The nature of reality

Hmmm. Reality. Interesting concept, but do we have a clue as to what it really is?

Well, actually, no. All we have is this consensus. We all agree that things are pretty much as they seem. But, it could be, as George Musser says, that

The universe we see playing out in space may be just the surface level, where we float like little boats while leviathans stir in the deep. [from: Musser, George. Spooky Action at a Distance: The Phenomenon That Reimagines Space and Time–and What It Means for Black Holes, the Big Bang, and Theories of Everything (p. 182). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.]

Mosser says that many of the leading researchers and theorists in physics and the related fields of quantum mechanics and such question the very ground of assumptions that science has made for the past several centuries. “Localism” or the idea that things have a position in space – pretty basic assumption, right? — is no longer held to be a valid scientific idea.

Which is confirmed by recent, high-level experiments reported in this Atlantic article, and is increasingly becoming the consensus opinion of scientists in the field. Borrowing a very telling metaphor from physicist and philosopher Jenann Ismael, Musser says:

Today we know that the universe has more to it than things situated within space. Nonlocal phenomena leap out of space; they have no place in its confines. They hint at a level of reality deeper than space, where the concept of distance ceases to apply, where things that appear to lie far apart are actually nearby or perhaps are the same thing manifested in more than one place, like multiple images of a single shard of kaleidoscopic glass. When we think in terms of such a level, the connections between subatomic particles across a lab bench, between the inside and the outside of a black hole, and between opposite sides of the universe don’t seem so spooky anymore.

Ismael says that like a kaleidoscope, where a single bead of glass is “redundantly represented” in different parts of the view screen of the device, what we are learning about the nature of reality means

…seeing space as we know it— everyday space in which we view measurement events located at different parts of space— as an emergent structure. Maybe when we’re looking at two parts, we’re seeing the same event. We’re interacting with the same bit of reality from different parts of space.

In other words, space – in fact, the so-called “space-time continuum” – doesn’t really ‘exist’ in the way we usually think of that term. We are seeing effects from some deeper level of whose nature we have no notion. Physicists are just beginning to suggest various ways of thinking about this, ideas for ideas, that may eventually lead to an understanding of at least a theory of what it actually is, even though it’s very unlikely we’ll ever have evidence or experience of that actuality itself. An emergent structure. A reality that is emerging from some other, unknown, level. Spacetime is an experience that we have, but that manifestation is coming from some other more basic reality.

Bogles the mind really. But that’s because we’re trying to think of these things in terms of space, in terms of locality, in terms of our experience. Because that’s the only way our mind works. So scientists engaging this question are looking for a completely new way of conceiving of reality. Pretty challenging.

As Musser says, “This thinking completely inverts physics. Nonlocality is no longer the mystery; it’s the way things really are, and locality becomes the puzzle. When we can no longer take space for granted, we have to explain what it is and how it arises, either on its own or in union with time.”

These building blocks of spacetime would have neither size nor location, much as a molecule of water is not “wet”. Only the combination of the molecules produces the phenomena we know as water, with all it’s attendant properties. Or like building a model of the Eiffle Tower with popsicle sticks.

In this approach, space is thought of as a notion that explains, or organizes in a convenient way, what we experience. That we might eventually develop a theory that explains that notion in a more causal, existential way is pretty exciting to me.

I intend to try to keep up with the progress in this area, and try to understand it. Which is what leads me to blog about it, creating a new category here, “Quantum Reality” to help me follow and develop my own understanding. Hope some of you find that interesting and will join me in this fascinating quest.

 

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That wrecking ball…

“And wouldn’t time seem so kindly,
if every bright-eyed girl could be
more like you, and
shelter me
from that
wreckin’ ball… that wreckin’ ball.”

–Andrew Marlin (Mandolin Orange)

Ah yes, we look for shelter in every corner, every thought as we feel the onrushing of impermanence, shunyata filling every experience. Such a human thing.

But though it seems helpful, shelter in the long run is itself part of the damage we do to ourselves, part of the grasping for the pleasant rather than the difficult, part of what Stephen Batchelor calls “the default habit of seeing the world as being hostile, desirable or boring.”

In his recent book After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age, Batchelor translates tanha, understood in the Dharma as the cause of suffering and usually rendered as ‘craving’ or ‘desire’, as reactivity. Letting go of reactivity – or creating the conditions under which release may happen, which is really all we can do – comes from understanding, he says.

To release oneself from the hold of this behavior [reactivity] requires coming to a mature comprehension of one’s mortality, of how each fragile moment rests on the pumping of a muscle and the drawing of a breath. [p. 78]

Though I’ve only read a bit of this book, which my teacher introduced at a recent retreat, I’m finding it full of profound new insights and very helpful as I continue my lifetime effort to understand the Dharma and live my life in an authentic, integrated way.

Hsin Hsin Ming

Long ago, early in my practice, I came across the line “Search not for the truth, only cease to cherish opinions.” It has always held much meaning for me, though I never really knew where it came from. This past weekend, my dharma mentor, Therese, sent me this old Chan poem:

Hsin Hsin Ming, or Trust in Mind

(attributed to the Third Chán Patriarch, Jianzhi Sengcan 鑑智僧璨, from the sixth century, but scholars think the poem may be from several centuries later in the Tang)

The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent
Everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
And heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth,
Then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
Is the disease of the mind.

When the deep meaning of things is not understood,
The mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.
The Way is perfect like vast space where nothing is lacking
And nothing is in excess.

Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
That we do not see the true nature of things.
Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,
Nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
Be serene in the oneness of things and such erroneous views
Will disappear by themselves.
When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity,
Your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other,
You will never know Oneness.
Those who do not live in the single Way
Fail in both activity and passivity, assertion and denial.
To deny the reality of things is to miss their reality;
To assert the emptiness of things is to miss their reality.
The more you talk and think about it,
The further astray you wander from the truth.
Stop talking and thinking,
And there is nothing you will not be able to know.
To return to the root is to find the meaning,
But to pursue appearances is to miss the source.
At the moment of inner enlightenment,
There is a going beyond appearance and emptiness.
The changes that appear to occur in the empty world
We call real only because of our ignorance.
Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.
Do not remain in the dualistic state; avoid such pursuits carefully. If there is even a trace of this and that, of right and wrong,
The Mind-essence will be lost in confusion.
Although all dualities come from the One,
Do not be attached even to this One.

When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way,
Nothing in the world can offend,
And when a thing can no longer offend,
It ceases to exist in the old way.

When no discriminating thought arises the old mind ceases to exist. When thought objects vanish, the thinking subject vanishes,
As when the mind vanishes, objects vanish.
Things are objects because of the subject (mind);
The mind (subject) is such because of things (objects).
Understand the relativity of these two and the basic reality:
The unity of emptiness.
In this Emptiness the two are indistinguishable,
And each contains in itself the whole world.
If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine,
You will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.
To live in the Great Way is neither easy nor difficult,
But those with limited views are fearful and irresolute:
The faster they hurry, the slower they go,
And clinging cannot be limited;
And even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment is to go astray. Just let things be in their own way,
And there will be neither coming nor going.
Obey the nature of things (your own nature),
And you will walk freely and undisturbed.
When thought is in bondage the truth is hidden,
For everything is murky and unclear, and the burdensome
Practice of judging brings annoyance and weariness.
What benefit can be derived from distinctions and separations?
If you wish to move in the One Way do not dislike
Even the world of senses and ideas.
Indeed, to accept them fully is identical with true Enlightenment. The wise person strives to no goals
But the foolish person fetters himself.

This is one Dharma, not many;
Distinctions arise from the clinging needs of the ignorant.
To seek Mind with the (discriminating) mind
is the greatest of all mistakes.
Rest and unrest derive from illusion;
With enlightenment there is no liking or disliking.
All dualities come from ignorant inference;
They are like dreams of flowers in the air: foolish to try to grasp them. Gain and loss, right and wrong:
Such thoughts must finally be abolished at once.
If the eye never sleeps, all dreams will naturally cease.
If the mind makes no discriminations,
The ten thousand things are as they are, of single essence.

To understand the mystery of the One-essence
Is to be released from all entanglements.
When all things are seen equally the timeless Self-essence is reached. No comparisons or analogies are possible in this
Causeless, relationless state.
Consider movement stationary and the stationary in motion,
Both movement and rest disappear.
When such dualities cease to exist Oneness itself cannot exist.
To this ultimate finality no law or description applies.
For the unified mind in accord with the Way
All self-centered straining ceases.
Doubts and irresolutions vanish and life in true faith is possible.
With a single stroke we are freed from bondage;
Nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing.
All is empty, clear, self-illuminating,
With no exertion of the mind’s power.
Here thought, feeling, knowledge, and imagination are of no value.
In this world of suchness there is neither self nor other-than-self.
To come directly into harmony with this reality,
Just simply say when doubt arises, “Not two.”
In this “not two” nothing is separate, nothing excluded.
No matter when or where, enlightenment means entering this truth. And this truth is beyond extension or diminution in time or space;
In it a single thought is ten thousand years.
Emptiness here, emptiness there,
But the infinite universe stands always before your eyes.
Infinitely large and infinitely small; no difference,
For definitions have vanished and no boundaries are seen.
So too with Being and non-Being.
Don’t waste time in doubts and arguments
that have nothing to do with this.
One thing, all things: move among and intermingle, without distinction. To live in this realization is to be without anxiety about non-perfection. To live in this faith is the road to nonduality,
Because the nondual is one with the trusting mind.
Words! The Way is beyond language,
For in it there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today.

 

Branching out…

I am actively stepping out into a quest for a personally real path. My vague, desultory wandering for the past year (or two) is taking me nowhere.

These are some thoughts I just picked up that I want to build this post around, but I’m putting it out there in raw form so that I don’t vacillate or shrink from the challenge. I will edit this, well, fill in the gaps outlining what all this means and what I’m thinking, and then repost it with a better title.

My lojong/tonglen practice, weak as it has been, has been leading me in a tantric direction, essentially since I realized a year or so ago that a path based on renunciation does not and will not work for me.

These quotes and links are from my recent explorations into Vajrayana:

Chapman: “The Tantric attitude systematically reverses the attitude of mainstream Buddhism. If you are a non-Tantric Buddhist, and if the Tantric attitude seems attractive or obvious, you might want to wonder why you are practicing a religion based on its opposite.”

Sky Serpent:
“You can do magical practices without assuming anything about them. You can just do the practice, and see what happens. If you do those practices with naive expectations, like “I’m going to shoot fireballs out of my eyes”, you are most likely to get disappointed and not to pay attention to actual results. If you are too skeptical, you do not really go for it, and as such you do not do the actual practice. Ambiguity and playful attitude is the best position.”

Peter Snowdon:

“My hypothesis is, that ordinary people have always had such an ambivalent attitude towards the concrete power of healers, magicians, and other shamanic types, and that this is the natural and right attitude to have towards them. If you come from a materialist-scientific culture, then you are likely to fall into two, symmetrical two traps: total denial of these powers, on the grounds that they are incompatible with (i.e. challenge) your scientific world view, and supposing that people who make use of the services of such healers/magicians must believe in them in some straightforward, literal way, the way that you might believe in the force of gravity, and therefore need to be rescued from ignorance and illusion. Often, when we ascribe superstition to others, I think we are just back-projecting onto them our own superstitious confidence in science, and ignoring the complexity of thought that is natural to people who don’t read books or spend half their lives lost in ‘thought’, but who do have to deal daily with very real situations and who therefore assess methods and techniques not on the basis of their authority or theory, but by their results.”

Chapman: “For me, the heart of the Tantric path is not magical methods or esoteric concepts. It is an attitude; a stance; a way of being. It is the attitude of passionate and spacious engagement with this world. It is an ecstatic and agonizing love-affair with everyday reality.
…Any activity—mopping the floor, designing a web page—can be Tantric practice, if you approach it with whole-hearted, spacious passion. This open-endedness makes possible the constant creative innovation that marks much of Tantra’s history.”
Tantra: (from Arobuddhism.org)
“Tantric Buddhism employs the urgent energies of agony and ecstasy, lust and hatred, paranoia and greed to transform our confusion into enlightenment.

Tantra is radically positive insanity. Tantra is the hot blood of kindness. Tantra conjures with the electricity of being: the shimmering voltage that crackles ecstatically between emptiness and form. Tantra is the alchemy of transformation by which we re-create ourselves limitlessly according to the kaleidoscopic pattern of moments that comprises our experience.”

Lojong #14 – Seeing confusion…

Lojong #14

Seeing confusion as the four kayas

Is unsurpassable shunyata protection.

This is among the Lojong slogans that I love most. It carries deep and profound meaning and can be a powerful key to awakening, but it is also one of the most obscure of the slogans.

The clarifying insight – the message – of this Lojong is at the heart of why we are practicing. Its essential teaching is that observing the process of the mind in response to life’s challenges is one of the best ways to experience the liberating insight into the wisdom that everything is empty of separate, abiding existence.

To explain how that comes out of these few words requires some translation and background.

The four kayas are the four ‘bodies of emptiness’: dharmakaya, sambogakaya, nirmankaya, and svabhavikakaya. Without going into the theory of these too much, suffice it to say that they describe four states of mind that one goes through in the process of perception. They are simply translated as confusion, clarity, relating the two, and seeing the whole.

Careful observation of the mental processes reveals this process. When one is confronted with something new, confusion and bewilderment reign. After some experience, clarity about what is being perceived begins to dawn. Then one relates the new understanding to the original confusion, and finally one’s comprehension begins to see the totality of the whole, ‘total panoramic experience’, as Chogyam Trungpa says.

Watching this happen often enough finally leads to the perfect understanding that whatever happens, this is the process. We are not stuck at any stage, not stuck with our thoughts, not stuck with our selves. Trungpa explains that in svabhavikakaya, one has transcended the notions of the birth, subsiding and dwelling of thoughts. The idea of protection is that this understanding can free one from clinging to the self and its thoughts; indeed, when one realizes the truth of no self, it becomes clear that there’s nothing to protect!

We all are suspended in shunyata, suspended in the emptiness of the phenomenal play. When the deep implications of this are internalized, it is very freeing.

Trungpa says that this liberation comes from

understanding your mind by studying and watching yourself and by practicing shamatha and vipashyana. By practicing those disciplines, you being to realize that the essence of your mind is empty… That realization can only come about when you are sitting on the cushion. Only on the cushion can you see that your mind has no origin.

(Shamatha is basic mindfulness/concentration meditation, the first stage in the meditation process. Vipashyana (or vipassana in Pali) is meditation aimed at insight into the true nature of reality. By ‘on the cushion’ he means during meditation practice.)

Mind and thoughts and all of the phenomena we experience have no origin; they are unborn, as we saw in Lojong #3. This means we can be free of much of the worry and stress and driven behavior that plague our lives. It can all be seen in a very playful, relaxed way because we understand that we are always engaged in continual awakening.

 

 

Authentic Living #5

Authentic living begins with recognition of the illusions that dominate our thinking. We have all been programmed.

The more solid, affluent, and stable your upbringing, the more effective your programming likely was. All those rewards and punishments… all those sweet succorings… piles and piles of bullshit heaped on your head so that your thinking now stinks with the profound and deep corruption and degradation of it all.

And the name of all that programming is simple: separation.

As I outlined in the previous essay, we are taught, nay, conditioned, to believe that ours is a realm of ultimate dualities: mind and body, matter and spirit, good and bad; the idea that we as humans and as individuals are separate from nature, from each other, from God, even from the very universe itself. Separate in some kind of very special way that allows us to be as nasty as we like to each other, to the Earth, to other species – with impunity.

This cultural programming leaves us incapable of compassion and locked into some notion of spirituality as obeisance to a being outside of the natural order, subservience to some wholly ‘other’ deity who lives in a realm beyond matter. Outside this spirituality, we are left with meaningless lives in a meaningless universe of blind accident and rigid causation. This duality has driven us insane.

It drives the shallow, fearful, materialistic lives we lead, it engenders our selfish justifications of our poor treatment of others, it fosters endless violence, war, and genocide, and most recently it has produced the conditions that are the continuing ruination of the biosphere.

—–

Our survival as a species, and likely the survival of the biosphere itself, depends on transcending this conditioning, this hammered-in notion of our dualistic nature in a dualistic universe.

Charles Eisenstein, author of several books on the insanities of modern civilization – most recently The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible – articulates the need for deep change as eloquently as anyone I’ve read. Eisenstein identifies a number of fallacies in the ideology of control, which is our dominant cultural feature and derives from the belief in our separate, discrete existence.

Speaking of ecological problems as one example, he says we tend to think we can fix things by identifying the ‘cause.’ “Fine,” he continues, “but what if the cause is everything? Economy, politics, emissions, agriculture, medicine  …   all the way to religion, psychology, our basic stories through which we apprehend the world? We face then the futility of control and the necessity for transformation.”

And how is this transformation to be realized? Eisenstein says:

We need to rediscover the mind of nature, to return to our original animism and the ensouled universe it perceived. We need to understand nature, the planet, the sun, the soil, the water, the mountains, the rocks, the trees, and the air as sentient beings whose destiny is not separate from our own.

In language reminiscent of Matthew 25:40 – And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me – Eisenstein says this transformation must reach deep. “We and Earth are one. As above, so below: what we do to each other, even to the smallest animal or plant, we do to all creation.” Including ourselves. This is transformation that goes deeper than most of what passes for ‘alternative’ or ‘radical’ strategies; it is a transformation of our deepest knowing.

Eisenstein also invokes the concept of “interbeing”, which I first encountered in the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen monk whose Buddhism is strongly influenced by the Theravada tradition that dominates in southeast Asia.

Interbeing – as the neologism suggests – is the idea that everything that exists is intricately and intimately interconnected at the level of its very existence.

This idea is drawn from ancient Buddhist teachings about impermanence and emptiness. Buddha described existence in terms of paticca samuppada – a Sanskrit term which in simplest translation means “the dependent co-arising of phenomena.” In other words, everything has come into being in ways that are dependent on everything else. Nothing exists separately, independently, discretely. The deeper implication is that we don’t live in a universe in which things can be divided up into sacred and profane, holy and worldly, spiritual and material, but rather, everything is sacred, and we are all spirit.

Writer Joanna Macy says that paticca samuppada is what the Buddha awoke to; it is the content of his enlightenment.

This notion is also inherent in Christian teachings, though it has for the most part been lost. A primary Christian doctrinal proposition is that Christ was (is) “wholly human, wholly divine.” And Christ said, “I and the Father are One.”

This concept appears in the later, more philosophical Buddhist teachings as the idea of ‘emptiness’ – which means, as I presented in the original post on this blog, that “everything in existence, including you and me, is void or ‘empty’ of an inherent self-nature because everything is so intricately and inextricably linked with everything else that there is really only one thing and this is it, you are it, God is it, I am it, your toenail clipping on the floor under the bed from last week is it, and so… absolutely anything and everything that exists or happens or appears was, is, and will always be infinitely and completely wonderful, exquisite and delightful.”

——

Clearly this is not a concept that one can arrive at very easily through our normal logical processes, and certainly not when one is as strongly conditioned as most of us have been to see the world in a dualistic way. In order to have a strong, clear understanding of interbeing, it seems that some kind of deep transformational experiences are required, the kinds of experiences that come from long, deep meditation and other intense spiritual practices.

But the experience of this notion in a direct, undeniable way will transform your thinking and your very mode of being in the world.

It is this transformation, not some bland experience of calm peacefulness, which is the point of the kind of meditation the Buddha describes and what has been taught in the few Buddhist traditions that have preserved Buddha’s original intent.

It is this transformation that is required to truly live authentically in the world as it exists today.

Buddhist Christians…

Interesting article on the Buddhist Broadcasting Network – I didn’t even know Buddhists broadcasted! – about Christians finding support for living authentic lives, and support for their Christianity, in Buddhist teachings and practice.

I found this sentence especially interesting:

Sandra turns to Buddhism because she believes that its teaching of no-ego or no-self, when understood experientially and not just intellectually, is itself an essential dimension of the journey to God.

Sandra is a Catholic nun who leads retreats. She says:

“Christianity and Buddhism agree that the spiritual pilgrimage involves an absolute letting go, or dropping away, of all that a person knows of self and God. Indeed, this is what happened in Jesus as he lay dying on the cross, and perhaps at many moments leading up to the cross. Only after the dying can new life emerge, in which there is in some sense ‘only God’ and no more ‘me.’ I see the cross as symbolizing this dying of self and resurrecting of new life that must occur within each of us. Buddhism helps me enter into that dying of self.”

I do think that there are some important theoretical and practical differences between Christianity and Buddhism, but it is interesting to read about these parallels and how non-dogmatic Christians are learning to access these helpful things from the old guy’s teachings!