Wednesday, February 12, 2014


This blog is dedicated to Ms Simrat Kaur who asked me to ‘dissect’ Shunyata…..i have attempted to do so as best i could. The word Shunya, though just a “zero” has tremendous significance in Spirituality though, considered important both in Physics and Mathematics as well. Mathematics sees it as a ‘zero’ or “nothingness” while Physics views it as a vacuum or perfect absence of matter. Shunya is steeped in mysticism, and has been looked upon differently by different people resulting in varying views about it, even though it has been mentioned in almost all religions with many interpretations. Broadly speaking the ‘shunya’ of mysticism too is also what our mathematicians and physicists say! Swami Vivekananda too talked extempore on this in the US way back in 1893…..and surprised everyone by apprising them that it was this Void…this ‘nothingness’ from which the entire Universe originated. Spirituality is about practical experience which is the best way of understanding everything. Shunya too is one of them. Many explanations have been offered to make us understand it but ultimately our intuition will give us the best answer. To me the simplest explanation is the one given by Guru Nanak Devji: Shunya and the Absolute Reality are the same things. Before the creation of this Universe there was nothing…only darkness, no earth or sky and only His will prevailed, which means that God existed. This existence of God in His primal state, which can also be called His state of Samadhi is Shunyata. In other words Shunya is God’s abode before creation. Guru Nanakji has also called this state as ‘Adi Sach”…..the Sach becomes ‘Jugad Sach” after creation has taken place. “Adi” means from the beginning. When the Absolute Reality or God beyond Creation decided to become many He produced a vibration comprising of sound and light, called ‘Shabd”, which resulted in the creation of the entire Universe. This unstruck sound or Shabd lies deep within Him and since He has been there from the beginning (Adi Sach) the unstruck sound therefore vibrates and resounds in Shunya. It also means that in order to reach this state one needs to connect with the Shabd and get absorbed in it. It is for this reason that Sant Kabir said that whoever is absorbed in Naam is lovingly immersed in Shunya. For this to happen, one first needs to be initiated by a Realized Guru, who is instrumental in opening the initiate’s Third Eye ren sulting in the Atma traversing the path through various stages for its liberation. This is the route as described in Sant Mat. (Kabbalistic teachings too mention that before the Universe was created there was ‘nothingness”or Ayin) Yoga has described Shunya as a state where” there is no worldly awareness”. When one is truly immersed in Naam or Shabd one loses all worldly awareness which happens in samadhi too. Some people have called shunya as ‘mindlessness” but to me a better term is ‘stilling’ of the mind rather than mindlessness. When the mind is still, there are no ripples, no thoughts, no samskars…..just emptiness or a void. This happens when we are totally immersed in Naam or deep Samadhi. The Shabd is like a sutra which takes us directly to this ‘empty’ space …..but the space which is actually full enough to give birth to this entire Universe! This concept of stillness is central to Taoism too. Lao Tzu describes emptiness ever so beautifully ‘we shape clay into a pot but it is the emptiness inside which holds whatever we want”. This is true of the human body and, for that matter, for all aspects of our lives too…..we are interconnected to everything in Nature through the medium of this ‘empty’ space. This concept is very similar to the concept of the Five elements .Shunya (Akash, Space), recognised as the element ‘Wood” in Chinese Medicine. According to the Shivagama Shiva explains ‘it is the least tangible of the Five Elements……but it is the very essence of potential… is pregnant emptiness….the possibility of being and is the first element to emerge from the utter void”. Although it is empty itself, it is considered the medium through which sound is transmitted, which is why a seed sound or mantra, when chosen to resonate with our essence is thought to have the potential to reconnect us with our source! Hence by actually ‘realizing’ the ‘Aum” Mantra or the ‘Shabd’, “Amen”, ‘Ameen”…..which are other names given to the primordial sound, one can go back to the unity from where one came. All phenomena originate from there. It is from Akash that swirling masses of gaseous matter spin out. This is the second element, Vayu or Air. These then combust to form heat and light and the Third Element arises, called Tejas or Fire. The residues then condense and pool and moisture appears , which is the liquid element, called Apas or Water. This is then followed by crystallization and solidification leading to the formation of the Fifth Element or Earth. Yet another way of looking at it is that it is shunya which separates Purusha from Prakriti ,where Purusha is Consciousness and Prakriti is matter. This happens by creating a vacuum by Dhyana or Samadhi. According to Satyananda spiritual evolution is associated with three levels of Shunya. The first is when gross consciousness is transcended, while the second occurs after transcending mental awareness, (Manomaya Kosha) and finally after transcending the Anandmaya Kosha or Bliss Sheath the final Shunya is reached. In the first experience of Shunya the samskars are still very powerful, which become weaker in the second experience and almost completely eliminated in the third phase which means that there is complete suspension……and this is shunya. So it can be said that it is a transition from one stage of meditation to another. Those who meditate regularly under the guidance of a guru would understand that spiritual evolution through meditation is associated with lessening of samskars depending upon our transgression from the Annamaya Kosha, Pranamaya Kosha, Manomaya Kosha, Vijnanmaya Kosha and finally the Anandmaya Kosha …..all a result of gradual stilling of the mind. From what i have written so far it probably appears that shunya is something which is very far away and happened just once. Nothing could be further from the truth! The fact of the matter is that this ‘space’ is a part of us and situated deep inside us and can be accessed in deep meditation. Advanced meditators keep flitting in and out of it…..(on their way to a “permanent residence” there) when they “go in’ to that space they realize that the mind becomes perfectly still …..there is no sense of time and there is no memory but a feeling of tremendous tranquillity and absolute peace…..there is no beginning, no end and one realizes that this is actually the ground of Being….. the world as we know it ceases to exist and one just wants to ‘be’!(Andrew Cohen). This space is vast and, surprisingly even though it is empty it gives a feeling of fullness…..imagine an empty space which is full! It is both everything and nothing at the same time….one realizes that “something is coming from nothing every second” (Andrew Cohen).This emptiness is ‘unconditional freedom’ but also full of infinite potential as one understands that everything is possible. As mentioned above, shunya is Absolute Reality. This Reality has two parts, the manifest and the unmanifest. “Most of the time, we are only aware of the manifest dimension, the domain of time and space and becoming. But like an iceberg floating in the ocean, only visible above the surface but extending far below ,the reality we see is resting on an unseen, unknown, unfathomable dimension……”(Andrew Cohen). Buddhism, however, has a totally different concept of Shunya. Everything is interdependant and the world as we see it is ever changing, insubstantial and constantly in flow. Since everything is ever changing it cannot be real……. This, according to Bhuddhism is what is Shunya. ‘Reality” as we see it is based on our mind and how the mind sees it rather than anything innate in it. We give names to things and tend to assume that they have specific characteristics but the reality is that everything is made up of so many other things and therefore does not have its own characteristic. For example we call a table a table but does the table have anything which is its innate feature? The Mahayana Buddhists call shunya as a ‘fullness’ which is empty of the ‘self’! Let us all meditate , quieten our minds, listen to our ever vigilant intuition and go deeper and deeper into that ‘Zero’, and the ‘emptyness’ to the place from where we came, the Ground of Being and of infinite potential and profound presence of the One… connecting to the primordial sound of ‘Aum”, “Shabd” ,“Naam’ ….which originates in this empty space and will take us back to where we belong. Acknowledgement: “Radical Healing” by Rudolph Balentine MD, Himalayan Institute ‘Evolutionary Enlightenment…..A Path To Spiritual Awakening” by Andrew Cohen, JAICO 2012