All Phenomena Are Without Substance

Cloud Being I cropped small
Sometimes a post takes on the quality of a report to myself on where I am in my deeper understanding of things and in my daily practice. This post is like that.

“All Phenomena Are Without Substance”

This could be the Nobel Prize-winning discovery in quantum physics, but as of yet they still have the view that there is 0.999999 % substance at the core of matter. The Zen Buddhist’s of the past, such as Master Linji (China around the year 850) is on record for stating the following:

“Someone asked, ‘What is Buddha and what is Mara?’ The master replied, ‘If there remains in your mind a single notion of doubt, that is Mara. If you arrive at understanding the unborn nature of all that is and know that the mind is a magic show, that there is no object, no phenomenon that has real existence, then wherever you are there is purity, and that is Buddha.’” (Excerpt from The Record of Master Linji, source: Thich Nhat Hanh, Nothing To Do, Nowhere To Go, pg. 32)

The empty nature of all phenomena is the riddle for our minds. Linji speaks of the mind as a magic show. I am continually drawn in by the forms that appear before me. What do these seers of old want to show me with their insistence that all our perceptions are in the mind and have no real substance?

My insight tells me that the question “who am I?” is an essential part of this riddle. There is an aspect of me that recognizes what is meant by the statement “Look at the screen and not at the image which is projected onto the screen”. This statement says that my true nature is NOT the forms that appear, but rather the energy BY WHICH the forms appear and are seen. By whom? That cannot be spoken, however Linji calls it “the true person”, Rumi calls it “the Beloved” and Ramana calls it “the Self”. Many others use various designations and all point to the same fact that I will call the First Principle Energy (a term I heard years ago, the source of which I do not know).

To say that all phenomena are without substance asks us to not lose “sight” of that First Principle Energy, that aliveness, that passion, that depth of our true nature. It asks us to realize in our daily actions that the only value is this living spark that enlivens everything. Nothing that is enlivened by that living current is of value and all creations are actually not more than corpses without it. It is the Absolute Value.

Ramana speaks of “the knot between the Conscious and the inert” (chit-jada-granthi) and explains thus: “This inert body does not say “I.” Reality-Consciousness does not emerge. Between the two, and limited to the measure of the body, something emerges as “I.” It is this that is known as chit-jada-granthi (the knot between the Conscious and the inert), and also as bondage, soul, subtle-body, ego, samsara , mind, and so forth.” (Ramana Maharshi, FVR, verse 24.)

What I see is that we are habitually caught up in attachments of various kinds to that which is actually “inert”, as mentioned above. All phenomena are inert and therefore have no real “substance”, which means they do not possess the First Principle Energy. Why? Because that Energy has no resting place and cannot be fixed. That is why it is called “without beginning and without end” and also “the undying and the unborn”.

Once I realize that all phenomena are “empty” in this sense, they gradually no longer are capable of attracting my attention. As long as I was in the state of trance, mesmerized by the moving objects that appear to be alive, they never failed to capture my attention. I directed all of my First Principle Energy towards attaining them, whether they were objects of sensual enjoyment or mental, emotional or spiritual enjoyment. They all had in common the quality of being merely carriers of the Living Energy and not the Energy Itself. As my disappointment with the promised and expected satisfaction and fulfillment grew, I began to question the premise on which the trance is founded, which is that the OBJECTS of my desires fulfill my yearning.

That is the great fraud. It never was any of the objects, no matter which realm they belong to, that gave me some vestige of satisfaction, and left me always hungry for more. Anytime I attained the object of my desire for a quick moment, my mind ceased to flow outward (toward the mirage, the holographic projection) and subsided unconsciously back into its source: the First Principle Energy. This is the reason for any satisfaction of sense of fulfillment. Now I need only remain as I am, which is as the source of the First Principle Energy. I need no longer “do” anything to “attain” anything. On the contrary, the instant I do entertain the notion of moving “out” to attain something, I leave my identity and my true nature and feel starved.

This is the meaning of “nothing to do, nowhere to go”. Of course I will still see myself moving around with this or that vehicle, be it my physical body, my automobile, my bicycle or my laptop. The difference is that the motor that moves the vehicle is no longer the intention to attain anything, but merely the fact that the vehicle is moved to move. In other words, it is just a very normal thing for these various vehicles to move for various reasons, as Linji says, “My friends, as great men, what more do you have to doubt? The wonderful function that is happening at the present moment – who is performing it? Take hold of that and use it, do not be caught in words. This is called the mysterious principle. Whoever has this insight, no longer is obstructed by an obstacle. The people of old said, ‘The mind changes in accord with ten thousand objects, and what is strange about this change?’ You should allow this change to happen in order to recognize your true nature. Once recognized, you will be free of excited joy and anxiety.” Nothing To Do, Nowhere To Go, pg. 46

Each one of us is in full possession of “the wonderful function”, the same as the Buddha, the saints, the masters and all sages of all times. As this realization gradually sinks in to my nervous system I find that I no longer take anything in the realm of phenomena seriously, meaning I do not get upset about it. My attention is more and more attracted to what Linji calls “the wonderful function” and the magical movement of the First Principle Energy. This magical movement is continually morphing and scintillating such that my attention is completely taken up by It. Rumi would say that he only has eyes for the Beloved. All fixed shapes and forms are less and less attractive and are only of value as ways of allowing the wonderful function to appear. This process also leads to smoothness in the flow of life since I rarely get hooked into the way circumstances play themselves out – or as Pooh Bear says, “just going along and not bothering”. My dear friend Krishnamurti said that his secret was simply, “I don’t mind”. Seen in this context it becomes clear how he meant it.

May we use our time to recognize our true nature and move with the wonderful function in peace and love with one another, appreciating how the First Principle Energy shows itself uniquely in each one of us.


“It is enough to know what you are not. You need not know what you are.”

Nisargadatta Maharaj

11 thoughts on “All Phenomena Are Without Substance

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