May 1, 2014
I am drawn toward the invisible realm, toward the quantum reality that lives beneath the appearances amid which we strive and struggle. True, I play the game: work, money, human interaction. I go to meetings; try to pay enough attention to finance to get by; I follow the news and especially sports from a safe distance so I somewhat understand what people are talking about and fixed upon.
But it is a game, a shadow play on a wall whose very substance is emptiness. I am called into that emptiness — not to escape the shadows of “reality” that flicker on the macro-cosmic wall, but actually to better adapt and respond to their rather convulsive darkness. I feel myself within the sacred depths of the emptiness that both inheres and surpasses the superficial; even the shadows themselves contain subatomic strings of neglected truth and depth. To feel the one is to better perceive the other.
The hatred, hubris, and vacant action that impel ego and its institutions are but displacements or distortions of the natural passion that is the universal birthright of us all. To feel it clearly and completely, without addition or impediment, for but a few seconds every so often: who would then need enlightenment? Enlightenment is just another object at the mall; you may as well spend the day at Walmart as at a zendo or ashram seeking enlightenment. At least you’ll come back with something from Walmart.
When everything is let go, gain and loss become those shadows skittering stupidly along the wall. Perhaps this is Lao Tzu’s message in his 44th poem of the Tao Te Ching:
A great name or self-knowledge: To which of these does your heart respond?
Material goods or your natural virtues: Which do you treasure more?
Profit or loss: which is more apt to lead you toward destruction?
The love of excess lays Nature waste: It spends the self and buys remorse. Accumulation is the greatest loss.
Meet your needs and go no further, and you will be a stranger to disgrace. Recognize the limits of every situation, and you’ll be free from danger. Thus can you fulfill the enduring harmony.
The invisible world and the material one are not naturally separate. They are the two strands of DNA: honor life and they will unite within and around you. On another plane, astrophysicists have, for over a decade, entertained a theory that our universe is a holo-projection:
In 1997, theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena proposed that an audacious model of the Universe in which gravity arises from infinitesimally thin, vibrating strings could be reinterpreted in terms of well-established physics. The mathematically intricate world of strings, which exist in nine dimensions of space plus one of time, would be merely a hologram: the real action would play out in a simpler, flatter cosmos where there is no gravity.
I love the science of it, but am less enthused by the philosophy. After all, we are not cosmic strangers trapped in “just a big projection” — the holographic universe is only weak or weird to those who take its dancing images seriously, or who have preconceived notions about what is and isn’t “real” (scientists are as easy prey to this fallacy as the rest of us).
This goes back to a theme that Alan Watts used to work regularly into his lectures: taking life sincerely rather than seriously. Our language supports this insight: can you remember the old days of letter writing? Can you remember how you typically closed a letter, at the space where you would sign your name? Did you ever write or see “Seriously,” or “Seriously yours,” there? No, it was “Sincerely.”
As Lao Tzu would say, sincerity “meets your needs,” while seriousness tends to strive toward excess, to distort that natural and playful passion for life that, somewhere in the very core of its wisdom-being, just knows that life has no enemy, no opponent, no termination. The only dead thing in the universe is the belief that death ends life. If I am a projection in this reality, what am I in that other? Is that universe more or less “real” than this one with its holographic shadows flickering along the wall? Such a question has no place in a healthy mind.
So I have no contempt for the reality I’m in: it is not a “mere” projection; only a projection. I could with equal validity say that we live in a Great Projection, a Noble Projection, a Cool Projection. What makes it “mere”? Those scientists don’t say. If we could just get in touch with the Projector, then the projection might gain in both our scientific and philosophical esteem. But that is no great matter; what matters is that in sincerity there is no room for contempt. A healthy perspective is not clouded by stupid or superfluous emotions. Why must I look down my nose at my world when, even here, I can feel the embrace of another? The best respect I can offer life is not to take it seriously.
When I sit in meditation, I avoid wisdom and revelation, and ask for help instead. I typically start by asking to be drawn further toward and into the cosmic harmony, a plain universe of clarity and order, where neither form nor emptiness prevail. I ask for that primordial balance to enter me, as if it were something alive and regenerative. And it has been my experience that it is.
This is what various teachers refer to as “entering the center.” For me, it’s more a process of psychological unloading. Recently the phrase “life is suffering” occurred to me again and I thought about the science in the theory of the holographic universe. If we are projections in a holographic universe, then so are all our beliefs and experiences.
But suffering is a pretty daunting projection, a hologram fraught with fate and danger. I’m reminded of the Star Trek Voyager episode (“Darkling”) in which the holographic Doctor messes around with holograms of famous philosophers, poets, and politicians and thereby activates his darkest and most brutal ego-self. There’s no predicting how those algorithms and subroutines will interact with one another, right?
The Buddha’s first noble truth is that life is suffering. Maybe that’s what he actually said and believed; we don’t know. But even so, he never said it was meant to be, that life was designed that way. And the Buddhists, of all major religions, would find resonance with the holographic universe theory. Of course it’s all a mathematical projection, they would say: how could you imagine that any of this is real?
Well, I don’t really have an opinion on “real.” That is, on what’s real and what isn’t, and even on whether reality has any qualitative meaning (is being “real” better than being “unreal”?). I prefer to look for what works in this life, whether or not it is real, imagined, projected, or a ghost in a vast cosmic machine. So I ask for help in dissolving or at least weakening that belief in life as suffering. For even if it’s true as beliefs go, it does me no good in this life to let such a belief lead me.
It’s a matter of letting go and leaving it there. I don’t need to pick up something else to fill the gap. I don’t need an opposing or contrasting belief (“all life is warm and fuzzy benevolence”); what I need is a clear space inside from which to act and respond to the play of those shadows around me. Seriousness is for politicians and other fools; I will play out the rest of this game on the holodeck guided by a trust in sincerity over a belief in suffering.