Ontological Void and Existential Abyss

1,

Genesis speaks of the Void as the formless matrix out of which everything is brought forth by the Spirit. This formlessness that is the matrix of all forms is melded into, or overlapping with, the watery deep, engendering a ‘sensitive chaos’ as the ‘primal substance’ out of which all things come.

“In the Beginning, ..the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s Spirit hovered over the water.”

In Taoism, the Nothingness that is the Origin of all things acts through the water, the valley, the low rather than the high, the darkness rather than the light..

“There is a thing confusedly formed, born before heaven and earth, silent and void. It stands alone and does not change, goes round and does not weary, it is capable of being the mother of the world. I know not its name, so I style it the Way” [25, 56, ‘Tao Te Ching’, Lao Tzu].

Only after this phase does light arise from darkness, and is differentiated from darkness, so that they form the primal yin and yang, the primal polarity within Duality.

“The spirit of the valley.. is called the mysterious female. ..the mysterious female is called the root of heaven and earth. Dimly visible.. use will never drain it” [6, 7].

Duality arises out of Non-Duality, and remains ‘rooted’ in it.

“The myriad creatures in the world are born from Something, and Something from Nothing” [40, 89].

Between Duality and Non-Duality there is a polarity — Void is not Form, Form is not Void; Void is Form, Form is Void — and within Duality there is a polarity. The secondary polarity echoes, hints at, the primary polarity.

“The Nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth; the Named was the mother of the myriad creatures” [1, 2].

“The myriad creatures carry on their backs the ‘yin’ [feminine] and embrace in their arms the ‘yang’ [masculine], and are the blending of the generative forces of the two” [42, 94].

Nothingness overlaps with the psychic and physical ‘stuff’ that forms the unconscious substrate both of humanity and of Nature. This makes the watery substrate operate as a fecund womb for all the concrete forms given birth to by the mysterious formlessness. Formlessness dies into the forms, and the forms die into the formlessness.

This becomes the basis for viewing the unconscious of humanity, and of Nature, not as a hell, but as a fertile psychic-and-physical ‘fluidity’ of many open-ended potentialities; the Spirit fructifies this malleable and undifferentiated substance spread under everything, as its father, and the subterranean layer gives birth to the countless children, as a mother.

German Gnosticism and Romanticism, from Jakob Boehme to Carl Jung, tapped into this Taoistic, and Buddhistic, sense of the Nothingness as united with the sensitive chaos of the water. They invariably interpreted this in a Luciferian manner, yet Taoism, especially, presents the conjunction of Nothingness and water shorn of any Luciferian twists.

Here, Nothingness has a feminine meaning. Or, to nuance it= Nothingness works through the feminine, primally.

The feminine is closer to the Way because its lowliness, its ‘negative’ character, does not fix, trap, limit, the Mysteriousness of the Way’s working in human affairs. The feminine is an emptiness that the Way can fill, thus making fullness a manifestation of the Way.

Humanity grasps at fullness, to avoid emptiness; we try to fill up emptiness with ephemeral and meaningless things. “..the high must have the low at base.. Turning back is how the Way moves. Weakness is the means the Way employs” [40, 88]. “The still is the lord of the restless” [26, 59]. “Know the male but keep to the role of the female; know the propriety but keep to the role of the sullied; know honour but keep to the role of the disgraced. Be a valley.. Then you will return to.. the uncarved block” [28, 63]. “..bowed down, then preserved; bent, then straight; hollow, then full; worn, then new; a little, then benefited” [22, 50]. “Vacant like a valley, murky like muddy water, who can be muddy and yet, settling, slowly become limpid? Who can be at rest yet, stirring, slowly come to life? He who holds fast to this Way desires not to be full” [15, 35-36]. It is in virtue of the Way that the valley is made full [39, 85]; thus, “great fullness seems empty, yet use will not drain it” [45, 101].

This is ‘what is.’ The mystery that Being is rooted in, brought forth from, Non-Being. Some-thing rests in No-thing. Mind rests in No-mind. Self rests in No-Self.

Zhihua Yao [2010] has shown that this feminine meaning of Nothingness is pre-eminent in Taoism; according to his patient research, Buddhism often tends in exactly the same direction, but has two other meanings of Nothingness that do not figure much in Taoism..

2,

The Abyss has a very different connotation. It is not water, nor even air. It is radically empty, an absence, a privation, a lack. It can remain empty in the sense of ‘vacated’, or become full in the sense of ‘re-inhabited.’ It instigates action– yet it cripples action, and renders the heart defunct as the engine of action.

This Abyss wounds the heart, with ‘fear and trembling’, with ‘the sickness unto death.’

It is beneath the heart, yet between God and the heart, and either becomes the factor ultimately separating God’s heart from the human heart, or it becomes the factor finally reconciling them. As Christ walked on the water and did not sink, so in the end, the human heart will stand upon the Abyss, its groundless ground, and not fall. Or, if this fails, the heart will fall forever.. The Abyss is where God retreats for us to act. Our relationship with God remains free.

Nikolai Berdyaev= “An ontological system recognising the absolute primacy of being is a system of determinism. It derives freedom from being.. Being is thus ideal necessity, with no possibility of outburst; it is complete and absolute unity. But freedom cannot be derived from being.. Freedom is baseless, neither determined by nor born of being.”

And= “Freedom proceeds from the abyss which preceded being. ..the act of freedom is primordial and completely irrational.”

Freedom can pass over into anarchy. “It gives rise to the tragedy of the world process.” Or, it can pass over into ‘forced virtue’, to a tyrannical organisation of human life, towards “compulsion in good and truth.” Yet, there is no humanity without freedom. And, freedom is linked with creativity. Camus= humanity’s liberation is not only ‘from’ something, but ‘for’ something, and this ‘for’ is human creativity.

The majority of people do not value freedom, but are content with the routines of life, and so are vulnerable to dictatorship. “Education to freedom is.. still ahead of us, and this will not be achieved in a hurry.”

The heart is free to act, to create through action, to love through action.

It is in the Book of Job [Job, 26, 7; 38, 16-17, 19; 26, 14; 38, 36] that God shows the suffering heart the Abyss which its action, or inaction, is poised over. This is a different darkness, a different deep. It generates Angst which is apprehensive and anguished. It squeezes the heart, because there is nothing grounding the heart, or moving the heart, except God.

“He also knows that the earth is suspended in space:

He stretches out the north over the empty place, and hangs the earth upon nothing.

Have you.. walked in the recesses of the deep?

Have the gates of death been opened to you,
or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death?

Where is the way to the place of deep darkness?

The thunder of his power, who can understand?

Who has given wisdom to the inward parts, or who has given understanding to the heart?”

Nietzsche= “When you gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”