“Modern Physics has confirmed most dramatically one of the basic ideas of Eastern Mysticism; that all concepts that we use to describe nature are limited, that they are not features of reality, as we tend to believe, but creations of the mind; parts of the map, not of the territory. Whenever we expand the realm of our experience, the limitations of our rational mind become apparent and we have to modify, or even abandon, some of our concepts.”
The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra
You may wonder that if this is a blog about Buddhism why all the Physics stuff? There are a few reasons. Buddhism is not a religion of faith where you are told that you have to “just believe” in things that do not make sense to you and “just have faith”. Nor if you do not believe what you are told that the problem isn’t with the subject that you are struggling with, the problem is with you, you just do not have enough “faith”. Or worse yet that if you do not have the required “faith”, and therefore do not believe, you will spend eternity in a very bad place. This kind of “faith” is totally blind and a very dangerous thing indeed. How many religious leaders have you ever heard of that told their followers specifically “NOT” to believe in what they taught just because they said it. That you should take the teachings and dissect, examine, question, ponder, and be able to prove to yourself that the teaching is true otherwise discard it. Well this is exactly what the Buddha taught his disciples to do! It has been my experience that each Buddhist concept that currently seems to not make sense has in the end been a result of a lack of my own understanding, not a reflection on the truth of the teaching. Once my understanding increased things that I couldn’t understand before became clear. This has an amazing powerful effect on your Faith. You develop a Faith built on your own direct experience and knowledge instead of a “faith” built on blame, intimidation, and fear. How much stronger can your faith be then when you prove to yourself that it is true and therefore have no doubt what so ever in your mind of its validity!
Another thing that honestly blows me away is how did a relatively uneducated man (I am speaking in terms of the scientific understanding of the universe or reality) know what modern Physics 2500 years later is just now coming to grips with. When I am calling on you to question some of the concepts that you have never had a reason to question before, because it was a given that they were true, it helps to have back up of some people, like Al, who are much much smarter than me! 😉 I have mentioned before that I believe that Buddhism and Science are not at odds because we can prove so many of the Buddhist teaching to be true. Lastly I have come to my own beliefs through my own inquiry. Much of what I write about does not go along with what many Buddhist teachers teach.
When we think of something that happened yesterday we call it the past. When we think about what will happen tomorrow we call it the future. We know that something happening right now is the present. But is this really what is happening or is this just another illusion? Let’s start with the future since it is the easiest. The future hasn’t happened yet so it doesn’t exist right? Simple! So where does the past exist? …..uh….hum….well….. maybe not so simple! If you give it some real thought, where does the past exist? Well just like the future it doesn’t! It only exists in our memory. What has happened is gone, it doesn’t exist. Let us say that we have acquired precognition. We can now “see” into the future and know what all the future events will be. Does that make those future events exist? No of course not, they are still in the future and haven’t happened yet. Well our memory isn’t any different. When we remember we “see” past events but that does not make them exist. Well then you might ask, what does that leave us? Only the Present!
“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.”
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
So the reality of “time” is all we really have and experience is a continuous now!
“The Samskaric functional aspect of consciousness called “memory” arranges the recall of past mental events, ordering and selecting them according to the predominant mental traits held in consciousness at the moment of recall. Pure memory, being but an abstract function of consciousness, in itself is neither good nor bad, although the motivations which prompt it may be either. The process of memory is an important means for the ego to reinforce its activities, because ego must posit itself somewhere. It cannot exist in a void and has to create a stable “center” for itself. Without such a center, ego cannot assert either its own existence or that of others. By continually recalling itself, it reinforces its validity.”
The Bodhisattva Warriors, Shifu Nagaboshi Tomio (Terrence Dukes)
Ego isn’t that another name for the “self” that we have talked so much about? Didn’t the Buddha teach Anatta (not-self) and proclaim that there isn’t an abiding or permanent self? So is our concept of time just an illusion like our buddy Al said? If our concept of ourselves is just an illusion then maybe our concept of time is as well especially if, like the quote above says, our ego/self (which doesn’t exist) uses it to reinforce itself.
I mentioned in my blog on the Precepts that it is my belief that the precepts are meant to train you to wake up to the fact that our idea of our “self” is an illusion. This is accomplished by laying out a set of ideals to follow that stops us from continuing behavior that reinforces the notion of the “self”. I believe that many of the Buddhist training methods are not an end in itself but a means to teach you a concept that is difficult if not impossible to do with words. The training method is just a pointer to something much more profound. If we give it some thought what function is mindfulness meditation so well suited for? It is not all the stress relief and feel good mumbo jumbo you hear from many of the secular meditation practitioners. While I will admit that those are a side effect. What does mindfulness meditation have us do? Focus on the only thing that there really is……NOW!
“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions and ideas.”
We will continue this discussion in Part III.