The non-reality of nothingness

Jonathan Bricklin brickmar at EARTHCOM.NET
Tue Nov 18 13:41:30 CST 1997

Miguel Angel has offered some quotes about the Absolute from Nisargadatta.
They comprise a useful focal point for a discussion about that which cannot
really be discussed.  I have little doubt that Nisgardatta was an
enlightened being, but I have some questions concerning how some of his
enlightenment got translated (through Balsekar) into English.  Actually, I
find Balsekar, the little I've read of him, to be a bit more circumspect in
on the Absolute.   I can jump from him to Sankara to Lao Tzu to Huang
Po to Ramakrishna to Krishnamurti pretty easily, but some of what you have
quoted here is like landing in quicksand.  Maybe that's just what it's
meant to do.


> No particular thought can be mind's natural state, only silence.
> Not the idea of silence, but silence itself. When the mind is in its
> natural state, it reverts to silence spontaneously after every
> or, rather,
> every experience happens against the background of silence.  (242)

And, guess what?, silence exists against the background of experience.
They need each other to exist.  As William James says:

        "Into the awareness of the thunder itself the awareness of the previous
silence creeps and continues;  for what we hear when the thunder crashes is
not thunder *pure*, but thunder-breaking-upon-silence-and-contrasting-with
it.  Our feeling of the same objective thunder, coming in this way, is
quite different from what it would be were the thunder a continuation of
previous thunder.  The thunder itself we believe to abolish and exclude the
silence;  but the feeling of the thunder is also a feeling of the silence
as just gone...."

The experience of a silence between experience is a staple of mystical
experience.  As Krishnamurti (who Balsekar revered, incidentally) puts it:

"If you watch very carefully you will see that though the response, the
movement of thought, seems so swift, there are gaps, there are intervals
between thoughts.  Between two thoughts there is a period of silence which
is not related to the thought process."

Why try to make more of silence than this?

>Consciousness is intermitent,  full of gaps.

Arguable.  I would say it is only consciousness of self that is

>Yet there is the
> continuity of identity. What is this sense of identity due to, if not to
> something beyond consciousness?  (310)

Those who believe there are gaps in consciousness, and I am not one of
them, would attribute it to memory.  James talks about a feeling of warmth
for certain thoughts rather than others, a warmth that, like thoughts,
arises only in the present passing moment, and gives us a feeling of
ownership/identity.  The sense of identity is formed nowhere else than in
the present passing moment, again and again.

> In the darkness and the silence reality is found.  (305)
> Beyond the witness there is the infinite intensity of emptiness and
> silence.  (355)

Beyond the witness is the unwitnessable and hence the uncharacterizable.
I'm  aware that Nisgardatta did not invent this equation of silence with
the absolute.  It is his emphasis, especially when it is tied in with what
I feel is a bogus concept of nothingness, or an absolutized emptiness, that
I am responding to.  None of the Sankara quotes you provided are so linked.
 The nearest quote I have found of his (from my meager resources)  that
endorses something like Nisgardatta's version is the following:

"Baskali asked Bahva three times about the nature of Brahman:  the latter
remained silent all the time, but finally replied:--I teach
you, but you understand not:  silence is the Atman."  Brahmasutrabhasya

But it's possible to make less of Bahva's lesson than a Nisgardattian
might. The concluding proposition of Wittgenstein's Tractatus
Logico-Philosophicus comes to mind:  "What we cannot speak about we must
pass over in silence."
Perhaps the emphasis Nisgardatta gives to silence is his way, like,
Bahva's, of counteracting the emphasized chattering mind of his disciples.
 And if I'd just shut up, turn off my computer, and go on a Vipassana
retreat I might have a better shot of glimpsing what he was experiencing.

> Your true home is in nothingness, in emptiness of all content.  (487)

Nothingness, the state of there being absolutely nothing, doesn't exist.
That is good news.
Maybe the best news.  It is only no *thing* that exists.  The space between
the words is critical.

> Your true home is in nothingness, in emptiness of all content.
> You face it most cheerfully when you go to sleep!

On the contrary, nothingness is the only place consciousness (with or
without consciousness of self) will never be--visiting, at home, whatever.
People go to sleep because they are tired.  The oblivion implied by
nothingness is not a cheery thought.  The fact that nothingness does not
exist, however, might perk a few people up.

Your final Nisgardatta quote:

>what is real is nameless and shapeless, pure energy of life and light of
> consciousness, you will be at peace -immersed in the deep silence of
> reality.  (37)

You saved the best for last, too.  Consciousness as indeterminate, and
"you" effectively silenced.

Please forgive, or at least forbear my irreverence.  I seem to have been
born with it and I will no doubt die with it.
At any rate, As Schopenhauer said of Kant's critics, it is far easier to
someone than to give a full account of their value.

The value of an enlightened being is beyond measure.  There is much
transforming wisdom in
what you have posted.  It has made me want to read more of him.


Jonathan Bricklin

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list