You Are What You’re Not


piano blackWhat does it really mean that the nature of things is relative?

NOTE: Thanks to everyone for allowing me a hiatus since Christmas, 2015. Other things in life impinged, but now I’m back for more fun and adventure in the crazy world of The Mind!

The Yogic View of Consciousness (YVC), I think, can be considered wide, but not deep. I don’t go into any particular topic in great depth (other than explaining the general model of the yogic view of consciousness). But along the way I touched on a number of topics that can be further elaborated. Therefore I foresee myself doing a series of “Look Back” articles, intended to go deeper into some of the points I only skim in YVC. This is the first of the Look Back articles.

I broached an interesting idea in Yogic View of Consciousness, one that I would like to explore further. That is the idea of the relative nature of things. Here are some of the key quotes I gave in YVC:

From van der Leeuw:

“In this world of relativity each relative thing is related to all else; there is not an atom in this universe of mine to which I am not related, even though I may not be conscious of the relation. I have no existence at all as a separate creature, though I may at times imagine myself as such; rather am I part of an intricate web of relativity in which all things mutually determine one another.”


“There can never be freedom for the relative, since every relative thing is at least partially determined by all else that is relative. Only the Absolute is free since there is naught beside It.”

From Swami Krishnananada:

“…in a world of relativity…everything is determined by everything else, so that nothing can be known absolutely. We are caught up in a peculiar difficulty in the understanding of the essential nature of any object in this world on account of the relatedness of this object to everything else in this world, so that we cannot know anything unless we know all things.”

And this one I didn’t use in YVC, but is a quote from Alister Crowley’s Book of Lies:

“A red rose absorbs all colours but red; red is therefore the one colour that it is not.”

These quotes offer a very strange perspective, one that is wholly alien to Western thinking. Everything is relative to everything else. What this means is stated clearly by van der Leeuw: “I have no existence at all as a separate creature” and “all things mutually determine one another”.

In YVC, I used the simple metaphor of puzzle pieces. A single puzzle piece by itself means nothing. The meaning of a single puzzle piece is defined by its place relative to all the other pieces. But even this metaphor is inadequate to capture the true meaning of the relative nature of things. The metaphor fails because we can imagine a puzzle piece as a thing all by itself. But what relativity means is that we cannot imagine any object as a thing by itself. There is no such thing as a thing by itself.

Instead, each seeming object or thing is actually a condensate, or a point of focus of all the rest of everything else. This is very much the essence of Leibniz’ monad idea. But the difference is, Leibniz was being metaphysical and was trying to identify the “true essence” of the seemingly individual things we perceive with our senses.

van der Leeuw, on the other hand, is not being metaphysical. He is being absolutely literal. When you look at some object, you are literally seeing all of everything else expressed as that apparent object. This is precisely what Swami Krishnananda is getting at when he says “we cannot know anything unless we know all things”.

What this comes down to is the ideas we use to conceptualize our experience. We break experience up into nouns and verbs. We think of experience as a set of “things” that “act”. But this is wholly and completely arbitrary. This is what the yogic term “sabda” means: the mere sounds, the mere names, the arbitrary interpretations we give to our experience.

What I am getting at amounts to a shift in perception, a redefinition of how we interpret experience. The example I like to use is Galileo and the shift to the heliocentric or Sun centered view of the Solar System. People literally used to perceive the sky as revolving around a stationary Earth. Our perceptions are not different from past peoples. What is different is how we interpret the movement we see in the sky. Now we interpret it as the Earth spinning. It is a shift in how we interpret our experience in our mind and with our ideas.

This is analogous to what I am trying to get at with this relativity stuff. Right now we interpret experience as a series of objects (nouns) each of which does actions (verbs). But if the relativity idea is correct, there is only one “thing”, one “object” and that is the entirety of Manifestation. This one thing, Manifestation, also only does one action: it reflects itself in itself. We don’t even really have a verb that describes this action.

Perhaps the closest we have is the mathematical word “self-similar”, as found in fractals. But even this falls short because it brings to mind only the mechanical repetition of a pattern made of ever-smaller (identical) copies of itself. As we can clearly see by looking around, the “reflections” of real life are not identical copies. Even when things are of the same class (galaxies, stars, humans, German shepherds, grains of sand, snowflakes) each individual instance is completely unique in the details, although it is of the same class.

stellardendrites1Abrams42aI struggle to find words to even define the situation, the necessary shift in perception to capture what is really going on in the relative Manifestation, where each thing does not exist at all as a separate thing, but in some very real and literal sense, is the entire rest of the whole, projecting itself, focusing itself in the form of what appears to be a separate object.

I won’t resolve this conundrum here and now. I raise the issue, first, as a Look Back, a point deserving further elaboration from YVC, and second, as something I will continue to think and write about. If any of you have ideas to offer about this topic please leave comments below. Many minds are better than one mind, and I would love to hear your thoughts!

9 thoughts on “You Are What You’re Not

  1. Andrew

    Hey Don, I love this simple, open-ended post. You write:
    “…where each thing does not exist at all as a separate thing, but in some very real and literal sense, is the entire rest of the whole, projecting itself”

    And “The whole” is infinite, correct? So the infinite is reflected in the finite?

    One of the tricks we play on ourselves is to say things like “context is everything,” and proceed to give a bunch of context for something. This is perfectly fine and good unless the person thinks that their arbitrary beginnings and endings have some kind of absolute truth, which oddly enough they often actually believe. They think they have somehow “created reality” instead of realizing they have actually created artifice. I guess another way to say it is that context is infinite.

    • Oh my God, Andrew! You just explained philosophy in 100 words or less! Brilliant!

      Yes, the infinite is present in the seemingly finite. I guess that is the key idea: finiteness is an illusion.

      The paradigm example is the counting numbers. They have all the properties of relativity, but the little formula n + 1 is actually a mechanism for generating infinity. Each number seems finite. But each number alone is meaningless. And yes, the context of the numbers is infinite.

      Thank you for the comment! Great to get your input!

      Best wishes,


  2. Hello Don,

    Thanks for your work, profound and clear at once, which isn’t easy to conjugate!

    Maybe we could propose Holography to find an illustration of the relative nature of every object we perceive as well circumscribed in space and time.

    The Hologram’s nature is such that every part of it is related in a way, to all the others. Each part of the Hologram finds its properties out of those of all the other parts. If we break a piece of it, we will still find the same image as before, only with a diminished definition. It isn’t the nature of the informations contained in the Hologram that will be restricted, only its quantity; the pixels will be bigger in a sense, but all the properties of the Hologram will be conserved.

    Let’s suppose the perceived universe is the result of a 3D + time projection of a 2D + time Hologram (Leonard Süsskind: Let the support of the Hologram belong to the Yoga’s un-manifested realm, that would be also Quantum Physics “veiled” realm which we have some access to, only when we calculate a mathematical description of the behavior of some simple objects like the wave nature of particles or very small atoms.

    Objects we perceive in our realm (that would be the result of the Hologram’s projection) as localized particles, exist under an ineffable nature that obeys to the mathematical laws of waves, and could therefore be relative (in interference with) to all the universe. Their properties would be correlated to the properties of all the universe. The interferences that would be the origin of the particles’ properties would belong to the Hologram support’s realm, to the un-manifested realm. The perceived reality, manifested, would be the one that is projected on a 3D + time “screen” and is the only one we can perceive.

    The transformation from a holotropic reality which obeys to the mathematics of waves, to a reality in which every object appears to be separated, could be the result of the mechanism of projection. Objects would appear localized and independent only because we perceive the result of the projection and not the fundamental base that is their support: the un-manifested holotropic realm which harbors all the informations that determines the manifested realm.

    Do you think this image could help to understand, in a way only of course, van deer Leeuw’s and Swami Krishnananda’s quotes?

    P.S As you surely discovered, my language isn’t english, so please translate as you can!

  3. kashyap vasavada

    Hi Don:
    I pretty much agree with you. I would add that there is a belief among some quantum physicists that if you have infinite accuracy,everything in the universe is entangled with everything else. The reason local experiments and explanations are possible in the lab is because of the limited accuracy of both experiments and theories.

    • Hi Kashyap! So great to hear from you! I hope you have been well!

      Isn’t “infinite accuracy” kind of a pipe dream. Last I looked, we’re not even close to that. 🙂

      That said, however, no I have not heard of this idea. Do you have any links or citations? I’d like to learn more because you are right that it is very similar to the yogic idea of one vast interconnected network.

      Thank you, Kashyap!

      Very best,


      • kashyap vasavada

        Hi Don:
        I think there is such an idea in Penrose’s book “Road to Reality”. But I may have picked it up in some other article also. It is possible that Schrodinger also may have said that. To Be sure everybody does not agree with it. In fact I asked this question on some physics blogs but did not get good answer. Infinite accuracy is to answer the question why lab experiments agree with theories when only a limited number of interacting objects are taken into account. Otherwise doing science would be impossible. But personally I find it a very intriguing and fascinating idea.
        Very Best.

  4. I am reminded of the ideas of Menas Kafatos and Robert Nadeau in their book The Conscious Universe: Parts and Wholes in Physical Reality (I have a short essay that begins with a discussion of these authors ideas that can be found at the bottom of the page here: . In a nutshell they think that the Alain Aspect experiment and its subsequent replications imply that the universe is an indivisible whole. Given this they think that this imposes a “knowledge horizon” on western science since it is based on reductionism, which depends on the study of parts. They do allow the possibility that this “knowledge horizon” might be bridged by an intuitive understanding of the whole as suggested by mystics who know by being. This however would be phenomenological knowledge (private) not scientific knowledge (public). Always enjoy reading the posts. Regards.

  5. kashyap vasavada

    Hi Don:
    You were asking for reference on universe being an entangled system. I could not recall it very well at that time. But as a funny coincidence, a paper by Susskind appeared this week! Lubos has heavily criticized it! But here it is!

    arXiv:1604.02589v1 [hep-th] 9 Apr 2016
    “It is obvious that the Copenhagen Interpretation cannot be the last word. The universe is filled with subsystems, any one of which can play the role of observer. There is no place in the laws of quantum mechanics for wave function collapse; the only thing that happens is that the overall wave function evolves unitarily and becomes more and more entangled. The universe is an immensely complicated network of entangled subsystems, and only in some approximation can we single out a particular subsystem as THE OBSERVER”


    • Hi Kashyap!

      So great to hear from you! Thank you for following up with my query! I will look up the paper and Lubos blog and see what he has to say about it.

      The arbitrariness and ambiguity of the “collapse” of the wave function certainly seems fishy. I am guessing beforehand that Lubos, as a quantum purist, doesn’t see any problem with it.

      But it certainly is external to the formalism of quantum mechanics and needs to be grafted on to the whole thing to make sense. A weak point, or weak link in the chain.

      Just from the little you say about Susskind’s paper, I would tend to agree. But I will look at the issue and we can pick the discussion back up after I’ve had a chance to learn more.

      Otherwise, I have been very busy with teaching, writing grants, and papers, and have had little time to add new entries to the blog. Eventually things will free up and I’ll be back here more frequently.

      Again, so great to hear from you Vasyap! I hope you have been well!

      Very best,


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