with Rich Piscopo
During this class, we explored the sublime concept of the existence of a single, underlying, fundamental, unifying thought from which all other thoughts arise. This is a big, abstract idea, suitable for a college level class, and, understandably, the going was slow at first. By the end of class, however, we made some headway and some students were beginning to grasp it. But, we need to continue delving its depths in next week's class before we clearly and distinctly see the light of day.
Here is what we covered thus far: I needed to lay some common groundwork before embarking on our intellectual expedition. After reviewing Plato's Theory of Forms, I introduced the concepts of Lao Tzu's Tao, Hinduism's Brahman, Buddhism's Dharmakaya, Ralph Waldo Emerson's Universal Being, the Unified Field Theory of physics, and the Wu Chi of Tai Chi philosophy.
We then explored how each of these concepts could be considered to be one, underlying, fundamental thought. In discussing the Theory of Forms, a student astutely asked how we know we are all perceiving the same three-dimensional representation of the Form, thereby introducing the idea of relativity into our dialogue.
When discussing the Unified Field Theory, I used the metaphor of an underlying, universal river flowing through the ground of Being, connecting all things. I also used the analogy of the myriad things in the universe sharing a single, common form of energy. As if everything in the universe was made of
the same substance [energy], only manifest in different and unique ways [Quantum Physic's String Theory?]. For example, let's say everything was made of gold. All things would have at their core the atomic structure of gold, however, they would just be expressed in different and unique shapes.
I went on to say that this energy is expressed on planet earth in trillions of different manifestations. Every insect, worm, reptile, leaf, blade of grass, bacterium, and human, all share this energy in the form of DNA.
Another student shared Lao Tzu's and Fritjof Capra's perception by saying that words seemed inadequate to express what we are referring to. Capra wrote The Tao of Physics, one of our source books. She went on to say that this energy we are discussing seems to be a "surging, rushing, force of life, running through all things." I encouraged her intuitive perception, and asked her if one would be able to paint this force, since words do seem inadequate to express it. I do believe this life force was what Van Gogh was trying to capture in his painting, "Starry Night"; or what Dylan Thomas refers to in his poem, "The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower" (drives me also).
Then she asked, "Does this life force age? The manifestations age, but does the force age?" This profound question led us into a discussion about the conservation of energy. Two other students reminded us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. She went on, "Even if this energy force existed for only one second, it would still be infinite." This statement reminded us of the Big Bang Theory, so we discussed the repercussions of it. Her inspired flash of thoughts ended by her asking, "Is life made out of the same stuff as death?" We were out of time at this point, but I did refer the class to the Zen Master Hoshin who predicted the moment he was going to die. Just before he passed he dictated the following poem, "I came from brilliancy, And return to brilliancy. What is this?" I believe this is related to the notion of the drop of water returning to the ocean.
"Is life made out of the same stuff as death?" We shall continue our expedition in our next class by plumbing the depths of this weighty question.
We returned to the surface after plumbing the depths of Being, and, fortunately, no one got the bends. We reviewed the concept of the existence of one, underlying, fundamental thought from which all other thoughts arise. This led to a dialogue about the search for the Ground of Being. As far back as the Pre-Socratics, our Western culture has been searching for a single, fundamental, unifying essence common to all things -- the Ground of Being. Does it exist? Or is everything we perceive relative to our perspective?
During our dialogue about Being, the notion of Nothingness arose. I referred the class to Jean-Paul Satre's important work, Being and Nothingness. When discussing whether nothingness exists or not, a student said, "It's not nothingness, it's the unknown." It certainly is unknown. For now, we all agreed on the point that nothingness defies description. For, as soon as we describe it, it springs into existence. True nothingness, as with the similar concept of Wu Chi of Tai Chi philosophy, is beyond our dualistic mind set. Are we capable of thinking about true nothingness? As Lao Tzu says in chapter one of the Tao Te Ching, "The Tao that is spoken is not the eternal Tao." As soon as we speak it, we name and categorize it, and therefore limit it.
Most likely, we will visit this concept of Being and Nothingness again in our philosophical explorations. In the meantime, I do not think it is going anywhere. It will be there waiting, in profound silence.