May 5th, 2009
This book is about the meaning of life. I wrote it to help me decide what to do with my life. Hopefully it can help you decide too.
When I say the meaning of life, I’m talking about answers to at least three related questions: “what do I really want?”, “what should I do?”, and “why are things the way they are?” This book is meant to help you answer all three questions. It addresses the who, what, where, how and why of life: who you are, what your place in the universe is, how the universe works, why it exists to begin with.
When I think about the meaning of life, I wonder: what’s the point, the reason for it all? Why are we here? Is the universe just a product of natural forces and random chance? Or is there some grand design and a Creator who set it all up?
When I think about the meaning of my life, I think: why this, why me? Why not me? Is what happens just a matter of luck? Or is there some deeper purpose at work, something to be learned or achieved? What am I supposed to do with my life? Does it matter, does it make any difference, or should I just try to have a good time? And what will happen to me when I die? Basically, how can I– and everyone else– be happy?
Many people have wondered why there is tragedy and injustice in the world. Why do bad things happen? How can there be a God that would let such things happen? It's often said that the most important question we have to answer in life is, is the universe friendly? In other words, “is life good? Is the world a good or bad place?” The basic question in all this is, why are things the way they are?
Perhaps you’ve heard some religious or seemingly wishful answers to these questions, like “God works in mysterious ways” or “trust in the universe; everything happens for a reason and works out for the best.” Seeing all the horrors on TV if not in your own life, you might wonder how things like torture, slaughter, and slavery can be “for the best.”
You could say the “new age” approach to life is to follow your bliss because you create your own reality. But if I create my own reality, why do I have to work for a living? And how can we all just “follow our bliss” when what we do affects others?
Many people throughout history have tried to answer these questions and many have given up in despair. I believe these questions can be answered, at least enough to change how we experience our lives tremendously. I believe the answer to these questions has to do with how we see ourselves vs. who we truly are. Seeing the difference is the key step in coming to terms with the world and experiencing what Eastern religions call enlightenment. I believe it frees us from a life based on fear to one based on love and trust.
At the same time, this book is not written in order to comfort people. There may certainly be other worldviews that are more comforting. I simply think this is the most accurate worldview available, or rather, the most convincing and clearly expressed one that I have encountered. Hopefully it can help people to become enlightened, that is, to see the world as it really is.
life is a garden,
not a road
we enter and exit
through the same gate
where we go matters less
than what we notice
Bokonon, The Lost Book
Do you “scrounge,” taking whatever opportunities come along rather than doing what you really want to do? Are you afraid of commitment or afraid to move on? Do you tell yourself what you should do instead of asking yourself what you want?
These all boil down to viewing life as a trap or a path to some external goal rather than an enjoyable exploration. It’s been said (in cheesy email forwards) that "life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain." Not by trying to figure out right from wrong, or what's safe and what isn't, does one get through life. And is life really just something to get through?
If you don’t feel safe in the world, if you don’t trust others or life itself, then you will always be afraid of being hurt, of losing. You’ll approach the things and people you are attracted to from a place of lack rather than curiosity. If you are thinking, especially subconsciously, that you know what you want and that you need it, i.e., can't live without it, chances are you’ll try to get it through manipulation rather than cooperation, i.e., honest negotiation. You won’t reveal this hidden agenda, so you won’t experience true intimacy.
It's a selfish approach, which is not surprising since all these thoughts of fear and mistrust come from the ego. The ego is our sense of self, which lives in the mind. The more ego, the more paranoia. The more one is ruled by the mind, the more one is ruled by fear.
Why bother trying to find meaning in life? Why not just have a good time?
Finding meaning in life means believing that you are a part of something greater: that your life has a purpose beyond what you get out of it personally in this lifetime. It feels better to believe that our lives have some purpose beyond ourselves because otherwise we’re mortal, transient, and expendable. And those aren’t pleasant thoughts for most people. Why is being ephemeral and meaningless so uncomfortable to most people?
The reason, in this understanding of the universe, is gravity. Gravity is the force that draws everything together. It acts on everything, and not just physically. We feel it emotionally as love, attraction (physical or otherwise), lust, and passion. These are all versions of a sense of longing. What all parts of the universe, all separate individuals, long for is unity. This is what ecstasy, i.e., dissolving one’s boundaries, is all about. It’s not just holes we want to get into, but The Whole.
The universe is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, and each of us is a piece. We have gaps where other pieces fit and edges that fit into others’ gaps. As pieces, we have a feeling of incompleteness, so we look for others either to fill our gaps or so that we can fill theirs. But either way, each piece only fills one or two gaps. So we look for more pieces. But each time we fill a gap with another piece, it comes with its own gaps. As we fill our gaps by attaching other pieces onto ourselves, the gaps only multiply. Only the puzzle as a whole has no gaps.
Although most people probably don’t recognize it as such, the desire for ecstasy is not just a longing to be not so alone in the world, but the instinctive urge to dissolve completely into the whole. This is a deeply religious sentiment, for the whole, The Whole, is what God is. It’s the only piece– or peace, rather– that has no edge.
This urge is largely unconscious because the desire for ecstasy is actually a death wish. Not necessarily physical death but rather, the death of the ego. This is why orgasm is also known as le petit mort, “the little death.” The one thing that separates us from God (and everything and everyone else) is merely our belief in ourselves as separate individuals. ”Nothing burns in hell but the self.” 1 That is what has to die for enlightenment to happen, for life to feel meaningful– or rather, full.
The word health means “wholeness.” When we feel healthy, we feel complete, fulfilled. Our life is not done, but rather than feel incompleteness, we feel we are in completeness. We are home.
Our task in living, or my task at least, is to feel unity, even in this life. To see unity in diversity: that I am already whole in the Whole, in God. I don’t need anything because I am everything. This is enlightenment.
When I told people I was writing a book, they would often ask, “fiction or nonfiction?” But every book is fiction. Everything’s a story. What’s important is not whether it’s true but whether it’s useful. I didn’t learn this new way of judging ideas until long after college, in working with the tarot. I didn’t know how it could possibly work, but it did. It was helpful.
Although I present “arguments” in support of this model, I know I can’t “prove” it– that is, force you to believe it. There are just as many arguments against it. In the end, we each choose what to believe. You don’t have to believe in God, and this book is not designed to convince, i.e., to “force” you to do so. That is something each of us, based on faith or personal experience, must decide for ourselves.
This book is an option, an approach to life you can use if you choose to. It is not about ‘getting the facts straight.’ I don’t really believe in facts. It’s about having a healthy attitude, and I only hope that it will be of use to you in this way.
Those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know.
The Tao Te Ching
The more you think about these matters, the farther you are from the truth.
Seng T'san, the third Zen Patriarch
Many sages prefer not to address the meaning of life. They say fundamental questions about the nature of existence cannot be answered in words. This is because in order to answer these questions, you have to come to know– or rather, experience– the universe as it really is. And ultimate realities like God or the universe cannot be described because they cannot be understood.
The reason that God and the universe as a whole cannot be understood, much less explained, is that description requires comparison. And there’s nothing to compare God or the universe to. Understanding is always in terms of something else, and when you’re talking about God or the universe, there is nothing else. That’s why they say words cannot begin to describe mystical experiences; all descriptions tend to be misleading.
Even if it were possible to describe God, the universe as a whole, or nirvana (and the way to achieve it), there would still be good reason to avoid doing so. And that is that if the point is to become enlightened, that is, to experience the world as it really is, then ideas often just get in the way. This is because enlightenment is not an intellectual understanding; it’s a step one takes, and it usually involves giving up everything we thought we knew, including everything about who we thought we were and everything we thought was important.
It’s not easy. Enlightenment is like quitting smoking. Thinking or reading about it is not the same as doing it; in fact, this can be a great way to avoid doing it.2
How do you teach people that when it comes to enlightenment, knowledge is a problem– when teaching itself is imparting knowledge? If you’re a Zen or Taoist master you might use koans (answerless riddles) and other irrational techniques to help people get out of our heads. Many Indian gurus prefer not to speak at all.
Nevertheless, many mystics and spiritual teachers do use words quite frequently to get their point across. And in my opinion, many seem like they’re struggling to do so or just not doing a very good job.3 When spiritual teachers resort to saying “The All is indescribable” or something like that, it often seems like a copout. Often they seem to simply lack a good metaphor for what they are in fact trying to describe.
I believe the universe can be described more clearly than I’ve ever seen it done, and that is what this book offers. First I will present several metaphors for what life/the universe is like: a trip, a dream, a game and a movie. Then, in the Cosmology section, I will explain my actual model for the universe in detail.
Keep in mind that these initial metaphors are not comprehensive treatments, only useful summaries of the worldview presented in this book. They are succinct expressions of what I will spell out in detail later on. I hope this approach makes ideas like “God” and “enlightenment” much more clear, which should go a long way toward explaining the meaning of life as I’ve come to see it.
Also remember that even in its complete expression, this is just a model, a theory. At best, it’s a simplification designed to illustrate a few points. It’s not the way things really are. The map is not the territory. 4
The bottom line is that this book is just an arrow/sign pointing to where you might want to go. It does not take you there, and “getting it” not the same as getting there. Take me, for example. Just because I can talk about enlightenment doesn’t mean I am enlightened. I am certainly not. If I really wanted to help people I’d be practicing instead of preaching. Don’t make my mistake!
As I see it, there are two fundamental forces in the world, love and curiosity. One physical manifestation of love is gravity. Love moves us toward oneness while curiosity takes us toward diversity. We find joy (or fulfillment) in oneness, but find delight (or wonder) in diversity. We can be happy or unhappy going in either direction because we’re pulled in both. Gravity draws us together, but curiosity pulls us apart.
Another way to put it is that gravity makes us want to go home while curiosity makes us want to travel. Home is in heaven with God. God is in heaven, but God is bored, so God sends us out like little webcams. Through us, God gets to go out and see the world. God gets to experience all kinds of exquisite torture and painful ecstasy.
God likes getting beheaded. God likes getting stuck in traffic. God doesn’t care. Anything but heaven is interesting. Just as “all publicity is good publicity,” from God’s perspective, all experiences are good experiences.
So you see that we want to get to heaven, but God just wants to kick us out again. And when we’re there in heaven, with God, pretty soon we’re bored too. Pretty soon we want out. Then it’s time to leave home once again.
We all want some mix of peace and excitement. God is no different. If all we want to do is go home to God, then life is hell. But if we can enjoy life, realizing that it was never meant to be perfect, or rather, easy, then we have the best of both worlds, Heaven and Earth.
How does God, through us, get to “travel?” The best way I’ve found to describe it is to say that life is God dreaming.
The key thing about dreaming is that when we’re dreaming, most of us don’t realize it. Sooner or later, we wake up and realize that we were not actually in the dream after all; rather, the dream was in us. Likewise, this whole dream of life is inside who we really are. And who we really are is God.
It works like this: God imagines the world, including people in it. Each of those people is one of us; or rather, who we think we are. Just as there are many characters in a dream but only one dreamer, there are many of us but only one God. This is the sense in which we are “One.”
In dreaming up the world, God also creates the possibility of interaction. “The Divine, the All… can’t be touched unless it goes into the illusion of separation. Then it can reach out and touch itself.”
Nirmala, Nothing Personal
It is as if God creates the universe and then experiences through every single part of it. God experiences being a blade of grass and a tree, being an eagle and a dolphin, being you and being me… But we are all one in our essential being. We are all the same consciousness aware of the world through different bodies, looking out of many different eyes, cut off from one another only by an illusion of separation.
Ash and Hewitt, Science of the Gods
Awakening is the dropping of the illusion of separation.
It’s been said many times in many ways that we are all “One,” and one can argue whether or not the parts of something are truly “separate.” But the point here is to ask, “what is really real? Who are we really, and what really matters?” If life is a dream, the question is not whether God, that is, a dreamer, exists, but rather, do we? How real are we? When you wake from a dream, how seriously should you take what you just experienced? Were there really any victims, any loss or failure? What if every being were free to “wake up” in this way?
Enlightenment as I understand it (also called awakening or realization) means realizing that life is a dream. Being enlightened means knowing that you’re dreaming and seeing who you really are. You “awaken,” yet you are also able to keep dreaming.
Remember that waking up and leaving a dream are two different things, and one does not necessitate the other. It is possible to dream and to know that you are dreaming. Many people have done it, both intentionally and unintentionally. It’s called lucid dreaming or “being awake while dreaming.” If life is a dream then lucid living, or “being awake while living” means seeing that life is a dream. That is what I call enlightenment.
I don’t mean to belittle suffering and say it isn’t real. On the level that we experience it, it is quite real. And most of us are quite stuck in our suffering. But if life is like a dream, then suffering is not permanent. And it’s also a lot more optional. I believe that when we can see that there’s a bigger picture going on, one that we’re in charge of, we’re more apt to either (a) change things to what we want or (b) be at peace with what we’ve already chosen.
If life is a dream of God, you might wonder, what does God wake up to? And if life is just a dream, does it matter what happens in it? I will answer these and other questions. For now, the important thing is that whoever you think you are in the dream is not who is controlling the dream. The person who you think you are (unless you happen to be enlightened) is called the ego. The ego, since it’s part of the dream, doesn’t really act; it doesn’t decide anything. Like the rest of the dream, the person we think we are is not a cause but an effect, like a shadow or reflection. And a shadow or a reflection cannot change itself.
The thinking part of us, the part of us that’s aware of itself and its environment, the part that is reading this book, is the only part of the dream that can change the dream. This is our consciousness. Who we think we are is just an idea. But who is doing the thinking is consciousness. Our consciousness seems to be within us, but it’s not. We are within It. It is actually God, seeing the universe through our eyes, all our eyes. This is the universal dream I’m talking about, all within the mind of God.
I’d rather be God.
The word person comes from the Greek word persona, which means “mask.” We are not just the ego, the person we think we are. We are all God pretending to be each of us. I emphasize this point because it can be quite confusing. In fact, I’d say this is not only where most new age approaches go wrong but it has also been the source of most of the confusion in the world since time began. Forgetting who we really are is, in my opinion, what the biblical Fall from Grace (i.e., Adam and Eve having to leave paradise and work for a living, etc) is really about.
The Garden of Eden represents paradise, the good life. And the good life is not somewhere or something else. Rather, it’s a question of perspective. And the question is this: “Am I just a human being or am I God being human?” The answer can make the difference between suffering and fun. The important thing is to understand is how we are and are not God. If we’re God, then everything is voluntary. If we’re human beings, nothing is voluntary. Everything must be suffered; that is, endured.
As I see it, what Adam and Eve acquired by eating the forbidden fruit was not knowledge but rather, ignorance. They covered up (i.e., forgot) who they really were. And we inherit that mistaken idea. We are born into life with a case of mistaken identity already in place. This is how I understand the concept of “original sin.”
However intense my experience, I am conscious of the presence and criticism of a part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it, and that is no more I than it is you. When the play, it may be the tragedy, of life is over, the spectator goes his way. It was a kind of fiction, a work of the imagination only, so far as he was concerned.
Finding out who you really are is for many, the main objective or meaning of life. But it’s not everything, because life is not just one big mistake. There’s a reason for forgetting who you are. There’s a reason God chooses to be ignorant. It’s called “ignorance” because God chooses to ignore something. All ignorance, in fact, is intentional: it’s not really a mistake or oversight at all. It’s one big “set up.”
We may ask ourselves why it is that God has blindfolded us so thoroughly; why He has stricken us with such ignorance… The answer to these questions is intimated in the Bhagavatam. In the story of creation we read that Brahma received the command from God to create. “Brahma’s first human creations were saints, who, immediately upon being created, fell into deep meditation, finding no interest in the things of the world.” Under such conditions it was impossible to get the play started, so, perhaps for this reason it was necessary for the Creator to resort to more drastic means!
Franz Dispeker, “All the World’s a Stage”5
Our ego, our earthly identity, is the mask, the disguise we wear to hide from ourselves. Why must we fool ourselves? Because life is a play, a game, a game of make believe. When you’re playing a game, you have to take it at least somewhat seriously while you’re playing. When we’re watching a movie, we have to half-believe it’s real for the same reason. In theatre it’s called “suspension of disbelief.” Since the following is one of the best descriptions I have encountered of this analogy, I will quote it at length:
If we are "normal" human beings, we believe three dimensional time space is all that exists (or at least it is what we focus on 99% of the time)…
Fortunately, our society offers us a practical analogy designed to help us understand the difference between illusion and reality. We have incredible technology that has created movie theaters with huge screens, quadraphonic sound, and several projectors running at once. Now let's look at our theater mentality, which we all have and are all quite familiar with. We go to see movies like Rambo or Under Siege and watch the blood and guts spilling on the screen. We hear the screams with our own ears. We demand perfection in our terror. If people are talking in the audience around us we get extremely upset because they are breaking the mood. What happens if the projector is not working perfectly, if it is not dark enough, if the sound is not just right - if everything around us has not been created to produce a total physiological response of stark terror with hearts pounding and palms sweating? What happens if we are not completely immersed in this simulation? We want our money back!
An individual who had any desire to experience peace would not go to such a movie, but, we are not primarily peace lovers. We are adventurers who are most interested in stimulation. That happens to be why we created the earth and the solar system in the first place. We are only too willing to go into a theater and pay six dollars to become terrified. Then we turn around and have the audacity to say that we would never have chosen the dramas in our lives. You can bet that we did choose. We not only chose an incarnation that is identical to the one playing on the screen, but we paid [a lot money to get in] and when anyone tries to point out to us that it is an illusion, we are offended.
What happens when we are at the movies and the excitement is peaking, the tanks are coming over the hill and the good guys are in the trenches and just as the fight is about to start, some guy in the audience stands up and says, "Don't worry - it's an illusion!" Do we say "Oh, yeah, that's true" or do we scream, "Sit down and shut up! Somebody call the usher and get that guy out of here. I don't want to know that it is an illusion because I'm having a good time!" What do we do when that same guy walks up to us after we wreck our car and reminds us that it is all an illusion? But life is just like the movie.
If our technology has the capability to make us believe for two solid hours that what we are experiencing is real, what does universal technology have? Do you know that God has better trick photography than Hollywood? Is this planet just a three dimensional hologram with quadraphonic sound being played on the inside of our eyelids or is it real? Will the credits start to roll soon? Will the house lights come on? When they do, how many of us have ever found blood on the screen? How many times have the actors actually died in what we saw? You know that they didn't get hurt because you would have read about it in the newspaper - "Twenty-five actors killed at the O.K. Corral." They are not dead. They are starring in another film next week.
We have all been killed thousands of times and frankly, we don't care.
In a long-term cosmic sense, we ultimately will not care about tragedy because the truth is God is love and love does not allow tragedy. Yet while the movie was going on, we were able to muster up enough anger and resentment to want to go up to the screen and kill the bad guys. [Life] functions in exactly the same way as Hollywood. The earth is a very well planned, technically correct illusion. It has been created so perfectly we think the movie begins at the beginning and ends at the end. We think time is linear and we don't even realize that the whole film was shot out of sequence. If we could see through the editing, we wouldn't waste our money buying a ticket.
Now, if folks are willing to pay five or ten dollars to go see a movie like Rambo, what do you think that they have to pay to do a lifetime of drama? It gets to be pretty expensive…
Paxton Robey, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” in No Time for Karma
The price we pay to experience the drama of life is our ignorance: believing that it’s real.
Granted, the people watching a movie know that it’s not real– or are at least aware enough of that fact to enjoy it. They know they are safely seated in the theatre, not at risk in the movie, so they don’t want their enjoyment taken away. Few of us, on the other hand, believe that we are actually sitting in an audience somewhere watching the movie of our lives. We don’t feel like actors either. We think that what’s going on is real, and we do want our suffering taken away.
The reason for this is simply because life is a much better movie. You might call it “virtual” reality. Let’s say you’re sitting in the “heavenly theatre,” watching your life as a very good movie.
Eventually you’ll say, “This is still not really the kind of reproduction I wanted. What I want is to be able to identify with one of the characters in the scene.” We want not only to watch the drama that is being performed on the stage but actually to get into it. We will want to be wired in with electrodes on our brains that will actually allow us to feel the emotions of the people acting on the stage. Eventually we will get absolutely perfect reproductions and be able to see that image so vividly that we shall become it.
And so the question arises– could that be where we are already?
Alan Watts, Philosophical Fantasies6
Once again, we are going to take our lives seriously only as much as we believe that they’re real. We might be ignorant, but that’s because God is ignoring what God knows.
If God goes through life knowing what’s happening and what’s going to happen, God isn’t going to be very impressed. There will be no sense of wonder. No surprises.
It’s like a game of Telephone, or Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Telephone is only fun when people don’t hear the message clearly. It’s the way the message changes unexpectedly that’s enjoyable. Likewise, if you’re going to play pin the tail on the donkey, you have to be blindfolded. It’s our ignorance that makes the game of life fun, at least for God.7
Every good dream has some drama, and that's why life is suffering: life is designed to be a “nightmare,” or at least a tremendous hassle. In order for life to be a tremendous hassle, God has to forget who God is. Otherwise, God is not going to get frustrated about being stuck in traffic. We might hate being stuck in traffic; but for God, having that experience– including being frustrated, even hundreds of times in one lifetime– is the whole point.8 If God knew S/He was merely playing the part, it wouldn’t be half as fun.
God loves life. God enjoys games, drama, excitement. That’s why God loves movies. God is interested in dreaming, in watching the movies of our lives, in playing all these roles even if during it all, God is taking it seriously. In other words, God doesn’t have to know that the movie is just a movie in order to enjoy it, i.e., in order to feel alive.9 Like I said, this awareness only gets in the way.
To God, it is all a play, a drama, a dream. If God is taking the dream seriously (i.e., having a nightmare), God can always wake up, in or out of the dream. God always eventually wakes up from a dream unaffected by it. In the end, it was all just a dream.
One of the objections to comparing life to a play or a movie is that when people play games, they know they are playing. When actors act, they know they are acting. If in life we are just playing or acting, most of us don’t know it. For us, life can be a nightmare: pain and suffering are not fun. How can God be so cruel to us?
This question is rooted in that basic mistake about who we really are. The answer is that we are not actors hired by God. We are God pretending to be different people. The universe is not geared toward the happiness of the individual. It is meaningless in terms of the individual. The universe is not designed to make you, the individual, happy. Life is not fair.
It’s hard not to be upset at hearing this, but that’s being like a child who cries at a movie, believing it to be real. The good news is that what you really want is not to be happy yourself but for God to be happy. Why? Not because you are a slave, but because you are really God. To say ‘that’s all well and good for God, but what about me?’ is to be stuck in the illusion of individuality. It’s like being handed $100 and saying “well that’s OK for him, but what about me?”
The part of you that that right now might be thinking, “damn it, I’m real!”, is God. Everything else is a disguise.
We’re like cells in a body: If the body is to survive, we must work for the good of the whole. To think you are an individual and to work for your own happiness is to become a cancer. This is not to say cancer is bad any more than individuality is. Like I said, the illusion of individuality is part of the game of life. This where I think many people, including many spiritual teachers, miss the point. If you’re going to point to all the pain that has been caused by human selfishness, you need to question the meaning of life itself.
Is the universe friendly? To say that life, i.e., the universe, is a dream is one way to answer that. It seems to me that as a dream, the universe, i.e., life, works for God. God is free; God is in control– or at least as much as God wants to be. After all, that’s what it means to be God. This freedom, along with the challenges and experiences presented by life to God, are fun.
This idea of life being a game may seem straightforward enough, but it’s a quite a slap in the face to all who have lost a loved one, or parts of their own life, to some tragedy or injustice. “The Holocaust was a game? 9-11 is a joke? You mean to say that rape, torture, and child abuse are just for fun?” My answer is, do you want these things to go on or not? I’m telling you that there is no other way to stop cruelty than to see it for what it is. Nothing else has worked.
Have you ever had or heard of a nightmare that goes on and on? Night after night, you are hounded by the same persecutor. You can’t get away; you can’t fight and win. The nightmare only ends when you turn around and face the monster and see it for what it is: a part of you, the one that is doing the dreaming! This awareness is lucidity. Staying in that awareness, that you are the dreamer, is lucid dreaming.
Usually the only way we manage to escape a nightmare is by crying out in despair, and our cry wakes us up. It wakes us up out of the dream to who we really are, the dreamer. Yet we look around and see others as separate from ourselves. The challenge is to realize that we too are being dreamt by something bigger than ourselves, something that contains us all. The challenge is to remain awake, aware, lucid in the dream of life. People who live lucidly work cooperatively for the good of the whole. They have not just surpassed selfishness; they’ve surpassed selfness. No more “us and them.” All their actions are taken with everyone and everything in mind– or rather, in heart.
So it goes, the game of falling asleep to separateness and waking up again to unity. That is the meaning of life. The most surprising thing about it, to me at least, is that it is so simple! It’s not complicated, yet it’s quite possibly the hardest thing to remember in the world.
If we’re supposed to forget it, though, if there’s nothing wrong with life because it works for God, then why write this book? Why spoil the fun?
I don’t claim to know when it’s appropriate to ‘let the cat out of the bag.’ Nor do I know what difference that would make. I’m hardly the first person to say, “hey everyone, this is all an illusion!” Countless mystics, survivors of near death experiences and others have said that there is a God and that God is love. They say that God gives them the essence of everything they have ever sought, a feeling better and greater than any they’ve ever had. Many call it “bliss.” But many more people simply don’t believe them. Like I said, religion is a personal choice.
Even if I’m right (that God exists), I don’t know who should and shouldn’t believe it. That is, I don’t know whether anything or anyone needs to or should change. There are plenty of people who are awake; most people are not, and it’s that way for a reason. Waking some people up may not be a good idea after all. Likewise, I don’t take it as given that the world needs to be “saved” in any sense of the word.
I’m not sure anyone can ever know what’s right. I said this book would help you answer the questions, “what do I want?” and “what should I do?” And what I have come to believe is that these questions do not have rational answers. The same goes for explaining why things are the way they are. Like I said, this book is just a model, a bunch of static generalizations. But the universe is too complex and too fluid for blanket statements about it.
We can’t know what’s right and wrong for us or anyone else. That is why thinking is not enough. But there is a way to feel what’s appropriate, moment by moment, and act accordingly, and that is through your intuition. Intuition is the enlightened way of seeing the world. Not seeing it vis-à-vis our ideas of what is good or bad, but how it truly is. It won’t necessarily look pretty or make any sense, but your intuition will guide you like an inner compass.
How do you let your intuition guide you? You start by uncovering it. You can’t read a compass with the cover closed.
How do you uncover this inner compass? You have to know where it is. Your inner compass is in your heart. The organ of intuition is the heart, not the brain.
To use your inner compass, then, you open your heart. Opening your heart means loving more. Loving more means accepting more. When you accept more, you can see more. You take in more information.
To use your intuition, use your head less and your heart more. Put less attention on your thoughts and pay more attention to your feelings.
We deny our feelings because we’re afraid of where they might lead us. But a compass does not force you to go anywhere. It is just more information. You can accept this information without having to do anything.
You accept things when you trust life. Remember that mistrust comes from the mind. We may feel fear in our bodies, but ultimately it comes from our thoughts. The intellect is your identity, and the ego is what stands in your way.
Find the freedom for yourself and others.
To sum up, whether the universe is friendly or not (i.e., whether life is good or not) depends on who is experiencing it. If I am actually God living this life, then I don’t have to be anxious. I can trust in life. I am safe. I don’t have to hide my feelings. I can tell the truth.
In this dream or play time, I am free. I don’t have to do anything, I have everything I need. I can approach life from a feeling of curiosity, not lack, not necessarily knowing what’s next, but enjoying the journey.
I know no one else can hurt me because there is no one else. I know you and I are one.
In approaching the meaning of life, gradually it became clear that I had to start from scratch. In order to understand the true nature of things, including ourselves, I needed to understand what we’re all made of. More importantly, I had to know why the entire universe exists in the first place.
At first, I didn’t assume the existence of God– that is, an omnipotent creator and ruler of the universe– but now I do. The result is the cosmology you have before you.
In this model of the universe, I define everything from space and time to God and love in a concise, almost mathematical way. I do this to be clear about what I’m saying.10 I use a few terms that may be somewhat unfamiliar, like synthesis, differentiation, integration, etc. But for the most part, I redefine familiar terms like atoms, qualities, gravity, the ego, the mind, and karma. It’s important to put aside your preconceptions about these words at first. My hope is that ultimately, these “new” definitions actually explain and put the more familiar meanings for these terms in a clearer context. This should lead to a deeper, clearer understanding of these concepts. That way, they can become more relevant and useful.
This section attempts to give the worldview I will describe its proper philosophical label. Each technical term when defined appears in italics. My model may not fit perfectly into any traditional line of thought, but that’s not important.
This book deals primarily with ontology, the study of the ultimate nature of things. It is a metaphysic, a model of the universe. With this model I attempt to express the Hindu philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, a.k.a., Nondualism, in a holographic framework.
Nondualism is a subjective, monistic, idealistic, and holistic metaphysic.
A subjective universe is one in which the being experiencing it has control over everything, i.e., is God. In an objective universe (what people popularly call “the real world”), we do not have control over everything; there are things or people in it which we do not control.
Monism says there is only one kind of thing in the universe.11 Dualism, on the other hand, says there are two kinds of things: mind and matter. The two monistic philosophies are idealism and materialism.
Idealism says there is only mind; materialism says there is only matter. Nondualism is idealistic monism because it says that everything is made of the same thing and that thing is mind.12
Mind is consciousness.
Consciousness is sentience or awareness, what we experience as “I.” In the nondualistic view, everything, both “material” things and ideas, is made of consciousness.
The consciousness of everything taken together can be called the “universal mind.” This universal mind is God.
God, then, is consciousness, our true identity. This means that we and everything we experience is a part of God: all the “good” and “evil,” the trash and treasure of life. God chooses to experience life– including joy and suffering– through every one of us, including trees, fleas, rocks and stars. All these things are made of consciousness.
Monism, whether idealist and materialist, can be either holistic or reductionist. Reductionism (as in Scientific Reductionism) claims that everything can be broken down into and explained in terms of its smallest particles.
Holism, on the other hand, says that things can have properties as a whole that are not explainable from the properties of their parts. Nondualism states that the universe is not only one kind of thing but one thing to begin with: a unified whole, or God. Only this whole can explain its parts, their reason for being as well as the way they interact. In this view, God has a central, primary role. This is the opposite of reductionism.
Actually, nondualism is reductionism in the sense that the complex is derived from the simple. However, unlike scientific reductionism, in nondualism the simplest thing is the whole, not the part. The parts can be “reduced” to the whole, but not vice versa. Reality can only be explained in terms of God, “the biggest thing,” not the smallest. God is irreducible because God is the simplest thing there is. This is what makes nondualism holistic rather than reductionistic.
[I know I haven’t explained holographic. To be continued…]
1 This is Aldous Huxley's summation of the Theologica Germanica (anonymous, c. 1350-1400) in The Perennial Philosophy (177), also in his introduction to Prabhavananda and Isherwood’s Bhagavad Gita: Song of God (14).
2 The Buddha defined enlightenment as “the end of suffering.” He uses a negative definition “so that the mind cannot make it into something to believe in, or… into a goal that is impossible.” The question to ask yourself when you use a word like God is, “does it point beyond itself to that transcendent reality, or does it lend itself too easily to becoming no more than an idea in your head that you believe in, a mental idol?” (Eckhard Tolle, The Power of Now, 10, 11). ”There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God himself… as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist!” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 71).
3 Granted, they may not really be trying. They may just be placating seekers who think that what they need are new ideas. If a guru refuses to teach in words, people are often not interested. The guru might be offering deep healing and spiritual advancement through a simple “energetic transmission,” yet people will often fail to recognize it. Meanwhile, they are satisfying people who will only take their car to a mechanic who will describe what’s exactly what’s wrong and how they’re going to fix it. To placate people who want explanations or even “proof,” gurus speak or even perform miracles in order to get people’s attention. Sai Baba of Shirdi said, “I give people what they want so they’ll want what I have to give.” Meanwhile, the guru helps the person subconsciously, where the real work is to be done.
4 Parmenides (c. 500 BCE), credited with the first known written logical argument in Western history, goes to great pains to repeatedly point out that his world view is just a working model. He “does not say anything about how ‘what is’ must be (or how we must say and take it to be) independent of contexts of inquiry” (R. Cherubin, “Notes on Parmenides, Zeno, and Melissus”). In other words, these theories are just meant to help you think about things.
5 Christopher Isherwood, ed., Vedanta for the Modern Man, 247-8.
6 this was written in 1975, twenty-five years before the release of the film, The Matrix.
7 If I could see a whole movie or read a whole book at once there would be no element of surprise, of suspense. Of course I do sometimes know the ending (e.g., Romeo and Juliet) yet I still enjoy the story. But that’s often because I’m seeing a new production, a different version of the story. Even when I’m watching the same movie or reading the same book over and over again, it’s a different experience each time. I’m different; I notice different aspects/details of it. I make new associations.
8 Nirmala, Nothing Personal, 85.
9 The movie The Game is a good example of this.
10 This is an “analytic” approach to philosophy. Analytic Philosophy “emphasizes a clear, precise approach with particular weight being placed upon argumentation and evidence, avoidance of ambiguity, and attention to detail. This has made many philosophical subjects more suited to specialization and precision work, and also made many writings more technical than they were in the past. Arguably it has also resulted in philosophy having less of the sweeping ‘meaning of life’ scope that is popularly associated with the term, and the critics of analytic philosophy sometimes level this point against it. On the other hand, it has arguably added focus and rigor, allowing for debate and a reduction in philosophers talking past each other” (from Wikipedia).
Hopefully I’ve achieved a good balance of relevance and rigor. My advisor at Princeton certainly didn’t think that about this book’s first incarnation (as my senior thesis) nearly twenty years ago. Fortunately I’m no longer writing to graduate.
11 In fact, one reason nondualism is not simply called monism is that monism can presumably only be understood as opposed to dualism. Nonduality, on the other hand, cannot really be understood at all. That’s why Nondualism is much more than a belief system. See “Thinking about it is not enough.”
12 I don’t really know whether nondualism can be said to be idealist or not. In my system, the difference between mind and matter, thoughts and objects, is just a matter of degree. Nor, for that matter, do I know whether in nondualism, God is “immanent” or “transcendent.” Everything is made of God, yet there is indeed a difference between consciousness and the universe. The difference is as subject is to object or as cause is to effect. Perhaps this makes nondualism a transcendant view. In any event, I don’t see a need to make those distinctions in this context.