The Tree of Nothingness

I found a Tree of Knowledge of sorts and have been visiting it daily.

For the last few months I have been spending most of my time in nature.  On a journey several weeks ago I came across one particular tree.  The tree was big and old and, at first glance, looked dead through and through.  Its bark-less form protruded from the ground like a thick rope all frayed at the top.  Upon closer inspection I found that the rope effect came from it being made of four trunks grown together.

Leafless branches, pointy and black with age, flanked its trunk like an armory.   One branch of significant size had broken off and fallen to the ground.  Otherwise the ominous tree stood, content in its frightening display.

I made my way through the fallen portion to investigate the far side of the tree.  From there I could see how it had remained standing.  One of the four trunks that made up its magnificent meta-trunk was still alive!  Bark covered it, and a set of pale roots each the size of a person’s forearm extended into the ground behind.  When I stared up through the forest understory I could just see the branches that held its leaves.

Trees, intimate in their connection to the earth, make timeless metaphors for knowledge.   Knowledge arises from what is hidden (the roots) and branches out in search of energy (the leaves).   In the right habitat, one will grow and even seed further knowledge.  Trees are common to religious stories and other wisdom traditions.  The serpent slithered from a tree in the Garden of Eden.  Siddhartha sat beneath a Bodhi tree where he was visited by his inner demons.  The tenets of mystical Judaism are constructed as a tree.  The tree in the movie Avatar represents our modern fascination with the knowledge of communities and connectedness.

I offer the gnarly tree as a Tree of Nothingness.  Not Sartre style nothingness.  Cosmological nothingness, by which I mean everything other than something that can be directly sensed.

Since the discovery of dark energy, Newton’s contribution to understanding nothingness… dead.  Relativity’s contribution… dead.  Quantum theory’s contribution… dead.  Three dead branches.  Dark energy, a mystery even among physicists, is a challenge to re-conceive nothingness.  It is the live part of the Tree of Nothingness that continues to grow, in spite of the weight of dead ideas around it.

But there is another metaphor, this time historical, that injects itself conveniently into the geometry of the Tree of Nothingness.  Dolpopa, writing in the 14th century, refers to his divergence from the existing Buddhist doctrine as his “fourth council.” (Only three such councils had, or have ever since, been widely recognized.)  In short his doctrine distinguishes emptiness as being not a singular state but a metaphysically rich one.   Buddhists have long focused on the notion of empty-of-self as the ultimate state due to it being the source of Buddha-nature, but Dolpopa noticed that plenty of nothingness exists outside of Buddha-nature itself, and he called it empty-of-other.   He too had discovered dark energy.

I burned what I could from the branch that had fallen from the Tree of Nothingness.  The fire was the hottest fire I think I have ever felt.

One thought on “The Tree of Nothingness

  1. Like it.
    Reminds me of how I feel after some dedicated thinking that does not involve sideslips and distractions.
    Inner peace and calm, and a sense of awe of my surroundings.
    And a sense of perspective. We are but a mote in God’s eye, but one that is striving for something, even if we don’t quite know what at this early stage of our development.
    In a book I wrote I used the analogy of an empty swimming pool, and the strange feeling you get standing at the bottom of it.
    It is all about feelings, and a sense of wonder, and curiosity.
    13.7 has sparked me back into writing, so I know how you feel.
    Go find more trees!