A friend of Hermitary notes with regard to consciousness the primordial sense of the indeterminate, prior to even the basic yin-yang, as found in Confucius. This is what Chuang-tzu refers to in saying: “At the great beginning there was non-being, which had neither being nor name.”

The indeterminate It is not quite equivalent to the “great ultimate” which is the force that precipitates or engenders the yin-yang motion, the fundamental motion of all things.

From a Western perspective, one might say that the indeterminate is what is described (in a sense) in the second line of Genesis: “And the earth was void and without form; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” The great ultimate, then, would be closer to the rest of the passage: “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” — leaving aside a definition of “Spirit of God.”

The problem for the Western sensibility is that these passages come after, not before, the engendered forces of yin-yang or equivalent. The first line, before the above lines, is: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So the philosophical assumption for Western thought is the a priori status of God or the Prime Mover or First Cause, etc.

As our friend points out, referring to Kant, the a priori status of everything is derived as consciousness, reason, ethics, etc. In this sequence, we never get to posit the peace, rest, and “nothing” state first, but we are immediately thrown into motion, forces, dualism, and what Taoism calls the “ten thousand things.”

The chief characteristic of origin stories is the rush to justify or explain what “is” rather than accept a certain indeterminacy in the primordial universe. The stories attempt to explain what “is” and how it got that way to the satisfaction of the given culture, which is why so many creation myths sound naive and amusing to our modern minds. At the same time, in attempting to justify or give reason, the stories address why things exist rather than do not exist. At this point, they merely fall back on the facticity of the universe, of the heavens and earth, and derive their perception of moral or ethical necessity from the contemporary culture that has already evolved them.

How, then, to understand the primordial nature of the universe as rest and balance and peace and stability if we cannot get behind what is called God? For God represents the active element that in effect forces all of creation to enter the endless cycle, the endless turning of the wheel. Zoroastrianism, like Genesis, presents creation as orderliness, the opposite of the intolerable void and darkness of the primordial universe before God casts light into it and begins separating and identifying its parts. From this and other origin presentations the West takes its dichotomous universe: good and evil, darkness and light, truth and falsity, order and chaos.

Eastern thought presents an Absolute either as a descriptive Brahman or a less descriptive Void. The attempt to reach back into the original state is based on the insight of how the mind and consciousness function. The mind and consciousness in the state of peace and meditative emptiness are not social functions, busy with activities, events, and processes. They reflect a truer, more genuine state of being, and to describe these mechanisms is the goal of these traditions. Yet the momentum of spiritual life in, say, the Christian mystics, early hermits, and hesychasts is toward transcending duality, even while accepting the necessity of a literalist presentation to the masses.

For that matter, perhaps all philosophical and spiritual traditions originate in this context of non-duality, but accept duality as what seems to be real and necessary for the ordered evolution of culture and society. Society never returns to an exploration of the primordial because the culture has driven out speculation in favor of ritual, law, and centers of power and authority. Such speculations are left to shamans and mystics — if they are allowed to disrupt the established order.

Additionally, our friend notes correctly that Nietzsche did much to attempt to break through this conundrum — if largely by sweeping away the philosophers and religionists altogether and starting over! Nietzsche seeks to identify the primordial motion within us, rejecting ideas of consciousness up to that time as contrived projections. He hits upon the formula of will, but the conundrum of consciousness and the contrived state of mind when functioning as a social and cultural “will” still needs to be integrated. That was the challenge for existentialism in the twentieth century, or at least in part. Western thought is still preoccupied with things “post-creation” — and not making much progress in insight. Western thought is by-and-large not working on the primordial, the indeterminate.