Is there anything like emptiness? Conceptually and sensorially may be, to denote the sense of vacuity, barrenness, or the state of containing nothing. The infinite void of akasha or ether, and fathomless blue of the ocean do not lead to emptiness but is indicative of a fullness defying quantification. According to Upanishads, infinity is endlessly divisible without being diminished, “Om Poornam Adah Poornam Idam / Poornaat Poornam Udachyate / Poornasya Poornam Aadaay / Poornam Evaa Vashishyate” meaning, ‘You are the fullness. There is fullness, here is fullness. From fullness, the fullness is born. Remove the fullness from fullness and the fullness alone remains.‘ To put it differently, Brahman, or the universal consciousness, is full; the Atman, or the individual consciousness, is full. One fullness proceeds from the other fullness. The invisible Brahman that remains continues to be in fullness.
Nagarjuna, the second century Buddhist master, posited that emptiness resides at the heart of everything. Grasped wrongly, emptiness is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end. We will be bitten. Even though all phenomena are existentially empty, it does not mean they are empty. Viewing emptiness only as complete nothingness, or in emptiness of essence, would be nihilistic and destructive. What it really means is that things do not exist the way our perceptions define it to be. While emptiness is the true nature of things and events, it should not be construed as an absolute reality or an independent truth. Nothing we see or hear ever stands alone; everything is a tentative expression of one seamless ever-changing landscape, existing inter-connectedly, bound by love and compassion. In other words, emptiness, as Thich Nhat Hanh would have it, is a state populated by‘inter-beings’ who not merely are but ‘inter-are’. The concept clarifies itself to the discerning mind capable of visualizing a cloud afloat in the day’s newspaper, as without the cloud there is no rain, without which there are no trees and without trees no paper whereby the cloud and paper are inter-are. Looking more deeply at the newspaper, the holistic mind is able to see the sunshine, without which neither forest nor life itself can sustain; it is able to see the grain fields, the farmer and the logger, the one inter-being in a long chain causing food to reach the table and the other inter-being responsible for cutting trees and consigning it to the paper-mill.
Taking the larger view of Nature and its composite beauty, it can be seen that the five elements of space, air, fire, water and earth are foundational to the entire physical world. These same aggregates comprise all forms, animate and inanimate; in human beings these elements flow like a river multiplying into tributaries of form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. Thus to be, is to inter-be, integrated vertically and horizontally in the vast ocean of emptiness stretching infinitely into maha shunyata or grand void.
Nothing, therefore, exists in isolation. But everything exists in emptiness. An empirical statement that an object is empty, must mean that it is empty of something. A cup of water is said to be empty by divesting it of its content. Yet in its deemed emptiness, it is still holding air and the sum total of its constituents rendering its form. Hence to say an object is empty is merely to mean it is empty of a separate, independent existence, yet sustaining in its interconnect with everything else. It is only empty of a separate self or beingness, which means it is full of everything. Likewise form is empty of a separate self but full of everything in the cosmos. Form, therefore, is emptiness, and emptiness is form as exemplified by the waves in the sea which are forms caused by play of wind and ocean currents on water and existing in the emptiness of water permeating it all, in just the same way as Universal consciousness or Brahman permeates all inter-beings. Even the tiniest speck of dust is a portal to the divine, as, if it does not exist, the entire cosmos becomes non-existent and vice versa. The enormity and interconnectedness of all beings bloom forth powerfully in the poetic outpourings of John Dryden, “From harmony, from heavenly harmony, / This universal frame began: / When nature underneath a heap / Of jarring atoms lay / And could not heave her head./ The tuneful voice we heard from high:/ Arise, ye more than dead”. And William Blake, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour”, pointing to underlying harmony that serves as the great integrator, clarifying that notions of existence and nonexistence are just created by our minds. The entire cosmos can be put on the tip of a finger and the sun and the moon can be seen in a mustard seed. These images depict that one contains everything, and everything is just one.
Such thought processes had its resonance in the Pythagorean synthesis of religion and science, in the definition of ‘music of the spheres’, and the theory of numbers, which postulated that the numbers one to ten are not merely mathematical numerals but manifestations of diversity in a unified continuum, with one signifying the dominant Oneness wherefrom all things emanate, whereas it emanates from nothing. It is indivisible and it is everything in power. It is immutable and never departs from its own nature through multiplication (1 x 1 = 1). Everything that is intelligible and not yet created exists in it; the nature of ideas, the Cosmic Power, Truth, Beauty, Goodness and every intelligible essence, for each of these things are conceived as One and existing in itself. The essence and power of the vision lies in its all-embracing, unifying character that sweeps in religion, science, mathematics, music, medicine, cosmology, body, mind and spirit in an inspired and luminous synthesis.
The Pythagorean view is that kosmos is a ‘world-order’, as an ‘ordered-world’. The Greek word kosmos means both order and ornament. In saying that the world is ornamented with order is the statement that the universe is beautifully ordered with every part maintained by the hierarchical principle of harmony, with multiplicity of its phenomenal realm merging into fabric of the whole in the Oneness of the cosmos.
It is despairing to ponder over the disparate and highly fragmented situation of contemporary life in spite of the treasures of wisdom in the Upanishads, Buddhist teachings and its many resonances in later religions and philosophies, in the insightful observations of sages and savants, and in the masterly synthesis of Pythagoras over two and a half millennia ago. Cosmic wisdom would elucidate that humanity progresses through integrated approach that takes into perspective the many-sidedness of life and experience, relating to both the universal and the particular, with true nature of parts being determined in relation to the whole, understanding that all things are essentially inter-dependent, bringing together the eternal and temporal levels of being so as to be at home in the universe. It is interesting to speculate whether the process of fragmentation started with compartmentalization of science, religion and philosophy and, if so, if it pre-dated the industrial revolution as a cause, co-existed with it as a collaborator or triggered as a consequence of specialization, quantification and commodification of life. At some point, the concept of worldly life as mechanical prevailed over the organic, technology domineered over political, ethical and social control and initiated the divide of human knowledge and experience into multiple domains.
Delinked from the ethical and philosophical aspect which tempers knowledge and belief, science narrows in perspective, transforming into a servile instrument of technology, aiding development of mechanization, eventually leading to deleterious consequences of fracturing the integrated approach. The scientific revolution turning nature into machine occurred concurrently with the industrial revolution resulting in mechanistic conceptualization of the natural order, organic life, and of human beings. The end purposes were economic imperatives of capital formation and augmentation. The enhancement of material profit witnessed a diminution of human spirit. Free market economies raised millions of people above poverty line. The question whether increasing material riches can usher in happiness is often posed but seldom answered as, in the given context, happiness is the satisfaction derived from material comforts.
Science is subservient to the military-industrial complex of the modern state and, in the process, conflated with technology. The ideal of a universal or inclusive science does not exist anymore. The problems of present-day societies manifest in the angst over a pervasive sense of looming crisis – gross materialism, hedonism, decline in culture, environmental degradation and the bigger threat of ecological disaster, rising philistinism through invasion of monetary values reducing everything to sensual immediacy.The far-fetched notion that machine can elevate and refine the human spirit reveals the incongruity at heart of the modern world, where means justify ends in a world with a plethora of means connected to instrumental purposes, not ends. The unity of all life has been broken up into its parts, quantified, priced and marketed. Failure to see the parts in its relation to the whole is resulting in lack of balance. If imbalance is the problem, it follows that restoration of balance is the solution, which lies in harmony, the linkage of all parts in happy hierarchy, affirming the potential of humankind to become a sacred steward of the earth as co-creator with Nature. In failing to recognize such co-creation as co-evolution, humanity is sliding into destructive separations, into a hell of its own making.
Stretching the enquiry further on the concept of emptiness and infinity, it leads to appreciation of the circle figuring as zero, and the endless cycle of Creation and Destruction occurring in circles repeating itself endlessly. Two circles placed horizontally symbolize infinity at the loci of two energies, spiritual and physical, converging at the still point in the middle which represents the source, the seed of all creation. The midpoint is the anchor, or zero-point consciousness, in turn representing two polarized opposites that balance each other, reflecting the parallel nature of all things in creation. As the smallest and the largest number, zero is nothing that contains everything, both empty and full at the same time. Zero-point is the connecting point, the point beyond measure in space-time connecting all that is, with all that could be. It is considered to be the gateway that connects the space-time of Mind with space-time of Brahman. Reality is made up of infinite zero-points radiating energy and information into the space-time of the mind. Among these, there is one special connecting point that affects consciousness and the human life experience. That point, or the gateway, is in the human heart, which is the first organ to form in the foetus. The heart’s beating creates an electro-magnetic field surrounding the foetus; within the field are signals, energy and information that interact with and direct the field of all other organs, cells, and tissues that will progressively constitute the fully formed baby, child and adult. The signals from the heart also shape the baby’s mind, preparing it to correctly perceive and function in the physical world into which it will emerge.
Emptiness and infinity are aspects of the Universal Soul in that it is infinite emptiness populated by inter-beings. Emptiness is an optimistic concept. It constitutes form; if I am not empty, I cannot exist. Every atom geometrically distributed in the infinity of space, and dancing and moving to the music of the spheres, is a nano aspect of emptiness.