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Dissolving into the Formless



In ancient Chinese medicine there is an organ called the triple burner, which has no material shape or form. Also called the sanjiao, it is said to be responsible for numerous functions within the body, though only in a conceptual way. As Westerners, we are not conditioned to think of the formless as purposeful. In fact, we spend most of our lives obsessed with form – cars, people, bank accounts, houses, clothing, electronic gadgets, sexy places, etc. In a 180 degree tangent from this material obsession is enlightenment – the dissolution of form into the formless.

The lack of shape and “physicality” of the triple burner was perplexing to many Chinese medical scholars, and so they interpreted some of the Neijing and Lingshu teachings about the mysterious organ as pointing to a membrane that encased the entire torso, having three parts: one covering the chest cavity; one for the upper/middle abdomen; and one for the lower abdomen.  However, such projection of a “form” seems out of touch with the primary descriptions of the triple burner, and represents part of the struggle to figure out its nature and qualities. [1]

Unknowing What You ‘Know’

This struggle to put the formless into form occurs on numerous occasions throughout human history. The reverse has also been taught. Lao Tzu once said in the Tao Te Ching, “When your discernment penetrates to the four quarters [of the cosmos], are you capable of not knowing anything?” Likewise, the Upanishads state the following, describing Brahman or the ultimate reality, “He comes to the thought of those who know him beyond thought, not to those who imagine he can be attained by thought…He is known in the ecstasy of an awakening which opens the door of life eternal.” One could argue that the whole point of yoga, at least as described in ancient texts written by the yogic sage Patanjali, is to dissolve thought, or form, into ‘no thought.’  The sage rightly states, “Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of the mind”, or in the original Sanskrit, “yogas chitta vritti nirodhah.” How on earth do we dissolve form into the formless, though, when our minds are so busy creating a material reality?

Allow me to explain that last point before progressing forward, since most of us would stumble on the fact that our minds create reality.

The Void

Niels Bohr, a Danish quantum physicist once said, “If quantum physics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.” Aside from the fact that the greatest minds are still trying to “understand” quantum physics, let’s examine what he meant by that.

Perhaps a quantum world would not have baffled Aristotle, but it seems to confound the modern mind. Everything we perceive in the outer world is but a projection of the inner world – that means the good, the bad, and the ugly. When James Allen remarked, “Circumstances do not make a man, they reveal him,” he was referring to the phenomenon of quantum reality, though he likely was unfamiliar with the scientific aspect of his statement. In fact, everything we call ‘real’ is made up of stuff that scientists would call ‘unreal.’  For instance, look at the progression of science trying to understand ‘matter’ or the forms all around us by dissecting materialism down to its smallest parts. First we were told the atom was the smallest part, then there were protons, neutrons, and electrons, and then quarks were discovered; however, as physicist Andy Parker explains, we haven’t been able to see any evidence at all that there’s anything inside quarks, but it is uncertain if we have reached the most fundamental layer of matter.[2]

Scientists have since found that we are really just a collection of energy patterns in movement. Inside an atom is a tiny vortex of whirling-dervish energy that makes ‘us’ or any ‘thing’ we see around us, but inside this energy is what we can only call the ‘void.’ In fact, it is estimated that of all matter, likely 99 percent of it is this ‘void’ or ‘nothingness.’

Lest you become a nihilist, this is not an empty void, as the ancient texts would reveal, but a very alive nothingness. While modern scientists first assumed that matter and space were two completely different phenomenon, the ancient texts from India to China and back again understood that they are one and the same. The newer scientific (and spiritual) view of the cosmos erases all distinctions between matter, energy, and space, encompassing them all within a single physical reality called the quantum field.

“This field is present everywhere, and its most distinctive characteristic is that there are two apparent aspects to its basic nature: (1) it has a continuous structure which we know as “space” and “time” because this aspect seems to exist constantly and changelessly throughout the cosmos and also throughout the past, present and future; and (2) it also has a granular or particle aspect which we know as “matter” and “force” because in this aspect the quantum field appears in the form of discontinuous, localized particles which enjoy only temporary existence. The field continually oscillates between these two apparently dissimilar states, incessantly transforming itself from one to the other.”

We Are Already the Formless

As a matter of note, we are the formless, in large part already. There is nothing required of us, except to realize this state of ‘all’ ness, or full nothingness, but how does one accomplish this? Patanjali spoke of returning to the I AM, the vibrating, manifest Shakti, or energy before it takes on form within the very same context we are given for reality through the quantum field.

I AM brings the attention to the fact that there is an ‘other’ which is a form of dualistic thinking created by the mind. The mind perceives reality through this juxtaposition or labeling of the formless into the form. In meditation, or with Chinese medicine, Qi Gong, and other teachings we simply reduce the ‘other’ until it merges conceptually with the I AM.

The Direct Expression of Pure Energy

Bruce Lee once said that Jeet Kune Do training is simply discipline toward the ‘ultimate reality’ in combat. “Jeet Kune-Do is simply the direct expression of one’s feelings with the minimum of movements and energy.” After all, if there is no ‘other’ and your mind is really the same as your opponents’, then there eventually is no match since you can read their thoughts, anticipate their moves, and as a true martial arts master, you eventually have no need to ‘fight’ anything but your own demons.

Our direct expression of true energy is the void coming to life, or oscillating out of the unmanifest into the particle state. So, coming around again to Patanjali’s teachings, he said that the fluctuations of the mind were what kept us from observing or knowing the true Brahman. When our involvement with our thought-forms subsides, we remain self-aware, but rest in Pure awareness. In a phrase – we become enlightened.

The Five Fluctuations of the Mind

According to the sage there are five fluctuations of the mind:

  1. Valid Cognition (Pramana) – Patanjali describes how we know if knowledge is valid. It must meet two criteria: knowledge, or thought must reveal a thing as it truly is, and it must have a practical application. This is best realized through direct experience.
  2. Misconception (Viparyaya) – this is incorrect knowledge based on a misconception about a ‘thing’ whether it is an object, a situation or a person.
  3. Imagination (Vikalpa) – this can serve us or hinder us as we learn to use it. The mid can create from our imaginations, quite literally.
  4. Sleep (Nidra) – Nidra translates to deep sleep in yogic texts. In this state of consciousness, the mind goes into deep restfulness and tunes into the subtle states within us. It is not ‘sleep’ as we understand it from a western point of view, but the awake, at rest mind.
  5. Memory (Smriti) – simply the mental retention of a conscious experience. Our memories can color all we do in the present moment. For example, if we have pleasant memories triggered by an object, we can experience happiness once again, and it the object triggers negative memories, we once again experience mental anguish. However, a memory is never a present moment experience and thus is treated as yet another fluctuation of the mind.

It is when we understand how the mind works, and thus colors our experience of reality, so much so that it creates it from seemingly nothing, that we can begin to return to a pure state of consciousness.

There is a thing, formless yet complete. Before heaven and earth it existed. We do not know its name, but we call it Tao. It is the Mystery of Mysteries. ~ Lao Tzu

The Tao of reality, the state of Brahman, or the quantum field – all the same really – inform our manifest experience. Can you calm your mind enough to create mindfully? The spontaneity and openness this requires is immense, but it gives us the power to create whatever we like, we become the form from the inside out. What are the circumstances around you revealing about what you have created? There are infinite options for experience. You are the Absolute.

[1] Triple Burner Sanjiao, Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D

[2] What is the Smallest Thing in the Universe?

Art credits: Alex Grey Art

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