by on March 10, 2019

It can never be described in language, but it may  be another name for what Jewish mystics call Ein Sof, and which Gary Lachman describes as follows: At Kabbalah’s heart is the relation between creation, the finite, physical cosmos, and its infinite, unmanifest source, called the Ein-Sof, which means ‘limitless’ or ‘unending’. This is a sphere or dimension of what we can call ‘negative existence’, which really means that it is a plane of reality that our finite human minds are incapable of comprehending, and not merely a simple emptiness. The Ein-Sof is so ‘other’ than what we normally perceive as reality, that we cannot make positive statements about it. Any positive statement about it, would, by definition, be a limit on it, and as it is limitless, cannot apply.

This negative existence has parallels in other spiritual traditions. It is the Neti-Neti (‘not this, not that’) of Hinduism, the sunyatta or ‘void’ of Buddhism, the Pleroma of the Gnostics. It is even part of the Christian faith. The Athanasian Creed, in use in Western Christianity since the sixth century, declares that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are ‘uncreated’ and ‘unlimited’, and in more than one place in scripture we are told that God ‘has neither body nor parts’. It is at the heart of the negative theology of Meister Eckhart, forms the Ungrund of Jacob Boehme’s difficult alchemical writings, and can be found in the Nichts or ‘positive nothingness’ of Martin Heidegger’s ‘fundamental ontology’ and his predecessor Hegel’s tortuous dialectic.

In more scientific terms, a similar idea, but without the spiritual connotations, seems to be present in the way scientists talk about the state of things ‘before’ the Big Bang. I put ‘before’ in quotation marks because, according to most accounts, there was no ‘before’ before the big bang, a confusing situation, to be sure. A kind of non-manifest ‘ground’ of our everyday reality also seems to be involved in the ‘implicate order’ of the physicist David Bohm. There are other expressions of the idea, but I think this will suffice for now.

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