The Universe Is Not Something That Consciousness Defines

supernovaThe Sectarian Nature Of Brahman Is Not The Ultimate Expression Of Religion

Future Time Nine Continued

(see comments on “his eyes were open but the man looked dead” blog for the context of this blog)

“We must shift gears here,” said MV, “and think of the universe as not something that consciousness defines, but, rather, as something that defines consciousness, and yes, I think Whitehead would agree with this premise, as would a whole host of others. Taking a structural approach to this idea, however, is a bit of a stretch, hence your inability to communicate it.”

“You don’t have to tell me what I already know,” I replied. “But, when you look closely at the aesthetic religions, Buddhism, Upanishad philosophy in Hinduism, or the Chinese Tao Te Ching, similar concepts are easily found, especially when it comes to the principle of ‘divine necessary opposites.’”

“How so,” responded MV.

“Take, for instance, the atman/Brahman distinction in the Upanishads, the ancient sages of India perceived no chasm between nature, humanity, and divinity. For the wise among them, all existence was the manifestation of the universal principle-Brahman, the source of all being, — the producer and sustainer of all reality. For the sage, the claim that Brahman and atman are one is an identity claim, but, at the same time, Brahman remains the ground of being while being transcendent to being. Well, in my synchronic description of the universe, double negation, ~~b, after appropriate transformations, turns into the ‘self-content’ of self-consciousness or, as it is called in India, atman. In double negation, we not only find the ‘purest form of unity,’ as it was called by the Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, we also find the atman of the Upanishad tradition. This is not to say that the sectarian nature of Brahman is the ultimate expression of religion. As I just pointed out, it is expressed in Christian mysticism also. Here’s how one of my old Professors expressed divinity to me from a Buddhist perspective:

“There is a cloud here in this piece of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either.

The cloud and the paper inter-are. Perhaps the word ‘interbeing’ should be in the dictionary.

If we look deeply, we see that in the paper there is also the sun; nothing can grow without sunshine. The paper and the sun inter-are.

We can see the logger. The mill (and its effluent). We see the wheat from fields that fed the logger. For there is no paper without the logger, and the logger cannot log without daily bread. Likewise, the logger’s father and mother are also in this paper.

Looking deeply, we see ourselves in the paper. When we look at the paper, it is our perception; your mind and my mind meet in this paper, and we are both there.

What is NOT here in the sheet of paper? Time, space, the earth, rain, minerals, the sun, cloud, river, heat—everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains the universe in it. How can it fit?

The paper entirely depends upon non-paper elements, things that are not in themselves paper, such as carbon, and the sun, and the logger’s mother. And yet without them, there is no paper.

To be is to inter-be with every things, non—us things. Like the paper, we are inevitably vast; we include all that is other than ourselves.

As one Civil War nurse (Walt Whitman) said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” When we pay close attention to who we really are, there is no one else, no one who is left out.

Acting from this understanding, service is not a strained sacrifice, but a natural activity. Within this mind, helpful care is not exactly compassion for another, but more like a reflex, a spontaneous gesture.

The right hand does not congratulate the left hand on having given to the poor.

No credit, no blame. No Trace. This is Buddha.

[Adapted by Guy Newland from “Interbeing” in Peace is Every Step (Bantam, 1992) by Thich Nhat Hanh]


2 Responses to “The Universe Is Not Something That Consciousness Defines”

  1. Beverly Says:

    What an intriguing picture. I had to keep looking at it for awhile to “see” it. What is the story behind it?

    I love the explanation of the piece of paper. I have never heard that definition of Buddha. I have to agree that we are all inter-connected and we all depend on each other whether we realize or acknowledge it or not.

    If helpful care is not compassion…..then what is compassion? I have always found compassion to spring from the heart spontaneously. You can’t force someone to be compassionate. It must come from the heart or else it is not compassion.

    Very interesting blog Dave, you’ve made me think….as I compare my beliefs with Buddha and see the similarities and the conflict.

    May you have a really super great week!!!

  2. dave Says:

    Here’s the story behind the picture introducing this blog. I hope you like it!

    In the above M. C. Escher print I see a metaphor for the God/universe connection. The Hands Drawing Hands print says to me that the universe needs God for that which it is and God needs the universe for that which is the meaning of God. This idea becomes more meaningful and very personal when you consider that the pleasures and pains of all life-forms are simultaneously felt by God. Life, — energy far from equilibrium, — is part of the universe, therefore, life needs God for existence, but God needs life to feel alive. Even more significantly, on a human level, God becomes more personal and intense (especially if realized). Honesty, hope, goodness, truth, love—all the good and bad of our self-conscious lives—is simultaneously shared with God. From this co-dependent perspective, — from this Hands Creating Hands perspective, — we need God to exist, but God needs us for our human frailties, our choices, mistakes, for growth, for the meaning of our lives. And lastly, we need God for our freedom, but God needs us to share in God’s love that makes all this possible. I give to the person who knows far more than I do about the co-dependent perspective, — the Hands Creating Hands perspective—the last words (I and Thou, Martin Buber, 1970):

    “…in every You we address the eternal You, in every sphere according to its manner. All spheres are included in it, while it is included in none.” (p. 150)

    “Of course, God is ‘the wholly other’; but he is also the wholly same: the wholly present. Of course, he is the mysterium tremendum that appears and overwhelms; but he is also the mystery of the obvious that is closer to me than my own I.” (p. 127)

    “…in truth, there is no God-seeking because there is nothing where one could not find him. How foolish and hopeless must one be to leave one’s way of life to seek God: even if one gained all the wisdom of solitude and all the power of concentration, one would miss him.” (p. 128)

    “The word of revelation is: I am there as whoever I am there. That which reveals is that which reveals. That which has being is there, nothing more. The eternal source of strength flows, the eternal touch is waiting, the eternal voice sounds, nothing more.” (p. 160)

    “The encounter with God does not come to man in order that he may henceforth attend to God, but in order that he may prove its meaning in action in the world. All revelation is a calling and a mission.” (p. 164)

    “God embraces but is not the universe; just so, God embraces but is not my self. On account of this which cannot be spoken about, I can say in my language, as all can say in theirs: You. For the sake of this there are I and You, there is dialogue, there is language, and spirit whose primal deed language is, and there is, in eternity, the word.” (p. 143)

    The bottom line here is that communication occurs “between” God and the infinite regress of Being. God is there in my relationship with nature and God is there in my relationship with human beings, but it is in that relationship, my relationship with others, where the highest order of communication resides, where the eternal You communicates, –in the I-thou relationship.

    Take care,

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