September 10, 2018 § Leave a comment
The other day I turned my attention to a question about the nature of the physical reality that first came to my attention while reading Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s book, “Pathways Through To Space.” “Habitually,” he wrote, “we regard the material filling of sensation as being substantial.” In other words, we believe that the world is made up of solid things that exist whether we’re here to see them or not. But is that so?
Quantum theory tells us that it is not so. More than that, experiments done on the subatomic level demonstrate that observation is a key component in giving form to the world. These tests are repeatable, and they show that matter isn’t there before it is observed. Although the majority of physicists ignore the deeper implications of this fact, in my mind this stands out: Consciousness precedes matter, and not the other way around, as I was taught in school.
Merrell-Wolff went on to say that just before his enlightenment he realized that the world isn’t substantial but composed of relative vacuums or emptiness. The vacuums, he said, are created by a negation of Substance that is none other than Consciousness. (Note that he was not saying Substance is conscious but that it is Consciousness.)
To bring some personal clarity to this topic I had, in the past, compared physical objects to eddies swirling in a stream. Eddies seem to be real but in actuality they are a relative absence or vacuum of the surrounding water in which they appear. As an analogy, this seemed to express Merrell-Wolff’s thought quite well, and it gave more meaning to the Buddhist statement that ‘form is emptiness.’
The other side of the Buddhist phrase is that ‘emptiness is form.’ That seemed a bit harder to grasp because in spite of my analogy, I still saw water as form. But that day I recalled a photo of a boat appearing to float in mid-air, due to the water in which it sat being absolutely still and clear. That image took the idea out of my head that water is always a visible thing.
I imagined how it would be if a whirlpool suddenly appeared in crystal clear water. Wouldn’t it seem that it was a real thing spinning in empty space when, in fact, what appeared as emptiness was actually the real substance?
Thinking of this it occurred to me that perhaps ‘emptiness’ in the phrase, “form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” had two different meanings. In the former part of the phrase emptiness referred to the relative vacuums that appear in Consciousness (the whirlpool in clear water). In the second, it referred to the real Substance that only appears as emptiness because of its absolute clarity. As form arose in this emptiness, emptiness is form.
My analogy made what quantum theory said about the physical world more sensible. Prior to any observation there is only clear, formless substance. Things form when observations negate part of that substance, but prior to those observations they don’t exist. If I try to argue that they do exist but as formless things then I’m speaking gibberish because, by definition, a thing must have form.
My analogy also made it clear why I couldn’t experience my own true nature. Experience is awareness of form and form comes about by partially negating Consciousness, (i.e., my true nature). This means that while it is possible to experience modifications of Consciousness, it is not possible to experience unmodified, Clear Consciousness.
Even as I saw this I was acutely aware of just how actively my mind was looking and probing for a higher consciousness experience. I put forward a heavy effort to drop this search by constantly reminding myself that my true nature couldn’t be found in my experience. The result was a baffled awareness of emptiness that I, as the ego, knew I could never comprehend.
Much later, in Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s book, “Transformations in Consciousness,” I found this quote: “If I habitually center myself in the body, then I am there in an exceedingly narrow kind of bondage… However, I break this bondage every time I think myself away from body, as to some other base of reference.”
This quote seemed particularly apt for that night, after my day’s effort, I woke from a dream in which a chickadee came to rest part way through my bedroom window. Then, the next morning as I sat in my chair, I felt a momentary withdrawal into what I can only say was the clear, formless ‘water’ of my analogy.
Regarding this I found this from Franklin Merrell-Wolff, “…the consciousness related to the I is not a consciousness of the I. It is immediate ’knowledge through acquaintance” in the most rigorous sense. One might even speak of it as a sinking into the I (italics mine).”
It now seems that though my analogy does not contain the whole truth of the matter, it does serve a useful purpose when used to ‘think myself away from’ my habitual identifications. This is not mere wishful thinking or some fanciful imagining, but a sincere effort to change the base of reference away from the mass of swirling eddies in consciousness, to Consciousness, Itself. It is through such acquaintance that I come to know Myself.