is capital awaiting my use. Marx was prematurely insightful into this conundrum and Heidegger wraps this reduction in the technological revolution.

Heidegger wants us to think (and listen) to how we are, how we be (forgive the transgression), with “objects”. For example, he notes that the way we are with tools is that tools disappear in their use. The only way they become conspicuous is when they break – and then, the mode of how we are with them changes to present-at-hand. We look them in disgust, throw them away with appropriate explicatives and call them stupid (forgive my embellishments on Heidegger). When we are using them in the mode of instrumentality we cohabitate a space with them where they disappear in our use-intention (more Husserlian). Our being with them has a decidedly different character than when we are examining them as an object present-at-hand (as we do in science). This is one example of how “objects” are experienced in deterministically different ways than present before us as a mere thing. Heidegger also treats spatiality and temporality as examples of different modalities of being, erroneously and traditionally, pre-cognitively understood as mere things (objects). Likewise, we can egregiously lump these nasty distinctions into some abstract homogenization of the “subject”. Please see my discussion here ( for a more detailed discussion of this. For Heidegger, “Being and Time” is a work where he re-thinks human temporality in terms of Sorge (Care).

The dualism of subject-object sets up another kind of pre-understanding of time as causality. This frames causality as a “linear succession of Now moments” as Heidegger would suggest. From this we get an “I” that travels through time linearly from birth to death. Other than allude to it, I will not delve into Care more specifically at this point. Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence is a blatant attempt to use metaphysics to get out of metaphysics and its nihilistic demise. If all experience from birth to death re-occurs eternally with absolutely no change we are left with the Great Nausea. To bite off the head of the snake (See “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”) is to finally let this tired old conception of time die and find ourselves in need or lack so we can begin to think anew, create anew and thus, overcome. I do not think Nietzsche wants to assert anew the old temporal, metaphysical epitaph but to skillfully (as a Zen master might) be the psychologist that presents a koan that cannot be solved, to show something that cannot otherwise be shown, with eternal recurrence. For me, this means the “thing” (derived from historically obtained categories of subject-object), causality and thus, time as linear need to grow rightfully old and let the “grass grow up under our feet” (Kierkegaurd) so we can understand the inadequacies of that motif.

I think Levinas and Blanchot envision time as diachronous and anachronous. “Chrony”, chronological means time. Diachronous points to the split in time, a split that cannot be bridged. These splits are not casually related or subsumed into some master time motif. Perhaps the easiest way to think of this may be as different temporalities, think of astronomical, geological and human temporalities…think of lived temporalities (time when one is having fun and time when one is feeling anxiety)…etc. It might be tempting to line all these times up into a master, linear time but that is similar to lumping all objects into “Not Me” or subjects into “Me” – it can be done but specificities get lost, undermined and misunderstood. Anachronous or not-time is not commensurate to “My Time”. It is absolutely Other, for Levinas, the face of the Other. Perhaps for Blanchot, the Ilya (French for the there-is, the incessant buzz of existence or in my words, the background noise of the universe – see Note 1 below) is perhaps an anachrony – time is a meaningless concept here.

The relevant point I am making here is that for many contemporary, continental philosophers another reading of Western history is in order and a deeper look into Greek thought is beneficial. My reflection suggests that this way of thinking causes me to think of myself, my experiences (including my notions of time) as a heterogeneous. The question then becomes can these heterogenies be made commensurate and subsumed back into the dominate Western metaphysic of linear time or is that a transgression that creates more problems than it solves and loses relevant meaning and measure?

To overcome dualities into non-duality may be a way of re-asserting duality in a similar manner to the way atheism may assert the existence of God in order to deny it as some have maintained. In doing so, it seems to brush over some of the developments and new readings in contemporary philosophy but I am drawing no conclusions at this point as I really do like Eastern philosophy and know the extreme difficulties understanding it. I want to listen carefully to what Professor Loy is writing…

Note 1 – Interesting enough I ran across another definition of Ilya – it is the Slavic form of the male Hebrew name for Eliyahu or Elijah meaning “My God is He” or (Yah is my God) – Yahwey is the personal God. Sinfully juxtaposing the French and the Hebrew do we get, God is my personal noise? …food for thought…

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