Posted On 08 Apr 2019
Spaciousness is the gateway to wisdom.
Surprised? Really? What does that even mean?
There’s no standard terminology that is able to clarify this. So, keeping it simple, let’s agree to some.
Let’s use ‘spaciousness’ to refer to experienced space. Experienced space is perceived as three-dimensional distance. Since to imagine is to imagine perceiving, experienced space is the same as imagined space.
Therefore, spaciousness is not the same as conceived space, which is the space of plane geometry, solid geometry, trigonometry, and related mathematical disciplines.
Let’s agree to isolate spaciousness. Why? It’s important to distinguish it from such related ideas as motion, body, and spacetime. Since this involves setting aside physics, it means abstracting from all the interesting ideas of great physicists like Aristotle, Descartes, Newton, and Einstein.
THE NATURE OF SPACIOUSNESS
That nature of something is its essence, its “whatness.” What is spaciousness? What’s it like?
It’s vast. In fact, its unimaginably vast. It’s boundless.
It’s perfect. There are, for example, no gaps in it.
It’s empty. It has nothing in it. There are, for example, no bumps or imperfections.
SPACIOUSNESS CONNECTS WITH WISDOM
The word ‘wisdom’ can be used to refer either to theoretical wisdom, which is great understanding, or to practical wisdom, which is living well. Let’s agree that wisdom is not merely thought but practiced or lived.
Sages claims that spaciousness connects with wisdom. For example, in the oldest extant Chan [Chinese Zen] document, there’s an explicit analogy between the perfection of following the great Way of Buddha and “vast space.” What does this mean?
It’s critical here to distinguish the temporal domain of Becoming from the nontemporal (eternal) domain of Being [Beingness]. The former is the domain of motion and noise, whereas the latter is the domain of stillness and silence.
Typically, Being is defined negatively, in other words, in opposition to Becoming. For example, since it is not noisy, it is silent. Since it lacks motion, it is still. Since it lacks forms, it is formless.
Brentano’s famous thesis is called “Brentano’s thesis of the intentionality of consciousness.”
The word ‘intentionality’ is the name of Brentano’s thesis is not the ordinary use of ‘intention’ in statements such as “It’s my intention to eat after exercising.” Instead, it means ‘directedness’ or ‘aboutness.’ Brentano’s claim is that every episode of consciousness is directed upon or about some object [form, thing] or other. For example, in an episode of dream consciousness, there’s something the dream is about. In an episode of perceptual consciousness, there’s something the perception is about. In an episode of imagination, there’s something imagined. And so on.
Brentano’s thesis of the intentionality of consciousness applies in the domain of Becoming but not in the domain of Being.
Go ahead: challenge Brentano’s thesis. Don’t accept it just because an important philosopher said it. Are you able to think of an episode of consciousness that is not about anything? If not, it’s alright, tentatively, to accept his thesis.
There’s one standard objection to his thesis and that’s meditative consciousness.
The point of mastering meditation is to break thought addiction, to experience “no thought.” Most people think so compulsively when awake that they don’t even realize that they are addicted to incessant thinking (or “thoughting” as Roshi Kapleau used to say). It’s become so normal that they are wholly unaware of any alternative.
Thought addiction is an important problem. Why? Not only are thoughts [judgments, conceptualizations] “heavy” and burdensome, but also, because all thoughts separate and separation is the cause of dissatisfaction, incessant thinking spawns incessant dissatisfaction.
Thought addiction is the root cause of other addictions. For example, one way to escape the burden of compulsive thoughting is to have a few alcoholic drinks in an effort to sink below the level of thought in order to feel better. Doing that, however, can have deleterious consequences such as alcoholism.
The best way to escape all the burdens of Becoming is to rise above thought and it’s here that spaciousness comes in.
What form are you thinking about when you think about spaciousness?
Notice that there’s something odd going on. Suppose that you are enjoying an episode of visual consciousness and I ask you what you are seeing. You reply by telling me that you are looking at a tree or a deer or a stone wall or whatever.
Now suppose that you are wondering about spaciousness and I ask you what you are thinking about? What would you tell me? Spatial void or infinite emptiness? Are you really using words or phrases like that to denote forms that you are singling out for your attention?
The root of the problem is simple: spaciousness is formless. Since all language and thought occur in Becoming, there is no language or thought that can single out what is formless. The word ‘spaciousness’ is just another word that points beyond itself to a formless referent. In other words, we are here entering Being, which is beyond Brentano’s thesis.
Is this really so? According to sages, it is.
For example, Zen master Dogen wrote that, “To experience the world as pure object is to let fall one’s own body and mind and the ‘self-other’ body and mind.” In other words, direct (nonconceptual) experience of formlessness is beyond all conceptual distinctions. In Being, there is no distinction between, say, you and me or between mind and matter.
For example, in his famous commentary on MU (which is a name of Being), Zen master Yasutani Roshi asks, “What is the substance of this Buddha- or Dharma-nature? In Buddhism it is called ku [shunyata].”
Unfortunately, as Ekhart Tolle has pointed out, ‘shunyata’ has traditionally been translated as ‘emptiness.’ This has led to the unfortunate thesis that the Buddha was a nihilist. Not!
As Yasutani immediately continues, “ku is not mere emptiness. It is that which is living, dynamic, devoid of mass, unfixed, beyond individuality or personality – the matric of all phenomena. Here we have the fundamental principle of doctrine or philosophy of Buddhism.”
Following Tolle, I prefer the translation ‘spaciousness.’ (To distinguish it from mere void or emptiness, I have sometimes called it ‘the fecund void,’ which is of course a contradiction.) The critical point is that spaciousness [ku, Buddha-nature] cannot be thought.
Sages have stressed this repeatedly. For example, Yasutani: “Buddha-nature cannot be grapsed by the intellect.” The only way to grasp it is by dropping all thought, in other words, by the direct realization of no-thought.
This makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, how can we think formlessness?
SPACIOUSNESS AS CONSCIOUSNESS
In Becoming, consciousness is directed upon some other form. In Being, consciousness is directed upon itself. After all, since there are no forms in Being, how could consciousness be directed upon something other than itself?
This explains why some sages identify Being and Consciousness.
How do we experience spaciousness? I like Steve Taylor’s initial description that “you might feel that your consciousness has expanded, that the black space inside your mind which is normally so cramped has opened up. There seem to be new vistas of space around you and you feel a sense of freedom” [Waking From Sleep, p. 24.].
This can be so profound that you actually experience an identity shift, a consciousness earthquake. It can feel as though the energy of consciousness has merged with the energy of the universe. Experiences like these raise an important question:
What is your nature (essence, whatness)?
It’s popular these days to think of your nature simply as a psychophysical form, in other words, your body and your mind, which is the set of thought-forms. Furthermore, it’s true that you are both body and mind.
Your physical and mental forms, though, are not your essence. You are not limited in that way – at least according to The Gospel According to Saint Bradford. In other words, you are not just Becoming; you are also Being.
Can I prove that? Certainly not. To give an argument for it would be to provide reasons or evidence for it, in other words, to offer a sequence of thoughts. Since all thoughts are limited to Becoming and the thesis goes beyond Becoming to Being, there cannot possibly be an argument for it.
Are you Being disguised as merely Becoming?
Good question! Seek to answer it for yourself. However, please avoid the important mistake of believing that you will be able to think your way to the answer.
I wish you well.