Tag Archives: Science

Thoughts about The Buddha’s Teaching: Seeing Without Illusion

18 Jan

 

The Buddha placed primary importance on our thinking and volition. In fact, our difficulties arise when our thinking is unwholesome, in the past and in the present. Our citta or heart/mind is our kingdom or our own mentality. It is our private place where the swirl of thoughts continually passes across our mind. No one but yourself can know what truly goes on there. There is both privacy and the possible control to think the thoughts you want. You can choose which thoughts to accept or refuse. Whichever thoughts you allow will shortly be expressed through your volition in the outer environment. Once you think the thoughts, you can not take them back. Your choice lies in thinking or not thinking them in the first place. The more you think unwholesome thoughts, it is like taking a substance that will sicken you both physically and mentally. What your mind dwells on will sooner or later become your ‘world’ and you will attract those energies to you. To entertain and encourage thoughts and feelings of anger, jealousy, resentment, greed, etc., is certain to not only damage your health in some way but also cause a lot of trouble and suffering in your life. So the Buddha taught you to be Mindful or aware every moment onwards, to watch even your habitual thinking with utmost care and nurture and promote only wholesome and skillful thinking. May All Beings Be Well and Happy.

The Buddha emphatically declared that the first beginning of existence is something inconceivable.“When this exists, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises. When
this does not exist, that does not come to be; with the cessation of this, that ceases, namely: dependent on ignorance, arise volitional formations … and so on … Thus is the ending of this whole
mass of suffering.”There is a flux of
psychological and physiological changes, a conflux of mind and body (nāma-rūpa).Anamatagga Saṃyutta, S II 179
And even now in physics, they say that ‘Now’ is not something that moves forward but it is the empirically-always-present field of change which is the domain in which events are created. Therefore, the future is always indeterminate and creating new possibilities opening for genuine free will. Ruth E. Kastner

The young man said to the Buddha, ‘I will take up the Eightfold Path when I am older, but first I want to enjoy myself and have fun.’ Many people have this idea that by following the Eightfold Path they will be giving up things like intense sense pleasures and self-importance as well as riches and beautiful objects that they will regret not having experienced later. Instead this misses the big picture which is that what one truly comes to sacrifice by personal development through the Buddha’s teachings is selfishness, fear, alienation, insecurity, physical malady, unwholesome pleasures, pride, vanity, doubt, jealousy, self-pity, cravings, anger, hatred, etc. and, instead, what one gains through the Bhavana training includes immeasurably more happiness, peace, joy, compassion, bliss,serenity and vastly improved relationships with all sentient beings as well as oneself. So only giving up things that are not truly worth having and instead of gaining that which is, is the final ample compensation for proceeding diligently on the Eightfold Path until achieving Enlightenment.

The Buddha gave to all a practical method (Eightfold Path) for the development of the mind and heart for the shaping of our lives to eventually achieve Awakening or Enlightenment. He did not teach theology or doctrinal orthodoxy. The Buddha understood that all religious doctrines and theology are human inventions built up by the particular authors out of their own mentalities and foisted on people’s minds from the outside. Instead, The Buddha was the teacher who gave the lessons and, if we so want, we are the ones who practice sincerely what he taught and thereby develop our own insights and knowledge of especially the primary Three Universal Truths of Impermanence, No-Self and the existence of Suffering. In Buddhism, this is entirely a matter that each individual has to settle for him/herself. But if one makes the effort sincerely- the benefits appear immediately.

A wonderful and powerful practice is with especially people we have difficulty with but also all people- when you see or interact with that difficult person imagine seeing their living Buddha Nature and then you will see the layers and type of ignorance with which you are interacting. This practice is good for not only maintaining our own composure but also helps in our judgment of the difficulty of the situation. With metta.

The Realms or Worlds from ‘hell’ to ‘heaven’ are commonly described as extra-human realms but they are also instructive to us when viewed as all of our ranges of mental experience created by our conscious as well as non-conscious mental or cognitive processes.

 

Whatever we give our attention to, is what governs our life – mentally and physically. We have freedom in our ability to choose what we direct and maintain our attention on. What we consistently pay attention to becomes our ‘world’ and habitually dominates it. If we constantly direct our attention on the ever-changing, impermanent outer world we suffer anxiety and uncertainty; if we direct our attention on nothing in particular then nothing, in particular, is expressed in our life with uncertainty and boredom. If we direct our attention to the four divine internal states and eventually arrive at Emptiness we experience happiness/bliss, good health, compassion, wisdom and certainty in the Truth of the Four Noble Truths.

Metta (loving-kindness) is defined as follows: Loving-kindness has the mode of friendliness for its characteristic. Its natural function is to promote friendliness. It is manifested as the disappearance of ill-will. Its footing is seeing with kindness. When it succeeds it eliminates ill-will. When it fails it degenerates into selfish affectionate desire. Eventually, one can begin to practice loving-kindness towards a dearly beloved companion, and then towards a neutral person as very dear, or towards an enemy as neutral. It is when dealing with an enemy that anger can arise, and all means must be tried in order to get rid of it. As soon as this has succeeded, one will be able to regard an enemy without resentment and with loving-kindness in the same way as one does the admired person, the dearly loved friend and the neutral person. Then with repeated practice, jhana absorption should be attained in all cases. Loving-kindness can now be effectively maintained in being towards all beings.Ñanamoli Thera

However, those who believe in a soul only too often override the limits set by experience and concern themselves with “something completely unknowable,” as Bertrand Russell says. Moving along these wrong tracks of thought, they readily admit that all cognizable and experiential constituents of the “personality” are subject to constant change, to an unceasing rise and fall; and for that reason, they, of course, cannot be considered as an abiding ego. But it is, so they believe, just from behind or beyond the cognizable and experiential components of the personality that the true eternal self or soul appears which, naturally, must be beyond cognition and experience. What is wrong in such a position and in these conclusions, has chiefly to be attributed to the fact that an empty concept has been raised to the dignity of man’s true essence or core—a concept obtained by mere abstract ratiocination, having nothing in common with observation and experience. The futility of such a play with words has been shown by Kant. For him, a way of thinking that transgresses the limits drawn by experience is playing with ideas, and the alleged vision of something imperceptible is “a poetic fiction transcending everything imaginable, a mere whim.”The Buddha and his monks, however, are no dreamers chasing after metaphysical phantoms. They are sober realists who will not admit such groundless speculations even to the range of their considerations or refutations. Dr. Anton Kropatsch, Vienna

I’ve looked at life from both sides now

From up and down and still somehow

It’s life’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know life at all -Joni Mitchell

This is the true question that the Buddha’s teachings really address – ‘Do I Really Know Life At All?’ And in investigating the question, the answer becomes quite clear- for the uninvestigated mind, No…I don’t. All existence is much too complex, interrelated and deep for us prideful humans to truly comprehend and indeed mystery is the result. But this is not a defeat but an affirmation of our embeddedness and interrelatedness with All of other existence. Not the folly, alienation and separateness of the conceit of humans being the supreme being of the universe or even earth but the authentic identification of the true ecological, co-arising nature of all things. You will hear people say, ‘I am trying to find myself.’ But if you want to find yourself, then transcend yourself. When we transcend our-self, we truly find each other and our interconnection with all. We are not alone! Just look around you, there are creatures of life everywhere. If we feel alone, that is our blindness to life all around us, our suffering of alienation created by the illusion of separateness and ‘I’.

The Buddha understood how humans create “conceptual proliferation”- thinking, a representational and abstracting process that they believe and attach to. This is another way to speak about that:
When the animals evolved the talent to produce a virtual presence, they acquired a soul.
Then there was a God to be adored.
And an Adam was created.
As production of virtual presences increases, man’s tie to the Real decreases. Soon, he praises innovation and inhuman courage. He invents thrills and excitements. He relies on myths and mysteries. He downgrades Nature with a reckless chisel. Life becomes the Grand Illusion. With a facility in the manipulation of the virtual presences, the primal Superman was born. With perfection in the art, a second Devil took charge. It was then that man came to defy the God. The interminable conflict thrusting the virtual presences against the real intensifies. R. G. H. Siu

Upon Awakening the Buddha realized emptiness and the illusion of duality and a substantial Self- the consequences of the ignorance of dualistic thinking is expressed well in the following quote by Professor l. k. Tong-‘And so you opted for the substantialist’s art of self-making, Cutting off all umbilical cords to the Mother of Field-Being. You first dignify yourself in the kingly robes of an independent entity, enthroning yourself in the lonely kingdom of ego-substance. Then with the projective magic of your subjective substantiality, you objectify everything on your way to Godlike rigidity. And with the pointing of the substantializing wand, a bond was broken; a shade of mutuality has withered and waned. Now everything becomes merely external and separate from everything else. External is your objective world, you objectified a God, and your objectified self. Anything you cannot safely possess and control you relegate to the dark side of the Other, the Hell, the objective pole, And condemned it as ugly, or evil. Oh, in carrying your Godlike rigidity to all eternity (as if you were in fact rigidly eternal), you, a virtuoso in dualization, have created the most unhappy situation.’

In the Kalamas Sutta, the Buddha said, ‘Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.’ 
Many honest seekers today of the Truth, like the Kalamas, become confused and worried by the many conflicting and inconsistent sects and theologies that are pronounced daily by so many people calling themselves the ‘light to follow’. The Buddha provided a simple and direct test to guide us to know the truth of his teaching: trust yourself, your own experience, and through your experience of the correct teachings which you have found to be reliable and insightful – follow and use. Those people who are “the wise” will teach with the plan that you will see the benefit for yourself through your experience and transformation and not through blind faith and, therefore, you don’t become a slave to their wisdom, instead, you use your reason, your common sense, and your own experience as the ultimate guide and confirmation. So you develop insights for yourself ultimately. While you can benefit from reading books and listening to teachers, etc, your true reliance is upon your real understanding created through the real work that must ultimately be done in transforming and purifying our individual mind. In the end you know for yourself the confirmation of the Buddha’s teachings – there is suffering and the ending of suffering- and this is the only authority needed or desirable.

‘To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to purify one’s mind—this is the teaching of the Buddhas.’ (Dhammapada 183.) Throughout human history, innumerable plans and schemes and doctrines have been invented to make people happy, serene and compassionate by making changes in human’s external conditions while leaving the quality of the mentality untouched and the result has over and over again been the same- failure. The Buddha taught that this failure is so because the very nature of our external existence is only changed by the purification of our conscious awareness. The difficulty for human history and never finding the key to happiness and compassion is that purification of one’s mind takes effort, diligence and devoted practice to be successful. We must have constant unceasing vigilance and mindfulness to break the old unwholesome mental habits which are so troublesome. The Buddha understood this but also understood the benefits that arise when we do the Eightfold Path with the result of Nibbana. ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Nibbana.’— AN 3.32

To purify our mind as the Buddha taught, we need to release any anger or resentments toward others or our self. When we experience hurt, disappointment, deception, etc, from other people, these feelings sink into our memory and cause inflamed and festering emotional/psychological wounds of anger, resentment and possibly revenge. To purify our mind, we need to forgive. Forgiveness is a conscious, willing decision to release any feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness is difficult and it does not mean condoning or excusing offenses nor does it does obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you or releases them from accountability. Instead, forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger and resentment. Forgiveness involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings but also maintaining a feeling of at least neutral goodwill toward everyone who may have injured you in any way. In that way, you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal. By forgiveness, you set yourself free from the attachment to the link that you maintain even mentally to the past and the negativity. Setting yourself free from the attachment, releases you. This includes forgiveness of oneself for actions you did that you now understand was unwholesome and unskillful. Through purification and letting go of the guilt or resentment, happiness and peace will follow as well as increased wisdom and equanimity.

Fascinating and Mysterious Life

11 Aug

This small project of mine began a few winters ago after I had time to begin to search for some further trends in thinking from some of my previous experiences and research in the area of Buddhism and science. It has turned into a fun and interesting search of ideas which are presented here as quotes. Life ideas are like reading a good mystery novel where the plot twists and turns as you contunue the story and you are never really sure what is the “truth”. While no “truth” is always forthcoming, ‘trends’, patterns, “evidence” starts to appear which create important hypothesis or propositions about the nature of life, reality, knowledge, etc, as well as show the mystery, complexity and strangeness of life. I share those now on my blog(s). I hope you enjoy the thread!                                                                                                                                                                                             —————————————————————————————————————————-

Mystery is not something negative that has to be eliminated. On the contrary, it is one of the constitutive elements of being. B.D’Espagnat  

Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine. A. Eddington

The Big Bang Theory is just a model and is not accepted by all astronomers – although the vast majority of the do accept it. This idea proposes that 14 billion years ago the energy of the Universe was suddenly created, with all the energy required to produce it concentrated into what was essentially a point, a point with no volume referred to by scientists as a singularity. From that point the Universe expanded outwards and 14 billion years later has evolved into what we observe today. The implication of this model is that, at the instant the Universe began, space and time did not exist. One cannot refer to a time before the Big Bang because there was no such thing as time before the Universe began. Again, one cannot ask what the Universe expanded into because the only space that exists is within the bounds of the expanding Universe. … On the basis of the Big Bang theory what was the Universe like at the instant it began? It was an unimaginable concentration of just pure energy – no matter could exist. Then it began to expand and, once this happened, then time and space came into existence. … From the beginning to 10(-12) seconds, there would be no clear distinction between energy and matter and the forces that operated would be of an unfamilar kind. During this period there occurred a rapid expansion … at a speed greater than light. Michael M. Woolfson

Steven Hawking, George Ellis, and Roger Penrose. According to their calculations, time and space had a finite beginning that corresponded to the origin of matter and energy.”3 The singularity didn’t appear in space; rather, space began inside of the singularity. Prior to the singularity, nothing existed, not space, time, matter, or energy – nothing. So where and in what did the singularity appear if not in space? We don’t know. We don’t know where it came from, why it’s here, or even where it is. All we really know is that we are inside of it and at one time it didn’t exist and neither did we. There was no explosion; there was (and continues to be) an expansion. Rather than imagining a balloon popping and releasing its contents, imagine a balloon expanding: an infinitesimally small balloon expanding to the size of our current universe. anonymous

The cyclic universe model *space and time exist forever *the big bang is not the beginning of time; rather, it is a bridge to a pre-existing contracting era *the Universe undergoes an endless sequence of cycles in which it contracts in a big crunch and re-emerges in an expanding big bang, with trillions of years of evolution in between *the temperature and density of the universe do not become infinite at any point in the cycle; indeed, they never exceed a finite bound (about a trillion trillion degrees) *no inflation has taken place since the big bang; the current homogeneity and flatness were created by events that occurred before the most recent big bang *the seeds for galaxy formation were created by instabilities arising as the Universe was collapsing towards a big crunch, prior to our big bang. In the new paradigm, each cycle proceeds through a period of radiation and matter domination consistent with standard cosmology, producing the observed primordial abundance of elements, the cosmic microwave background, the expansion of galaxies, etc. For the next trillion years or more, the Universe undergoes a period of slow cosmic acceleration (as detected in recent observations1), which ultimately empties the Universe of all of the entropy and black holes produced in the preceding cycle and triggers the events that lead to contraction and a big crunch. Note that dark energy is not simply added on — it plays an essential role. The transition from big crunch to big bang automatically replenishes the Universe by creating new matter and radiation. Gravity and the transition from big crunch to big bang keep the cycles going forever.Paul J. Steinhardt

Eventually the universe will become a cold, dead wasteland with a temperature approaching what scientists term “absolute zero”. Professor Priyamvada Natarajan (which contradicts the Cyclic Model)

And so without even quoting about string theory or M theory, the obvious question that goes beyond our present ability of understanding is the question “how did it all begin” or “where did the massive energy that appeared to become our known universe orginate?”, etc.. These questions can also become the fodder for religious thought, ie “God created the Universe” and it can be left at that for at this point science just can’t answer that question. Neither “answer” can be “correct” because science admits it is unanswerable and religion takes it on faith. So, as T. Caryle says, the world is an inscrutable and magical place. Rodger

Wonder is retained by wise pondering.” –Ravi Zacharias

Xuan(Tao) is the dark mystery beyond all mysteries.Han Zhongli

The more I learn, the more I understand that life is amazing, sensitive, responsive, mysterious  and totally interconnected . -Rodger  

It remains admitted that to this day we don’t have a convincing notion of why there is something, why not merely nothing: What “spiritus rectot breathes fire into the equations and makes the universe for them to describe?”- raising the question, what do the laws of nature permit beyond what actually exists? H. Genz  

In the realm of particle collisions and quantum processes, antimatter is produced as often as ordinary matter. In fact, the big bang should have produced equal amounts of both—not a good thing, because each piece of antimatter would destroy an equal amount of matter. The big bang should thus have created universe of only light and energy, free of any solids, liquids or gases. So, some sort of asymmetry occurred that skewed the universe’s evolution toward matter. It would not have taken much—just one extra matter particle for every billion particle-antiparticle pairs. Researchers have discovered an asymmetry between the behavior of matter and of antimatter, called charge–parity violation, which could have skewed things to our side of the material world. But for this subtle bias to translate into an excess of matter, the primordial universe would have had to go through a wrenching period of imbalanced conditions, and so far no one knows how that might have happened.Philip Yam      

We are mounds of quarks in trios, we are proton-and-electron families. …There is but a single family on this planet, just one life-form stretching out its tendrils, testing possibilities as dust and stars did once upon a time. Face it, we are all in this together, microbes, seaweed, starfish, salamanders, humans, every strange extrusion of nucleic acid chains. We are the kin of yeast, the brothers of cockroaches, the sisters of sugar beets, and the cousins of maize. We share a common birthright born of ancient gene-and-membrane teams. All of us are children in the clan of DNA. Howard Bloom

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. –Albert Einstein  

The religion of future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description… If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism. perhaps Albert Einstein

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the “Universe,”a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something seperate from the rest – a kind of optical illusion of his consciouness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security. Einstein

We know from science that nothing in the universe exists as an isolated or independent entity. M.Wheatley

The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.S.J.Gould

This world, after all our science and sciences, is still a miracle; wonderful, inscrutable, magical and more, to whosoever will think of it. T. Carlye

What is the mind of ours? Last week’s potatoes!…The atoms come into my brain, dance and dance and then go out-there are always new atoms but always doing the same dance, remembering what the dance was yesterday.  RP Feynman  

“… all those who apprehend the single significant whole, or experience cosmic religious feeling, with or without the awareness of the existence of the principle of cosmic order, are engaged in similar acts of communion with the Whole. Yet any translation into conscious content of that experience , in scientific or religious thought, invokes reductionism where it cannot be applied. …all knowledge in the conscious content is a differentiated system that cannot by definition articulate the universal principle of order. Just as there can be no one-to-one correspondence between physical theory and physical reality, there can be no such correspondence between religious descriptions of beings and Being itself.” and ” … conceiving of a human being, as Einstein put it, as “part of the whole” is the leap of perspective that will prove most critical. It is only in making this leap that we can begin, as he suggests, to free ourselves of the ‘optical illusions’ of our present conception of self as a “part limited in time and space”, and to widen “our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty”.  and ” The central problem… has been trying to “prove” the existence of Being when it can never be proven because of its inherent undivided wholeness. Being neither requires or permits “proof”. It merely is, and accepting this abundantly obvious fact can provide a “foundation”, as Einstein put it, ‘for our inner security.’ …the description of the parts cannot disclose the existence or nature of the Whole. Yet one cannot, of course, merely reason or argue oneself into an acceptance of this proposition. One must have the capacity for what Einstein termed ‘cosmic religious feeling.’  Hopefully many of those who have the capacity will also communicate their awareness to others in metaphoric representations in ordinary language with enormous emotional appeal. …As described by Jonas Salk: ‘…By using the processes of Nature as metaphor, to describe the forces of the Cosmos by which it operates upon and within Man, we come as close to describing ‘reality’ as we can within the limits of our comprehension. Men will be very uneven in their capacity for such understanding, which, naturally, differs for different ages and cultures, and develops and changes over the course of time. For these reasons it will always be necessary to use metaphor and myth to provide ‘comprehensible’ guides to living. In this way, Man’s imagination and intellect play vital roles in his survival and evolution’.” from The Conscious Universe  

“The whole is something else than the sum of its parts” K. Koffka

The usual conception of the world is that matter is “embedded in” space and time. …this cannot be the case. There are many factors which indicate that reality is “projected onto” space and time. … The picture and also its frame, space-time, are located in the mind of the observer….the fact that reality is not embedded in space-time but is rather projected onto space-time. …space-time is not installed in the brain as a definate system but it is only “inserted” if there is actually something to be portrayed or represented, i.e., when our sense organs register objects and processes from the reality outside. W. Schommers  

I am therefore inclinded to think that “the Real” – alais human-independent reality- is not embedded in space-time. And, indeed, I go so far as speculating that, quite on the contrary, the nature of space-time is… not “noumenal” but “phenomenal”, that space-time is a “reality-for-us.” B.d’Espagnat  

Time is a dimension in the domain of descriptions, not a feature of the ambience. H.Maturana

According to classical physics, the universe consists of bodies in space. We are tempted to assume, therefore, that we live in a physical world consisting of bodies in space and that what we percieve consists of objects in space. But this is very dubious. J.J.Gibson

Most of us still think like Newton, regarding space as sort of a vast container that has no walls. But our notion of space is false. Like time, space is neither physical nor fundamentally real in our view. Rather, it is a mode of interpretation and understanding. It is part of an animal’s mental software that molds sensations into multidimensional objects. time does not exist independently of the life that notices it. Robert Lanza and Bob Berman  

The concept of time cannot actually be understood. We are accustomed to thinking that time is something which can be found or which one has. But it actually has no existence. The physicist says time is something that can be measured in one way or another by a clock. But what does the clock measure. Nothing but time!E. Dammann   

In recent years many planets have been found around nearby main-sequence stars, all of the Population 1 variety, and it is generally accepted that the material of these planets will have come from the same source as that which formed the parent star. This is how the material that formed our world came into being – its atmosphere and solid substance, the biosphere and everything within it, including us. An eminent American astronomer, Carl Sagen (1934-96), a great expositor of popular science, once described humankind as being evolved from star stuff. How right he was! Look around you- look in a mirror. All the matter that you see, living and non-living, has been through the violence of several supernovae, and may do so many times more in the distant future. Michael M Woolfson  

Unknowingly, we plow the dust of stars, blown about us by the wind, and drink the universe in a glass of rain.–Ihab Hassan  

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator 1830 – 1890 

So, I don’t really know how to justify my love for the electron. Perhaps it is because an electron has no location. Electrons interact via the electromagnetic field, aka the photon. All the electrons in the universe and all the photons in the universe are talking to each other all the time. They are all connected, no matter how far apart, by the electromagnetic field, which has infinite range.Jon Butterworth 

The Veil of Unknowing: The Inscrutability of Existence

9 Jul

 

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed. The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.” Albert Einstein

This short essay takes serious the advice of Albert Einstein and will satisfactorily clarify the title in a couple of paragraphs. One of the topics that I discussed in my books, The Teachings of the Buddha: Seeing Without Illusion and The Buddha’s Radical Psychology: An Exploration is that we and all living beings are confronted with the fact that because of our evolutionary biological constitution we are like the men of the well-known ‘Blind Men and Elephant’ parable. The story goes that a long time ago a raja gather together all the men of a town who were congenitally blind. He presented to each man different parts of the elephant: to one the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant. Then he asked each to describe the elephant. The men who were presented with the head answered, ‘Sire, an elephant is like a pot.’ And the men who had inspected the ear replied, ‘An elephant is like a winnowing basket.’ Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a plowshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a granary; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, etc. Then they began to quarrel, shouting, ‘Yes it is!’ ‘No, it is not!’ ‘An elephant is not that!’ ‘Yes, it’s like that!’ and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.

Now this parable has two lessons: one is that of the nature of dogmatic points of view and more for this essay the nature of knowledge. For if the elephant represents existence in the sense of the external environment, human beings are like the blind men of the story when it comes to comprehending the nature of existence. We can’t understand yet we keep thinking we can. Also for some this has the consequence of dogmatic thinking.

The reason we can’t know the veiled nature of existence is really quite obvious and depends on only two factors. The first and primary factor is that we are physical beings and as physical beings, we interact and input the sense data from the external environment through a highly selective physical apparatus – our body. We, and by the nature of it, all physical beings, have by necessity certain senses which have adapted over our evolutionary history to be sensitive to only a very restricted range of available sense data. It is through this highly limited input of the overall possible data that we then construct with our cognitive apparatus our ‘world’ or our personal idiosyncratic significance and meaning of the external world. In fact, this construction is an illusion of the veiled reality of existence and is dependent on our particular species nervous system and brain structure.

Therefore, we see that existence which is our ‘grounding’ is inscrutable and unknowable. Just to give a few examples of our very limited range of the known frequencies in the universe – we might not be aware of many other existent manifestations – what we call visible light is just one ten-billionth of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum. So, we’re only seeing a very tiny sliver of that, because we have biological receptors that are tuned into that little part of the spectrum. Radio signals, mobile phone signals, television signals, and many other signals are going right through our body without our awareness because we do not have biological receptors for that part of the spectrum. Also, while the human ear is capable of hearing many sounds produced in nature, certainly not all. The normal range of hearing for a healthy young person is 20 to 20,000 Hz so a heartbeat of 1 or 2 Hz cannot be heard and neither can we detect frequencies as high as 100,000 Hz as most bats can.

Then after receiving the various available sense inputs, our brain processes these inputs and then constructs an interpretation of that information so we can make sense out of the raw data we receive. This construction becomes our ‘world’ or our sphere or scene of our inner life. While in an evolutionary way this process has been successful to allow survival and adaption; in the larger sense living creatures are embedded and encapsulated in their own worlds unable to fully comprehend the larger universe because it is impossible to input all that information and then create a model about it. In fact, even the type or form of thoughts we can think are constrained by our biology and even more surprising Space and Time is also manufactured by our brain. So we live in a veiled universe and us mere mortals will never totally be able to see beyond the veil.

Familiarity with nature never breeds contempt. The more one learns, the more one expects surprises, and the more one becomes aware of the inscrutable. Archibald Rutledge