The Buddhist Analysis of Space
by Dr. Bhikkhu Bodhipala Madurai, Lanka Daily News, Sept 19, 2007
Tamil Nadu, India -- The Buddha in His several discourses analysed real nature of “space”. According to the Buddha space is not a matter otherwise it does not possess any material quality both chemical as well as physical.
As such it can be perceived or understood with the help of two corporeal entities fixing them as boundaries. They may be two atoms or two galaxies. In Pali language perceiving the quality or quantity of “space” is technically called “pannati”.
But modern science has divided the space into two categories, the first one is ether space which is absolutely a material phenomena. The space defined by metaphysics has two divisions. The first one is called material akash and the next one is called sentient space.
The Buddha has His own way explaining the qualities of space. Experiencing “space” is nothing but entering into infinite conscious. Experiencing infinite conscious is nothing but surmounting on “jhanas” which ultimately leads one to attain “Nibbana”.
There is a general insinuation from the West that stages of four “jhanas” are not well explained and interpreted by the Theravada scholars. The stages of Jhanas should be experienced through sincere and severe practice but most of us are trying to understand just on reading the characteristics of Jhanas without personal effort.
It is really a difficult task because to indicate or to define a material substance in etymological point of view there are words to employ. On the other hand certain words are to be experienced e.g space, mind and nibbana.
Helium or Hydrogen etc. such elements can be defined by the words and can be perceived not only in literary form but also in a laboratory. But the science of etymology is so fragile to through the clear ideas of certain words like “space” “jhanas” and “jhanas”.
It would be fit to say that the “concept” of space is not yet palpably defined because space is an imperceptible entity as it cannot be perceived by the senses except by the mind like nibbana.
Shortly speaking space is not a tangible thing could not be perceived any one of our sensual organs. That is why Buddhism does not recognise space is as one of the basic elements.
Buddhist analysis of space is clearer than the definition of modern physical science. Dhammasangani has several explanations about space. According to Dhammasangani wherever if there is no obstruction that is called “space”.
In Hinduism space is divided into two categories, the first one is called “etheric space” and the other is defined as “akasic space”. It is further defined that etheric space is an “insentient entity” and the akasic one is a sentient entity.
The Buddha explains “The physical space” in a detailed manner (MAJ: 28.26) “when a space is enclosed by timber and creepers, grass and clay it comes to be termed “house”. So too when a space is enclosed by bones and sinews, flesh and skin it comes to be termed “material form” the Buddha here means the egoless nature of the body.
He shows that the so-called material body is nothing but mere aggregation of four elements obviously having intervening gap or space right from top to toe starting from mouth to anus.
The Buddha asks Ven.Rahula what Rahula is the space ? Whatever internally ... spatial and clung to that is holes of the ears, the nostrils the door of the mouth etc.
Acharya Nagasena has a long definition suited to modern physical science. According to him space cannot be grasped (sabbaso apayho) no limitations (sarvagata) thus it is infinite (ananto) etc.,etc.,. Hence it is neither matter nor non-material (sankhata nor asankhata). Now a usual question arises “What is the purpose of Understanding space?”.
The Buddha says “Ananda I often abide by voidness”. The Buddha further explains Ven. Ananda “Bhikkhu should steady his mind internally, quiet it, bring it to “singleness” and at the same time boundlessness is the main characteristics of space.
The space should be conceived spherically making your inner core being of “I am” “Me” “Myness” further it should be neither cylindrical nor circuitous. But we generally try to conceive the space either cylindrically or circuitously.
In the words of the Buddha “This state has an entirely wholesome basis and superabundance.
Only in correct conception of material base one can understand the boundless consciousness pervading into the “singleness” without limitation and eternal existence with bliss and at the same time devoid of “I AM”.
When the thought of “I am being” does exist boundless space could not be experienced. So “I am being” should pervade into entire space spherically that is into limitless singleness than state of infinite- consciousness arises.
Buddhaghosa says in Visuddhi Magga ...”the space of boundless space that he (one) had already attained in due course and applies this mind to the consciousness that has as its object the sign of space, his mind enters into without difficulty”.
As already explained “space” is a non-material entity, but at the same time in order to develop “jhanas” space should be conceived mentally and spherically standing on one point obviously from our “I”ness or “Me”ness or “My”ness.
As far as all sentient beings are concerned the centre point of this universe (space) is their “I”ness. In the beginning of jhanic practice the boundless space spreading from your “beingness” should be conceived.
When the conception space pervades from the point of your “beingness” then only the boundless consciousness can be experienced. When boundless consciousness is experienced the nothingness is understood.
When nothingness is understood the inner core of beingness is removed and ultimately “neither perception nor non-perception” is experienced leading to “Full Enlightenment.”