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Dancing in Emptiness
- the core view which is propounded by the Buddhist metaphysical philosophy of the Madhyamaka, the Middle Way doctrine, is the insight that there is nothing in the universe which exists as an independent entity in its own right, with its own internal independent substance. It follows that nothing exists as a fully independent feature of reality, a discovery contrary to the 'classical' worldview held by Western science up until the advent of quantum physics. Indeed, an understanding of Emptiness can throw new perspectives onto problems of quantum interpretation.
The search for the ultimate TOE (a theory of everything) has become a central concern for modern physicists. But it is seldom appreciated that without integrating the phenomenon of consciousness within the 'physical' worldview any such TOE will not have a leg to stand on. This fact is unaviodable because consciousness is implicated at the quantum level. As the physicists Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner have recently indicated:
Consciousness and the quantum enigma are not just two mysteries; they are the two mysteries; first, our physical demonstration of the quantum enigma, faces us with the fundamental mystery of the objective world `out there` the second, conscious awareness, faces us with the fundamental mystery of the subjective, mental world `in here`. Quantum mechanics seems to connect the two.
The process of reality is of the nature of consciousness, and is 'empty' of true or inherent substantiality. The fundamental field of awareness-consciousness, which creates the appearance of a material world, contains encoded, or enfolded, to use physicist David Bohm’s terminology, tendencies, or potentialities, for matter-like experiences to occur. It is these potentialities, when manifested, which build up the illusion of an external material reality. This is precisely the view proposed as early as 1944 by the historical founder of quantum theory Max Planck, who said in a lecture that:
All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force... We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.
This is an observation which is worth contemplating alongside the following assertion from the fourteenth century Tibetan Buddhist masterpiece The Mountain Doctrine: Ocean of Definitive Meaning: Final Unique Quintessential Instructions by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen:
I am called the matrix of attributes…. I am called the pure matrix…. The essence of … of cyclic existence Is only I, self-arisen. Phenomena in which cyclic existence exists Do not exist-even particles- Because of being unreal ideation.
This exposition is devoted to a lengthy and comprehensive elucidation of the nature of the ‘matrix of phenomena’, a fundamental Buddhist concept which is clearly analogous to the quantum wavefunction. When the above fragment is unravelled and explicated from within its own context, it turns out to be saying basically the same thing as Planck. ‘Unreal ideation’ is a Mind-Only term for the functioning of the fundamental mind-nature of reality. It is called ‘unreal’ because Dolpopa’s style of Buddhist Mind-Only metaphysics attributes full reality to the ‘nondual matrix’ underlying the ‘unreal ideation’ of the world of duality. The term ‘phenomena of cyclic existence’ refers to the appearances of the apparent entities of the dualistic world, including the ‘material’ world. The ‘matrix of attributes’, or ‘matrix of phenomena’ corresponds to what quantum physicists call the ‘wavefunction’ of potentiality which underlies the manifestation of the appearance of the many worlds of cyclic existence, including the appearance of materiality.
In the following Dzogchen (the Buddhist ‘Great Perfection’ teachings) passage ‘intrinsic rigpa’ refers to the fundamental awareness which resides as the ground quality of the universal wavefunction:
The one intrinsic rigpa binds all experience: environments and lifeforms, infinite and unconfined, whether of samsara or nirvana, arise in spaciousness; spaciousness, therefore, embraces all experience at its origin.
In other words, the awareness which is mathematically described by the universal wavefunction is the timeless source and origin of all the experiential continuums of lifeforms within their respective environments, which, of course, to a large extent overlap. Samsara indicates the experience of the process of reality from an unenlightened, or dualistic, perspective whilst nirvana is the experience from an enlightened, nondual, perspective. The basis for both modes of experience is the quantum field of potentiality. One Buddhist term for this field of potentiality is dharmata:
In many different places the Buddha said that all phenomena are empty, however, just saying that isn’t sufficient. If one were to ask, “Does that word ‘emptiness’ indicate accurately and fully the nature of phenomena, the way in which phenomena abide?” No, it doesn’t. “Does “luminous clarity” point out fully the way in which phenomena abide?” No, it doesn’t. Does “wisdom” point out accurately the final nature of things?” No, it doesn’t. There isn’t a word that can properly describe dharmata. For that reason it is said that dharmata or the true nature of things is inexpressible meaning no matter what word one uses, one cannot express dharmata just as it is. If one attempts to think about dharmata, then it cannot be thought about accurately by the mind of an ordinary person. For that reason it is said to “have passed beyond the sphere of the minds of ordinary persons.”
As Donald D. Hoffman, Professor of Cognitive Science, University of California, says:
The world of our daily experience – the world of tables, chairs, stars and people, with their attendant shapes, smells, feels and sounds – is a species-specific user interface between ourselves and a realm far more complex, whose essential character is conscious.
The totality of all the different experiential continuums, which exist on many levels: species, race and individual are examples of levels of manifestation, make up the many-worlds of illusion.
Speaking in April 2003 to the American Physical Society, the great physicist John Wheeler made the following remarkable, perhaps one might say ‘mystical’, sequence of remarks:
The Question is what is the Question? Is it all a Magic Show? Is Reality an Illusion? What is the framework of the Machine? Darwin’s Puzzle: Natural Selection? Where does Space-Time come from? Is there any answer except that it comes from consciousness? What is Out There? T’is Ourselves? Or, is IT all just a Magic Show?
Buddhist philosophers had come up with an affirmative answer to Wheeler’s question as to the possibility that reality might be an illusory ‘Magic Show’ two thousand years ago:
Phenomena as they appear and resound