Monism is any philosophical view which holds that there is unity in a given field of inquiry, where this is not to be expected. Thus, some philosophers may hold that the universe is really just one thing, despite its many appearances and diversities; or theology may support the view that there is one God, with many manifestations in different religions.
Monism in philosophy can be defined according to three kinds:
- Idealism, phenomenalism, or mentalistic monism which holds that only mind is real.
- Neutral monism, which holds that both the mental and the physical can be reduced to some sort of third substance, or energy.
- Physicalism or materialism, which holds that only the physical is real, and that the mental or spiritual can be reduced to the physical.
- Certain other positions are hard to pigeonhole into the above categories, see links below.
Ancient Western philosophers
The following pre-Socratic philosophers described reality as being monistic:
- Thales: Water.
- Anaximander: Apeiron (meaning 'the undefined infinite'). Reality is some, one thing, but we cannot know what.
- Anaximenes: Air.
- Heraclitus: Fire (in that everything is in constant flux).
- Parmenides: Being. Reality is an unmoving perfect sphere, unchanging, undivided.
- Neopythagorians such as Apollonius of Tyana centered their cosmologies on the Monad or One.
- Stoics, like Spinoza later, taught that there is only one substance, identified as God.
- Middle Platonism under such works as Numenius express the Universe emanating from the Monad or One.
- Neoplatonism is Monistic. Plotinus taught that there was an ineffable transcendent God, 'The One,' of which subsequent realities were emanations. From The One emanates the Divine Mind (Nous), the Cosmic Soul (Psyche), and the World (Cosmos).
Monism, pantheism, and panentheism
Following a long and still current tradition H.P. Owen (1971: 65) claimed that
- "Pantheists are ‘monists’...they believe that there is only one Being, and that all other forms of reality are either modes (or appearances) of it or identical with it."
Although almost all pantheists are monists, some pantheists may also be not-monists, but undeniably monists were the most famous pantheisms as that of Stoics, Plotinus and Spinoza. Exclusive Monists believe that the universe, the "God" of naturalistic pantheism, simply does not exist. In addition, monists can be Deists, Pandeists, Theists or Panentheists; believing in a monotheistic God that is omnipotent and all-pervading, and both transcendent and immanent. There are monist pantheists and panentheists in Zoroastrianism, Hinduism (particularly in Advaita and Vishistadvaita respectively), Judaism (monistic panentheism is especially found in Kabbalah and Hasidic philosophy), in Christianity (especially among Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans) and in Islam (among the Sufis, especially the Bektashi).
While pantheism means all things are identical to God, panentheism means God is in all things, neither identical to, nor totally separate from all things. Such a concept, some may argue, is more compatible with God as personal while not barring a bridge between God and creation. Historical figures such as Paul Tillich have argued for such a concept within Christian theology, as well as contemporary biblical scholar Marcus Borg.
Monism in religious and spiritual systems
The Guru Granth Sahib teaches a rejection of non-dualism, and often describes various parts of God, then says that those elements are none. It is descriptions like this that teach the ideal of the Guru Granth Sahib - there is nothing that is not God, and our spiritual aim is to merge with reality, and see none of these elements as separate. The following quotes from the Guru Granth Sahib confirm this:
Monism is found in the Nasadiya Sukta of the Rigveda, which speaks of the One being-non-being that 'breathed without breath'. The first system in Hinduism that unequivocally explicated absolute monism was the non-dualist philosophy of Advaita Vedanta as expounded by Shankara. In short, Advaita declares - All is Brahman. It is part of the six Hindu systems of philosophy, based on the Upanishads, and posits that the ultimate monad is a formless, ineffable divine ground of all being.
Vishishtadvaita, qualified monism, is from the school of Ramanuja. Shuddhadvaita, in-essence monism, is the school of Vallabha. Dvaitadvaita, differential monism, is a school founded by Nimbarka. Dvaita, dualism, is a school founded by Madhvacharya is probably the only Vedantic System which is opposed to all types of monism. It believes that God is eternally different from souls and matter in both form and essence. All Vaishnava schools are panentheistic and view the universe as part of Krishna or Narayana, but see a plurality of souls and substances within Brahman. Monistic theism, which includes the concept of a personal God as a universal, omnipotent Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, is prevalent within many other schools of Hinduism as well.
According to the Pali Canon, both pluralism (naanatta) and monism (ekatta) are speculative views. A Theravada commentary notes that the former is similar to or associated with nihilism (ucchedavada), and the latter is similar to or associated with eternalism (sassatavada). See middle way.
Among the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate nature of the world is described as emptiness, which is indistinguishable from material form. That appears to be a monist position, but the Madhyamaka views - including variations like Prasangika and Yogacara and the more modern shentong Tibetan position - will fail to assert in the ultimate nature any particular point of view. They instead deconstruct any assertions about ultimate existence as resulting in absurd consequences. The doctrine of emptiness is also found in earlier Theravada Buddhist literature.
In Soto Zen teaching, it is said that "All is One and All is Different." Since non-dualism does not recognize a dualism between Oneness and Difference, or even between dualism and non-dualism, it is difficult to state the meaning of this doctrine. All discussion of this teaching by Soto Zen masters falls under the Buddhist concept of skill in means, which is to say, not literally correct, but suitable for leading others to the Truth. Chinese Soto (Cao-Dong) master Tozan (Tung Shan, Dongshan) wrote the Verses of the Five Ranks (of the Ideal and the Actual), which is also important as a set of koans in the Rinzai school. Dongshan describes the Fifth Rank in part thus:
Who dares to equal him
Who falls into neither being nor non-being!
Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien's poem "The Harmony of Difference and Sameness" Sandokai is an important early expression of Zen Buddhism and is chanted in Sōtō temples to this day. Another poem of Tung-shan Liang-chieh on these and related themes, "The Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness", is also chanted in Sōtō temples daily.
Other expressions of this teaching include the koan:
A disciple asked, "What is the difference between the enlightened and the unenlightened man?"
The Master replied, "The unenlightened man sees a difference, but the enlightened man does not."
and Dogen Zenji's personal koan, "Why are training and enlightenment differentiated, since the Truth is universal?" (Fukanzazengi, Instructions for Meditation)
Christianity strongly maintains the Creator-creature distinction as fundamental. Most Christians maintain that God created the universe ex nihilo and not from himself, nor within himself, so that the creator is not to be confused with creation, but rather transcends it (metaphysical dualism)(cf. Genesis). Even the more immanent concepts and theologies are to be defined together with God's omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience, due to God's desire for intimate contact with his own creation (cf. Acts 17:27) Another use of the term "monism" is in Christian anthropology to refer to the innate nature of mankind as being holistic, as usually opposed to bipartite and tripartite views.
While the Christian view of reality is dualistic (in regard to metaphysics) in that it holds to the Creator's transcendence of creation, it rejects other types of dualism (or pluralism) such as the idea that God must compete with other equal powers such as Satan (cf Gospel of John 14:30). In On Free Choice of the Will, Augustine argued, in the context of the problem of evil, that evil is not the opposite of good, but rather merely the absence of good, something that does not have existence in itself. Likewise, C. S. Lewis described evil as a "parasite" in Mere Christianity, as he viewed evil as something that cannot exist without good to provide it with existence. Lewis went on to argue against dualism from the basis of moral absolutism, and rejected the dualistic notion that God and Satan are opposites, arguing instead that God has no equal, hence no opposite. Lewis rather viewed Satan as the opposite of Michael the archangel.
This position neglects monists such as Paul Tillich. Since God is He "in whom we live and move and have our being" (Book of Acts 17.28), it follows that everything that has being partakes in God. Dualism with regard to God and creation also barred the possibility of a mystical union with God, as John Calvin rejected, according to Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Such a dualism also leads to the problematic position of positing God as a particular being the existence of which can be argued for or against, failing to recognize God as the ground and origin of being itself, as in Acts 17, or in the Hashem, YHWH, meaning "He causes to come into being." Such a view was called by Tillich panentheism: God is in all things, neither identical to, nor totally separate from, all things. This understanding would be further supported by that understanding of the proclamation of the kingdom of God, in which it is proclaimed "on earth as it is in heaven." (Gospel of Matthew 6:10) Such an understanding of the kingdom implies a new reality in which old dichotomies between, for example, the sacred and the profane, the temporal and the eternal, body and soul, absolutism and relativism, are overcome. All things are filled with God's Spirit (Epistle to the Romans 8:11), so that in this new creation God is "all in all" (I Corinthians 15.28; Ephesians 1.23).
- Firstly, a very strong Jewish belief is that "[t]he Divine life-force which brings [the universe] into existence must constantly be present... were this life-force to forsake [the universe] for even one brief moment, it would revert to a state of utter nothingness, as before the creation..." 
- Secondly, and simultaneously, Judaism holds as axiomatic that God is an absolute unity, and that He is Perfectly Simple - thus if His sustaining power is within nature, then His essence is also within nature.
Note that, at the same time, Jewish thought considers God as separate from all physical, created things (transcendent) and as existing outside of time (eternal). For a discussion of the resultant paradox; see Tzimtzum.
- See also Negative theology.
According to Maimonides, (see Foundations of the Law, Chapter 1), God is an incorporeal being that caused all other existence. In fact, God is defined as the necessary existent that caused all other existence. According to Maimonides, to admit corporeality to God is tantamount to admitting complexity to God, which is a contradiction to God as the First Cause and constitutes heresy. While Hasidic mystics considered the existence of the physical world a contradiction to God's simpleness, Maimonides saw no contradiction. See the Guide for the Perplexed, especially chapter I:50.
Many followers of Sufism advocated monism. Most notably the 13th-century Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi (1207–73) in his didactic poem Masnavi espoused monism. Rumi says in the Masnavi, "in the shop for Unity (wahdat); anything that you see there except the One is an idol."
According to Vincent J. Cornell, the Qur'an also provides a monist image of God by describing the reality as a unified whole, with God being a single concept that would describe or ascribe all existing things:"He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward; He is the Knower of everything (Sura 57:3)".
Another verse in the Quran is "To God belongs the East and the West, Wheresoever you look is the face of God.(Sura 2:115)".
There are many other verses such as Quran 15:29, 38:72 etc. which say that God blew his breath in man, which are interpreted to mean that an imprint of God is present inside man.
Although the Bahá'í teachings have a strong emphasis on social and ethical issues, there exist a number of foundational texts that have been described as mystical. The Seven Valleys is considered Bahá'u'lláh's "greatest mystical composition." It was written to a follower of Sufism, in the style of `Attar, a Muslim poet, and sets forth the stages of the soul's journey towards God. It was first translated into English in 1906, becoming one of the earliest available books of Bahá'u'lláh to the West. The Hidden Words is another book written by Bahá'u'lláh during the same period, containing 153 short passages in which Bahá'u'lláh claims to have taken the basic essence of certain spiritual truths and written them in brief form.
Theological growth and breadth
Many forms of Hinduism (including Vedanta, some forms of Yoga, and certain schools of Shaivism), Taoism, Pantheism, Rastafari and similar systems of thought explore the mystical and spiritual elements of a monistic philosophy. With increasing awareness of these systems of thought, western spiritual and philosophical climate has seen a growing understanding of monism. Moreover, the New Thought and New Age movements embraced many monistic concepts during the twentieth century and continue up to the present day.
Monism can be said to oppose religious philosophy altogether by claiming that the idea of spirituality contradicts the monist principle of an indistinguishable mind and body.
Materialistic monism (or monistic materialism) is the philosophical concept which sees the unity of matter in its globality. For the materialistic monist the cosmos is “one” and comprehensive, then a “one-all” made up of parts such as its effects. The matter is then originary and cause of all reality. The monism duality is Antimatter.
- Anomalous monism
- Dialectical monism
- Indefinite monism
- Mind-body problem
- Monistic idealism
- Neutral Monism
- Ontological pluralism
- Physical ontology
- Reflexive monism
- ↑ David Kalupahana, Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. The University Press of Hawaii, 1975, page 88. The passage is SN 2.77.
- ↑ http://www.chabad.org/library/archive/LibraryArchive2.asp?AID=7988
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Reynold Nicholson Rumi
- ↑ Cyprian Rice, O.P., (1964) The Persian Sufism George Allen, London
- ↑ Vincent J. Cornell, Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol 5, pp.3561-3562
- ↑ Britannica (1992). "The Bahá'í Faith". Britannica Book of the Year. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica. ISBN 0852294867.
- ↑ Smith, Peter (2000). "Seven Valleys". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. p. 311. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
- ↑ Taherzadeh, Adib (1976). The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, Volume 1: Baghdad 1853–63. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. pp. 96–99. ISBN 0853982708. http://www.peyman.info/cl/Baha%27i/Others/ROB/V1/p096-104Ch08.html.
- Catholic Encyclopedia - Monism
- Hinduism's Online Lexicon - (search for Monism)
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Monism
- The Monist