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Rethinking Nothingness

The western way of thinking tends to equate nothingness with nonexistence or annihilation, which of course makes nothingness an unattractive proposition. It also has the scent of atheism, and so is rejected as alien or contrary. But it would seem that the eastern way of thinking conceives of nothingness differently. Nothing would be more precisely understood as ‘no-thing’, or that is, stateless Being infinitely beyond any attributableness. This is simply extreme negative (apophatic) theology. So then, achieving nothingness isn’t nonexistence, it’s attainment of great knowledge of that no-thing.

And this way of conceptualizing God certainly isn’t alien to western thinking. The Via Negativa, in a less rigid form, is the theology of Byzantine and Oriental Christianity...God the ineffable. Latin Christianity (as well as the endless stream of sects that have split off from it) tends to employ cataphatic theologies, or the theology of attributes...a God of things. But even that isn’t so clear cut. The Byzantines and Orientals share the same creed (which paints God as things) with the Latins. Also the Latins have a deep tradition of the Via Negativa as seen in the mysticism of The Cloud of Unknowing or St. John of the Cross’ The Dark Night of the Soul. Also, while God is the unmanifest no-thing, he is also the manifest incarnation. More so, God places attributes on himself: God manifests himself in archetypes like lover, father, or judge; and God manifests himself in matter in a very real way like a flame, a son, or bread.

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