Sunyata

…And God is Empty, Just Like Me

Blog, Philosophy

Eckhart von Hochheim has become a big hit within these four walls I call home. Meister Eckhart was a great man for, well, you could just put a full stop there couldn’t you? What I meant to write was he was a great man for putting his thoughts about God into action. Of course, he’s one of the most well-known Christian mystics but rather than just writing down his ideas, in German rather than Latin to reach more people, he would also give lengthy sermons about what his thoughts were and the more you read up on him the more you will notice than he didn’t just stand on the shoulders of other Christian mystics that came before him, he also delved into Eastern and Ancient philosophies.  

Meister EckhartIn his own words “I have read many writings both of heathen philosophers and sages, of the Old and New Testaments, and I have earnestly and with all diligence sought the best and the highest virtue whereby man may come most closely to God…” (source)

Now, unlike most Christian preachers he would quite often use his sermons as what we’d call ‘thought experiments’ and challenge his congregations and audiences to ponder upon the being-ness and is-ness of both themselves and God. There are numerous occasions where we can read than in his sermons he would say things like, ‘I’ve never said this before,’ or, ‘the thought has just occurred to me,’ thus inviting those listening to engage with the same thoughts. There’s an often overlooked characteristic which most of the best teachers, gurus, yogis, whatever term you prefer to use, all share. They all wanted their students to think for themselves and to find God, being-ness, unity, again, whatever you want to call it, by themselves. They were more than happy to teach but ultimately it was up to the listener to do the work. It would appear that many, many people fall into the trap of following exactly what certain spiritual teachers say and end up idolising the teacher over the teachings. 

Is-ness and Being-ness

There’s two passages in particular I’d like to quote here:

Being is God…God and being are the same – or God has being from another and thus himself is not God…Everything that is has the fact of its being through being and from being. Therefore, if being is something different from God, a thing has its being from something other than God. Besides, there is nothing prior to being, because that which confers being creates and is a creator. To create is to give being out of nothing.

What is Life? God’s being is my life, but if it is so, then what is God’s must be mine and what is mine God’s. God’s is-ness is my is-ness, and neither more nor less. The just live eternally with God, on a par with God, neither deeper nor higher. All their work is done by God and God’s by them. (source for both).

Let’s have a gander at these quotes. In the first one Eckhart is saying that being is the same as God because anything that came into being not created by God wouldn’t be God and therefore just wouldn’t exist. How could something exist in God’s creation if God hasn’t created it? It couldn’t. This is Neoplatonism 101 here lads. I also like the final sentence and I think it’s something artists/writers/musicians/builders, those of us lucky enough to have a job/hobby where we create things should remember; to create is to give existence to something and to really think on that for a while can give some appreciation for how profound it can really be. For example, even just to write a song for a lover that you might only even ever play once for her is a thing of incredible, and heartfelt, beauty. To think of all the little things that had to happen for both you and her to share such tenderness and love to be inspired to write a song about that love and then to let it go out into the aether, back into the nothingness it came from. That’s just majestically mind-blowing.

The second quote then addresses that age-old question of why are we here? If God is life then we’re here living life because the being-ness of living is God itself. It’s almost too simple and yet too deep to really fathom isn’t it? But like Eckhart explains, God’s existence and our existence is the same, it is existence, so they must be one and the same. Our being-ness and is-ness is the same then as the Big Cheese’s. God, Twitter

But Being-ness and Is-ness, well, it’s not exactly tangible is it? OK, I can smack myself in the face and I’ll feel it thus proving I’m alive, to myself anyway, but if we sit down and meditate and really investigate the bejaysus out of is-ness and being-ness it’s not a thing that’s touchable, like my pretty face is anyway. But it’s still there, there’s still an is-ness or a being-ness to that being-ness. And indeed, it self-reflects because it knows that it’s there. We’ll come back to this self-reflecting later, for now let’s look more at emptiness.

Of course when you dip your tootsies into Buddhism the idea of ’emptiness’ is going to come up a fair amount. And it seems to be something that Westerners in particular seem to have a problem with. Even back in Eckhart’s stomping days, the late 13th and early 14th centuries, he wouldn’t have termed what the Buddhists call ’emptiness’ as that. For the most part he used terms like ‘silence,’ ‘stillness,’ and even ‘desert’ for example. If the argument that the Western mind is ‘more logical/rational’ then trying to rationalise ’emptiness’ is always going to be problematic. But we can all appreciate what ‘silence,’ ‘stillness,’ or ‘desert’ could mean in the context of deep contemplation on the mysteries of existence.

Tathātā

Buddhadasa BhikkhuIn Buddhism there’s a term, Tathātā, which has been usually translated as ‘thusness’ or ‘suchness’ and it’s the same as this being- or is-ness that Meister Eckhart spent so much time wrestling with. In Buddhism it’s seen as the absolute nature of things before even ideas or words concerning them exist. So, it is the is-ness of is-ness, again we see the characteristic of self-awareness here.  There’s a nice quote on the Wikipedia page regarding Tathātā that comes from Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, a perennialist and reinterpreter of Buddhist doctrine. Look him up, his rejection of the idea of rebirth rattled a few cages a few years back. Anyway, he said:

When tathātā is seen, the three characteristics of impermanence, dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), and no-self are seen, emptiness is seen, and specific conditionality is seen. Tathātā is the summary of them all — merely thus, only thus, not-otherness.

In other words then, is-ness and being-ness is what there is. It’s all there is.

As you’ll no doubt be aware from listening to/watching the podcast, I’ve developed a major grá for Rupert Spira over the last few months and around seven years ago he put out a video about what we’re grappling with here; is-ness and being-ness. 

Matter and Consciousness

Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to dissect everything said in the video, do have a watch if you have the time after reading, but here are some thoughts about it. He begins by saying that is-ness is what everything and every object shares in our existence. And this being-ness is a kind of emptiness/void. This is the dreaded ’emptiness’ I wrote about above but here Spira says that it’s a first kind of emptiness. Matter is mostly empty, we perceive it as not being that but science will tell us that the space around atoms is mostly empty and while not empty in the sense of a vacuum, the space is  actually occupied by waves, perceived as points when observed. So, we can say then that matter is energy vibrating, it is a kind of emptiness yet we perceive it as matter. Bizarre isn’t it?Rupert Spira

Spira speaks about this is-ness and says there’s another characteristic though, that this is-ness is known by the objects, people, beings etc. So, is-ness has awareness. Is-ness, or being-ness is self-reflective, i.e. being-ness knows of its own being-ness.

This then is a second kind of emptiness. Consciousness knows of its consciousness, there is no matter involved, only self-knowing of its knowingness. He says: 

The emptiness of matter, which is made of being and the emptiness of thought, or knowing, which is made out of pure consciousness.

But that creates a question; where is the line between these two things? Well, there’s isn’t one. It’s the same as what Meister Eckhart says above, that our being-ness and is-ness is the same as God’s being-ness and is-ness.

Spira says about this:

“The reality out of which things are made, pure being, matter, and the reality out of which knowledge or the mind are made, which seem to be two; I, the inside self, made of mind and you, or it, the outside world, made of matter. If we explore them both, they are both empty…these two emptinesses are identical.”

He goes further and explains that space is what the mind occupies while matter occupies time. Both of which are ‘approximations and both are, as such, empty as well‘.

To end the video he explains that the experience of love (mind) and beauty (matter) are what happens when these two different aspects knowingly experience themselves. And who could argue with that? When you love something you know exactly what it is to feel and to be alive. The same goes for seeing or experiencing a moment of beauty.

What use is all this knowledge though? Well, if being-ness and is-ness and our knowledge of our own is-ness and being-ness is the same as God’s being-ness and is-ness then we can engage with it in three simple ways.

The first is to pay attention to sounds, pick something you hear often, birdsong or cars in traffic for example. When you hear them, pay attention to the moment and simply be present. Feel your body, witness your thoughts without judgement, do whatever it is that makes you feel there in that  moment.

The second is to just stop, engage with one, or more of your senses and say, I’m here and be present. Another is a meditation I made for myself based on Peter Kingsley’s mêtis because “when we live [the illusion] to the full, to its furthest limits, we are nothing but reality fulfilling its own longing” (source). Let’s ignore the ‘illusion’ word though, that’s not my bag at all. I sit or lay down and I say to myself ‘I see, I feel, I think, I taste, I smell, I hear’ as a mantra, repeating and repeating and repeating and doing the things I’m saying seeing, feeling, thinking, tasting, smelling and hearing. It’s not an easy meditation but when it all syncs up together, everything simply is.

Meditations

Blog, Buddhism, OmniSyn

Daniel Ingram in his book Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, defines ‘awakening’ as:

…awakening is about understanding the fundamental nature of all sensate experiences, and what they happen to be is ultimately completely and utterly irrelevant to awakening. Thus, very awakened beings understand something fundamental about whatever arises or however their lives manifest, that is, its impermanence, emptiness, luminosity, groundlessness, or however they wish to describe it. However, they have no more knowledge about the specifics of the world than they have acquired in just the way that anyone else acquires knowledge about the specifics of the world. They can even have all sorts of psychological baggage to deal with, and this is probably the norm.’ page 116-117

 Well, I may as well start with something difficult to get my teeth into eh? Anyone who listens to the TASTA podcast will know that Tommie and I are taking on the mantel of the Baptist’s Head amazing twosome, Duncan Barford and Alan Chapman, and trying to plough our way to enlightenment on a fast track. Currently it’s very much a scatter-gun approach but we’re blind men in the dark and once we get to grips with finding the door and even the lightswitch for the room we’re in we’ll probably, maybe, become a little more organised. Or maybe we won’t. I don’t know. Does it matter? We’re playing it by ear at the minute. Sure, it’s nice to travel on the comfortable train and get to where you’re going but sometimes you just have to get on the next train that arrives. Let’s make a note Tommie, maybe we should try more 30-day challenges, like our Star Ruby thingy from a while ago.

 

Back to the quote above though. I’d said on the podcast before that this book really wasn’t singing to me at the beginning. And that’s on me, I just didn’t, and indeed, don’t know a whole lot about Buddhism. I had to put it down and thanks to both Tommie and a listener, can I namedrop D. here? Let’s leave it at D. in case he doesn’t want his name here, anyway, thanks to both I’ve been able to learn plenty more about it and going back to the book it feels like new eyes are on it and I’ve a bit more of a foundation to build upon.

from: https://bit.ly/38GR1ya

Awakening, for me, must be the end goal of all this magic(k), consciousness hacking, psycho-technology whatever you want to call it. Honestly, calling it magic still doesn’t sit well with me. Images of Paul Daniels and David Copperfield just flood my head when I see that. I’m into this because I think there’s a road to enlightenment/awakening/individuation or whatever you want to call it. Basically, I think you can be a pretty decent human if you get yourself in order and be a better man. That’s my goal here. Simple as that. But as usual the simple things are pretty difficult to get correct.

Awakening, as Ingram say above, is ultimately the understanding of our sensing of reality. The knowledge and realisation that everything, every single moment is temporary and our moods, feelings, wants, needs, whatever, are the same. Knowing, or learning, that every moment is sacred is mind-blowingly humbling because it’s in those moments that we appreciate our transience and by embracing that we get a fleeting touch with the eternal.
Does that make sense? By being alive right here, right now and seeing it, really seeing and experiencing it; that’s touching the surface of the waters of eternity, that great big Sea of Infinity.
For some reason though we’ve come to think of those who are ‘awake’ as somehow smarter, more intelligent than then rest of us. This is a mistake here according to Ingram. It’s that old thing about the teacher and the student. The teacher can only really learn to teach from his students as y’know, every student is different and must be taught in a different way so you can share what knowledge you have with them. And just because someone is enlightened/awake certainly doesn’t mean they’re any more intelligent than you, they’re just a bit more wise when it comes to knowing their place in this mad universe.