When space turns in on itself and starts plotting and planning, scheming and calculating, hoping and fearing then it turns into the self. That’s how the self comes into being – space gets collapsed. It gets ‘turned in on itself’. The self is ‘space inverted’ therefore and so all the principles of space are reversed.
One principle is ‘non-discrimination’ or ‘lack of bias’ – space does not discriminate and it has no bias. Anything is allowed to be in it! Since when did space discriminate or get picky about the objects that exist within it and say that such-and-such a thing isn’t allowed or ‘has no place’? The very nature of the self is discrimination, on the other hand – it is by discriminating between this and that that the self gets to be the self. The self always divides the world between friend and foe, ally and enemy. The self always weighs what is to its advantage against what is not and proceeds with its activities accordingly. It is the self’s inherent bias that determines what its activities shall be, what its goals shall be…
Another principle is ‘extensiveness’ – space has no limit to its extensiveness. It is by its very nature illimitable, unbounded. How could space be bounded – what would lie on the other side of the boundary that bounds it? Is there going to be something there which is not space? Without space nothing can exist; space is what gives everything its function. ‘Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful’, as it says in Verse 11 of the Tao Te Ching. Space isn’t therefore a mere feature of or ‘add-on’ to reality – space is reality itself. The self on the other hand does have a limit to its extensiveness – necessarily so. If the self is not bounded, then it cannot exist. An unbounded self is not a self; self needs something that is not itself to push against, to contrast itself against. It is a ‘creature of contrast’. ‘Self’ needs ‘other’ just as ‘up’ needs ‘down’. And it is not just that the self has limited extensiveness – it has no extensiveness at all. As soon as the self starts to extend itself is ceases to be what it is defined as being and as soon as it ceases to be what it is defined as being it ceases to be itself. The self is by its very nature ‘this and only this’.
Another principle we could mention therefore would be the principle of definition. Space is undefined, it has no characteristics. Without definition, on the other hand, there could be no self. This of course is just a restatement of what we have said in the previous paragraph – to limit is to define and not to limit is not to define. Or was we could also say, to contrast is to define and not to contrast is not to define. Space is undefined and there is – needless to say – nothing to contrast it against. The self however is always playing the game of contrast – without contrast (as we have already said) it can have no existence. It has to say “I am this but not that” – that’s how it states itself, this is how it creates itself.
This brings us to the final principle that we are going to talk about, which is the principle of reality. Space – we have said – is reality. Space is what exists ‘of itself’. Space doesn’t need play the game of contrast in order to be there, in other words! Space is what is real and what has no space in it (i.e. the defined) has no reality. The self – we might therefore say – is a manifestation of the principle of ‘inverted reality’; it is a manifestation of the principle of unreality inasmuch as it only seems real when we take the limitations that define it seriously. If we assume that the limitations in question (i.e. the rules) are real (which is to say that they ‘exist all by themselves’) then the self exists. ‘Conditioned reality’, we might say, comes into (apparent) being when we assume the existence of the rules.
The principle of ‘Inverted Reality’ does not mean that there is an absence of reality, it means that there is an absence of reality that we invertedly see as being real. There’s no such thing as ‘things that aren’t real’, obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t be there, but there is such a thing as ‘something we perceive to be real when it isn’t’ and this is the principle of inverted reality. It’s the rules which say if something is real or not and so – because we have tacitly agreed not to question the rules – we take the reality which has been created by the rules (the ‘conditioned reality’) as being the genuine article whilst the unconditioned or unstated reality because effectively unreal to us. When we are living in the conditioned world we are incapable of knowing about the unstated reality; we become not only oblivious to it but unable even to intuit that there could be such a thing. And yet it’s only the unstated reality that is real – how can the stated reality be in any sense real when the only reason it is there is because we have tacitly agreed for it to be. If it only exists because we say it exists then it doesn’t exist!
Space cannot be stated. What is stated is not space and yet space is all there is. This ought to be so clear and yet it isn’t – reality cannot be stated, cannot be defined. If reality were to be stated or defined then there would have to be something outside of reality that is doing the stating, doing the defining. Furthermore, as we have already said, if something only exists because it is said to exist (because it has been made to exist) then it doesn’t exist at all. Dependent being is not being; a truth that is true only under special conditions is not really true – it’s been made to be true. Space cannot be stated but the self can be – the self can only exist if it is stated or defined. What kind of thing is an unstated or undefined self? A self has to have something to push against, it has to have some backdrop to be defined against. All definitions have to have a backdrop – they have to have something that is fixed, something that is taken for granted, even though in reality the framework that we are assuming has no existence of itself.
So we only know what is defined and what is defined is not real. This is our predicament, even though we cannot see it (even though we couldn’t possibly be further from seeing it). What is defined is not real and neither is the one who relates to the defined world as if it were real. The reassuring sense of familiarity that we experience with regard to the designed or defined world is thus wholly illusory, as indeed is the one who experiences that ‘reassuring sense of familiarity’. This might seem like a bit of shame from the point of view of the conditioned self (to put it mildly!) but the other side of this ‘comfortableness’, this ‘easy familiarity’, is fear. Comfort and fear are inseparable. Easy familiarity actually is fear – the defined self is always afraid and the comfortable sense of familiarity that it enjoys when it is safely and securely ensconced within the cosy confines of the defined world (the world that is made up of our unacknowledged projections) is nothing other than this very same fear reflected back at us. It’s the very same fear in ‘disguised form’…
‘Comfort’ is simply a code word for our (apparent) success in running away from our fear. Very obviously, we can’t see comfort as being connected with (or rather a direct result of) our successful escaping from fear – if we did have this awareness than that would entirely detract from the experience of ‘comfort’ that we are trying to enjoy. It wouldn’t be very comfortable to know this! Relief can only come when we manage to totally forget about our fear, the fear that is always on our tail, the fear that is dogging us wherever we go. So when we do forget there is this intensely pleasant feeling and rather than seeing this very pleasant and enjoyable feeling as being merely the result of us fooling ourselves (which is what it comes down to) we see it as an actual positive quality in itself, an actual ‘thing in itself’. We see euphoria as an actual quality in its own right and we covet it greatly; we create a whole industry, a whole economy on the basis of chasing it.
What we are doing when we chase pleasure (or satisfaction, or comfort, or whatever we might want to call it) is running away from space. That is the nature of the exercise. Space is all there is and we ourselves are space, and yet here we are running away from space. Running away from space is running away from ourselves, therefore. Once we start running away space immediately becomes terrifying – it becomes terrifying because of its openness, because of its refusal to confirm or validate any definite stance that we might take. Space won’t confirm any of our definite statements – if it did then it wouldn’t be space! Space does not confirm the validity of any of the restrictions or boundaries or limitations that we choose to put in place and as such it becomes ‘the enemy’. Space becomes the enemy and so we have to run away from it, we have to turn our backs on it, we have to ‘block it out’ with our positive statements about the world and ourselves. And the irony is that what we are running away from, turning our backs on, blocking out, is nothing other than our own true nature…