The Space Within, The Space Without


There is this beautiful teaching metaphor from Yogic traditions of the empty jar or vase. And of the relationship between the emptiness or space within the jar to the emptiness or space without. This is worthy of our deep consideration.

The ancient Yogic Sage Ashtavakra said: “Boundless as space am I. And the phenomenal world is like a jar. This is knowledge. So it has neither to be renounced nor accepted nor destroyed.” (Ashtavakra Samhita VI.1)

The human body, especially the brain encased in our skull and the myriad extraordinary connections via the nervous system to our sensory and action capacities, may be seen as an instrument to create a representation of the world, of reality as we encounter it. The activities of the brain and senses that we experience as “mind” assemble limited conceptual constructs set in time and space: Concepts that reflect our experience of objects, of places, of persons and of events. Through this activity we create a workable internal model of the external world that facilitates our living. Enabling us to find food and mates; To recognize and remember the locations of resources and of threats; To coordinate with others for mutual benefit or protection; To learn and remember and therefore to plan. (See also myprior blog on The Reflected Image within the Skull.)

However, this reflected image of external reality and our place and roles in it that we create within our skull, is not the actual reality in its fullness. Rather it is a limited, extracted (and limiting) representation. But this world within the darkness of the skull is where our ordinary experience of the world takes place. It is but a reflection, a mirroring:

“The image of the moon reflected upon the waters, is not the actual moon.” (Vijñana Bhairava Tantra, v. 135)


Now let us perform this thought experiment: Picture or imagine before you a very delicate thin-walled translucent vase or transparent jar, open at the top and of a graceful shape. The “space within” it fills and is of the shape of the vase itself. It is demarcated or defined by the vase. This is the character of the individual self, the personal sense of “I” and “me”. The universal and unbounded Self, the “Self of all” within which the entire universe unfolds would be the space without.

Now the magic. Imagine taking a delicate little hammer and hitting, shattering the vase. What happens? What remains? This is an interesting metaphor for liberation. What is the relationship between what was “the space or Voidness within” and “the space of Voidness without”? Considering this makes me feel very happy! Be safe. Stay healthy. Be happy.

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