‘Things are not as they seem; nor are they otherwise.’
You know, after all these years I still haven’t found the original source of this brilliant summary, terse and to the point.
Muted variants of it are to be found in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. But a Mahāvākya like this belongs in the Prajñāpāramithā literature, where Śūnya finds its formulation. It likely originated at the point where the Sūtric literature breaks with its Upanishadic root around 400 BCE.
Your fine if you don’t understand it; the problem surfaces only if you think you do. Summary expressions like this come into focus only as the Lego pieces that make up your Understanding get repositioned.
It’s really no different than a music-critic’s recondite comment on a movement in a Mozart Symphony that is audible only to the trained ear.
We’ll have some fun with this in later Posts when we get past Wittgenstein and Kant to Aristotle’s ‘Principal of Contradiction’ ironically, also called the ‘Principal of Non-Contradiction’.
And one more thing.
I need to be able stand apart from this pink and purple in order to see that indeed, the Universe is pink and purple. Nothing can see itself. I need to be a ‘Self’ to see the ‘Universe’.
I get back home, pour myself some strong coffee, and look out the window. And I see my neighbor’s dog lifting his hind leg and aiming at the freshly-washed tire of my ancient jalopy posing as a car.
I See. I have to be different from what I see in order to see it. Hallelujah! I am possessed of Independent and Separate Self-hood. God be praised.
When Professor Heidegger affirms a ‘Something’, he simultaneously affirms himself.
Variations proliferate from George Berkeley to Albert Einstein, from the Drishti Srishti Vada of early Hinduism to later Zen. ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?’ Modern Academic Philosophy considers this a question of exceptional nuance and profundity.
So here I am staring up at the sky asking myself why Professor Heidegger say’s he see’s something. [Hey! Isn’t that obvious?]
If the Universe was entirely pink, I will never know it to be so.
For me to see the pink, there has to be a touch of purple somewhere. A spot of not-pink so that I can see the pink.
There has to be a minimum of two colors showing in order for me to see one color. It is the minimum requirement; a beginning condition.
A simple version of the much-mauled Buddhist ‘Doctrine of Dependent Designation’.
‘From the first Nothing is!’ roared Hui neng [638-713 CE], a founder of C’han-Buddhism, later Zen as we know it. The story goes that the illiterate Hui-neng awoke to this conviction upon hearing the Diamond Sūtra recited just once at a public-square.
A recent, widely-publicized survey solemnly titled: ‘The most important unresolved question of all time’, came up with Martin Heidegger’s query [itself, a variation on Aristotle’s ‘ti on’]: ‘Why is there Something and not Nothing?’
Smart people say the darnedest things.
Martin Heidegger is part of the small crew of modern philosophers who did intuit the analytical perils of the Self-Loop seeking as he did an entire new vocabulary to talk about it. We’ll get to his work in later Posts.
True Nothing is an artificial construct, the point of ejection from the limit of abstraction. It is a synthetic, self-destroying device that self-destructs once its work is done. Until then, it remains an idea. Just like the idea of a ‘Self’.
Subject and Object are mutually supporting modeling artifacts surviving only in partnership. The recurring act of an undead Subject is to name an Object that in turn reflexively gives it life.
The erection of Object is emphatic confirmation of an incomplete self-scuttle, the residue of unfinished man-made views.
If you are still groping for an Object, you are not yet done with the Subject. Pick any theological text and be awed at the sweep of reckless excess [we look at over 40 of them in later Posts].
Where you thought there was a ‘Self’, there you will find True Nothing.
None of this intuition should be unfamiliar. Shankaracharya’s Object was Nirguṇa Brahman, literally: ‘That without expressible attributes’. To re-present Allah is the first blasphemy, which can get you hung in Pakistan and jailed for life in Indonesia. Orthodox Jews take the vowels out of [YHWH] to prevent presumption of nameability, and so on.
Shūnyam is True Nothing, Absolute Absence [not to be confounded with its modern avatār, the Concept of Nothing, the Idea of Absence, an altogether-different animal].
It is the terminus of ‘The Backward Step’, behind all Object[s] confuted as Subject, and behind all interpretations of Subject fabricated in intricate, diaphanous, reflexive loops, what we call ‘Self’.
Infinite Regress pursued without blinking or winking arrives and settles at True Nothing.
The sighting of Shūnyam is accompanied as confirmation by the self-scuttling sight-insight [‘observation-understanding’] on the very nature of sight-insight. The effecting of the full self-scuttle with no remainder.
There is nothing there at True Nothing, which is why it is called True Nothing. Make a something out of this True Nothing and you are back in the models of ‘Self and World’.
In this business, you miss by a millimeter, you miss by a mile.
Why ‘Observation-Understanding’? Two aspects most closely associated with the presumption of a ‘Self’ are: ‘I See’ and ‘I Understand’. [See: Cogito Ergo Sum]
You will have more luck getting a roomful of Biologists agreeing on a definition for the word ‘Alive’, or Logicians for the word ‘Reason’, than you will with a roomful of Shrinks defining the word ‘Self’.
The Techie knows that it is simply a Computer-Chip atop the neurons and between the firing synapse. The Geneticist sneers at this simplification at what is clearly a Gene [imminent in its discovery].
We won’t even broach the Mystics for now. But a particularly famous one from India is: ‘The sense of ‘I-ness”, which means whatever you want it to mean.
We go low-tech. We ask the Grammarian. ‘Self’ is a complicated idea; so we start with ‘Subject’.
‘The Subject of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that is doing or being something. It is what acts or is acted upon.’
Ego is Latin for ‘I’. The Cambridge definition reads: ‘Your idea or opinion of yourself’. Note the loop.