World Scripture – FORMLESS, EMPTINESS, MYSTERY

FORMLESS, EMPTINESS, MYSTERY

This section treats Ultimate Reality as a mystery, not a thing that can be defined by form or a concept of being. In the monotheistic religions, God is beyond any human concept, hidden, and inscrutable: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.’ The prohibition of images is a statement about the utter transcendence of God, for to make an idol to represent God is to reduce the infinite to finitude. Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Taoism affirm the ineffability of Ultimate Reality in their assertions that no words or intellection can properly convey its nature. It is beyond all duality, e.g., all attempts to think of it as a “thing” separate from other things. Its nature is emptiness.

Emptiness in the eastern religions should never be misunderstood as a cognitive statement about Reality–such a statement or its referent is a “thing” and cannot itself be empty. Rather, as the Buddhist scholar Edward Conze writes,

Emptiness is not a theory, but a ladder that reaches out into the infinite. A ladder is not there to be discussed, but to be climbed…. It is a practical concept, and it embodies an aspiration, not a view. Its only use is to help us to get rid of this world and of the ignorance which binds us to it. It has not only one meaning, but several, which can unfold themselves on the successive stages of the actual process of transcending the world through wisdom. Not everyone, of course, is meant to understand what emptiness means. In that case it is better to pass on to something else.1

Truly Thou art a God who hidest Thyself.

1. Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Isaiah 45.15

Invent not similitudes for God; for God knows, and you know not.

2. Islam. Qur’an 16.74

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

3. Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Isaiah 55.8-9

No vision can grasp Him,
But His grasp is over all vision;
He is above all comprehension,
Yet is acquainted with all things.

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