In researching reality, where might we begin?
For myself, this process has been a slow unfolding, coming to a “corrected” understanding of “what is” from my very unique and personal perspective. This process itself has grown out of my personal practice of zazen….. and looks something like this:
“little by little…. letting go of my firm grip on a dearly held familiar concept of reality, a new vision arises (in the early days, a sense of distrust arose with it!) ….. unbidden…. sometimes quite difficult to accept….. a new vision, seemingly wrapping itself around an old familiar thing, creating what at first seemed like a new hybrid concept, but which was then slowly honed and smoothed…. then gradually…… slowly….. becoming unbound from the old familiar concept…… to blossom into a new “stand alone” concept…. but then…..one day, suddenly waking to the fact that this newly formed concept was actually the simple truth of the matter in the first place…… and the whole 360 degree process is completed by seeing it as “it is just what it is”…… with no “spinning” required by the “old nick” mind….. just calmly seeing it for what it is…. no need to warp it or spin it to fit that old limited self centered way of seeing.”
This process of becoming progressively willing to let go of “old limited concepts”, seems to have been necessary because i was unwilling/afraid to let go of my old way of thinking, and needed a slow “convincing”. And I am grateful for the process being so patient with me!… The fact that i needed to be convinced would haved been looked on in the heyday of Chan in China, as human understanding becoming darkened…… but for me, it just is……. 21st century westerners are stuck…. caught between the comfort of modern life, and the call of the quantum world (our true nature), which we intuitively know is where we spring from. We humans have become quite duplicitous and double dealing ….. and it takes time (if at all) to become faithful to our true nature…….
As a bit of a side note, i am using the term “quantum” here, instead of spiritual, not to borrow credence from scientific terminology, but to use a contextually less familiar term which doesn’t fall into the old “scratched LP” mode of allowing one to assume what the term spiritual means, and jump to many unfortunate conclusions …..
For myself, to use the term quantum in discussing “that which is not seen” brings the same type of connective analogy as body/mind…. which was a very early transformative concept for me. So then, body and mind are part of each other (not the mind over matter dichotomy i was taught), just as quantum(spiritual) and the visible world are part of each other (not the dualistic chasm theology i was taught) .
This process has been like removing layers of incorrect thinking, and incorrect reasons for living…. and it has been quite a long process. It may have been sped up by having an enlightened teacher, but the pro’s and con’s of living under a teacher seem to me to be at best 50/50. On the one hand, there is the help of a teacher, giving advice and guidance, while on the other hand, the price of submitting myself to someone else’s understanding of this reality, and possibly missing out on my own personal revelation……well…. in the end, i am glad i have been able to be a free spirit…. but the road has been lonely, rocky and rough, and along the road, i have hurt a lot of folks out of my ignorance. (deep sigh..)
“I” like to think of my personal zazen/self-inquiry/yoga practice as a life long “research project”…. not so much a religious or spiritual quest, but a “inner/outer science” research project…… one could say a research project in self-discovery….. but that is truly too narrow of a definition. It has had more to do with discovering the whole enchilada, as Jundo Cohen Roshi puts it, and how this awareness called “I” is related to that whole enchilada.
(In this experience to date, this person i call “I”, is very much like the snowplow on the front of a steam engine. Right at the forefront of “happening” or “now”…. plowing in NOW…… staying current…. staying at the point where the “snow hits the plow”, this is the only real research tool i have that i can depend on….. not that at times it hasn’t been quite confusing!)
Existential Ground of Being
Where the visible world… the universe of gases, liquids and solids…. is completely definable by characteristics and their opposites, this whole universe seems to arise, or have risen, from a subatomic… perhaps pre-atomic essence.
This pre-atomic essence, would have formed out of itself, the singularity at the core of the Big Bang…. which carried with it all the blueprints and timetable of the whole universe before it began. We see this beginning of the universe as somehow mindless (or due to some deity) , but if the human zygote/stemcell were to be taken as a potential template, there is in fact an overall blueprint and timetable encoded in every “cell”…… So I would like to postulate that this pre-atomic essence should be considered to encapsulate (and beyond) all the spectacular elements, shapes, biology and awareness which is manifested in the visible universe. So essentially, the visible universe and everything in it, is an “acting out” of the potentiality of the original essence from which it arises.
Now if this were true, how would one define that type of essence? It would truly be beyond definition……. it would simply be the base of all things….. the original essence….. that from which all things rise….. including our awareness….
Xu Yun (20th century Chan master) called the base of our being and awareness “Mind Ground”. It seems that in Eastern Philosophy (as well as by some in western philosophy), this “Ground of Being” is pointing to the “indivisible essence” behind all things (an essence which cannot be broken down into smaller parts) …… It is also described as emptiness, buddha-nature, and numerous other descriptors. I like to call the base of all things “All-Being”.
So, there really can be no DEFINITION that would truly suit this “All-Being”, is there?….. no definition which is wide enough or open enough …. and so, in calling it Emptiness …. which does not imply devoid of definition, but rather beyond definition, seems to be a fitting description.
as someone once told me (regarding the “eternal truth” contained in their sacred book…. (shoulder shrug)…. “what you believe personally doesn’t change the truth (or reality)”….. honestly, i now find that to be true, and would to find reality trusting my own instincts, as, if there is no trusting my instincts, then this life would truly be a sham of a heartless god …..
So in my estimation, at this point in my research project, this “All-Being” or base essence is beyond characteristics, yet contains in it the whole realm of being and non-being, the realm of all things, the realm of all awareness, and so on…… the in all, through all, encompassing all, essence. But how can this essence be both full and empty at the same time? There are many enigmatic sayings from the mystics of all groups, pointing at this very issue.
So, at one end of this spectrum of reality is this indivisible emptiness . And why can we see this as a reality? Because without this ground of being, nothing would exist…. nothing COULD exist.
Can we trust objective science?
Generally we can believe in the concept of scientific research. Although we know that what science knows today, will certainly change as new information is excavated….. all any of us can do is to work with the data we have available to us. Science tends to be the least biased source of information…. except when it comes to the root of everything. The history of religion and science, and currently the fundamentalist religious right in North America has made the scientific community very fidgety about allowing any form of source, or system, any directing cause, or designer. The fact that scientific research tends to be biased towards a “no God” viewpoint, is not so distressing, but the fact that scientific research leans towards “no designing system” creates a bias which blinds it to the obvious fact that there IS a basic system, and that it springs from the essence which forms all things.
We live in a time, where some of the secrets of this universe are beginning to open to us through scientific study. As mentioned before, the stemcell is one of those clues to how an essence might be both full of definition, yet totally empty of the things it defines. A biological stemcell in a sense is empty, in that it holds no brain, no bones, skin, or organs. But it is not void, in that it contains both the blueprint and timetable, to create a physical being and predestine its life span. In fact its ability seems only limited by the form its DNA and chromosomal structure place on it.
So we do have some clues regarding how this essence can be both “containing the whole universe in every cell”, yet also have emptiness as its distinguishing feature.
So,. back to the topic at hand….. What is reality?
On the one hand, reality is simply what we experience in our time here in the physical world…. our birth, life and death, i.e. going to bed and waking up the next day, carrying the same bodily awareness for a lifetime (at least to the point where other folks recognize us as the same person day to day), incorporating all our experiences…. But from modern science, and especially Quantum Science, we know that what we “seem” to experience, is actually something which might be looked at in a myriad different ways…. thus the quandary of “What is Reality?” Should we take as paramount importance, reality from the viewpoint of cellular biology? Or from the viewpoint of a galaxy? or from the viewpoint of an individual human being?
This is not an essay proving the unprovable….. there is no way to make even the first step in a dialectic debate on what reality actually is from some sort of ultimate or absolute point of view….. it is truly relative to the point of view it is viewed from.
This is why i have begun this essay from the standpoint of “my lifelong research project”. In fact, reading a book on what someone else learned or believed, may be a helpful research tool, but from everyone i know, it is largely a vain attempt to find a reality outside ourselves…. namely something which doesn’t change the instant we have discovered it. “Not gonna happen!”
What i have discovered so far, is that, as well as different viewpoints of reality, there are also different levels of reality.
So to begin, what can we state about the universe as we know it, and its workings?
One fundamental rule (or fact) in physical things, is entropy.
This means: everything in the universe is subject to decay, decline, degeneration, destruction, falling apart, scatteredness. We build it up, it falls down. The universes’ forces build it up, and the universes’ forces tear it down.
It seems that, if we were to look at the quantum world (we used to see this as the spiritual world…. totally separate from physical reality) we see a totally different set of principles operating there…. and yet those principles also function at the galactic level to some extent. (The atomic world and the galactic world seem to have a similar “spin”) But the subatomic level, things begin to get pretty weird.
One of these weird things is the lack of entropy…… the gradual wearing down of subatomic entities.
To be continued