In many spiritual circles, “oneness” has become the new word to capture what in traditional Indian philosophy is the teaching of advaita, non-duality. It’s not a new idea, just a modern usage of a word that refers to an ancient teaching.
However, when teachers and their students talk of oneness, they are not all pointing to the same experience. It’s important to consider what people mean by oneness because not all experiences of oneness are the same, nor are they all what is truly meant by advaita or non-duality.
I have observed more than one form of oneness in my own experience as my experience has evolved and deepened. I have outlined these below. And these forms of oneness are not unique to my experience. Many people have experienced one or more of these. I would not be surprised if there are other forms of oneness that could be described.
The feeling of relatedness or communing:
This is a state of intimate, heightened sensitivity and receptivity to one’s surroundings. It is a sense that the individual person is connected to the scope of perception, objects and environment. It evokes a comforting feeling — devoid of any sense of alienation or isolation — a friendly, harmonious sense analogous to the comforting bond one might feel with one’s family or family member. Everything seems connected.
The sum of the parts:
A step beyond the feeling of communing, here the parts make up the whole. There is the feeling that all the parts – person, objects and environment – exist together as a whole structure. This still carries a sense of individual identity of the person experiencing “oneness” and the sense of objects and environment having their own character. Yet the person and all the parts are felt to be collected together into one complete structure that transcends the person, objects and environment. One feels the world as if it is contained in an invisible bubble and this container gives the sense that all is one.
The illusion of the parts:
This type of oneness is the perception that all objects and the environment seem to have no underlying reality – they appear to be illusory or dreamlike – and as such take on the sense of being “one” in their perceived sense of “non-reality.” And as there is no “reality” to objects and environment they seem to find their reality only in the person, the perceiver. The illusory world of objects and environment have only the perceiver as a reference point of their apparent existence and collapse into the perceiver, leaving only the perceiver as having substance or “reality.” Thus “oneness” is derived from the sense of there being only the perceiver that is real.
This is the distinct sense or recognition that everything is contiguous with an expanded sense of one’s identity – that objects and environment are all experienced within one’s own consciousness, and as such are not separate from the individual. When all objects of perception seem to have their source in one’s consciousness, this conveys a sense of “oneness.”
Singularity or Only-ness:
This type of oneness is the recognition that there is only a singular reality at the basis of person (subject), objects and environment. This Only-ness is all there is. Individual identity as we typically think of it has been subsumed. Identity is aligned with Only-ness, not the personal sense of identity. Person, object and environment appear to be so permeated by and transparent to Only-ness, that while person, object and environment appear to the senses, they are secondary to experience of Only-ness. The sense of 3-dimensionality of object and environment collapses – the sense of space separating objects disappears – the sense of “here” and “there” or “inside” and “outside” disappears – leaving only a non-dimensional openness of Only-ness in which person, objects and environment seem to appear.
Only-ness is the singularity, the unmanifest source of the field of manifestation. Everything has its source in Only-ness and is Only-ness.
Beyond Oneness (Deeper Singularity/Only-ness):
This type of oneness is taking a step further. While Only-ness is all there is, there is a deeper sense of what Only-ness actually is, though there are no words that can describe it. Nothing at all seems to be happening — no one is there to see and there is nothing to see. Person, object and environment do not appear in anything, whereas previously they appeared in and as Only-ness. There is nothing but joy, peace, bliss and divine radiance.