Emptiness and Infinity…

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.


58 thoughts on “Emptiness and Infinity…

  1. This is really a tremendous essay, and quite beautiful in its clarity and development, Raj. The metaphysical concept of emptiness is indeed hard to grasp in thought, it seems, and is only truly apprehended and comprehended as pre-conceptual awareness reflected upon as insight, without which it remains abstract and opaque at best. Just to be a little mundane on the matter, then I heard yesterday, in an interview with an author of a new book on microbial life, that if all of humankind were collected together and the totality of space removed from the individual bodies, then what remained would be the size of a sugar cube.

    • Thanks very much Hariod for your as always gracious observations. The analogy of sugar cube is sweetly appropriate to the context. For a person steeped in Buddhist doctrines as you are, much of what I have stated here is likely to be old hat. Abstract concepts are difficult to break down to levels of easy comprehension. It demands an effort from the reader. The more life trends through surfeit of materialistic pursuits, narrowing divides of religious dogma and specialisations, the greater is the relevance of Buddhist teachings.

  2. ‘Emptiness’ and ‘infinity’ are two (too) complex words much beyond the understanding of common people, more apt for poets who can ride on their wings and transcend all man-made boundaries to create fantastic ideas that appeal to us beyond bounds. How beautifully has Blake condensed the world “in a grain of sand” and “heaven in a wild flower”…which seems SO true! I would love to understand these two words in that manner than their scientific or mathematical form. To me, “Emptiness is an optimistic concept,” worthy of exploration.
    Thank you for such a thought-provoking post Raj. Have a wonderful week.

    • Thanks Balroop for your take on the subject. What matters is relating to it, even on the wings of poesy, since poetry defines the metaphysical in a manner that holds wider appeal. The poems of John Donne, Dryden, Emily Dickinson, Hopkins, Yeats and TS Eliot among others serve as great illustrations.

  3. Everything I witness in nature proves the veracity of your words. I was also born with ‘second sight,’ but I have never witnessed anything in the unseen realms without first surrendering to ‘nothingness.’ “Infinity is endlessly divisible without being diminished” is truth I feel to my core. Inseperable yin and yang. Light cannot be light without the contrast of shadow. Even in writing poetry, I am continually removing words to further clarify meaning. In absence is presence, and vice-versa. I cannot conceive of how reality, at least as perceived in current awareness, could be otherwise. Love this post, Raj. Aloha.

    • Mahalo Bela, and thanks for chiming in. The fact that you hold these concepts in deep appreciation is evident in your many kind deeds, some of which sparkle in your writings. From far away India, I can see it in my mind’s eye. May the fulfilling journey continue with more blessings coming your way. Namaste…

  4. It is work for a non-Buddhist to grasp the meaning in these words, but it is work that my brain likes. I can grasp, hold, and understand, even lament, over what you wrote about science. I understand and think about things like when you wrote, that scientists are not looking deep enough, that the answers to all problems are there, but not being seen. I can see the divine order and that we are all one. What I can’t wrap my tiny, little brain around is the emptiness component. I think I could understand it, Raj, if no one had ever come up with the word, empty. I understand the inter-be and I understand that there is no such thing as time, which you didn’t mention, but I can’t grasp that there is no such thing as emptiness except at the most basic level which is that everything is always filled with something even if it is air. Maybe I’ll dream about it tonight and see it clearly. Thank you, Raj. It feels so good to stretch one’s brain. Even if this is elementary to you and your readers, I’m not embarrassed that I can’t fully understand it. I enjoy trying to understand it.

    • Thanks Ginene. I am happy for your mind-stretch on the concept of emptiness. You are not alone in the matter of grasping its essence as it is not easy to take in. If it were so, we would have all been Buddhas by now. While we are alone at birth, by the time we grow up to gain life’s participation we are crowded. Crowded in the external world with the throng penetrating deep inside in the form of impressions, beliefs and ideas. Our mind-space is so distorted with erroneous impressions and thought processes that it becomes frustrating to view things in newer dimensions. We will all get there if we make a conscious effort to get away from the chaos both without and within. We need to become empty.

    • Thanks Dalo and welcome to graleview. The philosophies of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism are deeply intertwined as Buddha, Lao Tzu and Confucius lived during 5th and 6th BCE. Lao Tzu is believed to have crossed over to India and Nepal and come strongly under Buddhist influence.

      • I can definitely see Lao Zi and Buddhism thought merging. It sometimes amazing me at the core (with the religious aspects taken away) how close in philosophy these religions are. What is also fascinating is that Christianity went East from Jerusalem (the Church of the East) which was more of a philosophy crossing over to more advanced societies (Persia, India and China) and it was looked upon as a compatible philosophy (the Daoist rulers of China took it as a reply from the West to Lao Zi’s teachings). Christianity also went west with the Church of the West into Europe, a tribal and less advanced society, and was then politicized by the Romans to rule…and Western religion was born.

  5. Appreciate your additional observations, Dalo. Ultimate truth is only one so philosophies will converge around it. As for the movement of Christianity in the eastern direction, the only place where it found ready acceptance is in the Indian subcontinent. Not only Christianity but also Judaism, Islam and other faiths. Christianity came to India apparently through Saint Thomas in 52 CE and Judaism around the same time. While Jews were persecuted elsewhere, India sheltered them. The oldest synagogue in entire common wealth is in India as also the earliest Church and Mosque. Unlike the narrow dogma and strictures constraining Semitic religions, Sanatana Dharma (later named as Hinduism) and Buddhism did not have any issue accommodating other faiths and allowing them to co-exist. My strong belief is that the world will outgrow all organised religions in the next fifty years and places of worship will accordingly transform into cultural centres.

  6. A deep and fascinating essay, Raj. I know I will continue to ponder emptiness and infinity. The passage that resonated most for me on this first reading is the following.

    “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.”

    Recently, I have been contemplating “energy,” or in other words, “electro-magnetic fields.” I have a simple device called an energy stick. It has a sensor at each end that is sensitive to very small amounts of electricity. If a person grasps both ends simultaneously, the stick lights and buzzes. If a circle of people all hold hands, with two neighbor’s somewhere in the circle grasping the ends, the stick lights and buzzes. It grows dark and quiet if the circle of connection is broken anywhere along the chain by people letting go of their neighbor’s hand. The energy in the room is still there, but absent a scientific device to record it, it’s easy to remain unaware that it exists.

    Our hearts do generate electromagnetic fields, as does everything around us including the air that appears empty. The transformation of energy fields during storms is something that also fascinates me lately, and something I actually experience physically as the concentration of negative charges at the base of storm clouds shifts the earth’s charge from slightly negative to positive. Science and spirituality – one in an infinite dance.

    Thank you for a thought-provoking essay, Raj. There’s much to continue contemplating here.

    • Thanks very much for your thoughts on the subject, dear Carol. The teacher that you are, I want to tell you that today, 5th September, is celebrated as Teacher’s Day in India, also in honour of late Dr. Radhakrishnan, India’s second President, whose birthday falls today, who was also a distinguished scholar and teacher, and one of the most authoritative interpreters of Indian philosophy.

  7. Emptiness is in reality not truly empty but instead still full of connections to other things of this world… How wonderful to think of “emptiness” this way and I am now looking at everything as being beautifully interwoven. I wish you a wonderful weekend ahead, dear Raj xx

  8. Very interesting … Emptiness is a concept hard to understand from a western point of view…
    Emptiness is not complete nothingness; it doesn’t mean that nothing exists at all. The idea of interbeing could be vital to better understand Buddhism, as I see it
    Great post, Raj… I also like the sociological twist when you mention the fragmented situation of contemporary life.
    All the best to you. Aquileana 😀

    • Aquileana, Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn, mentioned in this thought-provoking essay, has many publications that introduce Buddhist concepts in a manner the Western mind can apprehend. On the surface, his introductory books are simple; but if one takes the time to truly reflect on his words, the concepts they introduce are beautiful and even transforming.

  9. I found myself reading many a lines again and again…. your style makes me think I can understand but I keep getting lost. Questions que up and they get submerged in the next thought! I feel wanting but the want gets lost and the feel dominates. This post seem to have directions to queries that’s been throbbing and robbing my mind ….but I’m yet to get them! I have often wondered why people often link heart and mind, but your information on electromagnetic signals from heart beat makes me ponder and read more on the subject. Thanks for this post. ‘m saving it with the hope one day I would understand it all perfectly!

  10. Raj this is a most excellent post my friend.. I read it twice, and your wisdom here is immeasurable 🙂 Your point here too when you said ” The unity of all life has been broken up into its parts, quantified, priced and marketed.” I so agree we have to give everything labels and then confine them within their various ‘boxes’
    I know I am very late in my arrival here Raj, but in a way I am pleased I am, for it also gave me time to read others comments and I loved what Hariod had to say and puts into perspective the size of the human to the size of a sugar cube 🙂

    Reading further to Belas comment I agree also, connecting as I do with Spirit throughout my life.. Knowing there are worlds within worlds and each of us reside within our own vibrational field All is Energy.. Positive and Negative particles
    Even this dual we now see playing out on Earth with Good and Bad, Light/Dark Positive Negative energies all part of that balancing act.. As one swings causing a wave, each has its own reaction in the opposite pull

    Many thanks Raj for your Post.. Very enlightening work..

    Love and Blessings
    Sue 🙂

  11. Rajagopal, how wonderfully you explain the concepts of emptiness, infinity, inter-being, and the Universal Soul. I like to think of emptiness as infinite potential. Everything we perceive comes from, and returns to, emptiness. Out of emptiness can arise an infinite array of permutations, the elements of which are always interconnected by their source, being (actions and reactions), and end.
    We can’t alter whence we come, nor to where we will return. We can, however, through our actions change the consequences and nature of our being. The rich abundance on this planet is a blessing rather than something to be conquered or possessed. To devour more than one requires is to steal from others upon whose being one’s own being relies. As Thich Nhat Hahn writes in Understanding Our Mind: 50 Verses on Buddhist Psychology, “My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.”
    Finally, thank you for mentioning Dr Radharkrishna in your reply to Carol. Both his biography and the introduction to his work I found on the internet were fascinating. His writings certainly warrant further exploration.

    • Though slightly belated, thanks very much, Connie, for dropping by with your thoughts on the subject. Your observation that a person can only harvest the fruits of what he sows by way of actions forms the core of the theory of karma.

  12. The circle analogy best describes both, since it encircles both infinity and emptiness. Emptiness is essential for growth, like the glass half full. Every person can stay humble if they think of themselves as half full , as opposed to those who r so full of themselves that any extra knowledge will overflow.
    Interesting that all concepts of circle come from India, whether its the cyclic nature of human body & soul as per Sankhya yoga; or the chariot wheels, or Zero

  13. Love the contrasts and binaries in this post, Raj. Something or someone can fill infinitely empty, but at the same time that can be equated to fullness as well – and as you said at the end, it is a cycle and this life comes full circle. Very apt that you link this idea to the progressiveness of this modern world, consumer capitalism. The more we buy things, the more we seek monetary wealth and seek to spend and seek that monetary wealth again, we collect and feel like we have gained…but at the same time feel that we are lacking and wanting more – like nothing is never enough although we can see and feel how far we have gained to loosely put it. Which ultimately leads to as what you mentioned, “The unity of all life has been broken up into its parts”. That we all feel broken as we get stuck in this cycle. Well written, informative and thought-provoking philosophy.

    • Thanks Mabel for adding your thoughts on the subject. The essence to be borne in mind is the interdependent existence of the cosmos, with everything silently whispering, ‘you are because we are’. That silent whisper must put the lid loudly down on greed and mindless consumption as these carry the seeds of destruction.

      • So true that greed is destructive. Sometimes we try something, and then the more we want. It can be a tough choice to make. But if we choose wisely if will pay off in the long term.

  14. Enjoyed your post! It reminded me of the famous and profound Lao Tzu poem from the Tao Te Ching (Chapter 11)

    Thirty spokes unite around the nave;
    From their not-being (loss of their individuality)
    Arises the utility of the wheel.
    Mold clay into a vessel;
    From its not-being (in the vessel’s hollow)
    Arises the utility of the vessel.
    Cut out doors and windows in the house (-wall),
    From their not-being (empty space) arises the utility of the house.
    Therefore by the existence of things we profit.
    And by the non-existence of things we are served.

    I appreciate you for visiting my blog! Have a wonderful week, Raj!

    • Thanks very much Vidya, for joining in with such an insightful observation that captures the essence of my offering. My visit to yours is aimed at attaining at least a little of the attribute encapsulated in your name. Sharanye, Thrayambike, Gowri, Narayani, Namo stuthe….

  15. Raj I must agree with Aquileana that fro ma western standpoint the concept of emptiness a challenging one to comprehend. I have previously thought of it as nothingness , a complete void. You have given me much to reflect on with your eloquent essay. I think some extended time in Asia would do wonders for my understanding!

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