Nothing

00. [Oneness]

From Oneness, produce the ten thousand things; through the ten thousand things, govern the One.

– Shih-t’ao: ‘Hua-p’u’ chapter 7, ‘Harmonious Atmosphere (Yin Yun)’

No characteristics except its oneness <–

It is not a thing nor a thing in it

Neither white nor black, neither red nor green, of no color whatever

Beingless, becoming not, nameless

Where there is nothing but the one, nothing is seen

Ad Reinhardt: ‘ONE’, Unpublished Notes, 1966-67

…if all images are detached from the soul, and it contemplates only the Simple One, then the soul’s naked being finds the naked, formless being of the divine unity.

– Meister Eckhart: ‘The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense’

So long as something is still the object (vishaya) of our attention we are not yet one with the One. For where there is nothing but the ONE, nothing is seen.

– Rudolf Otto: ‘Mysticism East and West’, 1932 (and Meridian Books Inc. August 1957)

Our thought cannot grasp the One as long as any other image remains active in the soul.

– Plotinus: ‘The Six Enneads’

If he remembers who he became when he merged with the One, he will bear its image in himself. He was himself one, with no diversity in himself or his outward relations; for no movement was in him, no passion, no desire for another, once the ascent was accomplished. Nor indeed was there any reason or though, nor, if we dare say it, any trace of himself.

– Plotinus: ‘The Six Enneads’

It is no less than the Eternal and Infinite Oneness of God, the Certainty of Whose Truth burns up all except Itself.

– Abu Bakr Siraj Ed-Din: ‘The Book of Certainty’, 1952

Enter me, O Lord, into the deep of the Ocean of Thine Infinite Oneness

– Muhyi’d-Din Ibn Arabi

Does Islamic non-figurative art triumphantly proclaim the “Infinite Oneness of God “ or does it triumphantly proclaim again, with all other art, only the same “endless sameness of art.”

– Ad Reinhardt: ‘Art vs. History’, Art News,January 1966

Equality today means ‘sameness,’ rather than oneness.

– Erich Fromm: ‘The Art of Loving’, Harper & Row, New York, 1956

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12. “Mystical ascent”

“And the people stood afar off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was”

– Exodus 20:21, (King James Version)

“Since he was alone, by having been stripped as it were of the people’s fear, he boldly approached the very darkness itself and entered the invisible things where he was no longer seen by those watching. After he entered the inner sanctuary of the divine mystical doctrine, there, while not being seen, he was in company with the Invisible. He, teaches, I think, by the things he did that the one who is going to associate intimately with God must go beyond all that is visible and (lifting up his own mind, as to a mountaintop, to the invisible and incomprehensible) believe that the divine is there where the understanding does not reach.”

– Gregory of Nyssa: ‘Life of Moses’

“In the diligent exercise of mystical contemplation, leave behind the senses and the operations of the intellect, and all things sensible and intellectual, and all things in the world of being and nonbeing, that thou mayest arise by unknowing towards the union, as far as is attainable, with Him who transcends all being and all knowledge. For by the unceasing and absolute renunciation of thyself and of all things thou mayest be borne on high, through pure and entire self-abnegation, into the super-essential Radiance of the Divine Darkness. It was not without reason that the blessed Moses was commanded first to undergo purification himself and then to separate himself from those who had not undergone it; and after the entire purification heard many-voiced trumpets and saw many lights streaming forth with pure and manifold rays; and that he was there after separated from the multitude, with the elect priests, and pressed forward to the summit of the divine ascent. Nevertheless, he did not attained to the Presence of God Himself, he saw not Him (for He can not be looked upon) but the Place where He dwells.”

– The Pseudo-Dionysius: ‘De Mystica Theologia’

“…away from what sees and is seen and he plunges into the truly mysterious darkness of unknowing. Here, renouncing all that the mind may conceive, wrapped entirely in the intangible and the invisible, he belongs completely to him who is beyond everything. Here, being neither oneself nor someone else, one is supremely united by a completely unknowing inactivity of all knowledge, and knows beyond the mind by knowing nothing.”

– The Pseudo-Dionysius: ‘De Mystica Theologia’

“…the ascent from the realm of the Intellect and Reason up to the absolute Simplicity of the perfect One as the highest principle is more difficult than the climb from the corporeal world perceivable through the senses on up to the Intellectual World of Ideas… Mere human abilities of thought and comprehension – which are capable of dealing initially with that which has limits, form and finiteness in the visible world, and then with that which has intelligible form – shrink back from the One in Its Infinity.”

– The Pseudo-Dionysius: ‘De Mystica Theologia’

The mystical life has three stages ({the} classical division):

1. Light, the burning bush: purgation – we die to the passions by apatheia.

2. Cloud (obscurity): illumination (gnosis) – we die to intellectual knowledge on {the} natural level and attain to theoria (physica).

3. “Holy of Holies,” Deep Darkness: union – not gnosis but ousia.

– Thomas Merton: Introduction to Christian Mysticism

28. “Nothing to take hold of, neither place, time, measure, nor anything else”

For here there is nothing to take hold of, neither place nor time, neither measure nor anything else: it does not allow our minds to approach. And thus the soul, slipping at every point from what cannot be grasped, becomes dizzy and perplexed and returns once again to what is connatural to it, content now to know merely this about the Transcendent, that it is completely different from the nature of the things that the soul knows.

– Gregory of Nyssa: ‘Homilies on Ecclesiastes’

31. “Advance toward the formless, what is without contour, Encountering nothingness”

As the soul advances towards the formless, unable to grasp what is without contour or to receive the imprint of reality so diffuse, it fears it will encounter nothingness, and it slips away.

– Plotinus: ‘The Good or The One’ VI, 9 [9]

The divine being is equal to nothing, and in it there is neither image nor form…[Therefore] When the soul…contemplates what consists of images, whether that be an angel’s image or its own, there is for the soul some thing lacking. Even if the soul contemplates God…the soul lacks something. But if all images are detached from the soul, and it contemplates only the Simple One, then the soul’s naked being finds the naked, formless being of the divine unity.

– Meister Eckhart: ‘Die Deutsche Werke’ 

The Sufis sought to lose what they currently perceived as labels, knowledge, concepts and to become empty (nothing) and attain the state of “void”; to attain a zero point so that they could become related to any state of being and achieve “everythingness”. Just as the discovery of zero in mathematics made the system possible, so too in the art of rebirth, the discovery of a state of “nothingness” (the void or emptiness) makes final integration a possibility.

– A. Reza Arasteh: ‘Final Integration in the Adult Personality’, 1965.

32. “supreme principle”

The Supreme must be an entity in which the two are one; it will, therefore, be a Seeing that lives, not an object of vision like things existing in something other than themselves: what exists in an outside element is some mode of living-thing; it is not the Self-Living.

– Plotinus: ‘The Six Enneads’

Plotinus has given its fullest development to Neo-Platonism. We will follow his working out of the two fundamental ideas which, in his view, sum up all philosophy.

(1) The Process of Emanation from a Supreme Principle, the one source of all existing things, explains the physical and the metaphysical worlds. According as this principle gives out its energy, it exhausts itself; its determinations follow a descending scale, becoming less and less perfect. The following are the successive steps in the process:

The One

At the head of the intelligible world, far removed from the world of sense (Plato), reigns One Supreme Essence. To safeguard its transcendence, Piotinus states it to be absolutely indeterminate (apeiron). No quality marks or defines it; nothing can determine it, for all determination implies limitation (negative theodicy). The Supreme Being has no attribute, not even intellect or will: knowledge and volition suppose a duality of knower and thing known, of that which wills and that which is willed; and all duality is irreconcilable with the infinitely perfect. However, as this negative concept has for basis the Divine perfection, Plotinus has recourse to positive descriptions, the insufficiency of which, moreover, he fully recognises. By preference he describes the Supreme Being as the First (to prôton), the One, the Universal Cause, Goodness (Plato), Light. Immutable in itself, this First Unitary Being does not diffuse its substance into other beings, as the advocates of substantialist pantheism maintain; but it permeates them by its activity (dynamic pantheism); and what we call the proper, specific substantiality of things is simply the product of this activity. Furthermore, this outflow of the Divine activity into all other beings is not direct and immediate; it is effected through the agency of intermediary forces which emanate successively from one another. And as the effect is always less perfect than the cause, these activities are arranged in gradation according to their respective degrees of perfection, each one occupying a position which is lower the greater the number of intermediate steps by which it communicates with the Divine energy. What are these intermediaries into which the Divine energy flows, as it were, by cascades? Plotinus reduces them to three: Intelligence and the World-Soul in the suprasensible order; and, in the sensible order, Matter.

– Maurice De Wulf: ‘History of Medieval Philosophy’, 1909

Only blankness, complete awareness, distinterestedness; the “artist-as-artist” only, of one and rational mind, “vacant and spiritual, empty and marvelous,” in symmetries and regularities only; the changeless “human content,” the timeless “supreme principle,” the ageless “universal formula” of art, nothing else.

– Ad Reinhardt, ‘Timeless in Asia’, Art News, January 1960

37. “At home with voids, reality, and self sums, products of zero “Not that”, it is “no thing”, “nil”, “nothing””

Meantime, when once we know from nothing still Nothing can be create, we shall divine More clearly what we seek: those elements From which alone all things created are, And how accomplished by no tool of Gods.

– Titus Lucretius Carus: ‘On the Nature of Things’, Book 1 (‘Substance is External’, ‘The Void’, ‘Nothing Exists per se Except Atoms And The Void’). See Marshall Clagett: ‘Greek Science in Antiquity’ 1955 and revised 1963.

Although yu, yet wu. Although wu, yet yu. “Although yu, yet wu” is a denial of Being. “Although wu, yet yu” is a denial of nothingness. In this way, it is not that there is no thing, but that things are not truly (substantial) things. If things are not truly (substantial) things, in what way are they “things”?

– Seng-chao (Sengzhao)

61. “Motion of non-events”

B. The situation is that of him who is helpless, cannot act, in the event cannot paint, since he is obliged to paint. The act is of him who, helpless, unable to act, acts, in the event paints, since he is obliged to paint.

D. Why is he obliged to paint?

B. I don’t know.

D. Why is he helpless to paint?

B. Because there is nothing to paint and nothing to paint with.

D. “And the result, you say, is art of a new order?” A friend of mine recounts the story of his college art history professor who introduced the work of Piet Mondrian by projecting a slide of the Dutch countryside near the Hague, where topography approaches zero. The implication, of course, is that Mondrian’s extreme rectolinephilia was a function of his environment – his paintings, in spite of their putative abstraction, are inevitably informed by History. I am by nature skeptical of this stripe of historical determinism. In fact, until I learned recently that Jackson Pollock grew up next door to a spaghetti factory, I tended to agree with Dr. Freud, who argued that what comes out is more than likely to be the opposite of what goes in. That is to say, I would not be surprised to learn little Piet spent his formative years in the Himalayas.

– Samuel Beckett: ‘Proust and Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit’, Calder and Boyars, 1965

See also, Vivian Mercier: ‘The Mathematical Limit’, The Nation, Vol. 188, 14 February 1959.

“Reinhardt made the slideshow all his own. He referred to his lectures as “non-happenings” – they were often send-ups of both the avant-garde “happenings” also taking place in New York at the time, and the traditional university art history lecture, affectionately known as “darkness at noon.” Reinhardt staged his presentations to thwart expectation and even exhaust his audience. (He once showed over 2,000 slides in one sitting at the Artists’ Club, in a talk that began at 10 pm.) “He’d sit with the tray in his lap, feeding the slides into the projector, improvising as he went along,” Dale McConathy described. “His commentary ranged between art history and a devilish parody of the travelogue.” Reinhardt’s seemingly infinite catalogue mirrored his interest in two influential postwar theories of art classification: André Malraux’s conception of a museum without walls, and George Kubler’s framing of objects and history in The Shape of Time.”

– Prudence Peiffer: ‘Ad Reinhardt: Slides’, The Brooklyn Rail, 16 January 2014