Apprehending the Infinite in the Finite?

Is it possible for us, as finite beings, to experience the Infinite? How?

Some people consider it nonsense or absurd that there is something in us which is divine, or that can be apprehended by humans that is an ultimate or absolute reality. And this is perhaps understandable. We are merely small finite beings. How could something purportedly infinite and transcendent be accessible in or to a finite being?

I suggest that it is because we are aspects, expressions, incarnations, reflections of that very infinite and transcendent reality itself, manifestations of it, that we have the ability to become aware of that part of us, that quality in us, that divine nature in us that is giving us our existence. We could not exist if we did not draw our reality in some way from the ultimate reality, from the absolute. And so, like leaves on the branches of a tree, we can turn inward and actually come to recognize ourselves as leaves of the tree, as creations of the tree, as the tree itself.

How might this happen? I suggest that our consciousness, in its essence, is a kind of blank slate, a pure empty awareness that has no qualities, attributes, conditions, or definition whatsoever. It is pure being. It is a kind of void of infinite potential, within which all our conscious experiences arise. What we usually think of as ourselves is all those qualities of experience that arise in consciousness, what we might call the contents of consciousness. We identify with our physical bodies, our experiences, our senses, our perceptions, our feelings, our thoughts, etc. All of these constitute what we call “mind” and “self,” and they all arise in consciousness, but none of them are consciousness as it is in its pure essence. They are more like modulations of consciousness.

An analogy we could use to help illustrate this is an excitation in a two-dimensional field, like a wave in water, which moves the surface of the water in a third dimension. The still water is like pure consciousness, and the wave that moves through the water is like a thought or perception in consciousness. Another similar example might be a guitar string. The still string is like pure consciousness. There is nothing there, really, no movement, no vibration, no sound. Plucking the string is like the thoughts that arise in consciousness, filling it with the muse-ic of all our objectivized perceptions.

Such excitations also exist in the electromagnetic field that quantum field theory says gives rise to photons (light). The field itself is just pure nothingness. The field doesn’t actually “exist” in any way, it has no definition unless there is a fluctuation in it, no form until the field moves or has energy move through it, and that fluctuation of the field is what we see as a photon, or packet of energy. Without the photon, there is nothing there; the field is undefined, empty, void, only potential, possibility.

Illustration of what a photon is like as an excitation of the electromagnetic field

If we strip all of the contents of a field away, all of the photons, then the field is pure. Similarly, if we let go of all the contents of consciousness, if we allow consciousness to become still and silent, we actually return to the pure ground of consciousness, the ground of being, which is empty and infinite. It is not defined in any way, and so it is also boundless, unlimited, and pure. And I suggest that it is that infinite potential and undefined openness that is the transcendent nature itself, the ultimate reality, the divine, from which we all emerge, from which our identifications with the finite body-mind arise, and our perceptions and sensations of all things.

Even our experience of being a finite self is something which arises from pure consciousness, it too takes its shape from that sea of glass that is the empty void of awareness or pure being. Because it is both perfect emptiness, it is also infinite potential, or that which contains all things. It is the ocean in which all waves have their being. There is no such thing as a pure vacuum, and so this consciousness is paradoxically both void and pleroma, emptiness and form/fullness, simultaneously, a superposition of all opposites or contraries.

This is perhaps why mystics tend to describe it in paradoxical terms as both absolute darkness and perfect brightness or whiteness. It is both. It must be, because if we are to describe it with any attributes, it must contain them all or none of them. The field itself is none of them as it is in itself, but it holds all of them within itself; it is the fluctuation of that field that is all attributes. This is where we also get the apophatic and cataphatic traditions in mysticism and theology, both of negation and affirmation. All dualities are united in One. Another way of saying this is that the absolute darkness of mind (zero fluctuations in the pure field of consciousness) is also absolute brightness of the field itself, the field itself is infinite potential, infinite possibility, infinite creative openness, absolute existence and being, and that infinity is sometimes intuited as far beyond the brightness of the sun.

And so the Infinite is actually not apprehended in the finite, I suggest, which would be impossible, and is impossible (nothing finite could ever apprehend the Infinite), but rather, the finite falls away completely from consciousness, and consciousness becomes aware of itself in its purity, in its blank slate condition, in its original nature, in its virginity. And it may not even be aware of itself in any objective way, more than simply is itself. It is totally unconditioned, uncolored, unqualified, unmanifest, unexpressed, unformed, unlimited, unbounded, undefined. The finite does not apprehend itself as the Infinite, but rather the finite experience of being a bounded self in a mortal physical body disappears entirely from consciousness, and together with it all sense of finite being. The excitation of pure consciousness that thinks of itself as a finite being falls back into the pure ground of consciousness itself. There is no more excitation of that “self,” no more wave in the water, but just the water itself, like a sea of glass.

Some might argue that this is an illusion, that pure consciousness is still being apprehended through the faculty of a finite mind and brain. I suggest that it is actually the transcendence of all illusion. Pure consciousness seems to reduce itself to a finite limited being we know as our personal self and mortal body-mind, and this reduction is a kind of veil which hides the infinite openness and eternity that is pure consciousness itself, delivering a conception of reality that is necessarily limited, symbolic, dualistic, and incomplete. Our everyday experience is the “illusion,” not being the full nature of reality itself, but only a partial view. It is never the reality itself. We see and feel ourselves to be the excitations in consciousness, but not consciousness itself.

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It is a kind of dualistic mirage of consciousness which thinks it is a mere finite being, identifying with a particular body-mind. Consciousness has clothed itself in the mask of an individual, a limited identity, the excitation of the field, but underneath the mask it is still infinite consciousness. At times consciousness may take off the mask and know itself in purity, devoid of all mortality, finitude, limitations, and boundaries, beyond any body, and yet including all bodies at the same time. It is an “out-of-body” state of awareness, transcorporeal, transrational, transintellectual, transmortal, transfinite, transparticular, translimited, transtemporal, transpersonal, transindividual, even while the individual goes on living in this “consensus” reality.

It is both a temporary “death” of the individual in the mind, but life of the individual continues in the body. It is perhaps for this reason that Paul said of his vision of the “third heaven” that whether it was in the body or out of the body, he could not tell, but only God knew (2 Cor. 12:1-4). His awareness went beyond the perception of his finite body, or another way of saying this is that the perception of his finite body dropped out of consciousness. The excitation that was his finite body disappeared from the field of consciousness, leaving only the empty infinite field of pure consciousness itself.

Again, the individual has not realized the Infinite, that they are That, but rather all sense of individuality has fallen away from consciousness, and pure consciousness knows its Self as what it is and has always been, as only consciousness can. I think this is what the 13th century Sufi mystic Balyani had in mind when he said:

No one sees Him except Himself,
no one reaches Him except Himself and
no one knows Him except Himself.
He knows Himself through Himself and
He sees Himself by means of Himself.
No one but He sees Him.

Only pure consciousness can know itself in purity. It is what is pure. And there are very similar passages in Christian scripture:

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:18)

No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. (John 6:46)

No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27; cf. Luke 10:22)

Only one who has divested themself entirely of the individual finite self of the mind can become fully aware of “Him,” of the One, of the Infinite. The mind is transcended, and consciousness becomes pure, virginal, original, empty, void, full, nondual, absolute, infinite, One. And since it is One, it is also infinite Love.

“But the experience is still happening in a finite brain,” some may argue, again; it is still being mediated by the finite, so it cannot really be infinite or absolute. I don’t think conscious experience is “happening” in a brain at all, nor is it being mediated by a brain. A brain is perhaps only the outward side of what may be happening internally in a finite mind. But in a consciousness which is beyond the finite mind, a consciousness devoid of finite mind, this seems to be unmediated by anything that we could call a finite biological brain, not even being reflective of the outward side of an internal experience.

This may be one of those things that simply must be experienced directly to be known as it is, which is paradoxical even in its expression, because what is experiencing it? What is knowing it? It is not a finite self, a particular being, a subject. Is it “experience” at all, or an absence of all experience? Only it reveals it as it is. It perhaps cannot be explained, articulated, described in finite dualistic limited terms, language, and concepts. It transcends all of those, and yet also paradoxically includes them.

The finite individual returns to consciousness eventually, the wave begins moving through the water again. What one learns through this kind of experience is that one is an expression of that pure, infinite, eternal consciousness. One emerges from it, one takes on form from that unmanifest formless essence. It is the activity of that still sea of glass that gives rise to the individual, and all individuals. We are all ripples on that One sea, fluctuations in that unified field, waves in that ocean.

We are manifestations of God, of the Divine, of the Infinite, the Absolute. That emptiness takes on form in us, in our bodies, in all forms, all objects. It is the Incarnation in Christianity, the Word becoming flesh, the Father becoming the Son, the resurrection of pure Christ from the virginal Mary. It is the Nirmanakaya in Buddhism, the physical finite embodied form of the Buddha, of the Dharmakaya, of the emptiness, of the extinguished one, the “blown out” nirvana, the Pure Land.

The One who is the Awakened One, or the Anointed One, is not the finite individual person, whether Jesus or Siddhartha Gautama or anyone else, but the One who has become empty of their finite nature, who is emptiness itself, having transcended that mortal self in consciousness, having passed through kenosis or anatta/anatman, and thereafter become an expression of the One, of that Love, the universal Beloved, the Incarnation of Divinity, the manifestation of the Singularity in duality. No longer identified exclusively with only one particular being, they become a reflection of the Whole field, like a part of a hologram is a reflection of the whole hologram.

This reality of the pure field of consciousness, as that field, is perhaps where inner and outer worlds meet and are One. What consciousness experiences (or doesn’t “experience” but simply is) may be synonymous or identical with the unified field of reality itself, that electromagnetic field, the covariant quantum fields, the ultimate unified field of all Reality. What would there be to distinguish or differentiate an empty field of consciousness from a empty field of physical reality? Any excitation of the field is not the field itself. But the fields themselves may be one and the same. When the field excites or moves, it may appear as a thought or perception in consciousness, or it may appear as a particle or object in outward reality. Inner and outer may be one of the dualities to manifest from the field, mind and matter, spirit and body, subject and object. Both our thoughts and all material things may arise from the same pure being, pure openness, pure unified field.

As Rupert Spira likes to point out, all there is to experience is the knowing of it. That pure consciousness is even now modulating itself into the thoughts and feelings, sensations and perceptions, that we are experiencing in consciousness. These words are themselves excitations of that pure field of consciousness. And so it is not like that pure field ever disappears, goes away, or that we become separate from it. They are the field itself, in motion, in activity. Rather, the excitations in the field tend to veil consciousness itself from itself. We identify ourself with the excitations and not the pure consciousness itself. The contents of consciousness make us overlook the essential nature of consciousness itself. We identify ourselves with the limited, finite, dualistic expressions in consciousness, but fail to recognize our deeper identity of consciousness itself, what we might also call God.

Mystical experience seems to be the transcendence of all the limited finite expressions in consciousness to become aware of the holistic and infinite nature of consciousness itself. And this is why many contemplative practices tend to quiet and still the mind, to become aware of that which is aware. They are helping bring all those excitations to the ground level again, to purity, to stillness, such that divine consciousness can become aware of itself again in its infinite, nondual, unified, pure, open, empty, timeless, absolute essence. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).

It seems that the finite individual doesn’t become aware of the infinite as its self. Rather, the infinite becomes aware of its Self in its purity, in its essential ground condition of pure consciousness, and that infinite or absolute Being becomes expressed or manifested in every finite or relative being, creature, form, or object that ever was or will be. It is our shared Being, each of us excitations in that pure consciousness, waves in that sea of glass.

What do you think, or not-think?


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4 thoughts on “Apprehending the Infinite in the Finite?

  1. Bryce, this might describe this advanced consciousness:

    Spiritual knowing, mystical gnosis, is complete intuitive insight. It combines the very definition of all three words. Complete: “The entirety needed for realization; consummate.” Intuitive: “Knowing something without rational processes; the immediate cognition of it.” Insight: “Discernment of the true nature of a situation; the penetration beyond the reach of the senses.” Complete intuitive insight precedes divine unity and usually follows it. It is suprarational. Union with the divine, however, surpasses knower, known and knowing; it is to be at one with the divine essence. It is sharing in universal consciousness.

    1. Ron, yes, I like that description. It is a knowing beyond knowing, beyond the rational mind, perhaps because it is the source of all knowing, it is the source from which all knowing arises, like excitations in the field, or waves in the water. The rational mind cannot know this as another objective thought or perception because it is the very faculty from which it knows anything. A wave “knowing” another wave would not be knowing the water of which it is itself, just like an eye cannot see itself unless it looks in a mirror. Contemplation or mystical gnosis is perhaps like that mirror for our deepest being, a stilling of the mind such that consciousness reflects itself, universal consciousness realizes itself in that sea of glass, as the foundation of all being.

  2. This was such a delight to read, to read slowly, allowing the ideas within the words to flicker like candles in a cavernous dark cave, illuminating forms in the vast darkness that we can only sense. Thank you for the light.

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