Ground State of the Universe

Reference: A Course on the Factors

The following is quoted from the book The Tao of Physics.

“The term ‘physics’ is derived from this Greek word [physis] and meant…, originally, the endeavour of seeing the essential nature of all things… The Milesians… saw no distinction between animate and inanimate, spirit and matter. In fact, they did not even have a word for matter, since they saw all forms of existence as manifestations of the ‘physis’, endowed with life and spirituality…

“Heraclitus [c. 535 – c. 475] believed in a world of perpetual change, of eternal ‘Becoming’. For him, all static Being was based on deception and his universal principle was fire, a symbol for the continuous flow and change of all things. Heraclitus taught that all changes in the world arise from the dynamic and cyclic interplay of opposites and he saw any pair of opposites as a unity. This unity, which contains and transcends all opposing forces, he called the Logos.

“The split of this unity began with the Eleatic school, which assumed a Divine Principle standing above all gods and men. This principle was first identified with the unity of the universe, but was later seen as an intelligent and personal God who stands above the world and directs it. Thus began a trend of thought which led, ultimately, to the separation of spirit and matter and to a dualism which became characteristic of Western philosophy.

“A drastic step in this direction was taken by Parmenides of Elea [c. 515/540 -c. 450] who was in strong opposition to Heraclitus. He called his basic principle the Being and held that it was unique and invariable. He considered change to be impossible and regarded the changes we seem to perceive in the world as mere illusions of the senses. The concept of an indestructible substance as the subject of varying properties grew out of this philosophy and became one of the fundamental concepts of Western thought.

“In the fifth century B.C., the Greek philosophers tried to overcome the sharp contrast between the views of Parmenides and Heraclitus. In order to reconcile the idea of unchangeable Being (of Parmenides) with that of eternal Becoming (of Heraclitus), they assumed that the Being is manifest in certain invariable substances, the mixture and separation of which gives rise to the changes in the world.”


Parallel to Buddha’s principle of anatta in the East, is Heraclitus’ theory of perpetual change in the West. This happened just about the same time. A departure from this view was championed by Parmenides, who came up with the principle of Being. This principle was first identified with the unity of the universe, but was later seen as an intelligent and personal God who stands above the world and directs it. This departure came about from the logic to have a stable reference point for the perpetual change.

But for Buddha, underlying the principle of anatta was the principle of “oneness of reality” from the Vedas. In other words, there is no permanent substance but all that impermanence  has “oneness,” in the sense that it is continuous, consistent and harmonious. Any random change from this “oneness” is an aberration. That aberration, ultimately, settles itself out.

So we have the stable reference point of “oneness of reality” in the East. But the stable reference point in the West became an “intelligent and personal God.”


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