A non-material view of matter
The transcendental I, in the model I have put forward, exists as the core of all living matter and becomes visible in every center to the degree that the center comes to life. Even though is must seem extraordinary by present standards, this does help to make the building process work better in practical terms. It adds something new which allows a person to make sense of it all, in such a way that he can work more profoundly, more effectively.
It may work because the model I have described is true. Or it may work because the psychology is true, and this psychological reality, what seems like the blazing one, releases our ability and makes us, as artists, more profound. I cannot say, for sure, which of these is more accurate. But my instinct goes towards the former, the metaphysical and physical model, not merely the psychological. When I make a building as deeply as possible, in my own experience the work seems more like an objective process in which my yearning to reach that thing — that Blazing One, out there in the universe — activates in me some opening of the window to the I. It does, sometimes, help me to make a marvelous, simple thing in which I then feel my heart and the existence of my soul.
If we are to understand thoroughly what I have said about architecture, we can only with great difficulty accept a purely mechanical interpretation of the nature of matter. I have become convinced, indeed, that so long as we try to stay within a mechanical interpretation, we shall very likely get our understanding wrong.
It comes down to this: the facts, when carefully analyzed, may lead to and make necessary a new view of the universe, one in which the ultimate ground of all things is seen as a kind of I-substance, lying behind matter, or wrapped up within that matter. This will be true whether we use the first, psychological view of this substance, of the second, nearly physical view of it. In either case, we must see that it is not possible to understand either the life of artifacts, or the process which creates this life, without realizing that in the and all living processes are processes which lead towards this I, and that the artifacts which have life are just those which are most deeply connected to this I.
If I am right, a non-mechanical interpretation of space and matter is indicated, necessarily, by careful reflection on the facts of architecture I have presented. Indeed, I believe that any attempt to keep the discussion, or our understanding, on a strictly mechanical plane will fail to encompass the real meaning, or the real basis of the facts themselves.
In the end perhaps the most stunning conclusion of all, is that a vision of the universe and its luminous ground, follows as a necessary result of the empirical truths about architecture which, throughout these four books, I have been trying to explain.
The connection of the individual person to the great Self, or Void, and its appearance in works of art, has long been a theme of mystical religious texts. In the works of nature, and in serious work of art, this connection of a person with the Self is brought forward, increased, intensified. It is that work in which the work itself, conceals, reveals, hints at, and approaches God. Thus, the Koran, quoted in Titus Burkhardt, Sacred Art in East and West (London: 1967), 111:
“According to a saying of the prophet, God hides himself behind seventy thousand curtains of light and of darkness; if they were taken away, all that His sight reaches would be consumed by the lightnings of His Countenance. The curtains are made of light in that they hide the Divine ‘obscurity’, and of darkness in that they veil the Divine Light.”
But the Void spoken of, the Divine light spoken of, is not abstract. It is always, ultimately, personal. In one form or another, all these teachings say that what has to be reached, above all, in a person, and in a considered life, is the human heart itself. For example, from Martin Lings, What is Sufism? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 58:
“Since everyone has always a center of consciousness, everyone may be said to have a ‘heart’. But the sufis use the term on principle in a transcendent sense to denote a centre of consciousness which corresponds at least to the inward Moon.”
In Zen, too, it is understood that a person reaches contact with the eternal just to that extent that he makes contact with his own heart. Thus Soen Roshi, quoted in Matthiessen, Nine-headed Dragon River (Boston: Shambala, 1986), 62:
“In the midst of winter, I find myself at last, invincible summer.”
And again, in Sufism, the message that in the unfolding of the heart, the soul of the person, which is carried in each of us, and which may be reached, naked, at the moment of being comfortable and true to one’s own heart, this Void or I is reached. It is most beautifully and simply expressed in the 10th-century poem written by the Sufi saint and poet Hallaj, quoted in Martin Lings, op. cit. p. 49: “I saw my Lord with the Eye of the Heart. I said ‘WHO ART THOU?’ He answered ‘Thou’.”
Throughout these teachings there is a subtle ambiguity. This event — the process of reaching the heart or reaching the void — may be thought of as purely psychological. Or it may be thought of as objective, something about the universe which is being reached.
To understand it and grasp it as something practical to be attained, it must be understood as “both”. It is a process in which a person casts off all mental affiliations, all concepts, all trains of thought, all opinions, leaving only the simple truth of their own naked heart. This process, in which action, object, and person come only from the heart, is psychological. It is a core “heart” which exists in each of us. It is revealed, universal, shared, more or less the same in each of us. Seven hundred years ago Meister Eckardt described it like this (Meister Eckardt: Works, trans. C. B. Evans, London, 1924):
“There is a spirit in the soul, untouched by time and flesh, flowing from the Spirit, remaining in the Spirit, wholly spiritual. In this principle is God, ever verdant, ever flowering in all the joy and glory of His actual Self. Sometimes I have called this principle the tabernacle of the soul, sometimes a spiritual Light, anon I say it is a Spark. But now I say that it is more exalted above the earth. So now I name it in nobler fashion… It is free of all names and void of all forms. It is one and simple, as God is one and simple, and no man can in any wise behold it.”
At the same time, at the moment this true heart in us is reached, there is contact with some “thing”, something beyond us, an actual entity of some kind in the universe, something before us, after us, an eternal substance which exists not only inside us, but underneath the substance of the world, before the substance of the world: it may be called the ultimate material from which the world is made. This entity — or the claim to its existence, and to the possibility of meeting “it”, is “not” psychological. From The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
“Oh nobly born, the time has now come for thee to seek the Path. Thy breathing is about to cease. In the past thy teacher hath set thee face to face with the Clear Light; and no thou art about to experience it in its Reality in the ‘Bardo’ state (the intermediate state immediately following death, in which the soul is judged — or rather judges itself by choosing, in accord with the character formed during its life on earth, what sort of an after life it shall have). In this ‘Bardo’ state all things are like the cloudless sky, and the naked immaculate Intellect is like unto a translucent void without circumference or center. At this moment know thou thyself and abide in that state. I too, at this time, am setting thee face to face.”
The claim that this self, what the Tibetan Book calls the “clear light”, exists is asserting something in the realm of physics. It used to be called metaphysics, simply because it appeared to be a part of the nature of matter which could not be treated by the contemporary methods of physics. Still, it is in fact a part of physics, since it asserts something — admittedly hard to pin down and hard to understand — about the nature of matter and the nature of the universe.
The key fact which makes all this so important is that the two entities, or two interpretations — the “heart” and the “void” — are linked. In approaching our own heart, we make contact with this ultimate self from which the universe is made. In approaching this ultimate self-substance, we also make contact with our own heart. That is the core of all the religious teaching in the great tradition. Thus Aldous Huxley, in The Perennial Philosophy (1962), 35:
“So far then, as a fully adequate expression of the perennial philosophy is concerned, there exists a problem in semantics that is finally insoluble. The fact is one which must be steadily borne in mind by all who read its formulations. Only in this way shall we be able to understand even remotely what is being talked about. Consider, for example, those negative definitions of the transcendent and immanent Ground of being. In statements such as Echkardt’s, God is equated with nothing. And in a certain sense the equation is exact; for God is certainly no thing. In the phrase used by Scotus Erigena God is not a what; He is a That. In other words, the Ground can be denoted as being “there”; but not defined as having qualities. This means that discursive knowledge about the Ground is no merely, like all inferential knowledge, a thing at one remove, or even at several removes, from the reality of immediate acquaintance; it is and, because of the very nature of our language and our standard patterns of thought, it must be, paradoxical knowledge. Direct knowledge ‘of’ the Ground cannot be had except by union, and union can be achieved only by the annihilation of the self-regarding ego, which is the barrier separating the ‘thou’ from the ‘That’.”
The Ground is, I believe, unavoidable as the core of architecture. If I look at the golden capital of the Tibetan building on page 155, it has an extraordinary shape and color, which penetrates the Ground, and penetrates the Self, and penetrates the individual human heart, that which we are made of. Architecture cannot be undertaken, in a sensible way, without intended and deliberate contact with this Self. Conversely, the thought and practice of architecture — the facts about structure — which I have defined in the preceding chapters, shed, I think, a great deal of practical light on this ultimate mystery, and so show us, concretely, something essential about the way the universe is made.
Although these arguments have chiefly been brought forward in the mystical traditions of the world’s religions, I must emphasize that I bring them forth here in a scientific spirit. I believe that some concept along these lines is necessary as a part of physics. I do not believe we can accurately describe the way the world works — at least that aspect of the world which I have been describing in these books — without some concept like this. Without it we simply cannot account for the essential facts about the personal quality of works of art, the apparent emergence of being, as a quality, when the field of centers becomes intensified, and the role of simplicity and ultimate purity in great works of art.