Inspired by the smith chart graphical aid used by electrical engineers to solve problems in radio frequency engineering, this nomograph uses a dipolar axis (constituted by the poles of Self and Other) to contract the extremes of the standard Cartesian coordinate system (with only quadrants 1 and 2 included) into a self-enveloping point, by which the maximal bounds paradoxically lead to zero. The point of zero is like a vacuum of void, both drawing everything in as well as emanating everything out.
I will first elucidate some thoughts on the polarity of Self and Other, and their interrelation. Then, I will explain what constitutes the four orientations (self-gratification, other-gratification, self-denial, other-denial), and the relationship between self-interest and other-interest in the context of the various possible combinations of the four orientations. Finally, I think of how all of this relates to suffering, the possibility of its cessation and Emptiness (suññatā) or Void.
Self and Other
To say that Self and Other are constituted as a polarity is to insist in their relative conditioning. Each pole is the condition of possibility for the other, by which the differentiation of one from the other gives it its form and makes it what it is. There are two different metaphors that can be played out to illustrate this point:
One, the relationship of polarity can be likened to the interaction of a mirror and its gazer, by which one reflects the other and in that process creates something that is both different and is also the same; one is constituted by the other in a process of reflexive inversion.
Two, the relationship of polarity can be likened to the interaction of light and dark, by which the illumination of a particular thing from the darkness of inexistence immediately generates a shadow of the thing; one is constituted by the other by way of a “cutting out”, a contouring of a darkness that remains in the face of illumination and functions as an obscuring element.
There is no shadow without the thing that is lit, and there is no thing that is lit that has no shadow. The same relationship applies to Self and Other: there is no “me” or “I” without “them” or “you”. There is no apprehending subject without its constituted object and no constituted object without the subject which apprehends it. There is no seer without the seen, no lover without the loved. Mine and Yours is an eternal dance, by which the cycle of our existence unfolds as a grand drama.
Between the poles of Self and Other, is the activity by which we make ourselves in the world. Our interactions with the world come back to change us, for the law of reciprocal action states that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Our orientation to the world configures the kind of change we enact upon the world, as well as the kind of reactions that follow. Our orientations can be understood to be composed both of our intentions and our habits; what we are concerned with and how we act upon our concerns. It must be stressed that mental action is itself just as much an activity as physical action, since the contents of our minds are causally efficacious with our actions (and vice versa). So one should not just understand “orientation” as referring either to how we think about things or how we act upon things, but of both in their dialectically self-constituting interaction (just like the dialectic of Self and Other described above).
In the mode of self-gratification, one’s intentions are primarily geared towards the expectation of reward and one’s actions are primarily motivated by the desire to acquire the object of desire. One is oriented towards the Other, but the other is configured as means to one’s own ends. This is a process of subsumption by which there is an attempt to directly incorporate the outside in, by a subtractive operation that adds to self-pleasure. In its most extreme, total subsumption of the other eliminates the ground for the self, for Self and Other are relatively conditioned. In the last instance, a negation is enacted by which the self is eliminated. In this way, a primary orientation towards self-gratification sows the seeds for its own undermining, by which self-gratification inverts into self-denial. A concrete example is extreme drug addiction in which the pursuit of pleasure for temporarily gratifying but poisonous substances can lead to involuntary death, such as by overdose.
In the mode of self-denial, one’s intentions are primarily geared towards the recession from the world and one’s actions are primarily motivated by the desire to relieve oneself of desire. One is oriented towards the other, but the one is configured as a means to the other’s ends. This is a process of surrender by which there is an attempt to directly incorporate the inside out, by a subtractive operation that adds to self-pain. In its most extreme, total surrender to the other eliminates the ground for the self, for Other and Self are relatively conditioned. In the last instance, an affirmation is enacted by which the other is eliminated. In this way, a primary orientation towards self-denial creates the conditions for its own undermining, by which self-denial inverts into self-gratification. A concrete example is extreme depression in which the lack of motivation to take care of the conditions for one’s continued existence can lead to the one affirmation or motivation to take one’s own life.
In the mode of other-gratification, one’s intentions are primarily geared towards a concern for the world and one’s actions are primarily motivated by the desire to alleviate or relieve others from suffering. One is oriented towards the Other, but the one is configured as a means to other’s ends. This is a process of emptying by which one gives the contents of one’s self up to the other, by an additive process that subtracts from other’s pain. In its most quintessential expression, total emptying of one’s self eliminates the ground for the other, for the Other and Self are relatively conditioned. In the last instance, a negation is generated in the face of the elimination of the self. In this way, a primary orientation towards other-gratification creates the conditions for its own undermining, by which other-gratification inverts into other-denial. With true devotion, the lover and loved become one and the same, and the distinction is abolished.
In the mode of other-denial, one’s intentions are primarily geared towards the concern for one’s self and one’s actions are primarily motivated by the desire to alleviate or relieve oneself from suffering. One is oriented towards the other, but the other is configured as a means to one’s own ends. This is a process of emptying by which one gives the contents of the other’s up by the scrutiny of one’s self, by a subtractive process which adds to other’s pleasure (for the other is accepted as it is present, rather than being classified and limited by intellection). In its most quintessential expression, total emptying of the other’s contents eliminates the ground for the self, for Self and Other are relatively conditioned. In the last instance, a negation is generated in the face of the elimination of the other. In this way, a primary orientation towards other-denial creates the conditions for its own undermining, by which other-denial inverts into other-gratification. With true self-love, the lover and loved are one and the same, and the distinction is abolished.
Combination and Interest
As we have seen, being oriented with any of the given modes also effectively orients one tendentially towards its cooperative pair in terms of what they share in the Self-Other polarity. These cooperative pairs can be collapsed into higher dialectical pair constituted by the poles of Self-interest and Other-interest.
Unrelenting self-interest puts one on a process of effectively dying in the world, a kind of long-drawn out decay which can end in either voluntary or involuntary death at the most extreme, and in general persists in generating suffering. The psychodynamics of this mode of orientation or attentiveness can be analogized to bipolarism by which the affirmation and negation of life are rapidly oscillating, which can lead to either exhaustion or implosion. This is due to one’s clinging to the sense of a permanent self or ego, and by clinging onto something in a world of perpetual flux we are forced to deal with the turbulence that follows. The fear of negation of the self, based upon thanatophobia (fear of death) and metathesiophobia (fear of change), creates the conditions for the realization of that very objects of fear (change and death). One returns to that which one feared: void, as an actual death.
Unrelenting other-interest puts one on a process of effectively living in the world, a kind of long-drawn out growth which can end in either voluntary or involuntary awakening or enlightenment at the highest development, and in general persists in reducing suffering. The psychodynamics of this mode of orientation or attentiveness would be a state of pure inner stillness and outer concentration or mindfulness, which can lead to exuberance and outward indiscriminate compassion. This is due to one’s letting go of the sense of a permanent self or ego, and by letting go in a world of perpetual flux we are able to flow with the current of life. The love of the affirmation of the other, based upon biophilia (love of life) and neophilism (love of the new or different), creates the conditions for the realization of that very subject of love (a new kind of life). One returns to that which one loved: void, as an actual life but also a different kind of death, the death of the ego.
Ego-Life is the unity of being simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed by existence, so one ceases to be, enveloped by darkness. Deep slumber follows, to awaken another day.
Ego-Death is the unity of being simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed by inexistence, so one comes to be, unfolding with illumination. Pure awakening follows, to sleep another day.
It should be carefully noted that the analysis of the four orientations, particularly the self-destructive modes of self-gratification and self-denial, does not intend to imply blame upon individuals struggling with life through these orientations. The conception of karmic reciprocity in terms of a linear chain of causal interactions can make one hold ideas like “you reap what you sow”. Such ideas arise from mischaracterized understandings of Pratītyasamutpāda, or dependent origination or relative conditioning. From a more proper perspective, we may understand that in order to alleviate individuals from suffering we must pay as much attention to the political and social relations that constitute our life-world as with the choices of particular individuals. This is network causality, not a chain reaction one.
Emptiness and Void
Everything we do is because of void, leads to void, is possible because of void. Void is that which is prior to us and after us, from which we came when we were born and towards which we go as at our inevitable deaths. But the darkness of that void also holds the void which can be infinitely shimmering, by which void pierces through existence to reveal that the phenomenal world is not a deceptive illusion but a playful drama, and the living world becomes intertwined with this transcendental condition of existence. Like when light pierces through a prism, the prismatic play of difference flutters in and out of existence.
Existence is revealed to be empty of essence, and because existence means that which is set apart (“existence” is etymologically composed from the Latin existere which means “to stand forth or come out; come to light”), all this means is that nothing stands apart from anything else. Which is to say, nothing exists, and everything insists in being empty, or to say it inexists. Reality is like a vessel made of nothing that holds everything. Reality both unfolds all from itself and envelopes all into itself, and nothing can be found (“found” is etymologically composed from the Latin fundus which means “bottom or foundation”; so to say that nothing can be found means to say that nothing can be said to have a ground that determines or anchors an essence; that nothing persists in existence but only momentarily insists in existence, or to say it in another way: it persists in inexistence).
In the Suñña (Empty) Sutta, a close discipline to the Buddha, Ānanda, asks
“It is said that ‘the world is empty, the world is empty,’ lord. In what respect is it said that ‘the world is empty?’”
To which the Buddha responds:
“Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said, Ānanda, that ‘the world is empty.’ And what is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self? The eye is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Forms… Eye-consciousness… Eye-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on eye-contact—experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain—that too is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self.
“The ear is empty.…
“The nose is empty.…
“The tongue is empty.…
“The body is empty.…
“The intellect is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Ideas… Intellect-consciousness… Intellect-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self.
And whatever there is that arises in dependence on intellect-contact—experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain—that too is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self.
“Thus it is said that ‘the world is empty.’”
It is precisely the idea of a self-subsisting permanent Self, grounded either by notions of essence, substance, soul or political interpellation or intersection, that causes conditions for suffering. Selfhood of this sort also constructs the perception of the Other as similarly essential and static. In reverse, hypostatization or reification of intellectual abstractions (by which we misplace the abstract for the concrete, or by which we mistake our ideas for actual things in the world) also generates a substantialization of the particular objects of experience and as such props up the self as its bearer. Reality is broken up by intellection as a collection of objects (linguistically configured as grammatical subjects) with an “additional” predication added “on top of” it. However, since what is actually experienced is that which the predication refers to (the event or happening or drama), then this leaves a gap or shadow in which the the “container” which bears the predication is sought after. This container is usually thought to consist of essence, substance, soul, etc. But there are no predicates and their containers—no “ear” in itself, “nose” in itself, “tongue” in itself, “body” in itself or “mind” in itself, just as there is no Self or Other in itself—only the manifold flux of experience, and the fantastical drama it beholds.