Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 19: The Reign of Relativity > Chapter 5: The Void As Metaphysical Fact
The Void As Metaphysical Fact
Living with time
Even inside the timed world, what is a thousand years here could be a single year in another area of the universe. Time itself would be a relative changing measure to a traveller through it. It is the same with space. What of this vacuum which is timelessness? It is the Void.
Learning detachment from the world comes at the beginning of the path. Learning that the world is not even there comes at the end.
What I am trying to say is that this indescribable Void out of which the universes appear, this utter Nothing between and behind them, this unknown Power between and behind the atoms themselves, is God.
How hard for the unprepared ordinary man to understand that the world of objects and persons, things and planets, is unreal whereas the world of the Void is real!
The fathomless Void seems, as a concept to someone who has never experienced it or, failing that, correctly understood it, like nonbeing. Yet it is the most important concept of all Oriental wisdom, the last possible one of all Occidental theology and metaphysics.
Every conceivable kind of form comes out of the seeming Void into time and space.
The Void is the state of Mind in repose, and the appearance-world is its (in)activity. At a certain stage of their studies, the seeker and the student have to discriminate between both in order to progress; but further progress will bring them to understand that there is no essential difference between the two states and that Mind is the same in both.
What we have called "the void" is the same as what medieval German mystics like Tauler and Boehme have called "the abyss." It is the Eternal Silence behind all activities and evolutions, the Mother of all that exists.
This is the great miracle of our existence, that out of the Void it comes forth, out of Nothing it receives consciousness, power, and life.
All phenomena are ultimately empty and relative. This is a large part of the meaning of the Void.
In a precise scientific sense, the Void is beyond explanation since it is not really a Void at all. It is a perpetual paradox.
The universal existence is an ever-developing process, an activity and not a thing. There is no cessation of this process anywhere but only the mere show of it. THAT out of which and in which it arises is alone exempt from this vibration, being formless, intangible, inconceivable void.
There are no relativities in It, no timed events, no places, no creatures: nothing that can ever be known by finite perceptions.
This unthinkable Void is, for those who want one, the First Cause of all existence.
Our thoughts pass out and evaporate into a seeming void. Can it be that this void is really a nothingness, really less existent than the thoughts it receives? No, the void is nothing other, can be nothing other than Mind itself. The thoughts merge inward in their secret essence--Thought.
On one hand there is the emptiness of the Void, on the other hand there is the fullness of the cosmos which comes into being to occupy it.
In the Void the Real is hidden, all time is rolled up there: the entire world and the space holding it dissolves there, everything and everyone emerges and vanishes there. THAT alone is the ever-Real, ever-Being. That is what man must learn to consider as his own hidden being, a task of re-identification.
The Void is empty of matter, yes, of all material universes--but it is not lacking in Reality. It is in fact the mysterious support of all material universes.
In the Void there is no one particular thing or creature. It is Pure Consciousness with no personality.
Atomic physics shows the world as derived from a mysterious No-thing.
That which is called the Void, Emptiness, is not the total annihilation of all things but the total lack of that matter of which they were supposed to be composed.
The Void is called so only as it is empty of all forms, of all things shaped or patterned, of all creatures drawn in any image whatsoever. It is their annihilation, but only to be followed at a later period by their self-unfolding again.
It is not the annihilation of being but the fullness of being.
You may get rid of every object of thought and, seemingly, of every thought itself until there is only a void. But even then you will still be thinking the void and consequently holding a "thought." It will not be the true void. The thinking "I" must itself be eliminated. Only when this is done will all activity truly cease and the stillness of the Eternal be truly known. This can be realized by some kind of mystical practice only and not by conceptual effort.
The Void is not beyond the reach of human consciousness, not a condition that is unknowable or inexperienceable. This is testified by the Buddhist Sage Nagasena: "O King, Nirvana exists. . . . And, it is perceptible to the mind. . . . that disciple who has fully attained, can see Nirvana."
The momentary pause in every heartbeat is a link with the still centre of the Overself. Where the rhythm of activity comes to an end--be it a man's heart or an entire planet--its infinite and eternal cause is there. All this vast universal activity is but a function of the silent, still Void.
What Eckhart calls The Nothing is not dissimilar from what Buddha calls The Void. The ordinary human mind recoils from such a conception and human knowledge keeps no place for it. The five senses want a tangible world, even if it be only an illusionary appearance.
The Void does not mean that there is ultimately nothing at all but that there is ultimately nothing within finite human intellectual and sense perception. We cannot strictly assert that reality is this or that because the moment we make such an assertion we imply that finite reason knows enough about infinite reality to make it. However, although it is true that we cannot describe this state except in negative terms, that need not deter us from searching for symbols and similes which have an intellectually positive character, so long as we understand that they are only symbols and similes.
Even in Pali Buddhism there is the Void, called sunnatta, meaning emptiness. Nibbana can be realized by the sole path of contemplating all conditioned things as empty, soul-less (anatta), devoid of a permanent and personal entity. Nibbana is the Unconditioned and hence "It is just because there is no sense experience that in Nibbana there is happiness," said Buddha.
Men are too deceived by their perceptions of the world around them, too ignorant of the ultimate in scientific atomic research, to believe that its "substance" is totally immaterial, is in short a Void. In this matter, their infatuation with their bodily senses makes the deep subtle thinking required to pierce this ignorance even harder still.
Man has no faculty whereby he can perceive the absolute and infinite Power as clearly as he can perceive any material thing.
The most meaningful of all figures in the domain of numbers is the nought. Consider! It is there even before you can start with the one. The Void is also the most mysterious of states in which to find one's mind. It holds both the least and the most.
The notion of the Void when it is first encountered is somewhat frightening. The reason for this is that it bears no identity, this great emptiness has no self-being. It is like a confrontation with annihilation, this unidentifiable and unique non-thing.
The Void is not a mere nothing as ordinarily meant: nor is it something the mind can hold for unlimited periods.
Is there any difference between what Christian Saint John of the Cross called "the Nada (Nothing)" and what Buddhist Nagarjuna called "the Void"?
Tibetan wisdom-knowledge equates the Void with the Inner Stillness.
The Void is not an experience limited to the Buddhists and Hindus. It has also been mentioned in the works of Western mystics such as Saint John of the Cross, The Hermit (unknown author), and in the medieval English work The Cloud of Unknowing.
The whole of truth cannot be given in a single statement when the whole universe is based on the dualities and opposites. One aspect without the other would be a misleading half-truth. For instance, to speak of the Void as the Source of All, to tell men that the universe is a No-thing, would seem meaningless to common sense, although it is metaphysically correct. "It would not be the Tao unless people of inferior intelligence laughed at it," said the sage Lao Tzu. As Tenshin, a great teacher of art in the last century, explained: "Truth can be reached only through the knowledge of opposites." It was Tenshin, too, who said, "Nothing is real except that which concerns the working of our own minds."
If the Void is not taken into account or has not yet been experienced, the individual will still have an inadequate idea of existence.
Not all minds are fitted to comprehend the tremendous truth of the Void, which science has discovered and philosophy proclaims. It would be in vain to ask the untutored to accept No-thing as the cause of Things, to believe that there can be effects without causes, and that all is in the mind. They would need education in the most advanced nuclear physics, capacity to cope with the most difficult mathematical formulae. And even more than education, the tutors themselves would need inspiration. For though the facts are there, only a genius like Heisenberg, or a mind like his disciple von Weizäcker, can quickly see their sublime meaning--God is.
Thus the Void must become the subject of actual meditation. It must be dwelt on as unbounded and immaterial, formless and relationless, and the effort used in meditation must combine the imaginative with the rational faculties, the intuitive with the aspirational.
The One behind the Many is not to be mistaken for the figure one which is followed by two, three, and so on. It is on the contrary the mysterious Nought out of which all the units which make up multiple figures themselves arise. If we do not call it the Nought it is only because this might be mistaken as utter Nihilism. Were this so then existence would be meaningless and metaphysics absurd. The true ineffable Nought, like the superphysical One, is rather the reality of all realities. From it there stream forth all things and all creatures; to it they shall all return eventually. This void is the impenetrable background of all that is, was, or shall be; unique, mysterious, and imperishable. He who can gaze into its mysterious Nothingness and see that the pure Divine Being is forever there, sees indeed.
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