Wood, Fire, Smoke, & Air: God is Everything and Nothing

by Ryan Glidden | June 25, 2018 5:24 pm

One night a student saw his teacher sitting in contemplation beside a fire. He approached his teacher and joined him. After some silence, the student said, “Teacher, you have told me that God is nothing and God is everything, how can this be so?”

The teacher picked up a piece of wood beside him and handed it to the student.

“Look at this piece of wood. You can see its shape, color, texture, and form can you not?”

“Yes.” The student replied.

“This wood is like the body. It has a clear boundary, density, and mass to it, but there is more to it than that. Throw the wood into the fire.”

The student threw the wood into the fire and before long fire sprung from it, slowly engulfing the wood in flames.

The teacher continued.

“Without the wood, there could be no fire. What do you suppose the fire is to the wood?” he asked.

“I’m not sure.” The student replied.

“The fire is transformation. It transforms the wood into ash. This is like the process of yoga. Through tapas (will), austerity, pranayama, meditation and the many limbs of yoga one can transform from one state to a different state, just like the wood transforms from wood to ash.”

“Do you understand this?” The teacher asked.

“Yes.” the student replied. “But I still do not know what this has to do with my question.

“Yes, indeed.” The teacher replied with a slight chuckle. “Patience and I will tell you.”

“Look above the fire. What do you see?”

“Smoke.” The student replied.

“Yes, that is correct. In our example what is the smoke?”

“The soul?” the student replied.

“Very good.” the teacher replied. “The smoke rises from the fire, untouched by the flames and no longer contained within the wood. As it travels further from the fire, it spreads out merging seamlessly with the air around it until you can no longer see any separation between the smoke and sky.”

“You see, through the process of yoga one realizes the soul. That soul is not the body. When the body dies, as the wood does, the soul remains. Transcending the mind/body identity leads us to know this truth.
When the smoke rises, it merges back with the air around it and is the air, not the one thing that both the wood and the fire need to exist in the first place?”

“Yes.” The student replied, starting to grasp what his teacher is saying. Still a little unsure he pressed his teacher.

“Teacher you have told me that God is the air, which brought life to the wood and the fire. I know that air is everywhere around us, so I understand that it is the ‘everything’ that is needed for any form to exist, and for action to happen. What I am still unsure about is how is God nothing?”

“Reach up with your hands and clasp a scoop of air.” The teacher said. “Do you have it?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now open your hands slowly. What do you see?”

“Nothing.” The student replied.

“Exactly.” the teacher answered.

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