Apperceiving the Identity of all Opposites

Just as by the superimposition of positive and negative in photographic films the opposing elements of light and shade complement one another, thereby producing mutual annihilation, so is it with all interdependent counterparts, negative and positive concepts, sometimes called opposites or complementaries.

It matters not whether we are making concepts about samsara and nirvana, object and subject, phenomenon and noumenon, other and self, presence and absence, for all represent aspects of the division of mind in the process of conceptualisation which is termed dualism. The absence of this process - non-dualism, advaita - which implies preconceptualisation, mind upstream of all conceptualising - is a return to wholeness of mind, which is called 'the truth of Ch'an'. That implies disidentification with a phenomenal object, a psyche-soma, which is picturesquely referred to as 'enlightenment', or liberation from the supposed bondage which appears to result from that identification.

Such identification entails a conceptual splitting of whole prajnaic apperceiving into a pseudo-subject cognising a pseudo-object, and that process results in the apparent condition of bondage. Therein the subjective element is always the negative, and the objective always the positive; nirvana, noumenon, self, absence, being negative, and samsara, phenomenon, other, presence, the positive; and in every case their assimilation results in a mutual negation which abolishes each as either, and leaves a situation which is void of any conceptual element except voidness itself.

It is not different if we seek to conceptualise the self-contradictory opposites such as non-being and being, non-manifestation and manifestation, non-acting and acting, and so on ad infinitum: the former are negative, their counterparts positive, and their assimilation results in the mutual cancellation of each. It should be noted, however, that in no case are two thoughts united, for no such operation is psychologically possible; mutually contradictory concepts just negate and so abolish one another in a third concept of voidness, so that wholeness results only from the cancellation of a conceptual division, and such wholeness is conceptually a void. There is clearly no 'middle path' here, and that absurd and pedantic translation is a misleading obnubilation of the process which has just been described.

However, we are still left with a concept holding us 'bound' - that of 'voidness'. Let us take two examples.

When presence and absence as such are assimilated, there is no longer either presence or absence, for each counteracts the nature of the other and annihilates it.

The essential negation, however, is the absence of that resultant absence. This further negation, or double absence, is the absence of (that sort of absence which is) the absence of presence. And that alone is what is implied by 'Suchness'.*

So many great Masters have assured us that the complete apprehension of this initial identity of conceptual opposites, even of any one such pair, is itself liberation, saying that to 'see' one is to 'see' all, that we should not fail to recognise the importance of this apperception. Its perfect apprehension, we are told, should result in im-mediate disidentification with the pseudo (phenomenal) subject of pseudo (phenomenal) objects, both of which are just concepts devoid of 'ens', whose mutual abolition reveals the prajnaic functioning which is all suchness.

Note: Since authority is reassuring to some people, the above will be found to be a discoursive application of the principle of the double negative of Shen Hui, and of what has been so clearly and repeatedly told us by the most familiar and best-translated Masters, such as Huang Po and Hui Hai, and should be a statement in current language of the burden of the Diamond and Heart Sutras of the Prajnaparamita.

* It might seem to be simpler just to say that the essential negation is that of whatever is conceptualising these absences, but the Masters sometimes considered it helpful to carry on logical or dialectic negation to its limit.

(© HKU Press, 1966)

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