The following question was posed recently in an email:
In my readings I have learned of many teachers who espouse a 'non-dualist' angle. I would like to hear any comments and opinions you have about non-dualism from "Buddhism is non-dualist" to "Buddhism and non-dualism couldn't be further apart". To me the similarities are greater than any differences: while both point to the non-existence of the person, Buddhist practice at least provides a method while non-dualist teachings are weak on method in favor of sudden understanding and 'shifts' in consciousness.
This question elicited the following reflections:
As with all things Buddhist, the problem lies in positing dualistic vs non-dualistic perspectives, and in doing so, getting lost in yet another, albeit more subtle, contest of ideologies.
The aim of Buddhism is not dualism or non-dualism. Buddhism sees both positions as tools to an end, and the end is, depending on how you put it, compassion or the end of suffering.
Buddhism encourages the development of skill in life. As practice and experience deepen, one naturally sees that attachment to a sense of self prevents one from responding skillfully in many (perhaps most) situations. Thus, one lets go such attachment.
On the other hand, sometimes the expression of compassion or the ending of suffering will require an unambiguous stand, "There is a boundary here and here you have to meet me." Not exactly non-dual.
I find Musashi, the Japanese swordsman very helpful here and have adapted something he said about martial arts to Buddhism:
Buddhism is a way of freedom. Many people, when studying this way, may think that the skills one develops will not be useful in real situations. The true way of Buddha is to train so that these skills are useful at any time and to teach these skills so that they will be useful in all things.
Buddhism puts great emphasis on path, on the cultivation of willingness, know-how and ability. Insight or shifts in consciousness are not enough. The aim is to live, effectively and skillfully, in a way that ends suffering, in oneself and others.
Ideology of any kind is highly problematical as it usually evolves into preference and prejudice, with the inevitable results.