Tantrik representation of self
The Tantrik five-layered representation of self includes the following interconnected layers:
- Physical body,
- Heart-mind/energy body,
- Prāṇa or life-force,
- Transcendent Void, and
- Power of Awareness.
The layer of transcendent VOID (śūnya) is empty of all form and energy, absolutely still. It is, in a sense, Śiva without Śakti, or rather with Her existing as unexpressed potentiality.
Perceptions of Void
While most people don’t identify with this layer, it still is a layer of what we are – our empty essence. And yet it seems that for some people, falling into a Void is irresistible and almost unaVOIDable, once it starts to emerge with its magnetic black-hole pull, nothing can resist it, and why anything would? The great nothingness consuming everything and leaving nothing, what can be more fundamental to this?
Strange landscapes of Void. The transparency of being is more and more, as the void is slowly consuming and infecting (or informing) the tissues of life. Who and why would resist that pull? The attraction and the pull of the black hole are simply too much, too enchanting, too intoxicating, although radically empty and without any direction/purpose/meaning.
Yet it is opening a level of freedom that is unconditional in the sense of radical nothingness and meaninglessness that dissolves the very core to which the apparent non-freedom can attach. In this sense, it only paves the natural pathway for the emergence of essential freedom (which is anyway already the case).
All attempts of conceptualizing the Void (including these comments) fail at the very beginning as considering the void as ‘something’ – an object of attraction in terms of spiritual attainment, or an object of rejection in terms of life-consuming blackness – are mere illusion-creating reification attempts, meaning nothing.
It is also quite strange to realize that we all may have very different perceptions, understanding, or inner realization of the Void which leads to unavoidable confusion in communication about it – which leaves us only the possibility to draw no conclusions at all, and simply enjoy this strangeness of unspeakable non-existence.
Yet we communicate about it, and the best reference I found – after being for quite a long period immersed in a strangely empty and transparent perception (leading sometimes to confusion and disorientation) – is shared and summarized below.
THE VOID: Inner Spaciousness and Ego Structure
The book by A.H. Almaas – THE VOID: Inner Spaciousness and Ego Structure – is probably the single best reference on the topic of “VOID”. It is a remarkable exposition that puts perspective and a unifying view on so many scattered pieces of “Fifty shades of Void”, ranging from a psychologically “deficient emptiness” and the many layers and modalities of deep ontological emptiness. A masterpiece indeed!
The key concepts are summarized below, may they serve as inspiration to anyone being immersed in various degrees of emptiness/essence/being.
PART ONE – The Void and the Self
Space is the intimate experience of the nature of one’s mind.
The dissolution of a self-boundary invokes the experience of inner open space.
Space is mind as ground. Mind as content is a result of boundaries in this space. These boundaries are the mind as content, are what constitutes the psychic structure.
The process of ego development is a process of bounding space, of building static boundaries in the openness of the mind. It is the carving of structure out of space, and the resulting psychic structure then is simply a structuralized space. This explains very clearly why when self-boundaries are dissolved, space appears.
The experience of space, because it involves the dissolving of defenses, will bring into consciousness any distortions in body-image. The defense mechanisms of the ego will then automatically mobilize to prevent consciousness of the affective experiences associated with these distortions.
Space is actually dynamically repressed; and this fact, besides explaining the difficulty in experiencing space, indicates the usefulness of psychodynamic techniques to those seeking this experience. Our experience is that the psychodynamic method does allow greater success than simple meditation in eliciting the perception of space.
The main characteristics of space are openness and the absence of rigid boundaries. Since its nature is the absence of boundaries, it will naturally challenge any existing boundaries. This challenge usually manifests as anxiety.
However, in the deeper experiences of space another kind of anxiety becomes more important—what is called object anxiety, the fear of disintegration or of losing one’s sense of identity. This is understandable since space erases boundaries, some of which make up the self-image which forms the sense of ego identity. So space is really experienced as a threat to the ego.
This is one of the common ways of seeing the inner space—as a clear and empty nothingness, the way we would imagine totally empty physical space. With eyes open, the physical environment is seen as it is, but with a more subtle perception of space pervading everything and extending infinitely.
The void is the emptiness which in time will allow the unfolding of the fullness and richness of Being. Just as the void is the culmination point of the process of the ascent of energy, it will become the beginning point of a process of descent that will bring the fullness of Being.
The creativity of space is boundless. In fact, the experience of space itself can develop and deepen into a higher form of space, a space that is neither empty nor full. It is a dimension of space where the physical boundaries of the body are not erased by emptiness, but experienced as space itself. In this case, space simultaneously holds two opposites: emptiness and fullness. It feels empty and light, but also feels full and has density. Space here is not an absence, but a presence.
PART TWO – The Void and Transformation
The aspect of a human being that is not the product of physical heredity, environment or upbringing, is sometimes referred to as Essence or Being.
Some systems, particularly the various Buddhist schools and some Hindu systems, attempt the realization and development of essence by first cultivating the experience of space. So their meditation techniques are usually directed towards the perception of the nature of the mind as void or emptiness. Zen Buddhist techniques direct the practitioner towards emptiness, the void, “shunyata.”
Space or emptiness is a requirement, a first step toward the unfolding of essence.
We have seen that most people do not normally experience either essence or space. This means that the identity or self-image of the normal person does not include space. However, space is an integral part of the person. It is the true nature of his mind. This means that his self-image contains a big distortion; it excludes a large part of him—space itself. This distortion of self-image manifests as the genital hole. The genital hole is consistently the entry to the experience of space and emptiness.
Space is needed as a ground for the experience of essence. Even when essence is experienced before space is integrated, it does not become a permanent experience. It can become a permanent part of our experience only after space is integrated.
Fundamental transformation happens only with the breakthrough to space and to the realm of essence. Most spiritual teachings point toward the phenomenon of space since the emptiness and freedom is seen to be needed for the life of essence.
The way to space is obvious and easy: The self-image must be uncovered and understood. All defenses against the empty hole must be recognized and understood. Phallic identifications which are used for defensive purposes must be broken down and dismantled. This leads to the experience of castration, of emptiness, of deficiency. Now identification with this state must be seen and understood. This reveals the genital hole. Experiencing this emptiness, accepting it and understanding it allows it to develop into space, the spacious nature of our mind. This freedom, this peace, then allows the unfolding of our true Being, our essence. This is a fundamental change; the very identity is shifted.
We can say either that space melts away boundaries or that dissolution of boundaries allows space to manifest.
So here we see the role of space in inner change: There is no lasting change without a change in self-image, there is no change in self-image without a dissolution of self-boundaries, and there is no dissolution of boundaries without the action of space. This is a crucial understanding lacking in most circles concerned with effecting changes in the mind or psyche. It establishes that the personality (which is determined by the self-image) cannot change itself. Only space can change it.
This perspective is understood by many of the genuine spiritual teachings. They assert that the self cannot do anything to change itself or its reality. Conditioning can lead only to conditioning. The self or ego can only stop trying, stop doing, stop acting. Then the transformation occurs.
From that it is easy to see that change is a change in identity. The ultimate and most radical change of identity is the dissolution of the psychological identity, or the dissolution of the identification with it. This may lead to a shift of identity from the personality to essence or Being. This is what is called spiritual rebirth or awakening.
PART THREE – The Void: Expansion or Deficiency
We have used and emphasized the term “space” instead of “emptiness” partly to avoid confusing the experience of the void as the openness, clarity and freedom of the fundamental nature of the mind with the experience of psychological deficiency that is often termed “emptiness.”
In fact, emptiness in the deficient sense is taken by many as one of the signs or symptoms of such disturbances as psychoses, borderline conditions, narcissistic disorders, character disorders, and schizoid phenomena.
We see then that there are two experiences of emptiness: one spacious and liberating, and the other deficient and depressive. The presence of these two types of experience of emptiness could lead to much confusion and misunderstanding,
We seem to be coming to an impasse. On the one hand, the dissolution of self-boundaries leads to the experience of space; and on the other hand, the dissolution of the very same elements of the personality leads to the experience of deficient emptiness. This apparent impasse, fortunately, leads us to a fresh insight that will help us in seeing whether the two kinds of emptiness are related.
In fact, we have found that when the individual encounters the genital hole—which expands into a deficient emptiness—it transforms into space as soon as it is accepted and understood.
When the individual understands that the deficient emptiness is the same as the feeling of the absence or loss of a certain facet of Being, it automatically and spontaneously leads to the experience of space with its lightness and expansiveness.
- The ego structure, with its sense of identity, contains within it a deficient emptiness.
- The extent of the sense of deficient emptiness depends on how complete the loss of contact with Being is.
- Also, the sense of deficient emptiness depends on how vulnerable or incomplete the personality structure is.
- Individuals with integrated personalities and a stable sense of self can tolerate confrontation with deficient emptiness much better than ones with pathological structures.
- The most important point is that the deficient emptiness results from the loss of contact with Being; and not from the loss of psychic structures. In other words, structural losses and weaknesses expose an already existing deficient emptiness, rather than generate it.
A regression proceeds through the following major steps:
- Disidentifying with parts of the psychic structure leads to the experience of deficient emptiness.
- The deficient emptiness leads to the experience of space.
- Space leads to the awareness of Being.
It becomes clear by now that the existentialist philosophers were actually describing a fundamental truth of the presence of emptiness at the core of the personality, although they did not differentiate between space and deficient emptiness.
In other words, deficient emptiness is nothing but space experienced through the filter of ignorance. This explains why when the deficient emptiness is experienced it transforms into space as soon as the wrong beliefs and their accompanying emotions are seen and understood.
PART FOUR – The Grades of Emptiness
Space or emptiness exists at various depths of experience, or various degrees of subtlety in identification. Each level of space is different phenomenologically and is experienced differently. But there is always the emptiness, always the openness. And the experience of any grade of space is always connected to the dissolution of some boundary of the self, or the ego’s identity.
As the boundaries of the self become subtler and more fundamental, space becomes deeper and more powerful in its annihilating influence. This process continues until one is able to experience reality with no boundaries at all, with no sense of separate identity whatsoever, with no sense of individual experience.
The various grades or levels of space:
- Clear space – clear, empty, and light spaciousness.
- Black space – an empty, light, but black spaciousness.
- Clear dense space – a clear kind of space, but paradoxically experienced as full. It will have a fullness and a presence, like the body. But at the same time it will be space.
- Black dense space – a dense space like the preceding one, but black instead of clear. The fear of death is encountered in all the black spaces.
- Annihilation space – a black, empty space encountered at a very subtle level of identity, the sense of identity which stems from the experience of existence. This space is actually the experience of nonexistence. This space, although it arouses the greatest terror, is experienced as the greatest peace. This space is the blackest. It is so deep and black that even consciousness is annihilated.
- The Void – even the annihilation space is experienced, and is an individual experience. The annihilation happens to somebody, to oneself. The dissolution of this subtle boundary of individual experience leads to a yet deeper and more open space, an utterly empty space. This space is complete and total emptiness. It is the emptiness which eliminates separating boundaries. There is no more a sense of individual experience. There is nobody there experiencing the emptiness. At this level, there is no difference between awareness and emptiness. In this space, experience is completely open. There is freedom without the notion of freedom.
Of course, diving into these landscapes opens new dimensions and depths of SPACE and BEING, and invites a fresh breeze of exploration and further investigation into the crack between being and non-being – a gentle invitation to be touched by the illuminating darkness and to fly endlessly into the abyss of Space, Essence, and Being. Endless. Magic. Priceless.