Before the Beginning and After the End

Everything has a beginning and an end. So does our lives. What is the beginning of your life? Should it be your birthday? Or should it be something else? How about the end of your life? Should it be the moment of your death? Or should it be something else?

Not only life but any activity in this world has a beginning and an end. When you start something, that very moment should be the beginning. And whatever you start, that will surely end someday. In other words, whatever we experience, that would inevitably become a sequence of the beginning and end.

In the morning, we feel the moment of starting the day. At night, that should be the moment of closing the day. It is a sequence of the beginning and end. Day by day, we go through this sequence. Even within the day, there are a lot of activities that start and end.

Such a sense of beginning and ending could be on any scale like years, decades, centuries, even millennia. We feel a sense of time, which is not infinite, but realizing that nothing is permanent in this world, including the physical universe.

The Edge of the Universe

In the beginning, there was the Big Bang, which was the birth of the physical universe. Somehow, we all know it as our contemporary common sense. How about the end of the physical universe? Some astrophysicists say that there would be the so-called Big Crunch. At this ultimate moment, the universe would be either shrinking or dispersing. We don’t know which could be the case. At least, we know that there is the universe that ends, just as it has started.

Our common sense tells us that everything has a beginning and an end. At the same time, however, it reminds us of the very limit of our perception. If there is the beginning of the universe, then our question should be:

  • What was before beginning this universe?

Similarly, if there is the end of the universe, our question should be:

  • What will be after ending this universe?

One possible answer should be what we call nothingness or emptiness. The birth of the universe means the beginning of time. The death of the universe means the end of time. Before and after the “universal existence,” therefore, there must be no such thing as time in the first place. Moreover, since the universe did not and will not “exist,” there is no such thing as “spacetime” before and after the ultimate moment. What we can scarcely perceive could be that which we could call nothingness or emptiness.

Everything has a beginning and an end. Beyond these boundaries, we cannot know anything at all except for the very concept that we can scarcely signify as nothingness or emptiness.

In this world, many activities always have a beginning and an end. We experience a sequence of starting and ending. After the end of one action or event, there will be another. Such a series of activities or events can give us a sense of “spacetime.” It makes sense in our perception; however, the sequence itself is not endless. The sequence itself has its own beginning and end. That is the ultimate beginning and end of the universe as such, which is the edge of the “spacetime.”

Beyond this ultimate boundary, what can we see? What can we do? And, what can we be?

Antinomy

Immanuel Kant calls it antinomy. At the ultimate conditions, we can no longer use our logical thinking and perception. When we say after something and before something, we naturally think of what should be after and before that “something.” The paradox here is that we can no longer use these “prepositions” as the terms that define themselves on the ultimate edges of such after and before.

When we think of God, we also face the same paradox. When we say God created everything, the same question should take place:

  • Who made God?
  • Is there such a thing as the death of God?
  • Who oversees God?

From the point of view of antinomy, these questions should be categorically impossible. If we see something created, then we try to understand who made it. And once we found the creator of something, we try to look for the creator of this creator. Our questions would be endless. There must be many “gods.” And eventually, we are supposed to reach the ultimate “Creator,” which can never be the object for any attempts of creation whatsoever.

In this world, we experience a series of creativity. Every day we see the start of a brand new day. And right after the end of this very day, we see another day that emerges. Even in our bodies, we experience countless cells that repeat the cycle of birth and death.

Such attempts and acts of creation are everywhere. We indeed witness countless “gods” who are working for our everyday activities and evolutions as such. In this regard, we can still say that everything has a beginning and an end as far as these creations are concerned.

These are the boundaries of this world. These are the knowledge of describing this world. These are the grid where we articulate everything with our languages. We can understand the universe as long as it is within the said realm. Creation takes place in the “spacetime” that we can receive everything, including ourselves, through the said boundaries.

Beyond and transcending this “spacetime,” however, categorically speaking, we can never understand anything. In other words, before and after the edge of the universe, we cannot see anything at all except for what we scarcely call nothingness or emptiness, or perhaps God, conceptually. Outside the universe, we cannot see anything except for nothingness or emptiness, or perhaps God, conceptually. Beyond, transcending, before, after, and outside, there is no such thing as “spacetime” in the first place.

Who made God? How long can God live? Is God alive or dead? All these questions are categorically impossible. While everything has a beginning and an end, God is beyond and transcending them. What do you mean by saying beyond or transcending?

Strictly speaking, using these terms might be misleading. These terms would also imply something that could still “exist” somewhere beyond and transcending. The implication is always the “spacetime” continuation with a creation series. What should we do?

Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form

One possible approach could be embracing the very paradox itself. We could see such an enigmatic attempt from the phrase of the Heart Sutra in Buddhism. It says as follows:

Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. Emptiness is not separate from form. Form is not separate from emptiness. Whatever is form is emptiness. Whatever is emptiness is form.

The Heart Sutra

While it is one line of the Heart Sutra, this very paradox implies the effort of overcoming the dilemma of the terms like beyond or transcending.

For example, when we say that God is beyond or transcending the dimension, the truth is that we can no longer see anything beyond and transcending. As long as we try to understand the concepts of beyond or transcending as the spatial or temporal sense, we can’t see anything. God is elusive.

God is beyond and transcending. Because of that, God “exist” neither beyond nor transcending as the spatial or temporal sense.

Likewise, what is before and after the universe? If something does not “exist” before and after the universe, what could be before and after the universe? If something does not “exist” outside the universe, what could be outside the universe?

There should be no such things as beyond, transcending, before, after, even outside. These words are meaningless as nothing is in the spatial and temporal perspective anymore.

In the Heart Sutra, therefore, only when we scarcely signify emptiness by using the language (form), we can superficially understand emptiness; at the same time, we cannot truly understand emptiness. We could call it the ontological dilemma, and the epistemological paradox described in the said line of the Heart Sutra.

We can never “locate” emptiness. We can never “locate” God. We can only say God is. Such terms as beyond, transcending, and out there might be misleading. Still, because of that, we have no choice but to use them, acknowledging our inherent limitations. And that is the way we contemplate the verses as well.

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Luke 17:21

Such a term as “within you” might be misleading as well. But again, because of that, we have no choice but to use it, acknowledging our existential limitations.

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 4:17

Such a term as “at hand” might be misleading. But again, because of that, we have no choice but to use it, acknowledging our innate limitations. That is why Jesus used the parables for the same reason.

And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

Matthew 13:10-11

Image by arun kumar

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