Understanding Non-Duality (The Purpose of Koan and How To Kill The Buddha)

Last November, I went to a Thanksgiving party with some friends.

A friend of mine, whose good friend had recently died, starting opening up about his friend’s death and how he was handling it. He said he was studying non-duality trying to cope with the loss of his friend.

Immediately, I was intrigued (as I have spent many hours researching this concept) and wanted to help.

A few of us started talking about what non-duality is and not before long, almost everyone was confused.

After an attempt to explain my insight and understanding of nondualism, I surrendered to the drunken night and decided to leave my summary here for those who are interested.

Understanding That Which Cannot

A major emphasis across Peregrine Poise points towards the concept of non-duality, so I would like to take a minute and stress what non-duality is.

Before we look at non-duality, duality must first be understood.

Duality lies in pairs.

Everything has an opposite: hot and cold, good and evil, profit and loss, love and hate, and so on.

As long as we are caught in the process of thinking, we are stuck in containers of opposite. Under this impression, language becomes a Cartesian trap we can never escape. Our rationalizations are of no aid in understanding the meaning of non-duality.

Thinking must cease firsthand.

The Purpose of Koan (Closing And Opening A Swinging Door)

Rarely, are there moments where we can reach non-dual understanding.

If we do, these glimpses- escapes from the dual mind, are experienced purely by a witnessing subject.

We are the watching of our lives.

One teaching that aids us in reaching the realm of non-dual experience stems from Zen, the koan.

Koans are various procedures attempting to lead to higher states of being or consciousness.

The purpose of koan is to help the individual escape himself from thinking and the constraints of the rational mind. This is precisely why such irrational statements are used and riddled off to particular individuals and Zen practitioners who question or wonder if they are enlightened and most especially, all those who desire to be enlightened.

One famous koan goes:

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

The correct answer is nearly impossible to obtain through reasoning. Abstraction must be used.

Koans, however, used alone, rarely work by themselves.

In order to work effectively and properly, koan must be paired with consistent meditative practice.

How To Kill The Buddha

Non-duality cannot be defined in this article.

Just as this sentence may frustrate you through lack of informational desire, this is clearly being consciousness of duality. In word we are limited by our preconceptions and the extent of our vocabulary. Opposites have ends. In this state, the mind wants to grip, to hold onto concepts, words, and comfortable definitions, and put them together in some type of cohesive whole.

Ironically, this entire effort only ever results in exactly half. A more perfect formula contains the opposite of pairs. That which cannot be grasped.

This is exactly why Zen Master Linji said,

“If you meet the Buddha, kill him.”

Likewise, In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki writes,

“Kill the Buddha if the Buddha exists somewhere else. Kill the Buddha, because you should resume your own Buddha nature.”

And most famously, Lao Tzu spoke correctly by stating,

“ Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak, do not know.”

As much as vocabulary expands our knowledge of universe, it is limited in expanding and explaining our wisdom.

Here, our discussion retires.

In the future, I will speak more about this concept (or lack there of) and if you read some of my articles over again and again, a glimmer of non-duality may approach. If it does, I’d love to here about your experience.

For those of you that are still confused by my writing, either I am still poor in expression (most likely), or quit reasoning  and relax, let go of gripping the entirety of what I am saying and absorb the passage’s play beneath unconventional wordplay.

In other words, stop trying to grasp the matter of what I am saying and move in meter.

En Fin

Duality is this is good, that is evil. Or, this is good and this is evil.

Then we must integrate good with evil forming the concept good/evil as a conceptual unit of wholeness.

Non-duality extends past this concept.

Non-duality is this is not good, this is not evil. (Actually, even this statement is wrong, but closer to the point.)

Almost precisely, it is not two.

Better even, not this not that, but again and again.


Image Source: Thank you Cristina o.!

Here is a list of some more koans for those interested.

About Stephan Stansfield

Stephan is the owner, creator, and editor of Peregrine Poise.
He is currently traveling and teaching around the world. When he is not helping others discover their true potential, he finds time to surf, read, and reflect on the important issues of living a good life.


  1. I know the exact feeling you are talking about, but we have to remember that nonduality only exists because of duality. It’s like duality is always one step ahead. Maybe we can have the illusion of escaping it but it consciously, but unconsciously duality never goes away.

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