Generally, we take matter as solid and real, and we recognize a rather ineffable substance called mind, which in some way interacts with matter to produce our consciousness of the hard, metallic landscape out there. This duality of matter and mind, however, serves to fracture the actual reality of the world and gives rise to all our false notions of separateness and alienation.
Non-materialists do not talk of mind and matter, but of mind and form, where form is not a separate substance like matter, but the shape that mind assumes in this case and that. Mind is the only reality. Form is the way that mind works, its play and way of expressing itself.
“All very well,” say the materialists, “but how do you explain the solidity of the world? If I hit you on the head with this hammer, will you still believe that the hammer is ‘mind only’?” The reply is that both the hammer, the interaction and the pain are all products of mind’s activity.
A stage hypnotist, for example, tells his subject that there is a fierce dog on the stage. Immediately, the subject sees the dog and moves away from it. Later he is told to pat it on the head. Now he feels the solidity of the animal, its skin and bones, its hot breath. To the hypnotised man, the dog is totally real.
The same effect occurs during dreaming. We recognize the absolute presence of the dream world, until, that is, we awaken and realize that it was all the product of our mind.
Objects, then, are concentrations of mind activity brought about by concentration. To the One Mind school of Buddhism, the universe is the vast concentration of the Buddha–mind. We ourselves are clusters of concentrated thought–energy. But since in a single ocean the part is inseparable from the whole, we are also the whole of the contemplating mind.
This “idealism” can be off–putting to many people. We sense a kind of existential abyss here and back away from it. The question we should ask, though, is who is it who is afraid? The answer is that it’s fear that fears because, in a non–dual perspective, the ego–entity does not have a separative existence. It is only its “death” that opens the way to the picture of eternity. In other words, you have to lose your life in order to find it.
The Zen master Huang Po recognized the difficulty: “Men are afraid to forget their own minds, fearing to fall through the void with nothing on to which they can cling. They do not know that the void is not really the void but the real realm of the Buddha–mind.”
The English author Paul Brunton expressed this paradox, or reverse perspective thus, “What the unenlightened regard as substance, that is, the form of things, is really its negation, whereas true substance, that is the essence out of which those forms emerge, is disregarded by them as non–existent. The hardest barricade for our Western understanding to break through is this simple acceptance of the Unmanifest as ultimate reality.”
If you suppose a universe full of nothing, as scientists sometimes do in describing the world before the “big bang”, there is still the void of nothingness, and this space is itself something, and yet nothing.
You can never reach the end of negation, because at that point it slips back into an affirmation. Wherever you want to place the end of the universe, perhaps with a wall, there must be something else beyond the wall, even if it is only nothing, which in itself is something. This is the “plenum void” of the Mahayana, which “holds in it infinite rays of light, and swallows all the multiplicities there are in the world”.
The nothingness of this void would be untenable without a consciousness to void it. Try to imagine, intuitively, an empty space without any form of consciousness to observe it. Thus consciousness and space are identical, as the Chogyam Upanishad implies.
In a world of something and nothing, our normal reality realm, there is always a pit into which we can fall. If we step away from the comforting solidity provided by the ego viewpoint, we are in a dreadful limbo, an emptiness so profound that it is sometimes described as the “dark night of the soul”.
In a world of mind only, however, there is nowhere to fall, nowhere to disappear, nowhere to face obliteration, and, more to the point, there is no “thing” to fall, disappear, or face annihilation.
As Huang Po put it: “That which is before your face is it, in all its fullness, utterly complete.”
“This pure mind, the source of everything, shines forever and on all with the brilliance of its own perfection. But the people of the world do not awake to it, regarding only that which sees, hears, feels and knows as mind. Blinded by their own sight, hearing, feeling and knowing, they do not perceive the spiritual brilliance of the source–substance.”
From: The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face by John Evans. Available soon for Christmas ordering.