“To be or not to be – that is the question” is the very famous line from the play Hamlet. Hamlet is contemplating suicide, and this phrase, according to philosopher Schopenhauer “is, in condensed form, that our state is so wretched that complete non-existence would be decidedly preferable to it.”
Nagarjuna, the proponent of the concept of “Sunyata” refuted all logical combination of ‘being’ and ‘non-being’. His reasoning was that the two states are the result of concepts from a rational mind and true reality has to have a ground state beyond the mind.
In a recent talk the great Vietnam Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, clarified that the origin of the classification of the state of being and non- being as purely related to human existence. He said:
“If we are caught in the notion of being we will also be caught in the notion of non-being. From the perspective of life span, we think we start to exist at the point of time we call birth; and we think we continue to exist until the point of time we call death, after which we think we cease to exist. Thus the notions of birth and death form the basis of the notions of being and non-being.”
From a cosmological perspective, in his famous book “A Brief History of Time”, Stephen Hawking argues that quantum mechanics shows us that the classical picture of a “well-defined spacetime arises as a limiting case of the quantum perspective.” Time is less fundamental than space and, as a consequence, spacetime cannot have a singular, initial boundary. There is no singularity, no initial boundary at all; the universe has no beginning! Even though unbounded, the universe is finite. Here is how Hawking sets forth his view:
“The quantum theory of gravity has opened up a new possibility, in which there would be no boundary to space-time and so there would be no need to specify the behaviour at the boundary. One could say: ‘The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary.’ The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE.”
Hence the concept of being is intimately correlated with time and hence our post Big Bang dualistic concept of Being and Non-being.
But embedded within the fundamental substrate of all creation is the first principle or cause which is time independent and hence eternal from a temporal perspective and all manifested realm is spatial-temporal and hence have a very limited reality. This principle which is the cause is hence eternal but the effect is temporal. To the human mind the definition of this first principle is called ‘desire’ or ‘longing’.
In the macrostructure we can relate this cause and effect through an allegory to the great ocean which has great tranquillity and extended existence but the moment it meets a boundary, which we can equate to the Big Bang spatial boundary, waves, estuaries and shorelines are created, The essence of the ocean by its innate nature is to spread to find equilibrium but this desire is realized at the boundary condition as a different manifestation.
From a western mystical tradition, the German Cobbler mystic, Jacob Boehme said:
“the basis of the world is nonbeing... because the beginning [of the world] is desire, longing, and only an absolute vacuum can have longing. A vacuum, nonbeing, can by longing draw or attract into itself.. something exceedingly positive because it creates the world.” ……C.G. Jung, Visions, Vol.1, p.524-5
Vacuum Boehme refers to is perhaps akin to the Lurianic Kabbalist notion of ‘tzimtzum’: contraction that proceeds emanation. Again resorting to the ocean analogy, when there is a great pressure generated deep within the ocean floor due to an earthquake, the innate pressure tries to find expression as a propagating sub-surface pressure differential. When this pressure differential reaches near the shore, first there is a great contraction of the shoreline and then a very huge tsunami wave created. The creation of our universe is very similar. We are in the forefront of this travelling wave which due its rapid expansion (cosmological theory of inflation) will dissipate all its energy and return to the equilibrium. This in Vedic philosophy is called Pralaya.
Our understanding of Tzimtzum can be clarified through an analogy from the world of mathematics. An infinite perfect mind sees immediately that the arithmetical expressions (21/3), (126/18), (6.72 + .28), etc., etc., are all equivalents of the number 7: it is only from the point of view of a limited intellect that these expressions appear to represent different mathematical ideas. Indeed, as the mathematical philosophers Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead painstakingly demonstrated, all of mathematics is predicated on a very small number of logical axioms, and an infinite mind would in an instant intuit the entire world of higher mathematical construct as an amplification of the simplest of ideas. So it is with the world. It is a multifarious manifestation of unique singular principle which only the Divine intellect can comprehend.
We are a small effect of the Divine cause which pervades all creation and all universes. Let us enjoy this ride with the assurance that one day we will transcend this temporal manifestation and merge with the Divine reality.
Love to you all