The Epistemology and Process of Buddhist Nondualism: The Philosophical Challenge of Egalitarianism in Chinese Buddhism

  • Sandra A. WawrytkoEmail author
Part of the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy book series (DCCP, volume 9)


The evolving field of neuroscience provides a fresh perspective for understanding and clarifying the nondualistic epistemology of Buddhist philosophy. Its egalitarian adherence to “wisdom embracing all species” required an epistemological shift beyond both egocentric and anthropocentric assumptions, outlined in such texts as the Lotus Sūtra and the Diamond Sūtra. Parallels can be drawn to the Triple Loop learning process, “an ‘epistemo-existential strategy’ for profound change on various levels.” Inherently hierarchical tendencies in Daoist and Confucian philosophies posed a challenge to the egalitarian stance of Buddhist nondualism. Passages from Daoist (Laozi, Zhuangzi), Confucian (Confucius, Mengzi, Xunzi), and Neo-Confucian (Zhu Xi, Wang Yang-ming) texts demonstrate the limits of Chinese nondualism. The hybrid brain cultivated through Buddhist practice was able to maintain the benefits of the task-driven dorsal attentional network (promoting Wisdom), while being grounded in the stimulus-driven ventral attentional network (opening Compassion). The Five Ranks (wu-wei五位) of Chan meticulously trace the process of recognizing the nondualism of deluded mind (the bent) and awakened mind (the straight). The final rank, “Unity Attained,” restores the role of allocentric attention, which has been described as “the basic simplicity of the undyed fabric,” as the default. Thus, inspired by the pedagogy of cognitive dissonance woven into Sanskrit texts, Chinese practitioners deployed their own “circuit-breakers” of ventral attention to disrupt the dogmatic “perseveration” of dorsal attention. The resulting epistemological reorientation reveals the nondualism of reality.


Buddhism Egalitarianism Epistemology Neuroscience Nondualism 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.San Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA

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