Various aspects of the traditional wisdom might be taken as a starting-point; but perhaps the most fundamental of all is the science of the two principles which underlie the manifestation of the universe.
Aristotle called these two principles Morphe and Hyle the Hindus refer to them as Purusha and Prakriti, the Chinese tradition names them T'ien and Ti; the Mediaeval Scholastics speak of Forma and Materia. We shall use the names Essence and Substance.
What are these two fundamental principles upon which everything we know is based? Perhaps the Scholastic/Aristotelian designation of Form and Matter is a good starting point for understanding them. Everything that is consists of Form manifested in Matter.
Aristotle illustrates this concept with the image of a statue. Let us say wehave a statue of the Goddess Diana carved in Marble. What is the Form orEssence of this statue? The shape of the Goddess. What is its Substance?Marble. Now, suppose we could remove the Essence or Form from the statue. We should no longer have a statue of Diana. What should we have? Simply a piece of marble. Now, is this piece of Marble pure Substance or Matter? Certainly not, because it still has qualities
Now, in theory, we could go on stripping away qualities or Forms or Essences, until we were left with pure Substance, or Matter
It is worth taking some time to familiarise yourself with the concepts ofEssence and Substance, because they lie at the very foundation of thetraditional view of the universe. Everything else begins to fall into place inthe light of this understanding.
It is interesting to note, in this context, the findings of scientists who haveattempted to probe the inner nature of matter. The more we learn aboutsub-atomic particles, the more they seem to defy all normal physicaldescription. They seem at times to behave like particles and at other times to behave like waves. They do things which would normally be called physical impossibilities, and scientists are compelled to surmise that they are not physical entities at all in any sense of the term that means anything to us. What they seem to be, we are told, is pieces of pure information.
Now this is patently absurd. How can information exist on its own with nothing to inform?
Nevertheless, this description makes perfect sense in the light of thetraditional doctrine. Essence is precisely pure information. Itinforms--forms from within--every material entity. Essence is Form--orinformation--working on Substance, and Substance can only be seen when thelight of Essence is shining on it--we can only perceive marble, for examplebecause of its qualities--its hardness, colour, weight,stone-ness.
At the sub-atomic level we cannot detect the Substance upon which Essence isworking. This is because there is some truth in the scientist's belief that heis "getting to the very building blocks of matter itself", and while he is not,and could not be, at the level of Pure Substance or Prima Materia, heis seeing Matter stripped of many of its Essential qulaities.Consequently, at this level, Matter is no longer prehensible, and all that canbe seen is the low-level action of Essence, which appears to be acting on its own as "pure information", but is in fact in-forming Matter at a very rudimentary level.
There is an irony
It is also important for us to realise from the outset that when we speak ofEssence and Substance as the fundamental principles of cosmic manifestation, we are not talking merely of philosophical abstractions or ancient notions that have been superseded by modern science; we are speaking of vital truths which have always been true, and which, while they may have seemed to be rendered obsolete in the comfortable, closed world of 18th- and 19th-century `scientific' materialism, they are thrown into sharp relief by the findings of 20th century atomic- and astro-physics and shown to be vitally relevant.