Oneness is Duality

(Toyama Castle amid recent heavy snows)

Here again is another discussion concerning Soetsu Yanagi’s wonderful book, “The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty.” It has become an incredibly slow read, but only because I’ve enjoyed it so much and wish not to rush through, instead trying to tease out the most interesting aspects to discuss here on this forum. I’ve found this book particularly interesting because I relate to his discussions and seek the same: making connections between different modes of art which seek to honestly express ones experience of reality. However, I’ve also come across many points of disagreement. Let’s look at one I found on page 127 in his chapter, “Buddhist Idea of Beauty.”

What then, is Englightenment? It is the state of being free from all duality. Sometimes the term “Oneness” is used, but “Non-dual Entirety” (funi) is a more satisfactory term because Oneness is likely to be construed as the opposite of duality and hence understood in relative terms.”

Though Mr. Yanagi’s efforts seem genuine, I believe his attempt to define enlightenment fails to accurately do so. In my opinion, his efforts to remedy any misunderstanding of the term Oneness, which may be interpreted as the opposite of duality, is well warranted. I agree that one must understand that Oneness is not an opposite in a relationship, but a holistic state in and of itself. However, by using the description of “Non-dual Entirety,” one is still trying to negate the idea of duality and relativity, which is entering an argument of dualistic proportions. By attempting to negate a misinterpretation of Oneness, one is entering into duality. I don’t think this is not the Oneness he is attempting to describe. In order to see, understand, or be Oneness, I think one must incorporate duality into the equation. Oneness is duality. Duality is a part of onenness. Oneness is also things other than duality. If one of those things is non-duality, that is also duality, but this does not limit Oneness. Instead of saying “Oneness is not duality”, I think it is better to say “duality is Oneness.”

Yanagi continues on page 128, “The Undifferentiated, the Non-dual, is assumed to be the inherent nature of man; all Buddhist discipline, therefore, has as its goal the achievement of this Non-dual Entirety. To be in the Non-dual state forever is the meaning of the expression “entering into Nirvana”, which is the same as “attaining Buddhahood.”

Here I also think Yanagi’s words betray him. He speaks of Nirvana as something to enter, and enlightenment something to gain. But this said, means we are outside of Nirvana, and without enlightenment. But isn’t that just back to the dualistic argument we’re trying to not solely engage? He already states, “The Undifferentiated, the Non-dual, is assumed to be the inherent nature of man.”  Isn’t this enough? I relate to his discussions, which is why I so badly want to understand them and find the most accurate way to describe the experience of life as possible. But alas, trying to do so is endeavoring towards failure merely upon the first step. There is no step to take, we are already there. There is nothing more to see; we already see it. Our experience as is, is Enlightenment.

But, there is something else; a desire, a goal, a journey. As if we do not understand our own Englightenment, we search to find, attain, and enter it. This is paradoxical quest, and so our discussions of it will share the same fate: duality.

One (of many!!!) potential aspects of my misinterpretation of this discussion concern language. In studying the Japanese language and Japanese martial arts, I’ve found that the Japanese language does in fact have words to accurately describe certain phenomenon which are considerably distorted when translated into English. Is this the same with Buddhism? Are Soetsu Yanagi’s accurate descriptions warped by the English translation? The real word in question is “Non-dual”, which is even given in Japanese in the book perhaps in order to signify a difference between the Japanese and English translation. Non-dual: funi. I looked up the kanji (Chinese characters) for the word in order to gain more insight, or some kind of nuance, but if there is one it’s lost on me.


不 – fu: “not”
二 – ni: “two”

“Not two.”

The character 不 is included in many words, and has a slightly different connotation in each word. Perhaps if one understood each of those words, some kind of nuance could be discerned, but it is beyond me. Generally, the character means, “not”, and that’s as far as my understand can tread.

One can be skilled in describing certain phenomenon, and the Japanese language is an excellent tool used to do so with more intuitive concerns. However, the big-dog, this Oneness business, may truly be beyond all descriptions. Perhaps we should leave it as that: Oneness.

On a more specific note, I’m going on a small trip with my Aikido dojo to an onsen in Shizuoka Prefecture. It is really ridiculous in a wonderful Japanese traveling sort of way. We’re going by bus to somewhere really far away for onsen which will only last one night. Why don’t we just go somewhere in Toyama or one prefecture over instead of across the mountains? Well, not my problem, I’m not planning the trip. I’m here to sai “hai!”, pay money, and enjoy the ride. Sensei has been planning this trip for a little less than a year, so it’s a pretty big deal. I’m looking forward to this trip of long bus rides, onsen, fancy Japanese food, and of course … a lot lot lot of sake. Aikido is not the purpose of this trip, and there will be no planned aikido training … but I hope to procure some words of Aikido wisdom from Sensei before things get a little too blurry.
But then if we do Aikido once, aren’t we always doing aikido? There is nothing to enter, nothing to attain: I am Aikido!

10 thoughts on “Oneness is Duality

  1. Duality and Oneness: Oneness is not a result of duality but rather a product of the one. The one is the great tai chi that has produced the duality of human existence explained by the Yin and the Yang, duality.

    Duality is not just two be they opposites of extremes but rather the duality that exists at every level that exists from one extreme to the other.

    It is that which defies word explanations and must be felt. You provide a great quote in your first paragraphs on beauty the begins to explain it in a holistic way which for Westerners is difficult since it involves a part of our minds we seldom use.

    Thanks for today's post, very inspiring to me.

  2. Non-duality is “void” or interval or space of which dominates a lot of the Japanese art, yes? Also on the characters you present for “not” and “ni” which are as I found:

    不 – not, un-, dis-, in- with the following depending on its assiciation with other kanji/kana:

    不安(ふあん) / uneasiness, anxiety, angst, uneasy
    不利(ふり) / disadvantage ☆⇔有利(ゆうり) / advantageous
    不公平(ふこうへい) / unfair, unjust, partiality ☆⇔公平(こうへい) / fairness, fair, equity
    不気味(ぶきみ) / weird, eerie, uncanny, unearthly ☆=薄気味悪い(うすきみわるい),キモい(きもい)(slang)

    which of course convolutes that character as it stands alone. When associated with not two: 不二 you get something akin too, superlative, peerless, unique, unparalleled, matchless, unexampled, unequaled, unsurpassed and unmatched on one interpretation while on another you get, nothing, but that means nothing in and of itself.

    In a nutshell I wonder why those particular characters were chosen to represent not two or non-duality, etc. When I interpret the English translation of the characters seperately, which is also misleading since they are joined, not two can mean what you present as non-duality or “one” which os representative of the number one in kanji/kana, “一”

    Then I thought maybe it is a “feeling” rather than a word to express what you are expressing, i.e. a feeling of singular existence, i.e. 特異, which in humans are dual in nature, i.e. the left and right side of the brain, etc. These two characters if separated mean, 特: specially, especially, particularly and expressly and 異: a different opinion, an objection, differ, be different, be unlike, be dissimilar and vary.

    As you mention, it is most difficult since the Japanese and their language both spoken and written seem holistic in nature, fluctuate according to the subject, group and location where even the Japanese must sometimes, often they say, show the character for the spoken communication to gain clarity. Here lies the rub per your other comment on translation of the Chinese/Japanese characters to the written word.

    It all depends; on culture, the translators culture, the beliefs, the translators beliefs, how the translator perceives life both his and the original authors and does that translate accurately, how that translation is translated to the translator's mind for communication to present moment humans reading the material. Just take a look at the many translations of the I Ching, every one different depending on all these and other factors of influence.

    It is the road most enjoyable for me to travel as I learn many things all the time.

  3. Charles: Take any photos you ever see on this blog as you like. But beware, they are taken by the humble hand of a rambling gaijin. Thanks for the additional comments as well. Truly, Oneness is something to understand holistically and progressively. Analysis certainly helps, but like the Japanese language, it must be internalized for accurate interpretations. Ganbarou!

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