Symmetry or Asymmetry?
Is the relationship between the un-manifest Absolute (Dharmakaya, Tao) and appearances (the phenomena of body, mind and world) symmetrical or asymmetrical? Is it basically an equivalence, as would seem to be suggested by the Heart Sutra’s well-known passage:
Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form.
Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness.
Assuming that form=phenomena and emptiness=Absolute, the question might also – in the language of set theory – be put as: Is the set containing all forms/appearances/phenomena necessarily only a subset of emptiness, i.e. will there always be some aspect of emptiness that is independent of form – or can the two (viz. emptiness and form) be considered equal or equivalent sets?
Or is the “emptiness” referred to in the Heart Sutra something distinct from the unmanifest Absolute (aka Dharmakaya, Tao)?
Heart Sutra v. Bhagavad Gita
If the Heart Sutra is one of Mahayana Buddhism’s most pithy descriptions of the relationship between the Absolute and the relative; it is in chapter nine (verses 4-6) of the Bhagavad Gita that the Hindu tradition offers something similar. Though here, the relationship between the Absolute and phenomenal “creatures” is posited clearly as being an asymmetrical one: there is an aspect of the Absolute that remains perpetually independent of phenomenal appearances.
What follows is Paramahansa Yogananda’s translation of these verses (IX: 4-6) of the Bhagavad Gita, along with his commentary. This will serve as useful ground for further discussion of this question of symmetry v. asymmetry in the relationship between the Absolute and phenomena — between emptiness and form – which I’ll return to in my next post.
The translated text:
I, the Unmanifested, pervade the whole universe. All creatures abide in Me, but I do not abide in them. (4)
Behold My Divine Mystery! in which all beings are apparently not in Me, nor does My Self dwell in them; yet I alone am their Creator and Preserver! (5)
Understand it thus: Just as air moves freely in the infinitudes of space (akasha), and has its being in space (yet air is different from space), just so do all creatures have their being in Me (but they are not I). (6)
These words embody a portion of the highest wisdom, “the sublime mystery” Krishna promised to reveal to Arjuna (IX:1). The thought, “Creation, although permeated with God, yet does not comprise Him nor reveal His essence,” is liberating to the true devotee – he who does not cling to any state of phenomenal being but finds his own Reality only in the Unnameable Originless.
All this cosmic dream and its creatures are produced by the pure undistortable beam of God’s consciousness. But His formless infinite consciousness is ever transcendent, not limited to or by the finite dream manifestations.
A man looking at the sky and the mountains and the ocean does not detect in them the Divine Presence. The subtle beam of the Creator is imperceptible to the human gaze. Because He is everywhere, it is as if He were nowhere.
Though all creatures are formed of God-texture, He is not contained nor exhausted by them. This interpretation explains the seeming contradiction in these verses – that, although the Lord pervades the world, yet He does not dwell in it.
By God’s mysterious power (Yogam Aishvaram or Divine Yoga), His vibrationless unmanifested cosmic consciousness underlies all vibratory beings, who nevertheless cannot be observed to exist in Him, nor do they affect Him. Even though a beam of light conveys and sustains motion picture scenes, with all their varieties and contrasts, the beam itself undergoes no transformations. Similarly, the motion pictures of creation do not disturb the Lord’s originating beam.
As the wind, wandering in all directions over the infinite sky, is yet unable to affect the sky, so the colossal panorama of creation un-influentially abides in God’s eternal consciousness.
As the changing images of a dream do not alter the essential nature of a dreamer’s consciousness, so the evanescent scenes of the cosmic dream, with its hordes of tumultuous emotional beings that work and play within it, do not involve the Divine Unchangeable Dreamer.
Such is the paradox of creation, that God exists as the Soul of all men, creating and supporting them, yet does not Himself become entangled with them. And human beings, although saturated with God, are overcome by cosmic delusion and made subject to birth and death. A mystery indeed!
In the end all speculations about the ultimate secrets of God and creation are profitless. The stark fact is always with us: man is here and now undergoing the painful tests of human incarnation. Just as prisoners plot ceaselessly to regain their freedom, so the wise among men endeavor to escape the confinement of mortality. In His own good time, from His own ineffable lips, the Lord will reveal to His devotee all mysteries of heaven and earth.