The Principle of Polarity or Law of Opposites states that the play of Reality manifests always two sides, or two poles and the difference between these two seemingly diametrically opposed poles is merely a matter of degree.
This principle implies that thesis and antithesis are identical in nature but different in degree. Every truth is half-false and everything is and isn’t, at the same time. This principle is the ‘universal principle of reconciliation of opposites’ for in the union of the two poles, or a pair of opposites, there is to be found the ‘thing-in-itself’.
The Law of Opposites
According to the Law of Opposites, everything attains completion by manifesting itself in the opposite direction to that from which it started. For example, the spiritual and the physical planes are in reality the different poles of the same thing: the play of the Expanse of Pure Being.
Since all is in motion and all motion is the appearance of energy at another point, wherever the new form reappears, the manifested energy is still the same but at a different degree of vibration. Even the expanse of the Mind and its manifestations are opposite poles of the same nature varying only in degree. On the physical plane, we have the example of heat and cold being of the same nature in varying degrees of temperature, where the lower end of the scale is called ‘cold’ and the higher is called ‘heat’ with many degrees between these two. Again, one particular thing may be both good and bad at the same time, that is, good for some purpose and bad for others
The same is true with directions. If one starts traveling north, at some point one will find himself traveling south and vice versa. And so it is with light and dark, inside and outside, the scale of colors, and the notes of the musical scale. All opposites share the same nature in varying degrees.
In Mahayana Buddhism
In one of the key texts in Mahayana Buddhism called the ‘Prajna Paramita Hridaya’ Sutra, which literally means ‘The heart of the Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom’ commonly known as the ‘Heart Sutra,’ we find one of the most important statements regarding Reality, a paradox in which the Principle of Polarity or Opposites is transcended in the experience of Perfection of Wisdom, the non-dual Reality of Pure Being.
From the Heart Sutra (translation by Edward Conze):
“Here, Sariputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness.”
The Buddhist understanding of emptiness is different from the physical meaning of being empty of something that fills it in and is definitely not ‘non-existence’ in the nihilistic sense of nothingness. We could substitute the term ‘emptiness’ with oneness, openness or pure potentiality and the term ‘form’ with diversity, manifestation, display, the play of effulgence or adornment.
Emptiness, the essential potentiality can and does manifest as forms, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousnesses. These remain pure and without characteristics just like ‘magical illusions’, not separate from their essential immaculate source. The two poles of emptiness and form don’t exclude each other. On the contrary, they are actually just two modes of being of the same ‘thing’ varying in degree.
Reality or Mind is an expanse of ‘infinite potentiality’ which expresses itself in various illusory (or empty and pure) ‘magical forms’ which are not definable and not separate from one another. Ultimately, individual beings are an infinite and ceaselessly occurring display within the indivisible empty and pure potentiality of Being beyond one or many.
In Buddhist Tantra
In Tantric Buddhism, within the highest form of Tantra, we find the Principle of Polarity (and Vibration) expressed in the transformation of the five types of ‘impure’ emotions (anger, greed and attachment, dullness, envy and pride) which bind sentient beings to endless rebirth in Samsara, into the five aspects of ‘pure’ Wisdom characteristic of Nirvana, or Enlightened Awareness.
This is achieved by employing various Enlightened Deities as symbols of the pure and non-dual manifestation of the energy of Reality which, when not recognized and therefore experienced at the same time within the frame of subject and object, acts as a fuel for the five types of emotions.
Since the ground energy of Pure Being behind both the ‘impure’ emotion and the ‘pure’ Wisdom comes from the same source which is the potentiality of Mind, it is possible to transform one into another first and finally transcend both poles and integrate oneself into this pure potentiality (of Mind) itself, experiencing oneself as the center of one’s dimension and, at the same time, as the totality of all phenomena (the universe in terms of microcosm and macrocosm).
Ultimately, Samsara, as the dimmed awareness of the unenlightened experience of a sentient being and Nirvana as Enlightened Awareness of Pure Being, are like the two inseparable poles of the same potentiality of Mind.