“Quantum theory thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated "building blocks," but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of the whole.
Fritjof Capra- The Tao of Physics
I am that.
I am that which is highest.
I am that which is lowest.
I am that which is All.
- Julian of Norwich
These reflections are only my own poetic and playful imaginings, which have emerged from my life of studying and practicing Buddhism and Christianity. I'm not a scholar- Buddhist or Christian, and I'm not attempting to speak in an authoritative way as to the nature of Buddhism or Christianity. I hope these words are helpful, but if they aren't please let them pass like clouds on a windy day, or, if you wish, struggle with them a bit.
We are familiar with the world of classical physics- even if we haven't studied physics. It is the world we percieve and experience in our day to day life: a world of people, places and things- the sun rising, a bouncing ball, a spaceship headed to the moon- bodies in motion- that interact with one another in a manner that can be measured and quantified.
We may be less familiar with the world of quantum physics- the world of the underlying reality of those people, places and things as we experience them in day to day life. In this underlying, sub-atomic world, there are no separate or fixed entities. At the sub-atomic level, the kitchen table, which we perceive to be static, stable, separate, is revealed to be incredibly dynamic, mostly empty space, with vast realms of creation, destruction and communication among particles of energy. The table has a completely different nature than our perceptions can discern, than our usual concepts can convey.
In this quantum realm, reality is seen as dynamic and flowing, with every aspect, every sub atomic particle, intimately connected to every other aspect- all aspects of reality are part of the same fabric. What affects one aspect, affects all the others. According to quantum physics, if you want to penetrate and touch the essential nature of a given molecule (or any phenomenon), you have to take into account the whole cosmos, because the whole cosmos is making the molecule manifest and behave in the way that it does. The molecule is empty of a particular, separate, self-existing nature- it is made up of, one in being with, the whole cosmos.
When I was a freshman in high school, I lay on my bed one night, listening to music. I had a sudden revelation. It occurred to me that everything in the universe caused everything else in the universe to happen- everything always happened all together. The budding of a flower, the flicker of a candle, and the movements within my mind and heart, all of these emerged from all of the other conditions and events in the universe- this was the impression that came upon me. I don't know why this epiphany came to me; I hadn't been contemplating these matters. Afterwards, I would never see the world the same way again.
This new way of seeing things immediately brought into question some of the basic Christian concepts that had always been part of my way of seeing the world; the ideas of good and evil, heaven and hell, sin and redemption- how did these ideas fit into a world where everything caused everything else, everything was part of everything else, a world without separately existing entities? These questions sent me on a journey that would lead me away from the Christian faith, through scientific thought, and into Buddhism. Eventualy I would return to my Christian faith, "to arrive where I started and know the place for the first time."
How can I consider myself both a Christian and a Buddhist when the two world views seem so fundamentally different? For example, in Christian experience, God is THE central reality, in Buddhism, God is not typically mentioned..The seemingly irreconcilable differences between Christianity and Buddhism, as between classical and quantum physics, are really only two different ways of looking at the same reality. We might call these two viewpoints the Relative (seeing parts in relation to one another, or classical physics) and the Absolute (seeing parts as aspects of a whole, or quantum physics). In fact relative and absolute are the terms Buddhism uses to describe these two ways of seeing reality.
For example, we might take a relative view of our body or an absolute view. Taking a relative view, we are made of bones, and blood, and dozens of organs, and millions of cells, and proteins, etc, etc. We can look at these "separate" parts and analyze how they are in "relation" to one another, how they function together, what makes them work. We need for doctors to be proficient in this relative view of our body in order to keep healthy and take care of our well-being. But day to day, our experience of our body is not of a collection of parts, but as one whole, united enitity- we take an absolute or quantum view of our body.
If we are only able to touch the relative dimension of reality we will suffer alot. If we can only experience the separateness of people, places and things, without experiencing in a deep way the profound unity of it all, then we will be trapped in a world of lonely and futile competition; life as a drama in which all the players end up dead on the stage.. According to Buddhism, most of human suffering has to do with our being stuck in the relative dimension- everything separate- without having any real access to or experience of the absolute dimension- everything intimately connected with everything else, nothing is separate. It is the primary intention of Buddhist thought and practice to help us to touch this absolute dimension of reality, not just in an intellectual way, but to experience it with our whole being. We want to make this absolute dimension, alive and vital in our day to day life.
We do this primarily by meditation, or mindfulness practice. In meditation we let go of our thoughts (and with it, we let go of the classical, relative world of reality) and practice experiencing this moment of reality deeply, with our whole self, without putting it through our conceptual filter. We sit and focus on our breathing, feeling the in-breath, feeling the out-breath, feeling our body being in the world. As thoughts come up, "I have to file those taxes", "That was a fun party last night", etc., we gently let go of the thought and return heart and body and mind to experiencing, with our whole self, the simple, but deeply beautiful act of sitting, being, breathing. We may let go of our thoughts 40 times in our 20 minute sitting. 1000 times in our evening of meditation. One million times in our practice this year.
As the meditative practice becomes more fully integrated into our life, our relationship to our thoughts and concepts changes. When we began practicing meditation, we saw life through the filter of our thoughts, good and bad, up and down, self and other. We didn't recognize these as concepts, as tools which we applied to reality to help us make our way in the world. The concepts WERE the reality. We didn't have the capacity to set the concepts down and see reality independently of them. WE WERE TRAPPED in the world of our concepts.
With our mindfulness practice, we develop some sovereignty over our concepts. The vale slowly lifts and we have a taste of life in all its undifferentiated wholeness and beauty. Our concepts (all of our philosophy, theology) appear as clouds floating above. We can bring them down and use them as needed, but we are not trapped inside them, we are not pushed around by them.
So I can be happily and fruitfully in the Christian realm of God/Creation, sin/redemption, Christ/man, because for me, these concepts and teachings are a beautiful poetry pointing to deep aspects of reality. They are not an absolute truth. The deep reality of Christ, God, the Kingdom, are of a different nature than the concepts. My own experience is that the living Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God, are fully present in our little Buddhist community. For we are practicing to live simply, to see deeply, to experience the intimate connection between all aspects of reality, to treat all aspects of reality with respect and love.