Black and white—can one exist without the other? Would there be such a thing as an absence of color without color itself? What about love and hatred, happiness and sadness, fear and courage, ignorance and enlightenment?
You and I?
Humanity has striven for centuries upon centuries to understand the ultimately inexplicable—the meaning of life, the concept of time, the elimination of suffering, the Universe as a whole—however only theories are produced, and not answers. Some theories, of course, stand more solidified through extensive research and testing, but others remain without any satisfying closure—string theory, quantum mechanics, special relativity, and so forth. What makes man’s attempt at defining the bits and bytes of reality a futile effort is man’s own vanity. He thinks himself and his theories are the only important pieces to an otherwise infinite puzzle. Narcissus’ tragedy isn’t the story of another man falling in love with his own image; it’s our story of our own self-indulgence, preventing us from making true progress in the interest of reality as a whole, not just our own conceptualized bubbles of it.
Many people may accuse others of being narcissistic, but in doing so those people automatically assume themselves as better than the ones they claim to be narcissists! So too as it is with hypocrisy, where one blames another for his fraudulent actions or words when the blamer is just as much at fault as the hypocrite. After all, to blame another for false words is to herald yourself as nothing short of an honest man, which invokes Jesus’ most apt quote, “May he who has not sinned cast the first stone.”
We’re all guilty—including myself—of the ignorant minds we allow to control our existence, thinking the mind is the end of the road when existence itself is questioned. Many of my readers have already heard what I’m saying—whether in less accusatory of tones or equal to that which you read now—but I have not fully engaged how I can say, “You and I do not exist,” or, “Reality is indefinable and inescapable, both real and unreal.” I shall try and do so in this article and hopefully remind us all of what is actually important.
There is an exercise I learned years back in high school that was meant to help the young mind grasp an otherwise ungraspable concept. Take out a sheet of paper, draw a large circle in the middle of it, followed by a second smaller circle inside of the original large circle, and repeat the shrinking circle three times. Now, label the outermost ring “What People Think of Me”, the first inner ring “My Physical Traits”, the second inner ring “My Mental Traits”, the third inner ring “My Psychological Type/Tendencies”, and finally try and label the innermost circle. It would be my guess that the majority of westerners would label it as “Soul”, which is perfectly fine; in any case, label it what you will following the internally descending pattern we’ve already started.
Now, draw a final circle inside the middle of your diagram and label that. One of three things may happen to you once you draw the last circle: you might have an existential breakdown; you could recycle the label of mental attributes this time attributed to your “Soul” rather than “You”; or, you stare at the circle absolutely stumped. Any three of the reactions all point to the same realization that you hopefully come to later on in life—perhaps an hour from now, years, or maybe on your death bed—that our idea of “self” is a falsity.
Notice how the exercise breaks down the categories of “you” from the outermost qualities to the innermost qualities, and take special note of how difficult it is to continue moving more and more inward. Further more, notice how equally difficult it would be should you continue pushing outward. Perhaps the new outer ring would be labeled “What Other People Think of What Other People Think of You.”
What I’m saying is this: go inward and you find what’s outward; go outward and you find what’s inward through your perceptions of what others perceive of you—hence the ouroboros reference.
Now what about the “God” label, why bring that up? What many Christians poetically say about their soul is that it is a direct extension of the existence of God—a beautiful representation of the infinite becoming finite. Another way to say this is to say we are all one but not one, bubbles in an ocean, or fingers to one hand. However, the problem with the monotheistic image of God is that it can limit what “god” means to the believers. God ultimately can be conceptualized into a human being, as the Bible even states that “we were made in their image.” Thus we lose touch of the true poeticism religion tries to expunge into society, that “god” is ultimately everything at once. However, should you already believe in this truly omniscient, non-conceptual god-reality then you’ve completed the ouroboros diagram in labeling the innermost circle “God” because you have defined your “self” as everything, as god, thus exorcising the only demon to enter our minds—the self.
The only falsity of life is that we think we are separated on any given level—physically, mentally, emotionally, metaphysically—and that “I” am ultimately different from “you.” That is why we are all so lonely in this capitalistic, socialistic, communist, and any other “-ist” or “-ic” society because it values individuality over the entire whole. This is what the Buddha meant when he said, “Who is lonely? You and I.”
There is a state of mind that occurs, everyday, where you exist in complete acceptance of all else around you—sleep. Though you are unconscious to the outside environment within which you chose to take refuge, you accept it as it is and allow your mind to virtually shut off from its otherwise hectic day jobs of multitasking, worrying, working, solving, thinking, and so on. It’s incredibly tiring to do such tasks day in and out without any foreseeable end, yet people are incredibly afraid—maybe even think themselves as incapable—of living without multitasking, worrying, working, solving, or thinking every second of their existence. And because of this activity that goes on within the brain, we continually dissect with what we engage in reality and break it into bytes of biological data—memories, hopes, feelings, fears—that ultimately make up our personally constructed pseudo-reality, fooling us from the simpler truth that everything just is, without definition and without further categorization.
Sleep, on the other hand, allows our mind and existence a brief salvation from the over-encumbering thoughts in which we choose to partake during more conscious awareness. (I say “more” because if we were completely aware of what’s going on then we wouldn’t have the problems I just described in the previous paragraph.) And when we sleep, our frontal lobe remains inactive while much of the other areas of our brain are teeming with vitality. When we dream, we witness pure thought within the brain without any tampering of the frontal lobe’s conceptions of “wrong” or “right,” affecting what we are “allowed” to think.
|The mind looking at|
Ironically, however, it is true that reality is nothing but perception yet remains entirely objective. How, you might ask, can life be entirely contradictory? Simply put, as I alluded to in the very beginning of this article, nothing exists without the opposite. Furthermore, the opposites are what are real, not one opposite over another.
Is anger more important than tranquility? Would tranquility be “tranquility” without ever having known anger? Without the two halves to the same coin, we cannot witness the coin at all. In this respect, reality is as definable as a plume of smoke, floating and twirling along through the air. If you’re already part of the smoke, can you conquer another part of it? Can you destroy that which you already are?
Though our minds are the reason why we as humanity have advanced far beyond our distant primal cousins, it is the mind that ends up enslaving us for the rest of our existences—so shall we choose to allow it—shackling us to addictions, hopes, fears, and concepts that ultimately mean nothing at the end of the day when you rest your head upon a pillow and dream the thoughts of reality’s own self-awareness as closely to holistic as we can conceive. When one exits the bounds of duality then she has exited the slavery of the mind, seeing the world just as it is. No more, and no less.
We’ve tackled the falsity of the self and the duality the mind imposes on our lives. What else then is there left for us in a world that may now seem bleak, uncreative, and pointless? To confuse Buddhism with Nihilism is a common mistake, but the emptiness of “self” and the non-duality enlightenment that Buddha taught did not give way to the idea that nothing is real nor matters. In fact, quite the opposite would be the case.
Should one see himself in all things, he is no longer lonely. Should one take reality as it is, he no longer is fearful. He may become ill, grow old and meek, and, one day, die, but he may also bear witness to good health, aging with happiness instead of despair, and dying having lived a life as if there was no tomorrow for which to plan. When we abolish the ignorance that we find ourselves addicted to—not wanting to admit “I” do not exist or that pain cannot be rid of—we actually discover that we cure the problems we were seeking to fix all along.
What’s more is that we begin to see our competition with each other as neither good nor bad but just as it is, and we begin to understand that the wisest of men isn’t the one who exclaims, “I am absolutely right and here is why…” but rather the one who values sharing ideas with others so that he may learn more from the experience. There is a reason why those questions I asked at the beginning of the article have remained unanswered. No, I cannot explain the meaning of life. No, I cannot relate string theory to quantum mechanics to special relativity (and even when the next great physicist [Michio Kaku] does connect the dots, we won’t be able to relate happiness or compassion or human warmth to the physics that govern measurable bytes of reality). Sometimes, as William of Ockham once stated, the simplest of all the solutions is the correct solution. If we can bend time, does that really matter to our overall happiness? Does knowing the possibility of multiple universes existing simultaneously really effect you right here, right now?
Look around and you’ll see the answers right before your eyes. A sun sets. A mountain is covered in mist. A storm blows over a tree. A baby is born. All of these thoughts invoke an inexplicable emotion but which is then quickly measured, by our minds, as “beautiful,” “scary,” or “awe-inspiring.” These are just words configured to relay, in the smallest of might, the entirely infinite reality that we experience and feel, that which cannot be wholly explained.
Life is an endless web of interconnectivity in which we all exist both as one and as many. It’s when we lose touch with our larger identity of the Universe we become lonely, fearful, vengeful, and angry. Instead of re-establishing a connection with reality, we overindulge ourselves with insatiable appetites for wealth, perfect beauty, and attention.
But having said that, I do not believe that we should return to nature in the overdramatized sense of shedding all of our “things” and live in the woods for the rest of our lives. I’d still be selfish, still be alone, still be thirsting for the connectedness that which I miss so much. And it isn’t as if humanity just decided over the course of our evolution to forgo our enlightened states of existence for more temporal ones either. I believe humanity is the pinnacle of evolution in which we see the Universe as our self for the very first time.
After a month of pushing through much of my own displeasures of unsatisfying work and a general sense of helplessness and cynicism, I remembered all of that which I have written before you today while seated underneath a tree rooted in my front yard, striving with all my heart to be a part of my surroundings and reconnect with “me.” That’s when I noticed the tickle of an ant crawling across my arm and I thought, “You, ant, are important,” and then saw the importance of all else situated before me—the grass, the trees, the sun, the cars, the road, the houses—and realized it is all important. My sitting there, and here now as I write this article, is important. You are important. Your thoughts, feelings, and emotions are important. Everything is important because without one piece, the puzzle remains incomplete.
In that moment, when looking at one of the smallest of creatures, I smiled, let it crawl onto my hand, and then placed in back into the grass.