Recently I’ve been reading Aldous Huxley’s book The Perennial Philosophy. The book is filled with wonderful quotations from great thinkers and spiritual teachers throughout all of history. One quotation from the Third Patriarch of Zen really grabbed me.
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties,
Except that it refuses to make preferences.
Only when freed from hate and love
Does it reveal itself fully and without disguise.
A tenth of an inch’s difference,
And heaven and earth are set apart.
If you wish to see it before your own eyes,
Have no fixed thoughts either for or against it.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
This is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of the Way is not understood,
Peace of mind is disturbed to no purpose. . . .
Pursue not the outer entanglements,
Dwell not in the inner void ;
Be serene in the oneness of things,
And dualism vanishes of itself.
When you strive to gain quiescence by stopping motion,
The quiescence so gained is ever in motion.
So long as you tarry in such dualism,
How can you realize oneness ?
And when oneness is not thoroughly grasped.
Loss is sustained in two ways :
The denying of external reality is the assertion of it.
And the assertion of Emptiness (the Absolute) is the denying
of it. . . .
Transformations going on in the empty world that confronts us
Appear to be real because of Ignorance.
Do not strive to seek after the True,
Only cease to cherish opinions.
The two exist because of the One ;
But hold not even to this One.
When a mind is not disturbed,
The ten thousand things offer no offence. . . .
If an eye never falls asleep,
All dreams will cease of themselves ;
If the Mind retains its absoluteness,
The ten thousand things are of one substance.
When the deep mystery of one Suchness is fathomed,
All of a sudden we forget the external entanglements ;
When the ten thousand things are viewed in their oneness,
We return to the origin and remain where we have always
been. . . .
One in all,
All in One
If only this is realized,
No more worry about not being perfect
There’s a lot to breakdown in that passage, but I don’t really plan to address all of it. What I do want to address is the idea that the progression of time (the Patriarch calls them ‘transformations’) only appears to be real to us because we are in a state of ignorance.
Being a physicist, a lot of this makes me think of it from that perspective. Let’s take where you’re sitting right now, in your bedroom, looking at your tablet, your phone, your computer, whatever it may be. If you step outside your home and take a look up at the night sky, you’re looking at infinity.
Did you know that according to our best cosmological models, space extends out forever and ever, and an infinite number of universes are being born, and every conceivable possibility is happening an infinite number of times, though at very large distances away from one another. For example, there are an infinite number of identical copies of you, also looking up at the night sky, at this exact moment. Literally every possibility that could exist does exist, or is in the process of being created this very second. This is the sort of conclusion you come to when studying what physicists call ‘eternal inflation’.
But that’s not all. Every possibility also exists alongside of you, in the very space all around you. There in your bedroom exists every possibility that has ever existed or will ever exist. You learn about this when you study the multi-verse and quantum mechanics. In fact, at any given moment, the entire world around you could “morph” and “transform” into literally any possibility at any given moment, but there is just a very low likelihood of a major transformation happening.
For example, every atom which makes up your computer has a tiny probability of basically manifesting itself at some other distant point in space at any given moment. So imagine if all of the atoms which currently make up your computer all transported (randomly) to some other location in your bedroom in some new configuration. There’s a slight possibility that your laptop computer could transform itself to a computer from the year 2300 and “appear” over on your bookshelf. Or even crazier, your little sister could spontaneously transform into a grey alien before your eyes.
Every single possibility that could ever manifest into reality is just waiting to pop into existence. But if that’s so, then how come time seems so orderly? From one moment to the next, things don’t seem to just up and randomly change into something else. We instead experience this orderly flow of “time”. For example, the computer from the year 2300 doesn’t appear until it’s first invented by somebody, who has to first engineer it, probably by improving a prior computer design from the year 2895 or something, etc.
But that is all just an illusion. Everything already exists. Everything that ever could be or will be is all around you, right now. It’s waiting to manifest. It’s already manifesting in different ways all over the cosmos. That reality where people’s little sisters are transforming into grey aliens is happening, an infinite number of times, in distant locations all throughout space.
Because think about it. If space is infinite, and there is a slight probability that any given possibility will “pop” into existence, then that event, however improbable, is happening an infinite number of times.
I oftentimes hear people say things like, “The universe is just going to expand away into nothing. The stars are going to burn out. It’s all meaningless. What’s the point of any of it?”
That’s only a half truth. Sure, if we use the laws of physics to predict what’s most likely to happen, and assume that possibility will the be the one that comes into existence, then yeah, the stars will run out of fuel and burn up, etc. But that’s not the entire picture. Given a long enough time (and time never ends), the laws of quantum mechanics predict that every possibility will happen in that given volume of space. Those atoms which are diluting and spreading out across space, along with all the cold star dust from burnt out stars, will spontaneously come back together into some orderly arrangement. In fact, eventually they’ll all spontaneously come back together into a singularity and a big bang will happen again, and again, and again. Universes will continue to be born, over and over, in that volume of so-called “dead” space.
There is no end to this place, there is just life, forever and ever and ever. Every conceivable possibility of life, forever.
I really wish all of you knew advanced physics. Those who think I’m making this stuff up, I would love to sit with you and show you all the experiments and tell you exactly why the universe that you live in works this way. But I can’t. It takes years to master all the mathematics and learn all the physics.
Believe me or not, it doesn’t really matter to me. I just simply want to ask you all, if that were the truth, how does that change your life at this given moment?
Think about people pushing you to achieve this or that. No matter what you achieve or accomplish, are you really bringing anything new into the universe that doesn’t already exist elsewhere, an infinite number of times? Or how about things you don’t do? In distant regions of space, and in parallel realities, “you” have already accomplished every possibility, an infinite number of times.
Let that sink in. Really sit down and ponder it for a while.
Do you get what the universe is doing? There are an infinite number of stages, each where any given circumstance or event can be experienced. This is an infinite playhouse. For whatever reason, you’re here to have the experience of being you, living the life you’re currently living. I suspect we chose to be here, or maybe even had some part in creating our current life and circumstances before we even came here. That’s what people tell you when they take high doses of a neuro-transmitter like DMT and short-circuit their brain temporarily and leave this “illusion” of time. But who knows.
Another thing I’ll point out is that I don’t believe there are any winners or losers in this game of life. Every possibility is available to all. Injustice can only exist if you assume that this is the only life you’ll ever experience, and that’s just an assumption, and nobody has any real idea what happens after we die. If I entered this infinite playhouse as one possibility (Jason the physicist), I see no reason to believe I can’t enter and experience it in other ways, living other lives and possibilities I can’t even currently imagine.
Also, I’ve been learning that happiness isn’t dependent on what you experience in the playhouse anyways. There is some deep you, beyond anything you experience, which can never be touched, which is always at peace. However, there is this “ego”, this “self” which is plopped down on top of that; it’s the illusory self which is being conjured by the playhouse. That illusory self seems to have all the problems, is filled with worry, anger, regret, resentment, you name it. But the illusory self is just a character, a sort of object which we experience up and close and personal while in the playhouse.
If you learn more about your mind, the playhouse doesn’t control you, at least not in any meaningful way. Circumstances may seem crazy and beyond your control, but your emotions are your own. Your happiness is always your own. What you have to do is release the power the illusory playhouse has over your mind by stepping out of the illusion, so to speak.
There’s no reason to love or hate anything, in the same way as when you load up a computer game and experience the plotline as the character on screen. You don’t think, “Oh this character is going through this crazy experience. How unfair! I won’t stand for this!” It’s just a story. It moves you one way or another emotionally, you learn some lessons from it, etc., but that’s it.
That’s what I think the Patriarch is talking about. You first have to relieve your mind of all these inner judgments about what you’re experiencing. You’re in some region of space and time, experiencing something. That’s all it is. An experience. It’s the same sort of thing as going to an art museum and seeing things on display, this is just far more vivid and more “in your face”. Just look at it, and live your life. Don’t be for this reality or against it. It is, and you are. Just experience it.
The Patriarch also talks a lot about oneness. In reality, you’re probably all the characters in this reality. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that you’ll have the chance to be all of them, or experience them in any way you wish, after this iteration of “life” is over. There’s no winners or losers. You’re not missing anything. For now, you’re here to be YOU, so be YOU, be present and alive as you. Pay attention to what’s happening to YOU. Be YOU.
I don’t think there’s anything you have to accomplish, and if so, I’m sure it’ll be easily apparent to you that you “should” do something or another. Don’t worry about having some cosmic impact, or leaving things behind. Why does it matter if you leave anything behind? Who is it for? For the next person who specifically “jumped” into this part of space and time, wanting to experience what you left behind? They wanted to experience the world you left behind, so let them, and don’t worry. They could’ve experienced anything different. It’s not like they were forced to inherit your mess.
There’s no point in saying “it’s all pointless.” What’s pointless about experiencing all possibilities? This place has a lot of limitation, but all forms of limitation are possibilities. You’re here now, experiencing this crazy world, then you go back to the source and can do whatever you want. Stop worrying.
If anyone cares to hear my crazy view on things, I think I was made in the image of God and am absolutely perfect. Jason, the human living on planet Earth is far from perfect, but he’s not me. Jason’s a character. I’m that which is beyond, and maybe always beyond whatever I experience. That might be why you can’t point to any given thing in this world, or any possibility, and say, “That is God.” This is why people in the Bible were specifically commanded not to build idols and worship them. That represents confusion as to God’s identity and your own. I suspect this is also why the hard problem of consciousness is insolvable.
God is always beyond it all, as am I considering I was made in this being’s image. God is a great potentiality which can manifest anything, an infinite power which transcends anything you can ever experience or imagine. Through all these fleeting forms we take on, maybe we slowly come to learn more and more about this divine being, who created us in its image, and whose image we are always trying to find and understand. The more we understand this divine nature, the more we’re capable of living full, happy lives, in this world, and every possibility beyond this life.
If I were to guess the “point” of this particular world, this life in particular, and why we experience what we do, it is to learn about love. I seem to be some sort of transcendent mind, beyond all I experience, and love is the ultimate principle behind how the mind operates within reality. We have became pitiful, weak creatures who need each other in order that we can experience both giving and receiving love from one another. The world is also so cold and dark so that when you see this love, it can stand out in stark contrast. You think, “Whoa, this place is awful, but what exactly is it lacking?” Ding ding ding. Love. Then you practice giving love, experiencing love of all kinds from others (even unsuccessful attempts), and hopefully this points you back to the divine source, whose very nature is pure, unconditional love. Remember, the fleeting forms of your illusory experience is to unveil the true nature of this divine being, and help you understand your own nature as well. Then you learn from the source, bring unconditional love back here, and practice giving it.
I’ll end this with another quote from the Perennial Philosophy from St. Gregory the Great, along with a passage from Aldous Huxley himself.
Whosoever studies to reach contemplation should begin by searchingly enquiring of himself how much he loves. For love is the motive power of the mind (machina mentis), which draws it out of the world and raises it on high.
– St. Gregory the Great
Now to quote Huxley, in the beginning of his chapter on Charity.
“We can only love what we know, and we can never know completely what we do not love. Love is a mode of knowledge, and when the love is sufficiently disinterested and sufficiently intense, the knowledge becomes unitive knowledge and so takes on the quality of infallibility. Where there is no disinterested love (or, more briefly,* no charity), there is only biased self-love, and consequently only a partial and distorted knowledge both of the self and of the world of things, lives, minds and spirit outside the self. The lust-dieted man ‘slaves the ordinances of Heaven’ that is to say, he subordinates the laws of Nature and the spirit to his own cravings. The result is that ‘he does not feel’ and therefore makes himself incapable of knowledge. His ignorance is ultimately voluntary; if he cannot see, it is because ‘he will not see.’ Such voluntary ignorance inevitably has its negative reward.”
– Aldous Huxley