Tag Archives: emptiness

Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 12)

University of Maryland Brain Cap Technology Turns Thought into MotionClick here to read part 11!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

In our prior post we reconstructed the concept of “you”, which we all typically, think of as bounded by the skin and the body it encloses.  But a hallmark of 21st-century science is to tear down boundaries.  A limitless universe that springs from the quantum vacuum, (along with possibly multiple universes) is the setting for an unbounded “you” – a self that merges with creation. The bond that unites you with the universe isn’t simply physical, although every atom in your body comes from stardust, much of it the residue of exploding supernovas in intergalactic space.  Far more importantly, “you” are a mental construct, and therefore the bond that weaves your life into cosmic life is invisible.

We’ve argued that human intelligence most plausibly arose from an intelligent universe. As the great physicist Erwin Schrödinger declared, “To divide or multiply consciousness is something meaningless.” In other words, consciousness is one. It only appears to be divided up into billions of human minds, and likely into uncountable forms of consciousness in other species. In the same way, you might see an aqua sweater as blue while I see it as green, but “color” itself is a single thing; two people can’t have their own separate definition of it.

There’s a telling metaphor in the Vedic tradition: When the sun shines on a perfectly still sea, there is one sun reflecting back. But when the sea is rippled and moving, there are millions of tiny suns shining back. This appearance doesn’t mean that the sun isn’t one. This insight comes very close to an ancient passage from one of the central texts in Indian spirituality, the Yoga Vasistha: “Cosmic consciousness alone exists, now and ever. In it there are no worlds, no created beings. That consciousness reflected in itself appears to be creation.”

In short, either consciousness is unbounded or you haven’t looked deep enough. The reason that Schrödinger felt competent to talk about unbounded consciousness was that physics had finally reached deep enough, to the most fundamental level of nature. In the quantum realm we know for certain that notions of “boundaries” evaporate: the wave functions that describe the locations and boundaries of “particles” extend in all directions to the borders of the universe itself.  Eventually the dissolution of boundaries became total. Einstein, who was a conservative in these matters compared to some of the other quantum pioneers, wrote a condolence letter to a friend who had just lost her husband. It contained the following famous passage: “Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Quantum physics forced us to re-conceive ourselves as creatures who appear to be physical and bounded by time, even though our substance isn’t material and has no boundaries in time. Down further in scale, re-conceiving who we are becomes an ever greater imperative: gluons, quarks, neutrinos, mesons, bosons (including the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle”) all intimately overlap. The universe – and you – continually bubbles up from these shadowy subatomic entities, each sensing, reflecting, and interacting in a seamless whole. In the nanoseconds when these elusive entities escape their invisible domain, science touches on the same picture painted by the Yoga Vasistha, of a creation born of unseen activity beyond the reach of inner thought and probably beyond the reach of imagination as well.

What’s left is mathematics clinging to the edge of the cliff with clutched fingers, hoping not to fall.  But mathematics isn’t reality, while consciousness is. All of us, including scientists, protect our boundaries, finding it hard to join unbounded reality. But if consciousness is real, we don’t have to leap into an alien realm to reach the foundation of creation – it is inside ourselves. The limits of physicality have been reached. This is an area on which there is scientific consensus, thanks to quantum theory: There is a smallest level of scale beneath which one can go no further, at least in this “real” universe of four-dimensional spacetime, known as the Planck scale: 10-35 meters (-1 followed by 35 zeros).  Besides defining where physicality ends, the Planck scale also marks the end point of the environment that encloses material things, such as time, space, and the laws of nature.

We don’t know for sure what the smallest entities are like.  (The five senses don’t help at such an inconceivable scale.) Some think they are the “multidimensional strings” of string theory, but there are other theories as well each sorely lacking in evidence but backed up by various intricate and beautiful mathematical formulations – indeed, the real problem is that there are too many mathematical possibilities that all seem equally valid – or invalid. Whatever the smallest “stuff” is, it cannot be subdivided into smaller bits and pieces with known locations in time and space.  Instead, the universe emerges from the energetic void that is the foundational nature of creation. But even “void” is a tricky term, since the pre-creation state isn’t empty, a pure, empty, vacuum. There are huge amounts of energy linked to vast numbers of virtual particles that potentially manifest an observable reality. Emptiness is spontaneously and continuously giving rise to these tiniest entities, coming and going in a “quantum foam.”  Thus, from the smallest level of scale, the universe is not a place, an empty box in which we reside.  Creation is a process that brings existence out of non-existence. You are that process. You are seamlessly woven into a reality that is complete, whole, and perfect just as it is.

Surprisingly to some but not to all, the subjective experiences found in the Yoga Vasistha and many other ancient texts emphasize the unity of experience. These texts, as it turns out, precisely reflect our objective scientific understanding of how the universe arises. The usual terms attached to ancient texts (e.g., spiritual, religious, wise, intuitive, enlightened) send up red flags to scientists and their ingrained distrust of subjectivity. So let’s resort to a neutral term that links subject and object: observation. In a reality where artificial boundaries have collapsed, the “in here” of subjectivity is no longer walled off from the “out there” of objectivity. The seamless flow of creation expresses itself in both. An observer-based science can be founded on meditation or the Hubble telescope. In a dualistic framework these are opposite poles.  But they come together in an unbounded framework.

For a century quantum physics has wrestled with the so-called observer effect as it impinges on isolated waves and particles. It was mind-blowing enough to believe that the process of observation turned waves into particles.  But the logical extension is mind-expanding: Everything in the universe depends on the linkage between observer, observed, and the act of observation. If it is willing to adopt a touch of humility, science will see that ancient contemplative traditions arrived at conclusions that were not duplicated until “objective” methods acquired incredibly advanced, precise tools. The Higgs boson required billions of dollars in machinery, and countless hours of theorizing, in order to pry out a new piece of knowledge about how subatomic particles emerge from the void. The ancient wisdom traditions began with the big picture instead, and their descriptions of the big picture still outstrip ours. The ancient explorers of consciousness understood the nature of the void, encountered not through mathematical calculation but through direct experience. The void revealed itself to be none other than mind, usually written as Mind to signify that it lies beyond our small, personal minds.

To be continued… 

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages with over twenty New York Times bestsellers.  Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation. Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony) P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine. Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony) Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.  www.neiltheise.com  neiltheise.wordpress.com

Emptiness Dancing

Desperation; Who holds your heart?This entire living world–including these forms we call self– is a creative arising and dissolving of empty awareness. I love the Zen phrase “emptiness dancing,” because it recognizes the inseparability of formlessness and form, of the awake space of awareness and its expression in aliveness.

Sometimes, when I teach about the ultimate freedom of realizing selflessness and emptiness dancing, students ask if this means turning away from personal growth and service. Is this just another way to devalue the life we are living here and now? If we find inner freedom, will we still be interested in healing ourselves and our world?

Whenever these questions come up, I usually recall Mari, who started attending meditation classes when she realized she was burning out after working more than a decade as a fund-raiser for a large human rights group. At that time, the political environment had gotten increasingly nasty, rival factions were vying for control of the organization, donors were scarce, and she was questioning the ethics of some of her colleagues. When I met her, Mari had given notice and wanted nothing to do with politics or activism. She was done.

Over the next four years, Mari worked at a sporting-goods store, attended meditation classes and retreats, and found the time to reconnect with a former passion: bird-watching. After a meditation class, she told me, “It’s during those walks, during the early morning hours of watching and listening, that I come home to silence, to my own presence.” In that attentive silence, Mari’s love affair with birds deepened. “They are not something outside of me,” she told me, “they are part of my inner landscape.” As she grew more alarmed about habitat loss, though, Mari realized her activist life was not over.

As we explored this together in a counseling session, Mari began to trust that this time around, things would be different. So, she agreed to fund-raise for an environmental group, even while  knowing that there would be conflicting egos within this organization, and that she would inevitably have bouts of discouragement. Mari had found refuge; she knew she could reconnect with the awareness that gives rise to birds and trees, to egos and discouragement, to the entire play of life. She could remember the wisdom of emptiness dancing, and serve this imperfect world.

Spiritual teacher Adyashanti, who wrote a book called Emptiness Dancing, suggests that as we move through the day, we ask: “How is emptiness or awareness experiencing this (eating, walking outside, showering, talking)?”I also like to ask myself, “How is this empty, awake heart experiencing what’s happening?”

It’s illuminating to step out of our story of self, and simply receive sensations, feelings, and sounds from the perspective of heart and awareness. We’re not in opposition to anything, or resisting or evaluating anything; we’re just letting life flow through us.

Whenever I pay attention like this, I’m not at all removed from life. Rather, without the self-focus, I become part of the flow of aliveness. Just as the river knows how to flow around rocks, I can then respond intuitively to life’s unfolding. I’m more spontaneous in the moment, more naturally clear and caring in my response to what’s around me. I’ve seen this happen with others too. Whether we’re serving or savoring, whenever there’s an awareness of emptiness dancing, we become wholehearted in how we live. This is true even in the face of inevitable loss.

A few years ago, I read a memorable story about violinist Itzhak Perlman. Perlman had polio when he was a young child, and at each of his performances he makes a slow entrance on crutches, sits down, unclasps the braces on his legs, then prepares to play. He did this as usual at a 1995 performance at Lincoln Center in New York. On this occasion, however, he’d only played the first few bars when one of the strings on his violin broke. The whole audience could hear the crack when it snapped. What will happen next, they wondered. Will he have to put on his braces, make his way across the stage, find another violin?

He sat still, closed his eyes, and paused. Then he signaled for the conductor to begin again. Perlman reentered the concerto, playing with an unimaginable passion, power, and purity. Perhaps some of those watching could sense him modulating, changing, reconfiguring the piece in his head, so deep was his immersion in creating. When he finished there was an awed silence. Then came the outburst of applause as people rose and cheered from every corner of the hall.

Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, and raised his bow to quiet the crowd. Then he spoke, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone. “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

Recently I was disappointed to learn that this story has been called into question, but the message stays with me. We weigh down our lives with memories of how it used to be and fears of what we have yet to lose. Yet when we surrender into the living moment, we, like Perlman, become emptiness dancing—a part of the creative flow. We respond with a tender heart to our world’s pain and beauty. We make music with what we have left.

Adapted from True Refuge (2013)

Enjoy this talk on The Freedom of Yes

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Happy For No Reason

Captured your HeartFor years I’d heard that qigong was an ideal meditation for physical healing, and when I first experimented with it, I did find that the practice helped me feel more embodied and energetically attuned. Qigong is based on a Chinese system of still and moving meditation. At its heart is the understanding that this world is made of chi, an invisible field of energy, the dynamic expression of pure awareness.

 

When my health hit a new low in the summer of 2009, I decided to explore the practice more deeply by attending a ten-day qigong healing retreat.

During the third day, I remember sitting at the retreat while our teacher was guiding us: “Send chi to the places that are in pain,” he was saying. “Imagine what these parts of you would be like if they were totally vital and strong, energetically flowing with the rest of your body.”

As I sat visualizing flowing streams of light bathing my hurting knees, I found myself becoming doubtful, judging some of the instructions as distinctly “un-Buddhist!” Here I was trying to manipulate my experience and create a happy, healthy body. Whatever happened to letting go of control and accepting life as it is? Wouldn’t all this directing of energy and visualization just make me more attached to being healthy? Given the realities of my illness, this seemed like a losing proposition.

Still, I’d paid my tuition and I kept on following the teachers’ instructions. The next morning I got up before dawn and did the practice on my own—connecting to the ocean of chi, bringing attention and energy to various parts of my body. After about half an hour, I went outside and started walking along a winding path through the Northern California countryside. Each step hurt. My knees ached, and there was stabbing in one of my hips.

“Now what?” I muttered grimly. “Am I supposed to send more chi to my body?”

Then I paused—the resentment toward my body caught my attention. As I looked more closely, the resentment quickly gave way to a familiar grief. Why couldn’t I just walk on this earth without feeling pain? Tears started to flow as I contacted the enormity of my frustration and longing. “I want to feel alive. I want to feel alive. Please. Please. May I feel fully alive.” Naming it opened me to what was behind the longing: I love life. Embedded in the grief, as always, was love. A voice inside me was repeating the words over and over, as a delicate, tingling warmth filled my heart.

I’d been holding back this love, holding back from fully engaging with life. It was a reaction to feeling betrayed by my body, a defense against more loss. But in my fear of being attached to health, I’d not allowed myself to feel the truth—I love life. Qigong wasn’t about fueling attachment, it was about fully embracing aliveness. At that moment I decided to stop holding back my love.

As I allowed the “I love life” feeling to be as full as it wanted, the “I” fell away. Even the notion of life fell away. What was left was an open radiant heart—as wide as the world.

This tender presence was loving everything: the soft streaks of pinks and grays in the sky, the smell of eucalyptus, the soaring vultures, the songbirds. It was loving the woman who was standing silently about two hundred feet away, also gazing at the colors of dawn. It was loving the changing painful and pleasurable sensations in this body. Now, sending chi to my knees made intuitive sense. It was awareness’s natural and caring response to its creation. “I” wasn’t loving life—awareness was loving life.

This experience led me to see and release a limiting and unconscious belief that I’d held for some time—a belief that the realm of formless awareness was more spiritual and valuable than the living forms of this world. This bias against the living world can be seen in many religious traditions. It emerges in some interpretations of the Buddha’s teachings as an insistence on guarding ourselves against the pleasures of the senses—beauty, lovemaking, music, play. It emerges in the superior status of monks over nuns, in valuing monastic life over family and lay life, and in the warnings against attachment in close personal relationships. I now believe this bias comes from fear and mistrust of life itself. For me, recognizing this in my own psyche was a gift.

We do not need to transcend the real world to realize our true nature and to live in freedom. In fact, we can’t. We are aliveness and we are the formless presence that is its source; we are embodied emptiness. The more we love the world of form, the more we discover an undivided presence, empty of any sense of self or other. And the more we realize the open, formless space of awareness, the more unconditionally we love the changing shapes of creation.

The Heart Sutra from the Buddhist Mahayana texts tells us: “Form is emptiness, emptiness is also form. Emptiness is not other than form, form is not other than emptiness.” We can’t separate the ocean from the waves. Our path is to realize the vast oceanness of our being, and to cherish the waves that appear on the surface.

During the final days of the retreat, my willingness to love life unfolded into a very deep, stable happiness. The happiness wasn’t reliant on things being a certain way—my moods and physical comfort went up and down. I was happy for no reason. This unconditioned happiness or well-being is a flavor of awakening. It arises when we trust our essence as awareness, and know that this entire living world is part of our heart. Being happy for no reason gave me a kind of confidence or faith that no matter what happened, everything would be fine.

I returned home and jumped into a delicious daily ritual of meditation and qigong. During those first weeks I’d go to the river and scramble down through rocks and bushes to a secluded beach. Nourished by the sounds of rushing water, the firm sand and early morning air, I practiced presence in movement and stillness. You can probably imagine what came next. After I hurt my knee on the small incline down to the beach, I moved my practice to our deck. Some of the arm movements strained my neck so I had to minimize them. Then standing up started to strain my legs, so I began to practice in a chair. Then it rained for a week straight.

And yet, it was all really okay. More than okay. One of those wet mornings as I was sitting, my mind became very quiet. My attention opened gently and fully to the changing flow of experience—aching, waves of tiredness, fleeting thoughts, sounds of rain. Continuing to pay attention, I felt the subtle sense of aliveness (chi energy) that pervades my whole body. This aliveness was not solid, it was spacious, a dance of light. The more I opened to this aliveness, the more I could sense an alert inner stillness, the background inner space of pure being. And the more I rested in that stillness, the more vividly alive the world became.

After about thirty minutes I opened my eyes and looked at the lush fern that hangs in our bedroom, at its delicacy and grace. I was in love with the fern, with the particularity of its form (how did this universe come up with ferns?), and with the vibrancy and light of its being. In that moment, the fern was as wondrous as any glorious scene by the river. I was awareness loving my creation. And I was happy for no reason. I didn’t need to have things go my way. I was grateful for the capacity to enjoy life, just as it is.

Adapted from  True Refuge (2013)

photo by: Neal.

Clearing the emptiness

Clearing the emptiness

 

You have been keeping clutter in your being
The minds eye has been out of focus not seeing
Days go by building desires
Sufferings and heated mind wires
Stuffing the Awareness with such fullness
Now here comes the easy part, clearing the emptiness.

Dominic Colucci

Copyright ©2009  Dominic Colucci

Emptiness

 Wanted to pass along an excrpt from the Psiplex Phrase series on creative writing published on: http://issuu.com/psibase/docs/phrase_fourthemptiness

This poem is part of the ‘Emptiness’ discussion meant to nudge some self inquiry

 

Emptiness — a part and another part?of what defines this awareness

the next breath, the functional breathing

the space of the universe containing ?a being of wholeness — complete and finished

functioning in emptiness

as emptiness

Infinite consciousness

Your part— a part and another part

timeless Self that sees ?what existence brings about

 

The rest of the Phrase series as well as the Psiplex LifeSeries about quotes from teachers, sages and masters can be viewed at: http://issuu.com/psibase

Would like your feedback and suggestions! 

One Love

 

 

 

 

 

Comments on Emptiness

One of the most misunderstood concepts of the Buddhist tradition is that of Emptiness. Far from being a treatise of the futility of it all or a defeatist cry of frustration, the realisation of Emptiness is a catalyst of releasing one’s fear and over-attachment to things in the deep-end of mundane. By briefly exploring this principle, we can take the round tour of some core facets of the Buddhist method.

The idea of Emptiness rests upon the principle of Causation – in a nutshell, all things existing have arisen from the previous interaction of events and matter – paraphrasing Karma, if you will. Sitting outside and watching the goings on in a field or forest for a few hours (which is a pretty good idea anyway) is enough to illustrate this observation. Now, considering the causal property of existence, it follows that no one thing has an ‘independent’ nature of its own. That is, nothing exists because of itself and thus, is ‘Empty’ of any fundamental substance.

On the human side of this equation, the understanding of Emptiness brings us to terms with another essential principle of existence – Impermanence. What is assembled will, in time, be transformed into other assemblies due to its Emptiness and the workings of Karma or Causality. Being aware of (not necessarily ‘believing’, just observing) this continual emergence can loosen the minds desperate grasp on objects and ease the fear of ‘losing’ them – one cannot possess something that is a process of change in itself. The mind’s convictions will naturally give way to its ability to clearly perceive and a subtle yet profound clarity will take its roots.

To many the eventual question is: where did it all start? What was the beginning cause and material? Well, trying to answer this has led to several rather nasty wars and thinking about it too hard will probably cloud over one’s awareness, making sensing what is actually there and how things work (without the dictates of beliefs and expectation) all the more difficult.
These principles are keys to a method that allows one to experience the world without the confusion of fear and the rigidity of attachment. This method does not provide ready made answers; coming to conclusions is at the discretion and the risk of the practitioner.

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