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The Bifurcation of Reality

The bifurcation of reality is its being thought of as having two domains (aspects, labels), namely, what philosophers traditionally call Being and Becoming.

If memory serves, Gustav Bergmann once remarked that time was the deepest characteristic. Reality or what-is can be thought of as either in time or temporal or outside time or eternal. This is the distinction that is the subject of this post. Specifically, it is about the way we talk or think about the bifurcation of reality that is the subject of this post.


There are three reasons.

First, this distinction is critical with respect to wisdom. Though I do not argue for it here, the view I accept is the view that wisdom requires a life that is balanced between the two domains that are the bifurcation of reality.

If so, nearly all of us humans are mad (insane, foolish) because we are unnecessarily trapped in Becoming. The way we talk about this most important dis-ease should be clear and compelling.

As Meister Eckhart wrote: “There is no greater obstacle to God than time.”

Second, there is no standard terminology. This is confusing, because different thinkers sometimes use different words or phrases to refer to the same thing and sometimes they use the same words or phrases to refer to different things.

Psychologically, too, some words or phrases that resonate with some people don’t resonate with other people.

Because I was trained in western philosophy, I’m familiar and comfortable with the words “Being” and “Becoming” that come out of the tradition of ancient Greek philosophy. Those two words, however, can strike others as odd or unfamiliar.

I therefore thought it worthwhile to put in one place at least some of the different synonyms that have been used to discuss this fundamental bifurcation of reality.

Note that these words and phrases are not always used synonymously with ‘Being’ or ‘Becoming.’ My claim is only that, sometimes, they are. (For example, sometimes ‘God’ is used to denote a personal diety and it is false that Being is personal.)

Third, since it has no contrast Being is not a concept. Since all objects are beings, it is useless in sorting objects. As I have discussed elsewhere [see The Fundamental Ideas, Chapter 2], it is logically impossible to define the highest or most general word or concept. There is nothing conceptually “outside” it.

Frequently, therefore, instead of trying to define it, thinkers characterize it negatively. This tradition goes back at least as far as The Buddha, who may only have talked about it negatively. (I prefer to interpret this as an invitation to find out for ourselves. After all, it does leave open what Being is.)

So there are good reasons for organizing the terminology.

Even though I am here only mentioning these words or phrases that related to this bifurcation of reality instead of using them, for ease of readability I dispense with the quotation marks that normally indicate the use/mention distinction.

Being, which is the eternal aspect of the bifurcation of reality, has also been referred to as:

the eternal, the one, freedom, the wonderful, the sublime, the deathless, the unmanifested, the unconditioned, the limitless, the unlimited, the unfathomable, silence, emptiness, the infinite, the unborn, (inner) peace or the peaceful, the (true or big) self, the absolute, the formless, Presence, the unfettered, atman, the uncaused, the unbinding, the far shore, the subtle, the very difficult to see, the creator, God, the divine, the kingdom of God, heaven, nirvana, Intelligence, Consciousness, the egoless, Mind, the unaging, the stable, the undisintegrating, the unproliferated, the domain of sukkha, the now, enlightenment (awakening), the true, no-thought, the domain of abiding joy, the domain of authentic love (communion), salvation (liberation), lightness, the domain without stress, the domain without waiting, the destruction of craving, Life, the amazing, the secure, the unailing, the domain without illness, the unafflicted, dispassion, purity, the unadhesive, the island, the shelter, the asylum, the refuge, the domain without aging, and, the domain of genuine happiness.

Becoming, which is the temporal aspect of the bifurcation of reality has also been referred to as:

The temporal, the many, the domain of the noisy, the finite, the domain of forms, the manifested, the conditioned, the limited, the domain of war (conflict), the domain of the self, the domain of the relative, the domain of causality, the created, the domain of death, the secular, samsara, the domain of ordinary intelligence, the domain of ordinary consciousness (awareness), the domain of the ego, the domain of mind, hell, the domain of dukkha (suffering, dissatisfaction, unease), the domain of sleep, the domain of thought (conceptualization), the domain of slavery [to thoughts and emotions], heaviness, the domain of stress, the domain of waiting, the domain of illness, the domain of aging, the domain of lust and egocentric love, and the domain of ordinary happiness and unhappiness.

The bifurcation of reality has undoubtedly been discussed using many other terms as well.

Surely, though, there is a pair of words or phrases that you prefer. Please use them regularly.

The words themselves, of course, are only important as signposts. The bifurcation of reality itself, though, is critical. Rumi advises us to torch both past and future because they “veil God from our sight.”

To live blinded by Becoming is to condemn yourself to perpetual dissatisfaction.

Posted in intellectual well-being


Dave - posted on 08/08/2012 12:39 pm

I found this post helpful in that there are many words that are used in place of Being and Becoming by different people with different backgrounds. This makes things unnecessarily confusing to me. As an accountant we only have one word that describes an asset or a liability not 49 or more! I find myself referring back to this post often when I’m reading other works to make sure I understand the words that refer to Being or Becoming.

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