The Paradox and Subtlety of Life & Reality

Tuesday 23 Jan 2018


The Buddhist path is a very subtle one. Small wonder that this elusive and Absolute Truth that the Buddha realised and experienced was causing him to despair when he thought about how to teach it.  The balance for him came through the transcendental stillness of his mind. He realised he would not reach everyone but thought to teach “those with just a little dust in their eyes”. He then thought of his previous group of disciples who had eschewed him after he gave up the pathway of asceticism that he championed. He had been near death and had realised that this was not the right way. To give some context here, it should be said that the Buddha was a Prince from one of the local Royal Families. He had realised his privileged life in the Palace was not going to allow him to find Truth, so he left his life of luxury and comfort to become a wandering, reflective homeless monk, a pathway that was well respected in those times 2600 years ago. Siddhatta Gotama, as he was known before becoming the Buddha, now knew that the pathways of the extremes were barren, and a remembered thought came to his mind that he should try the “Middle Way”. He had realised the dualities inherent in nature’s laws. He saw that he could not invoke a condition without also manifesting its opposite. Physics has only just realised this over the past couple of hundred years with the discovery of Anti-matter! Realising the subtle balance point between these extremes is what the teachings of the Buddha is all about? 

As human beings we are conditioned creatures. In this respect we are the same as every other creature on this Planet, or if we want or think bigger, in this Universe. Our world with its bounty has been habituated for us to survive and thrive. This too is a delicate balance where on the face of it nature “calls the shots”. We do have dominion in a sense, but we need to use the best of our collective abilities, our intellect and knowledge to make it all work, especially these days with large populations and decreasing bio-diversity. We are aware that we need to look after our planet if it is to continue to sustain us. To help understand our situation it is wise for us to incline more towards the truth of the “Present Moment”, to recognise that the past is dead and gone. Yes it is a memory that can be used  as  a  skilful means to help condition a more desirable future, but we do need to understand that it is finished and no longer real. The future too is not real! It is speculation and while it is good to have healthy expectations the realm of the future is just not real place for us. A wise person will adjust their mentality to incline towards an understanding that the Present Moment is the only place and time that is real! 

Another thing that is not readily apparent to us is that our mental energy is the biggest component in the creation of our Universe. The Buddha spoke of five aggregations that make up our World. Four out of the five (80%) are mental constructs while just one (20%) is given over to the physical. Again this is roughly in line with today’s Physics where 20% of matter is baryonic (Physical) while the remaining 80% is in the form of mysterious Dark Energy. The Buddha described our mental energy as Consciousness which aggregates with movement, picking up past karmic formations first then building into Perception and Feeling before fusing and aggregating into the Physical. The important thing to realise here is that it is all rooted in still consciousness and that consciousness has a fungible quality. All of the conditions that we know have shaped consciousness and it is interchangeable because it is fungible. I can use it, you can use it and all the conditions brought into existence by the universe can use it. All of the conditions of the Universe including you and me are nested aggregations that go back to still consciousness as the matrix. As long as the condition of pure consciousness is operating inside any “stream of consciousness” the Universe at large will feedback the conditions of that stream --- moment to moment, day to day and life to life. The dualities balance everything experienced in the present to keep its perfection forever pure in the present moment. The Universe delivers our lives as perfection personified. So why is there so much trouble in the world? A perfect world full of discontent! Why are we not content and balanced with our lives, why do we continue to grasp at what we desire and reject what we do not want? The answer here lies at the heart of life’s Paradox. It is subtle and it is what the Buddha called Dukkha --- The first of his Four Noble Truths.    

Dukkha is a Pali word and it is fickle! It can be translated as unsatisfactory, not peaceful or more robustly as suffering. It applies disconcertingly to the happiest of our experience because unhappiness is naturally invoked. All movement through conditions must be both positive and negative. The movement of our consciousness brings about an impermanence that naturally keeps our world balanced and perfect, even if we do not personally see it that way. From the perspective of the Present Moment we see that it cannot be any other way! This perspective also allows us to see that any belief we may have of being a real fixed entity is wrong. We see that we are what the Buddha called “Anatta”, which when translated from the Pali means no-self. The movement of consciousness in our mind causes conditions to come into existence and then just as quick causes them to finish. The Buddha described consciousness as “coming into existence and finishing countless times in the wink of an eye”! He succinctly described this Dukkha creating process in the second and third of his four Noble Truths. Conditions arise and conditions pass away! The fourth Noble Truth, “The Noble Eightfold Path” --- is the pathway to this realise these Truths. 

As we practice to delve deeper into the present moment we start to notice and experience the still consciousness that is naturally there. We go past the minds movement that conditions the world; movement that by extension, builds the paradox of our personal lives with their confabulated stories. The still consciousness brings a subtle contentment and as we relax it brings our energy into a balance and that allows beauty and truth to flood our experience. We start to understand and know the still consciousness beyond any doubt. The hindrances that have hitherto marred peace in our heart and mind have disappeared. Our knowledge of still consciousness becomes complete. We experience it viscerally as it feeds back the universe and our life. The paradox of me as separate from the Universe is still in place --- but then; all of a sudden the still consciousness has finished. The peaceful mind and heart is still there, but there is no more feedback. The third noble truth has completed its sequence but there is no movement to feedback and activate the second Noble truth again. The universe has unified inside this mind and the knowledge comes that at death there will be no more rebirth if this unification is in place. The paradox has been resolved. Its subtlety has been breached to form a deep knowing of the way things are. When the momentum of this experience has subsided, the still feedback resumes, and life is again “normal”, however, as the Buddha has said, “The tiger has now got you in his mouth and he will not let you go”! The universe has revealed the structure of its perfection; maturity has entered the mind and letting go of tainted conditions become easier to do. Real beauty and truth becomes our guide as wisdom starts to clean everything up.  This is the power of the Buddha’s teachings. It is not simple and yet it is. The Universe is and always has been perfect and it will continue to be so, and to that extent we need not worry about things. If however you are starting recognise Dukkha in your life, the Eight Fold Path of Practice is a real antidote. It inclines us towards the absolute truth and reality of the present moment. We move away from views, opinions and beliefs. It is a pathway of letting go into true peace of mind. 

Post Script on Physics

I have mentioned the discipline of Physics a few times in this article and I do acknowledge its process and validity as far as it goes. Like Buddhism it works to balance and unify nature using its equations. It also sees emptiness as the matrix of the universe. Physics also plays with the idea of multiple universes, as the Buddha did when asked where it all began. He said he had “looked back over 24 Kalpa’s (Universal Cycles) and no beginning could be seen”. He expressed the time of one Kalpa in terms of “dragging the finest silk gauze from Benares, once every hundred years over the hardest and highest Himalayan Mountains such, that by the time it is worn to the ground, one Kalpa would pass”. In the opposite direction and as mentioned above he also had insight into the Quantum world with his description of consciousness and its time scale. Buddhism however, sees working with these extremes as counterproductive and chooses to investigate the present moment because it is the only time and place that is real!

The strange world of the quantum was also apparent in the Buddha’s mind when he is purported to have said “Enlighten yourself and you enlighten the entire universe”. This statement does put the paradox of creation and universal superposition into a question similar to what the double slit experiment raises about the particle and the wave. He also said that consciousness --- “Is like a string of pearls, but with no string”. Buddhism also has no problems with evolution!

Finally the goal of Physics is the unification of the physical forces in nature but as yet there is no consensus on a mental realm despite the question mark on the vast Dark Energy that drives everything. Physics has not addressed the paradox of a personal life being lived in a universe that is believed to be separate from the mentality of that life. Buddhism sees our physical body and its mentality as an effective instrument to observe reality. The body and mind are calibrated with stillness to observe how it all finishes in unification. To this end the Buddha said that he saw and felt all that he did, “In his fathom long length of body and mind”.                                                                                                                                            Dennis Sheppard --- January 2018


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