You can only observe that is not yourself. Go beyond all the things that are appearing in your senses and realize that you are the observer. You observe with your eyes, your skin, your nose, your tongue and your ears. There is no getting out of the sensory prison. Now, close your eyes, close your ears, shut your skins, shut your tongue and close your nose. Now, you see things in your mind which causes you to think. Your mind observes. The external world was constructed incrementally over billions of years by some external agency. The internal world was constructed incrementally over your life time by the agency of your mind. You are prisoner in both the worlds. Do you want to be free? Shut your mind now. It is hard, I know. It is probably the hardest thing in the world. But keep at it. Observe your thoughts. Observe where they originate. Find their seeds. Look at them. One seed after another, thoughts start to subside. Your mind starts to calm down. Whatever remains after your mind is completely quiet is you. The real you. Not the one who resides in someone else’s or even in your own mind as an image. Not the one who you or everyone else think you are. But the real you. There is no mind now and there is no image. Once your image vanishes from your own mind, it instantly vanishes from everyone else’s mind as well. Once you realize the true nature of the mind, it loses all of its power over you. You are free. Fly now. Fly higher and higher. Touch the heavens. Fill the whole universe. Everything is yours and at the same time nothing is yours.
Subjective expressions like art, poem, literature, drama, movie, are an attempt to express the feelings. Spiritual expressions are also an attempt, but on a different level. Observational expressions, like science and math, on the other hand are an attempt to encode the observed reality objectively. In either of these cases, the expressions can be best appreciated and understood only after going through similar experience. Even the objective expressions, in a certain plane, have a level of subjectivity encoded in them. For example, let’s say there is “1+1=3” written on a wall. What does that mean? The first reaction may simply be to discount it as a child’s attempt at learning addition. But it can be any number of other things as well. No one can tell for sure why anyone wrote it. It could be stating a simple mathematical fact but instead of “2”, the person wrote “3” by mistake. It could actually be a kid’s attempt in learning addition. It could also be a code word for another person. It could be a joke two people played with each other. Or any number of infinitely many other possibilities. In similar vein, if I write, “As big as the universe, as small as nothing”, what will that mean to you? It may mean nothing. You may think this rambling of an old man or babbling of a novice philosopher. Or if you had tried to inquire about your own nature and had reached a certain point, you would understand exactly what I meant.
Imagine the very first human who becomes aware. He looks around. He sees the vast nature for the very first time. He sees the Sun moving across the sky. He sees days turn to nights and nights turn to days. He sees the moon and the stars. He looks at the trees and the animals. He looks at himself: his hands, his legs, his body. He looks at his fingers and his toes. He feels his head, feels his hair. He wanders around. He sees the mountains. He sees the lake. He finds huge rocks and small pebbles. He sees rivers and oceans. He sees that some animals run away from him. He feels hungry. But there are no thoughts yet just the observations. There is nothing to think about. He hasn’t experienced anything. He does not yet have the symbols for thinking. He does not have a name. Names have no meaning yet. He just sees and experiences the world purely at the sensory level. He can see and can feel everything around him except himself. Sometimes it is cold. Sometimes it is hot. He hears the sound of the wind, bird-calls, river flowing, lightning and roar of a tiger. He feels the pain when he walks. He feels tired. He does not yet have the names for all these experiences. Still he feels it and he knows it. But there is always a hole where ever he stands. He does not know who he himself is. Who is experiencing all these? What does he look like? He looks at his parent with odd fascination like a chick looks at the mother hen without any attachment. He does not know what parents mean. There probably is some connection at the subconscious level, but he is not aware of that yet.
If you can truly imagine what being that first human must have felt like, I think you are truly enlightened then. That is still the world we live in at the most fundamental level. Only now, we have created separate worlds on top of this fundamental world based off of symbols. Symbols are a way to encode our understanding of the fundamental world. Expressions are then constructed out of these symbols to express the feelings, encode the understanding, and modulate the sensory information to make them more tractable. From that perspective, when someone says “1+1 is 2”, what is he trying to say? Is he saying, “If we put one of your pencils and one of my pencils in a box, there will be two pencils” or is talking abstractly at a purely mathematical level. We can never be sure.
When we look at the whole reality, it all makes sense and we see how everything fits together in a harmonious fashion. As soon as we try to understand how every individual thing works by reducing them in smaller and smaller pieces, the very act of reduction makes the understanding impossible. It is almost a fact that a whole is more than the sum of its parts. As a consequence, understanding the parts does not result in understanding the whole. Let’s take an example of DNA. DNA encodes the information required to pass down the hereditary information from generation to generation. When human genome project to sequence human DNA was announced, it was thought that once the DNA was sequenced, we would be able to exactly determine what a person would look like by simply looking at the person’s DNA. It has now been more than a decade since the genome was sequenced. Now, there are even ways to quickly sequence individual genome. Still, we are nowhere near the earlier promise of the complete understanding. One of the reasons for that is that the DNA does not live in isolation. It is simply a part of a bigger piece of a puzzle called life.
The same thing can also be said about the particle physics. There are various physical models that try to explain how the physical reality works. One particular model is called “Standard Model” and in that model, the Higgs boson was the last remaining piece. After the discovery of Higgs boson in 2014, scientists proclaimed that the last missing piece of the puzzle had been found and everything could now be explained. These scientists seemed to have failed to heed Anderson:
The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. In fact, the more the elementary particle physicists tell us about the nature of the fundamental laws, the relevance they seem to have to the very real problems of the rest of science, much less to those of society. (“More is Different”, PW Anderson)
If one is honest about what he knows, he can never proclaim that everything is known. And when one proclaims such, we must know what to do with that proclamation: ignore.
If we continue looking at the various fields of modern intellectual endeavors, we see such things play out in many different fields. There are economists and behavioral scientists who claim to be able to model and forecast the human behavior. There are neuroscientists who claim that they can explain what consciousness is. This urge to explain things now seems to have come to computational field as well. People are giddy with excitement at the partial successes of machine learning in providing features that the customers seemed to like at the moment. These successes are mostly fueled by the availability of extremely large datasets made possible by the Internet-based very efficient data collection mechanism and extremely large computational power made possible by the advances in fabrication technologies among other things. Extrapolating these successes into the future, people now see the possibility of artificial consciousness.
It is such a pity that we always seem to fall into this reductionist trap. We seem to think that once some fundamental law or solution is found remaining can simply be put together step-by-step to construct a bigger whole. We seem to forget that:
At each stage entirely new laws, concepts, and generalizations are necessary, requiring inspiration and creativity to just as great a degree as in the previous one. Psychology is not applied biology, nor biology applied chemistry. (PW Henderson – “More is Different”)
as big as infinity
as small as zero
as closed as universe
as open as nothing
that is me
that is you
It started like any other day. I woke up. I did the usual morning ritual. I ate breakfast, said goodbye to kids as they were already up by the time and drove to office. On the way, this feeling hit me. I felt like stopping in the middle of the road and savor it. Realizing that that probably would be a very bad idea, I kept on driving albeit slowly.
There are only two ways. You either become infinity and become one with It or become zero and dissolve into It. Become infinity and everything happens in you. There is no reason to worry and no need to feel sorry. Everything is you. Become zero and you remain untouched and unattached. Nothing affects you. There is no reason to worry and no need to feel sorry. In either case, you transcend everything and achieve everlasting bliss. When you are somewhere in between other than zero or infinity, you are thrown around by the vicissitudes of life. You feel completely out control. Just know that you are not in control. Control is just an illusion. Just think how many things have happened the way they were planned.
Imagine living inside an ocean. If you are the ocean, then no matter how high the tide goes or how fast the storm moves, they are all part of you. They cannot harm you. Or imagine you are a tiny being, so tiny that you cannot even touch the ocean. You remain untouched when the ocean is calm and you remain untouched when the ocean is stormy and wild. Usually though, you are neither of those, neither the infinite ocean nor the infinitesimally tiny being. Tide will then take you high and throw you down. Storm will take you far and wide with innumerable other beings in it. There will be collisions. All these are inevitable. It is in the Ocean’s nature to be such.
Oh! How it wanders?
How it clings?
To every little places
And every little things
However much you try
You cannot even one inch pry
It makes up the places to go to
It makes up the things to cling to
Illusions and perceptions
Successes and failures
There is no stopping
The things it can come up with
It is not for the lack of trying.
On the contrary, because of it
It will be like this
Till you are in bed dying
Fire does not burn
Water does not wet
Wind does not move
Ocean does not drown
Veda does not liberate
Quran does not liberate
Bible does not liberate
Dhammapada does not liberate
One furrow on your forehead
I feel my heart being squeezed
One glance from you
I feel my heart being pierced
One hint of a smile on your lips
I feel my heart leaping with joy
What have you done to me?
You pass me by
Your smell lingers on
Mind starts playing tricks
Millions of thoughts battle for attention
Your one simple touch
All thoughts subside
What is this place?
Where did you bring me?
Let me go
Let me be free
So much light
So much peace
I am free
The more I realize that I have no control, the more I want to work just for the heck of it. Why not? My head is clearer now. I have acquired this clarity by not being burdened by the anxiety over what-ifs. There is nothing to lose now. Just do and be happy. This clarity then brings a keen sense of observation. A power to observe how what you say or what you show sets off a change in another person. It is a very strange feeling to actually be able to observe the stream of sounds coming from around you and realize that the sounds and visuals have the power to change people profoundly. Sometimes this change is for the better. Other times it is for the worse. In either case, they affect change for sure. Just look at yourself. When someone praises you, you feel very good. When someone says bad things about you, you feel like starting a fight with the person. In truth, praise or curse, both are just the sounds that are used to express the thoughts the persons has about you. It is merely about your image in their mind. Those expressions bring joy or sadness if you don’t know yourself. As soon as you start knowing yourself, they either will sound meaningless or expose something about you for which you will feel profoundly grateful.
Audio and visuals can be transmitted long distance easily and instantaneously in the modern world. As a consequence we see an abundance of media around us – tv, billboard, radio, movies, computer, phone and so on. When we look closely at this, we find that we usually have very little control over the content we are being exposed to. Since so much has now been known about how our mind works, there are people, let’s say Xs, who try to use these media to affect changes in our behavior potentially to their advantage. This has been very successful because we usually think very little about the people behind the media. Interestingly though, when we flip this situation on its head and start becoming aware of ourselves and of the media that are being streamed into us, the media in turn will provide a glimpse into the minds of the people who are trying to brand us. Once this happens, we no longer remain just the consumer of the media rather we will now have some say on meaning the media is trying to convey. Ultimately Xs are also impacted by whey they hear, see, feel, touch, think and interact with in their own lives and media is a result of the belief system they have developed. Once we start interpreting the media in a unintended fashion, they will then have to take our interpretation into account. That means, even if they try to use audio-visual media as a one-way street to affect some change in us, as soon as we become aware of that motivation and start interpreting it differently, the media becomes a two-way street. The awareness brings a certain level control and we stop being easily manipulable. Xs now have to change themselves.
But let’s step back from all of this and ask the ultimate question: what is the meaning of all this? Or is there any meaning to it at all? Everything is changing so fast that it is very hard to find any meaning even if there is any. When you find a meaning in something, that thing is gone the next moment. Then what!? What happens to the meaning that you found? It is the ‘Anitya’ that Buddhism and Hinduism talk about. When everything changes, what is the truth?
You drive to office in the morning, come back in the evening and go to sleep. Cycle continues the next day. It feels like nothing changed from yesterday to today. But look closely. Among all the mundane events, big changes are happening. You grew one-day older from yesterday. Your kids also grew and now have one more day of experience that means they are slightly more intelligent and wiser. You probably also read something new, saw someone new on the road, faced some new challenges at the work, or even thought a new thought. Someone might have sent you an email with something interesting. After reading that email, you might have said: “That is very interesting.” Or you might have had a fight with your spouse, which in turn may end up resulting in something great in the future. In reality, it is very hard to keep track of things that happen as they all seem inconsequential and we simply lump them all together by saying “yesterday was uneventful.” But no matter what we say, big changes are constantly happening around us. Most of those changes are outside anyone’s control.
Driving to office in the morning and driving back from office in the evening is always a very interesting experience. I get a chance to reflect over the meaning of life, death, birth, universe and everything in between. Is there a logic to life? When something happens, does it happen because of some grand plan? Or is it just pure chance? When I choose to do something, are any of the choices better than the other ones? Today, on the drive back home a thought came. Is teaching a person to read and write good or bad? Is it still good if the person goes on to become a violent criminal who ultimately kills hundreds of thousands of people because he was able to create a very powerful weapon? Now, is killing the person a bad choice if a person from the future traveled back in time and killed him knowing that he was going to kill a lot of people otherwise?
Since there is no time machine and we cannot know in advance the outcome of our choice, we just have to make a choice and live with the consequence. There is no point lamenting over whether we should have made this choice or that. That is probably why almost all the scriptures say the same thing. We are tools of the God. We just do whatever he commands us to do. When he tells us to make a bad choice, we make it. When he tells us to make a good choice, we also make that.
When I drive to office in the morning, there is usually a lot of traffic on the road and they move very slowly. Since I don’t have to reach office at a fixed time, I don’t usually get anxious. But sometimes, when I didn’t have a good night sleep, or when the kids wake up earlier than usual and do not let me have a proper breakfast, or when I oversleep, or for some other reason, my mind gets anxious. During such time, I observe myself driving more carelessly. I also see other drivers trying to pass each other dangerously or driving very close. They probably also have one thing or the other going on in their head. Many times I have seen that when I drive in the same lane without trying to pass other cars, I reach office faster than the other drivers who are passing each other, speeding up and stopping and doing different things to go faster. That happens because there are many cars on the road. Each is being driven by an intelligent driver. No one knows beforehand what the other driver is going to do. Then, there are traffic signs, cross-sections and traffic lights. Life is also like this, a fabric with many threads and inersections. You are just a car in this vast fabric of life. There are innumerable other lives. Then there are the dead ones who still reside in you. Don’t be surprised if the dead people exert some influence over your life. When you think about it, a part of a dead person always lives inside of you. They guide you and help you make choices in life. Every choice you make moves you in this fabric. The fabric is so vast and intricate that you never see the consequence of your choice over your own or someone else’s life. Sometimes a small act of kindness performed by a complete stranger may completely change the course of your life for good. Another time, an act that you think is good and righteous, results in ruining a life of a complete stranger. In both cases, you may not even become aware what actually happened.