Lasha Darkmoon — Darkmoon.me Sept 26, 2015
Is there a meaning to life . . . or is it all just a bad joke?
I was at my lowest ebb, at the point of suicide, when I opened a little white book in a second-hand bookstore in India and read these electrifying words that were to change my life and give me new hope:
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts, it is based on our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain always follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him like his shadow that never leaves him.”
These are the opening lines of the Dhammapada, a Buddhist classic; a very short book of precious wisdom reportedly containing the words of the founder of Buddhism himself, Gautama Buddha. The mind, according to the Dhammapadda, is indeed everything. It is preeminent. Mind did not arise out of matter, as the prevailing idea in modern science appears to be, but matter arouse out of mind.
Mind came first.
The great physicist Sir James Jeans was once asked in an interview: “Do you believe that life on this planet is the result of some sort of accident, or do you believe that it is a part of some great scheme?”
“I incline to the idealistic theory that consciousness is fundamental, and that the material universe is derivative from consciousness, not consciousness from the material universe. In general, the universe seems to me to be nearer to a Great Thought than to a great machine. It may well be that each individual consciousness ought to be compared to a brain-cell in a Universal Mind.” (See here)
Bertrand Russell was to refine this view.
There was no separate “mind stuff” and “physical stuff” in the universe; they are one and the same. This view, technically known as neutral monism, is quite popular nowadays and is held to be the truth by many scientists, including VS Ramachandran, professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, and adjunct professor of biology at the Salk Institute. “Perhaps mind and matter,” he notes, “are like two sides of a Möbius strip that appear different but are in fact the same.” (The Emerging Mind, Reith Lectures 2003, p.37).
Uncanny inklings of all this can be found in Buddhism and Vedanta. The great Indian mystics, Shankara, Madhva and Ramanuja, taking their inspiration from the Upanishads, already knew what the scientists of the future would discover for themselves many years later: that the Universe is a live and conscious Super Being.
I would now like to say a few words about Brahman and the philosophy of Vedanta and will begin by quoting a short poem by Emerson called “Brahma”. This will serve as an introduction.
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.
Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanished gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.
They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
I am the hymn the Brahmin sings.
The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), was an American writer much influenced by Indian philosophy. His poem “Brahma” is a poetic attempt to encapsulate Vedanta, the non-dualistic teachings of the Hindu sages which are based on the Upanishads. This is the idea that there is only ONE transcendental Being, Brahman, and that all other beings exist merely as fragments in Brahman’s mind.
Enlightenment for the individual human being consists in realizing that the individual soul, the Atman, is part of Brahman: just as the water drop in the ocean is part of the ocean and is one with it.
To realize that in a sense one IS Brahman is to achieve the ultimate insight: Tat tvam asi, or “That thou art.”
In the higher realms of consciousness the individual human identity disperses like mist or vapor and the self is seen to be illusory and part of the world illusion, maya. Existence itself simply becomes an elaborate game or sport in which Brahman enters into each individual being and experiences their lives through them. This is known in Sanskrit as lila, or sport.
In practice this means that all of us actors on the human stage are Brahman playing different roles. The lover and the loved one are not two different beings; they are in essence the same being playing different parts in an elaborate play. They have forgotten, having been encumbered with different masks or personas, that they are the same being—the same Being behind their individual masks or personalities.
They have forgotten, alas, that they are sockpuppets of Brahman!
Emerson hints at this in his poem but does not make the distinction altogether clear. However, the Svetasvatara Upanishad spells it out clearly for all to see. Addressing Brahman, it says:
Thou art woman, thou art man,
Thou art the youth, thou art the maiden,
Thou art the old man tottering with his staff;
Thou facest everywhere.
(The Upanishads, translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood.)
The Western skeptic, relying solely on common sense and empirical science, rejects all the above as metaphyscal mumbojumbo. One such scoffer is the Victorian writer Andrew Lang (1844-1912) who pokes fun at Emerson’s poem in a cruel parody. Here it is:
PARODY OF EMERSON’S “BRAHMA”
If the wild bowler thinks he bowls,
Or if the batsman thinks he’s bowled,
They know not, poor misguided souls,
They too shall perish unconsoled.
I am the batsman and the bat,
I am the bowler and the ball,
The umpire, the pavilion cat,
The roller, pitch, and stumps, and all.
(Well done, Andrew! You’ve had your little laugh. Now go stand in the dunce’s corner!)
Incidentally, I could be wrong about this, but I think it’s possible that Emerson got ‘Brahman’ mixed up with ‘Brahma’. They are not the same. And it is Brahman, not Brahma, that Emerson has to be talking about.
Brahma is simply one of the trinity of supreme gods in the Hindu pantheon, the other two being Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma is the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, Shiva the Destroyer.
THE HINDU TRINITY:
BRAHMA, VISHNU AND SHIVA