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" There is no disappearance of the true Dhamma as long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of the true Dhamma when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has arisen in the world. Just as there is no disappearance of gold as long as a counterfeit of gold has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of gold when a counterfeit of gold has arisen in the world, in the same way there is no disappearance of the true Dhamma as long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the world, but there is the disappearance of the true Dhamma when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has arisen in the world."

 Saddhammapatirupaka Sutta: A Counterfeit of the True Dhamma translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu



This is a controversial and somewhat taboo subject in Buddhist circles and isn't usually spoken of in public, but the root of this contemporary non-duality problem may go back almost 2,350 years or so. As far as neo Buddhism is concerned, (by this I mean all latter schools) this began with a schism that was created by a monk named Mahadeva, 137 years after the Buddha"s death; thirty five years after the second council.

Some of the Theravadin Buddhist historians and academics say that he was the cause of this schism and partly a founder of a younger and innovative sub sect known as the Mahasamghikas, (great community) later known as the Mahayana Buddhists.

This schism was about the arahants in the Theravada sangha, (elder orthodox community). He based his attack on five points concerning the behavior of some of the elder arahant monks, who Mahadeva proclaimed were not true arahants.

He claimed that these arahants had five flaws:

1. He said that some of these arahants were prone to seminal emissions in their sleep. (The Buddha said in the monastic code this is not an issue)

2. Had nightmares and therefore subject to attacks from demons or Mara.

 (Even the Buddha was pestered by Mara after his enlightenment)

3. They were still subject to doubts.

4. They were ignorant of many things.  (This means outside the teachings, Dhamma)

5. And they owed their salvation to the guidance of others. (Yes, to the Buddha and the Dharma, sangha)

Another important issue was the collecting of gold and silver. Some of the monks were caught red handed asking for money, (gold and silver) from their lay followers.  Some of the monks also wanted to eat more than one meal a day and store food as well. Also to be able to drink some types of fermented drinks and have sex. Also not having to do various practices because their teachers did them. This also occurred while the Buddha was alive and recorded in the Vinaya, the monks code of discipline so it always seems to boil down to sex and money, or sense pleasures.

Mahadeva also disputed the belief that the Pali suttas were the ultimate authority in Buddhism. This was in direct contradiction to the Buddha who said just before his death, that his "Dharma" is the ultimate authority.

Mahadeva said that it was possible for the Buddha's insight or revelation to come anywhere at any time, to anyone, so people shouldn't have to cling to authority of the Buddhas suttas. (This is what you hear many secular Neo-Buddhists claim today.)

In essence some Buddhist historians say that Mahadeva spilt the sangha and developed a following, and the Theravadas denounced him as being a heretic.

Not long after this a new school formed, based on his teachings called the Mahayana school, the great or higher vehicle and they referred to the Theravadin school as the Hinayana "Low Vehicle," "Lesser Vehicle". Literally meaning, "the inferior vehicle," or "the deficient vehicle." defunct vehicle", "despicable Vehicle". 

The arahants of the Theravadins, (the elders) were also seen by Mahayanists as being selfish and having "blunt mental faculties" and only concerned with their "personal enlightenment". Becoming an arahant is seen as being an "escapist" or how someone would jump ship. The problem with this logic of course is that the Buddha himself was an arahant as well and his teachings were entirely based on how to do this, precisely in order to attain nibbana.

However this new school of Mahayana , the so called Great Vehicle, (Maha, means all mighty, powerful, great, in Sanskrit) were for people with "bright mental faculties", or the "younger progressive, open minded, non dogmatic  school", seemed to have seriously altered aspects of what the Buddha originally taught. They also created celestial bodhisattvas and Buddhas and so much more.

From 50 BC until 800 AD, some historians say that they translated or "created" about 10,000 to 15,000 pages of their own discourses, and attributed them to the words of the Buddha. 

To learn more about the differences and many similarities see a comparison chart


Around 150-250 CE) Nagarjuna, a Buddhist Indian teacher and mahasiddha mystic founded another school based on these Theravadin, Sarvastivadin and Mahayana teachings, and other aspects that he said were channeled to him by naga devas, (dragon or snake like creatures). He referred to this as the madhyamaka or the middle way. This school had a great influence on Tibetan tantric Buddhism.

Tibetan Buddhism, "Vajrayana" (Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning both thunderbolt and diamond. Additionally, it is a weapon which is used as a ritual object to symbolize both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt, (irresistible force) is a mixture of Bon shamanism, yoga, Hindu tantra, yantra, mantra, Theravada, Sarvastivada (Sanskrit version) and Mahayana Buddhism, yet it differs in some ways and even contradicts what the Buddha taught in the Pali suttas concerning some types of practices. (See chapter on Tantra).

You sometimes hear Tibetan Buddhists proclaim that their school is even greater than Mahayana Buddhism and that Nagarjuna was a second Buddha, even though the Buddha said that another Buddha wouldn't appear for 5,000 years (Maitreya) or when the Dharma was completely lost, due to degeneration and a counterfeit dharma. Others say the time isn't fixed but will not be happening any time soon.


However the Theravada tradition do recognize the Pacceka Buddha or the lone silent Buddha and its possible that some of the Mahayana, Vajrayana Bodhisattva and mahasiddha types may fall under this category.

Here is a quote found in the book "What Buddhists Believe" by Ven. K. Sri. Dhammananda, chapter: Attainment of Buddhahood, p. 47-49:

"... Therefore, the Buddha's advice to His followers is that in order to find their salvation it is not necessary for each and every person to wait until Buddhahood is gained. Aspirants can also find their salvation by becoming Pacceka Buddhas (Silent Buddhas) or Arahanta- (Perfected Ones). Pacceka Buddhas appear in this world during the period when there is no supreme Enlightened Buddha. They are also Enlightened. Although their degree of perfection is not similar to that of the Supreme Buddha, they experience the same Nirvanic bliss. Unlike the Supreme Buddha, however, they do not preach to the masses. They lead a life of solitude.

In any case, the true dhamma like anything else is subject to change and mistranslation, misunderstanding, misinterpretation over the course of time. This is also due to the general devolution of culture and other influences, various conditions, governmental, political, climate, geography and so on.

The Buddha said that one shouldn't get attached to his teachings, even dependant origination, but to use them as a raft to cross over the river to nibbana, not to then carry the raft on your back once you have reached the other side. Meaning not to make a  big deal out of it, expect or use it like displaying some type of nibbana Oscar on your mantel, or not to use it as a weapon of measurement, or conceit, being better than others and so on.

The view that one school is better, greater or higher than or even lower than is another is a manifestation of concert and counter to his teachings. Because of aligning oneself with one school or another seems to inflate ones spiritual pride asmi-mana, or ego, a sense of "I am-ness" or belonging in some subtle way.

He also said the right way to investigate teachings from other schools is to carefully compare them to his original teachings, dhamma, Pali suttas and monastic code and then reject any teaching that is at odds with this. 

I have spoken with quite a few teachers in the Mahayana tradition about this controversy that say "who knows what the Buddha said" as a means of dismissing the Pali canon.

John Bullitt, the founder of the Theravada website access to insight had this to say:

 "No one can prove that the Tipitaka contains any of the words actually uttered by the historical Buddha. Practicing Buddhists have never found this problematic. Unlike the scriptures of many of the world's great religions, the Tipitaka is not regarded as gospel, as an unassailable statement of divine truth, revealed by a prophet, to be accepted purely on faith. Instead, its teachings are meant to be assessed firsthand, to be put into practice in one's life so that one can find out for oneself if they do, in fact, yield the promised results. It is the truth towards which the words in the Tipitaka point that ultimately matters, not the words themselves. Although scholars will continue to debate the authorship of passages from the Tipitaka for years to come (and thus miss the point of these teachings entirely), the Tipitaka will quietly continue to serve,  as it has for centuries, as an indispensable guide for millions of followers in their quest for Awakening.[1]


Some types of radical and contemporary non-duality appears be the extreme result of what happens when a degenerative counterfeit dharma is put in its place. Today we have a new form of secular a la carte westernized Buddhism that rids itself of much of the tradition and picks and chooses the parts that are less difficult for westerners to swallow, such as karma, rebirth, renunciation and the rest. Then they take these parts out of the equation, which more or less collapses the Dharma and makes it similar to mundane existential psychology, a new age philosophy.  Mahayana Buddhism, (Zen and Chan) are very orthodox in comparison to some of these new radical and hedonistic "do as thy wilt" non duality teachings that are arising in the west.

See video on secular Buddhism.


The Theravada tradition teaches a gradual path over several lifetimes (especially if one is a householder). They also purify their mind-streams by the conduct, renunciation, celibacy, right behavior, and the practice of meditation that results in the ultimate freedom.

But many of the contemporary non-dual teachers today feel that they can simply transcend all of this by taking a short cut, some even say by simply going to a weekend seminar, retreat, or a 30 minute skype video session or enlightenment courses of some kind.

This also sets up unrealistic expectations where many of the seekers expect to be instantly gratified by paying for or buying their enlightenment, or expecting to attain enlightenment and end their suffering the way you would a PhD.


Even in some traditions of Zen and Chan, after a sudden enlightenment, the spiritual aspirant spends many years, or sometimes even the rest of their lives, gradually cultivating his or her mind. Gradual cultivation is to practice the six perfections, the Paramitas,the perfection of generosity and giving freely with no expectation in return. This also means teaching and sharing freely.

As well as:

Cultivating moral conduct.

Working on ones negative behavior patterns.

Developing tolerance, right speech, patience, compassion, equanimity, diligence, meditation, loving kindness and wisdom.

Most traditions don't usually rush out there to teach like many seem to in contemporary non-dual circles today and look at it more in terms of a business. They tend to focus more on working on themselves rather than teaching others, mostly in obscurity. They spend years meditating to learn how to control their minds and how to stay awake and not to slip back into auto-pilot and negative conditionings.


Now let's look at some of the problems with Vedanta and contemporary non duality today. One of the major problems with neo Advaita is mixing levels of reality. According to Vedanta, there are two levels to reality. One is known as mithya, which has a paradoxically strange ontological meaning, being that it is real and it is also relatively real. Mithya is the term used to describe the nature of relative reality, denoting that the world is not real. This does not mean that the world does not exist. It implies that this world is a dependent reality. It depends on satya, awareness, for its existence. Satya means "absolutely real." So it is said that without awareness, the world cannot exist.

So they say,  it boils down to a matter of knowledge or perspective. "From the standpoint of the absolute, of awareness, the world is only relative and apparently real (mithya)." The existence of this material world should not be denied or negated as some would say. The difference is that absolute reality is permanent and never changing. It is infinite, eternal, and independent. It does not need the world of objects to exist. It does have an existence, but if we look into the nature of this phenomenal existence on a deeper, subatomic level, we cannot truly define what this phenomenal and impermanent existence is. We can call it quarks, string theory, the God particle, is-ness or nama rupa, (name and form).

For example, you can call an object made out of clay a pot, or an object made out of gold a bangle, but the problem with rupa or form is that it can be afflicted, such that the cup can break, deteriorate, be stolen, or turn back to dust. So putting any stock in something that is impermanent will often lead to dissatisfaction or stress of some kind.

The Buddhists call this impermanent existence suchness, and from the level of the absolute, it doesn't really exist because it's constantly changing. Impermanence is its only constant, and if something is continuously changing from second to second, then what is it?  Or how could you call this a self?

Vedanta says that Maya equates with the illusion, or ignorance, because this relative reality, everything in this phenomenal (material) world, is like a magic show, a dream or an appearance that looks real. Everything you know through the six senses is maya a magician's trick. However, maya is neither real nor is it unreal; it depends on both knowledge and ignorance in relation to the absolute and never-changing reality. For this reason it is considered to be inexplicable because it cannot be logically understood.

In the empirical sense, the dual sense, the appearance of a world is real, but in the non-dual sense, the absolute sense, it is unreal. Paradoxically, both exist simultaneously. There is a metaphor commonly used in Vedanta, which says that one can look at a rope in dim light and perceive it as being a snake. Without the form of a rope, there wouldn't be a way of projecting the illusion of a snake upon it. This is an illusion of the senses and the mind. Now the rope physically exists, but the snake does not. It only exists in the perception of the person who believes that what they are looking at is a snake.


In deep meditation, (samadhi) a highly refined awareness can be known without the intervention of the physical body, the thoughts, feelings, perceptions and the sense of time and space. Temporal reality is created by the mind/physical organism. This physical reality is real in terms of matter, solidity, and so on, but in the timeless, infinite, absolute sense of reality, it is like an ephemeral, flickering projection of solid light waves.

Like Einstein said, "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." The absolute (awareness) is invisible; the world we live in is visible. Because the awareness is invisible, it does not mean it's not here. All it means is that it is not knowable to most people. It is like an infinite, boundless, invisible screen that a film of duality is projected upon. It cannot be seen but it is there. When the film stops, for whatever reason, it can be momentarily known.

The Vedantins say that with "self-realisation", what is known is that the rope is outside of time and space and that every "thing" is superimposed onto it. It is seen in terms of maya, the appearance of this phenomenal reality.

When there is better light and ignorance is erased, the known object, the  - snake, and the knowing or awareness itself, which is the rope, are not two, it is the higher buddhi aspect of the rational human mind that makes the knowing of both realities possible, meaning that when the illusion is dropped, we can clearly see that the rope is not a snake. Only the human mind has this capacity, otherwise all sentient creatures, such as animals, would also know this.

They say a sharp mind, a mirror, is needed to know the true Self. Without this mirror, it's very difficult to know because the Self, or You is not an object. It's the only subject. This is what knows. It's like an eye trying to see its own iris, or a tongue tasting its own taste buds. It is so close, closer than one's own breath, but yet so far in terms of ignorance.


In most spiritual traditions, the key to enlightenment is to recognize and see beyond dualistic thinking, transcending all definitions, distinctions, and language"nama rupa"name/mind and form/matter. To truly see reality with wisdom and clear comprehension: not defining, conceptualizing, categorizing, compartmentalizing, or labeling with language. It is to see beyond words, pictures, and concepts. For example, the process of conceptualization applies to everything because when one perceives a label, what one is seeing is an abstraction of reality, since a concept, an idea, a word, is always inanimate, lifeless, and static.

Relative reality is constantly flowing, moving, and transforming. Words, ideas, thoughts, and concepts dissect, fragment, and place conditions on reality. It is like looking at a map of the globe and understanding for the first time that all of the demarcations and boundaries are artificially man-made. That country, states, and borders are man-made, and in reality neither land nor this planet Earth belong to anyone.  People have wars over these so called borders, so called "countries" and mental constructs even though empires rise and fall because everything is impermanent, even diamonds are not indestructible and one day will be destroyed by the sun and reduced to ashes when this world is destroyed, as with other worlds that come and go.

Further problems arise because language itself is inherently dualistic. There is no such thing as non-dual language, because language is only meaningful when words can be defined within the context of their opposite terms, such as up versus down, black versus white, wrong versus right, and so on.

Dualism is the tendency to perceive and understand the world as being divided into two categories. For example, it is dualistic thinking when one recognizes a tree as a thing separate from everything surrounding it, or when one perceives the egoic self as distinct from the rest of the world. That's why not much can be said about non-duality. Whatever is spoken is often a misleading interpretation, since the tool we use for communication (language) is dualistic in nature.


Vedanta began with the secret forest teachings in the Upanishads, and this knowledge was deliberately kept away from the masses for this reason that it could be easily abused and misunderstood. In fact, the word advaita doesn't even appear in the Upanishads.

It was Adi Shankara in the eight century who took all these various teachings in the Vedas and the Upanishads that were not exactly homogenous, and at times passages would directly contradict other passages. He brilliantly synthesized them, however, bringing them all together in a new kind of perennial wisdom that included yoga, tantra, mantra, yantra, even Mahayana Buddhism, and other sources.  His teacher, Gaudapada, also seemed to have been influenced by the Mahayana Buddhist traditions and shunya (emptiness) and ajatavada,  (un born) and built his doctrine on this as well as the Vedas. The monastic system was influenced by Buddhism, and before that time, no monks existed in the Vedas.

It is generally accepted by objective non-Hindu scholars that evidence of a non-dual absolute also occurs in the Lankavatara Sutra and the Sandhinirmocana Sutra, both Mahayana, Chan, Zen Buddhist works.

Shankarsa's satyadvaya vyavahara and paramartha are both found in Nagarjuna, four centuries before, with his two truths doctrine. This also appears in the Pali suttas, 500 years BC.

However, this type of pointing to the absolute or the kind of confusing merging of the two truths also occurs in many of the Upanishad Chandogya before sixth century BCE and even before the Buddha.

The Aitareya Upanishad says:

"Consciousness is everything:

The world comes after consciousness;
and it is here, in consciousness,
that all the world is found to stand. Consciousness is all there is."

In any case what seems to have happened in contemporary time is that these teachings have been watered down and totally misunderstood by many in what we have as "Neo or Pseudo-Advaita, and Neo Buddhism." 

Continue to Part 3


[2] Timothy Conway is the author of the article ´┐ŻNeo-Advaita or Pseudo-Advaita and Real Advaita-Nonduality´┐Ż

[3] Some I have spoken with who were influenced by Nisargadatta also tend to display characteristics of distancing themselves from their inclinations and own incongruous actions and words.