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Nothing

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Nothing

All Forms, Regardless of how Real or Substantial, are Grounded in Nothing

An alternative experience is that of awareness of one’s presence as the vast crystalline mystery of the absolute, whose surface is a transparent and clear crystalline layer that contains all the forms of manifestation, in all of its dimensions. In this experience it is quite clear that nonconceptual presence or pure awareness is the ground of all manifestation, yet it is external to the absolute. More accurately, the absolute functions as the ground of all reality, including nonconceptual awareness. The absolute is the ground of all grounds, the ultimate ground. In other words, the emptiness of the absolute is the ground of all reality, so all manifest forms, whether relative or essential, are grounded in emptiness. This is quite a paradoxical truth, for it shows that nonbeing is the ground of all being. All forms, regardless of how real or substantial, are grounded in nothing. Such is the objective relation that the ground dimension reveals the absolute to have in relation to all manifestation. The insight that emptiness is the ground of all forms is specifically significant for the inner journey, especially for the journey of descent. Through the absolute descending into the world we see that the world is grounded in emptiness, and hence is always insubstantial and lacks any ultimate existence. The soul learns that to live in the world from the perspective of the absolute is to never forget that the world is ultimately insubstantial, that it is groundless; for the absolute ground is simply absence. More precisely, its groundlessness is its truth and freedom and the liberation of the soul is in remembering that she can rely ultimately only on the absolute: it is the groundless ground. She can trust emptiness, for it is the ultimate unchanging ground that is certain to be found at the depth of everything. In other words, the ground of all manifest forms is that when we try to find their ultimate essence they disappear. The unfindability of their ultimate existence is their ground.

Everything that Manifests is Existing Just on the Edge of a Huge Black Void of Absence

The truth of our existence reveals itself only when we start to wonder why we are always moving toward solidity. If we inquire into this, we can follow the thread of why we keep doing it, as if something were pushing us toward reifying, objectifying, making things concrete. Why don’t we just relax and let things be whatever they are? Because if we really did that, we would discover that the whole universe is just an event horizon. We would sense the infinite nothingness “within” all of reality. All of our experience, everything that manifests, is existing just on the edge of a huge black void of absence. It is all a glimmering surface of an infinite black hole, meaning that all of existence is a hologram, an insubstantial hologram. What would happen if you didn’t try to squeeze yourself into something solid and just let yourself relax? Just by relaxing, you would realize that things start to feel lighter. If you continue, everything becomes so light, so free, so transparent, that it feels as though you could put your hand through it. You can see through everything—and behind everything there is nothing, absolutely nothing. That is why you cannot see anything—because there is nothing. You look and it is pitch dark, like the universe before the Big Bang—no stars, no light, nothing there. But that nothingness is really the back of everything we see; everything you see is just the front. In fact, it doesn’t really have a back at all.

Feeling Full and Empty, Substantial and Like Nothing at All

Pure presence contains inner space, but the space is undifferentiated from the rest of its perfections. Pure presence thus discloses the inherent synthesis of the fullness of Being and its emptiness. Before experiencing this dimension, the soul has experienced presence as a fullness, a substantiality, almost material, although not physically material. Such fullness or substantiality still appears as the characteristic of pure presence, for it is what gives this dimension its sense of being presence. However, this substantial and full presence is undifferentiated from the emptiness of space. Because of this the experience of full presence on this dimension is indistinguishable from inner spaciousness. Pure presence is at the same time an emptiness, a spaciousness, a nothingness. We feel ourselves, and the whole manifestation, as a fullness of presence at the same time that we feel we are nothing. We simultaneously feel full and empty, substantial and like nothing at all. We are the hereness and fullness of reality at the same time that we are its immateriality, its insubstantiality, its utter lightness.

Feeling One is Nothing, but a Wondrous Nothing

Understanding this situation is important for self-realization. Whether one can work through it determines whether one moves from dual to nondual experience of essential presence. The student may start feeling that what he truly longs for is just to be himself, merely to be, without even caring to conceptualize what he is being. He just wants to simply be, and that is all. This clarity leads to greater realization of the Essential Identity, and greater differentiation in the properties of this experience. He experiences his essential nature in many ways now, expressing the various functions of this true identity. Sometimes there is a sense of completeness. The act of being himself, which is not an activity, feels complete. The presence has no gaps. The center has no attitudes. It is just a complete existence, which is a perfect act of being. There is no familiar sense of self or no self, no sense of size or quality. At other times he feels he is nothing, but a wondrous nothing. No characteristics, no perspective, no position, and no attitude. It is total freedom. This nothing feels like a fertile nothing, a potential for experience, any and all experience. In other words, the soul recognizes itself as pure openness to experience, the actual possibility for experience, the free potential for experience. At other times, he experiences this nothing as a center of awareness, as only a witness, as perception without the sense of a perceiver.

Nothing Becomes Anything

We can have endless, amazing understanding in this absolute essence of Being; we can describe some of its qualities; but we never feel we have described it because it is inexhaustible. It is the source of all qualities, all possibilities, and all potential; but when we experience it directly we find absolutely nothing. It is a delightful nothing that dazzles and releases. In other words, it is the unmanifest source of all manifestation. From this source, everything appears as itself, originating from this unfathomable emptiness, but nothing becomes anything. This luminous, crystalline vastness is absolute stillness, total peace, and complete silence. It is total stillness that is the richest of textures, stupendous silence that speaks more loudly than anything else, and complete peace that is the source of all manifestations. It is an absence that—by its sheer absence—becomes solid peace. But at the same time it is simplicity itself—not simplicity of mind, but of pure experience. Any ego activity is perceived with utmost clarity as a jarring and jagged energy.

Nothing Exists but True Nature

We could describe the path toward realization in this way: Our desire to understand where we are and who we are takes us on an initial journey of learning to have more and more insight about our ordinary experience. Gradually, we come to recognize the relationship of ordinary experience to deeper levels of reality—how it reflects True Nature. Eventually, we are able to see how our individual experience is nothing but True Nature, and we move toward the realization of pure Being—the oneness that is nondual reality. This recognition of the nondual ground of experience is the realization that there is basically only presence. Presence is what exists, what is, and everything that exists is a form that presence takes. Reality is one unified field of luminosity that differentiates itself into the various perceptions that we have. Thus, True Nature and Being are really the same thing as truth, or reality. All those terms mean the same thing: presence that is in a condition of conscious full realization. In this condition, experience is not filtered through the mind; things are experienced exactly as they are. We see their nature and recognize that it is True Nature—which turns out to be the nature of everything, all the way down to the tiniest particle. This means that nothing exists but True Nature. It pervades everything so intimately, so completely, that it doesn’t leave any one spot unoccupied by it.

Seeing that Nothing Exists but the Mysterious Absolute, for all Manifestation is Nothing but Its Immaterial Glimmering

This is a boundless dimension of true nature, so not only aspects but diamond vehicles appear in it, but all as black faceted presences, differentiated and delineated with subtle colorful and faceted glimmering. Each diamond vehicle appears as usual in boundless dimensions, but its faceted medium is that of the absolute, with variegated subtle radiance. We also perceive all forms and manifestations, including the normal physical and mental forms, as simply forms of subtle radiance. There is only the mysterious darkness of the absolute, which glitters and shines in the most delicate radiance. This radiance takes the shapes and colors of the manifest world. All the universe, in all of its dimensions, is nothing but the shimmering of the blackness of the absolute. Nothing exists but the mysterious absolute, for all manifestation is nothing but its immaterial glimmering. Here we see the immensity that is the absolute, and understand that the whole of creation is completely immaterial in relation to the absolute, comprising the faintest of its glimmers. Alternatively, it becomes clear in this dimension that the absolute is the very substance of everything, and what differentiates the forms is but a simple faint glimmer, a shimmer that can simply melt and die into the vast darkness of mystery. Yet it is a shimmer of the utmost exquisite beauty, revealing the jeweled and precious nature of the hidden treasure.

Spaciousness that Dissolves Into a Spaceless or Dimensionless Nothing

The contemplation of the absolute continues with its own momentum, without my personal prompting. The consciousness finds itself in the mysterious blackness of the absolute, and a process of sensing into its depths spontaneously commences. I keep returning to this mystery, this intimacy, this delicacy, this contentment, this peace, this freedom, this infinity of release. The absolute cannot even be called space, even though it is a vastness. Ordinarily I see it as spacious. But as I plumb this spaciousness, it dissolves into a spaceless or dimensionless nothing. The result is absence, the opposite of existence. Then there is no sense of extension, and also no sense of no extension. Awareness of the absolute remains, but this awareness is free of the concept or sense of extension. In this subtle perception, knowingness borders on cessation.

The Absolute is Simplicity Itself, so Simple that It is Absolutely Nothing, so Simple that It is Impossible to Know

Fulfillment saturates her experience, and she begins to experience a new order of contentment. Her contentment and happiness cease to be primarily caused by life happenings, for it is now the natural condition of the heart that has found its beloved. She feels mature, ripened, and free; she feels herself as the ipseity, with its immeasurable depth, luminous vastness, and blissful intimacy. (See Luminous Night’s Journey, chapter 10, for more discussion of this process of ripening.) Even this sense gradually and subtly passes away as the soul abides in the mystery of the absolute. As we become accustomed to this condition it becomes more ordinary and simple. The soul feels she is a complete but ordinary human being. She is aware of her nature as that of the inscrutable absolute, but feels completely ordinary and normal. There is no sense of the extraordinary, while in fact the self-realization of the absolute ipseity is quite an unusual realization. The sense of the big deal is due to the excitement of the discovery. After that, with the ripening, one feels simple and ordinary, and recognizes that the absolute is simplicity itself. It is so simple that it is absolutely nothing. It is so simple that it is impossible to know. The mind needs some complexity, some discrimination, to discern and know. When the experience is of absolute simplicity, there is nothing for the soul to know. This simplicity appears as simplicity of behavior, attitude, and speech. One is ordinary and appreciates the ordinary, for the most ordinary is the simplicity of the absolute. The simplicity may develop to the station of the invisible sage, the highest station, the sage who appears as a normal simple human being, but whose innerness is the luminous mystery of the absolute.

The Nature of Presence has Nothing to do with Whatever has Happened in the Past

To know presence means to recognize yourself as completely undefined by the past. To realize presence means that your experience of yourself is not determined by memory. If memory is determining your experience when there is presence, then your experience of presence is not complete. It still has veils over it, barriers against it; it is not pure, complete. To be presence is to
recognize yourself as the presence in the present moment. So when I say that presence is self-existing, I mean it exists right now, right at this very second, and its nature has nothing to do with whatever has happened in the past. The way the body is has a lot to do with what happened to you in the past—the same with your mind, your personality, your emotions, your actions, and so on. They are so much determined by the past that after a while there is no presence, there is only memory instead. The more you act and experience according to memory, the more your experience lacks presence. After a while, your experience is mostly a set of reactions based on what happened in the past. And the more it becomes reactivity from the past, the more you forget presence. After a while, you don’t even know what presence is. It then becomes very difficult to disengage from the past because it not only determines how you feel, it determines what you think, your sense of who you are, your very sense of existence. The understanding of presence makes clear the great gulf that exists between the experience of Essence and the experience of the ego.

Brilliancy, pg. 44

The Nature of Presence Itself is Completely, Absolutely Nothing: it is More Nothing than the Nothing of Empty Space

This tendency to objectify is always an attempt to get away from this truth, from this reality that I am referring to as the black hole. And we are always trying to get away from it because it is always here; we cannot escape it. And somehow we are aware of that inescapability, we intuit it. We are continuously trying to create solidity because if we let ourselves completely relax, we will find out that the nature of presence itself is completely, absolutely nothing—it is more nothing than the nothing of empty space. It is nonbeing itself. So even though presence feels like being, when you recognize it, it is nonconceptual and therefore it is not—cannot be—the opposite of nonbeing. The notion of an opposite does not exist in the nonconceptual, and neither do being and nonbeing, because they are conceptual. So, first we recognize that being is really fundamentally a nonbeing, nothing, absence. Presence turns out to be the other side of what can only be described as a spacious absence. The ground of the ground, the ground of presence itself, of the luminosity itself, is nonexistence. You feel it . . . it exists. But what is the feeling of existence in it? What makes it exist? What is the ground of the existence of presence? The recognition of the fact that it does not exist, that it is absolutely nothing. Complete transparency, no opaqueness, no thickness, no objects, no solidity, no substance, no mass, no atoms, no time, no space . . . nothing. But we get accustomed to believing in and living according to our ideas of what we think our existence is—an objective existence such as that of a rock. Thus, recognizing the actual underlying nature of our existence—the nonbeingness of it—requires such a subtle understanding that we tend not to see it.

The Ultimate Essence of Everything is a Complete Absence of all that can be Experienced and the Absence of Knowing that there is Nothing to Experience

If I experience myself as Absolute, then the experience is “I don’t know.” I don’t know anything. And I don’t know that I don’t know. “I don’t know” means that I am not conscious. I am not conscious of anything, and I am not conscious that I am not conscious of anything. It is similar to deep sleep. When you are in deep sleep, you don’t know you are in deep sleep. It’s as if there is nothing there. You are gone, absolutely gone. You’re out of it. So the Absolute is like that. It is the ultimate, deepest nature of everything. It is the level of existence, of beingness, where there is not even the perception of beingness. You are beingness. You are so deep, you don’t know you are there. Being in the Absolute completely happens only in a state of profound meditation or in a state of deep sleep. It does not happen any other way. In this state you are not aware of seeing anything. You cannot be driving your car and be completely in the Absolute, because in the Absolute you do not see any car. The ultimate nature of things is sometimes called the Absolute, sometimes called the Void. Some theistic traditions call it the Godhead; in Sufism it is called the Divine Essence. The ultimate essence of everything, including the human being, is a complete absence of all that can be experienced and the absence of knowing that there is nothing to experience. It is a complete lack of self-consciousness, and an absence of consciousness of anything. That is the ultimate source—the Origin. This does not mean that there is nothing there. You are, you exist, but you are aware of it only when you come out of it, when there is some consciousness.

Things are Actually Diaphanous Forms, Holograms Floating in Nothing, Glimmerings of this Nothing

In the true experience of emptiness, the subjective feeling and belief in the substantiality and solidity of things is exposed for what it is, a subjective feeling based on a belief. Emptiness reveals to us that things do not possess such substantiality or solidity. Their mode of being is not what we have called existence. More accurately, their ultimate nature is not existence, but nonexistence. They appear, but are characterized by nonbeing. Experientially, phenomena appear and we perceive them along with their usual qualities, but we do not feel that they exist. They are felt to be empty of the solidity and reality that we believed they possessed. In other words, the true nature of things is that they manifest, or appear, but that is all. In appearing they do not give us the feeling and belief that they are real or that they exist in the way we have assumed. We are accustomed to believing that things exist in the way we normally experience matter, solid and opaque. In reality, things are insubstantial, transparent, and light, similar to thoughts or mental images. But they are also luminous, so they are more like light. However, even light as we ordinarily know it does not express the absolute lightness and emptiness of things. Things are actually diaphanous forms, holograms floating in nothing, glimmerings of this nothing. The nothing is not exactly something substantial, something that exists. The nothing is simply the perception of the nonbeingness of things. In other words, emptiness is the term used here and in many mystical writings to refer to the fact that things do not exist the way we ordinarily think, but that they are luminous forms whose mode of being is nonbeing. When we investigate their existence we end up in complete nonbeing, total absence. We do not find phenomena to possess ultimate existence. Thus we see that the ground of all manifestation is nonbeing.

True Nature Does Nothing but it is Naturally Aware Because It is Pure Awareness

True Nature does nothing, but it is naturally aware because it is pure awareness. If we just let things be—if we don’t control them or try to direct them—we are naturally, simply aware. And in this awareness, we are present to whatever is happening. True Nature is so loving, so kind—infinite in its kindness and compassion and intelligence—that it relates to each condition exactly according to what that condition needs. And it doesn’t give you an instruction that you cannot relate to. It doesn’t try to tell you to practice something you cannot practice. In our work, we discover that True Nature responds to our limitations—our stuckness, our lack of development, our reactivity—appropriately and with attunement and kindness. So that is what our practice is. We are learning how True Nature would approach our situation in the moment—how it would hold it, how it would relate to it. And we especially want to know this when we are reactive or scared or feeling stuck. That’s when it’s especially hard to know how to just be in a natural condition. You might hear people say, “Just be in your True Nature; remember what it is to be yourself and just be that.” For some people, that might work, but most people can’t do that at any time, much less when things are difficult. We never need to take the position that we have to pull or push ourselves into the complete purity or nonduality of our True Nature. That would be like trying to push a camel through the eye of a needle, as some spiritual traditions express it. True Nature is compassionate and appropriate, so the first thing it does is to help the camel walk. It doesn’t try to push the camel anywhere, much less through the needle’s eye.

When Nothing is What Truly Is

Fullness of Being and nothingness of space are two inseparable sides of the same presence, of the same perception and sensation. Each side may dominate experience, depending on the particulars of experience. Sometimes we feel ourselves as the boundless truth in its full beingness; at those times, we feel the whole world as the fullness of Being, real and substantial. We are the solid ground of everything, the true existence of all forms and appearances. At other times, we feel light and empty, like a boundless nothingness. Everything is nothing, where the nothing is what truly is. Nothing has any substance or sense of existence; all forms appear as empty appearances, like a mirage reflected in the clarity of nothingness. We feel like nothing, totally light and empty. But it is a wonderful emptiness, for it is a lightness and delight, a freedom and release. There is no heaviness or depression of any kind, not even the weighty fullness of presence. We are lighter than light, emptier than space, a nothing that is the ground of all things. Sensing ourselves, there is nothing to find, just a lightness and an infinite openness. At the same time by remaining with this nothingness we realize it is also fullness, beingness, and presence.

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