Absence and Beyond!

Buddhist ideology includes the notion of ’emptiness’ which is claimed to be the nature of ultimate reality. This emptiness is of several types and can approximately be described as a non-affirming negation. Mahayana Buddhism states that no phenomenon has independent existence. So, nothing exists in and of itself, or nothing has inherent existence including the ‘I’. Conventionally speaking, there are appearances and functions and things do exist, but not in the manner in which they appear to. Phenomena are dependently arisen, which means that for everything there are causes and conditions dependent upon which phenomena arise, and the nature of emptiness and the nature of phenomena are one and the same. Ultimately, according to Dzogchen, there is (or isn’t) just absence. All our experiences are said to be projections of this absence which is a boundless matrix of ‘hyper-spaciousness’. Within this absence, there is no coming or going, no arising, enduring or ceasing and no birth and death. It is said that language fails to describe it. “Everything unfolds into timeless sameness, resolved in rigpa, empty and insubstantial.”

When it comes to inner vision, there are essentially no guideposts. Notions as sublime as emptiness, rigpa and absence are drawn by experienced meditators who have spent decades exploring the universe within. Years of mind training and practice lead to awakenings and profound visualizations in those who are willing to make the realization of actual reality their only priority. There are no instruments that can measure or validate what they come to see, and there likely never will be. The mind is unparalleled in its complexity and its reach and could be the only instrument that can fathom order, the magnitude of which could very well be beyond description.

What lies beyond the purview of scientific exploration is open to question. If reproducibility is any measure of the rigor of what has been seen by practitioners of buddhist inner science, then it is very possible that what has been seen is close to actual reality. Advaita on the other hand holds that ever present, omniscient awareness is the Self and the only reality where buddhism refutes the self completely. Both these paths are rigorous with their own sets of moral, ethical, ontological, soteriological and behavioral rules and views. This is not surprising as a completely accurate and objective view of truth or reality could be contingent on focus and resolution of great magnitude, which is not easy to come by given our very ‘real’ dispositions, habitual tendencies, biases, nature and preoccupations.

Science, as opposed to spirituality, as a path to ultimate truth is equally beset with limitations of its own kind. What if objective and ultimate truth were of the nature of a different ‘phase’ of being? Something that our instruments, rudimentary as they are, could never capture! Just like water ‘contains’ ice which manifests as a different phase given adequate conditions, perhaps we belong in a cosmos that includes our manifest ‘phase’ and many more phases, the totality of which might simply lie outside our capacity to measure and prove with the mind being the only instrument versatile enough to visualize it.

Scientific methodology is as bound by uncertainty as are our individual minds and we might never be ‘objective’ enough to chart the birth and nature of our cosmos in its entirety. The science fiction maestro Isaac Asimov once commented that no matter how much we find, there will always remain more to know! That might indeed be true, although one thing is probably equally so, such a journey of exploration is certainly worth making!


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