Another Book of Nothing Chapters 1-4:
Words Truth Imagination Hide and Seek
Growing up in the UK, the highlight of my late teens and early twenties was to set off eastwards each year during the long summer college vacation, following what became the ‘hippie trail’ until eventually reaching India and Nepal. By then, I had also discovered what for me was the happy and socially liberating pastime of smoking marijuana, and had also taken a few LSD trips that had shaken the foundations and solidity of what hitherto I had always unquestioningly accepted and considered to be ‘normality’. Such experiences provided the first intimation that in fact we are not just this fluid bundle of thoughts and feelings, centred on an organic assemblage of flesh and bones that survives for but a short time on this earth. What became clear was that no matter whatever the state of mind or experience, it was transitory and external to my self as the simple witness of it all that remained essentially and fundamentally unchanged and completely unaffected by anything, whether physical, mental or even emotional, that appeared before it.
In retrospect, throughout all the events of life and all its pleasures and pains, however my experience and choices may have changed or contributed to what I like to think of as my 'self', that pristine awareness which looked out on the world as a newborn baby and innocent child is precisely and exactly the same that is looking out now, some 70 years later. So it must be for all, and in view of this simple and universally evident fact, no more words would seem to be needed, but as we all know, the force of nature whereby we identify and are bound so tightly to this temporary corporeal existence, experiencing our joys and woes in the passage of this great spectacle of life, is not so easily disregarded and is indeed for us, the greatest puzzle and mystery of all.
It was during my second visit to Kathmandu at the end of 1970, as a young man of 22, that I met the man who was to become my teacher and guru, Sri Tirtha Lal Mahanandhar. Sri Tirtha Lal taught me how to meditate and led me into a world of Gods and Goddesses, and the towering glory of the thoughts and teachings of a myriad of sages, all speaking of the same sublime truth from ancient times up to the present, as I and a small number of others gathered in the mornings and evenings to listen to his teaching about the knowledge of Atman or Supreme Self and the path to self-realisation or 'enlightenment'.
What is clear about enlightenment is that without the full and actual experience of self-realisation, no one can honestly claim to know the ultimate truth. It is not a matter of accumulated knowledge that can be remembered and trotted out on demand. In the absence of that awakening to our original nature, we remain in the realm of intellectual speculation or belief and faith in the words of someone else, simply because we do not know for ourselves. Those who really do know seem to be very few in this world at any time, at least those who come to public notice or wide acclaim now and then and are renowned as being authentic, but these may in fact be the tip of a much larger iceberg of many others who remain unnoticed, perhaps shunning or even shunned by the world around them. To all those great ones who abide equally and untouched in any condition in this world, whether in the form of kings or beggars, I humbly beg apology for anything I say here in ignorance, while seeking their blessing on the rest of us and our efforts to understand as best we may, following their teachings and example on our own individual paths towards discovering a deeper meaning and a final resolution to our momentary existence here on earth.
So, what exactly is enlightenment? Reading the words and stories of realised souls, some, such as Ramana Maharishi, speak of one consciousness-changing, all-knowing experience, the living reality of which remained clearly evident to them ever after, while others returned from that experience, it seems, to their previous, everyday worldly states only to be pushed by the suffering and sorrows of life to seek their freedom again and again, and to be thus absorbed by degrees, as it were. Sri Tirtha Lal said that for himself, having once experienced that state of freedom, he was initially unwilling and afraid to go there again, knowing how it meant the death of his individual identity or ego - until the troubles and struggles inherent in every physical existence drove him inevitably and repeatedly to become increasingly established in that state of being alone.
Generally, enlightenment is assumed to be a super-conscious experience wherein all questions of the heart and mind are laid to rest, all sorrow and fear dissolve and the enigma of existence is resolved. All such realised beings tell us that it cannot be described - yet there are libraries and scriptures overflowing with words about it nonetheless. Religions that even today still direct the lives of millions are based upon it and have their origin in the experience and teaching of at least one enlightened person or another and claim the legacy of their scriptures to be the ‘Word of God’.
The opening words of St. John's Gospel in the Bible, for example, are, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. Notwithstanding that the formless absolute Reality and the relative forms of creation are ultimately seen to be one and the same, like water and its waves, functionally, a word is simply a label - a means of identifying things and communicating information - but as such it is not the actual thing which it denotes any more than the finger pointing to the moon is the moon itself. Certainly, a wave itself is nothing but water, but the label ‘wave’ refers to a momentary formation of water that has neither a separate, independent existence nor any essential reality beyond that of water alone. Ornaments made of gold may all look different - the possibilities are endless - but their real substance, their essence, is one and the same, and when their separate forms disappear, for example in being melted together, that essence, the gold alone remains, never having changed even one iota nor ever having existed as anything else, regardless of whatever its shape or form may be or have been. Indeed, it is our illusion of firmly believing the form and appearance of every individual thing to have its own intrinsic reality as a separate entity that prevents us from understanding the essential equality and unity of all phenomena as being the ephemeral display of one, and only one, Reality alone. On the other hand, this illusionary perspective and our labelling everything by means of words, as distinct, individual and separate is exactly what gives the world its credence and makes our existence as a part of it seem so totally real - thus creating the conditions for life, our joys and suffering, the universe itself and everything without exception that we experience here.
That One Single Truth of 'enlightenment' - the origin and abiding Reality of this whole creation - is thus displayed here in so many forms, like a dream wherein anything at all may happen or appear to exist - yet it never, ever, loses or is anything other than its essential nature of being totally devoid of any defining characteristics at all.
From the standpoint of enlightenment,
the heart essence from which everything arises,
there is no duality, and any attempt to quantify things would be endless.
Buddhas, ordinary beings, and the universe of appearances and possibilities are evident,
yet do not waver from the single nature of phenomena, just as it is.
Longchen Rabjam, The Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding
Meanwhile, back in the relative reality of the world in which most of us live, in attempting to discover and define the truth of ourselves, too many words and too many thoughts can often lead to more confusion and frustration rather than less. Like a group of people standing around a muddy pond, each stirring the water with a stick in an effort to make the water clear, when the only effective solution lies, of course, in everyone taking their stick out, more and more words and words alone may only serve to continue stirring and perpetuating the muddy waters of our intellect and mind. These days, for example, there are so many pages and groups on social media showing endless memes of wise and spiritual sayings, albeit from famously authentic souls, and yet scrolling on from one to another can sometimes result in a surfeit of ‘wisdom’ similar in feeling to that which results from overindulgence in too much rich food. indeed, such an abundance of words and advice, however wise, begins to resemble the ubiquitous exhortations of advertisements that bombard us every day from every direction in this modern world, telling us how to have the perfect, teeth-sparkling happiness they portray - of a life that is always seems so much better than that which is authentically our own.
In fact, it's not so difficult with even a little knowledge to sound wise, and even the most banal statement can be adapted to illustrate some profound truth. For example, “The train is coming”. Oh yes! The train of thoughts is always coming, and always going too. That’s what it does - it comes and goes. Then are we on the train, forever coming and going with our thoughts, or are we that which simply watches them pass? Even then, ironically perhaps, we continue thinking, hoping that one fine day we may hit upon a thought – a flash of enlightenment, no less – that finally ends all thought!
Speaking of which, is it actually possible to think without words? This endless commentary that we continuously speak to ourselves in thoughts - could it exist without words? And without that self-reflecting commentary - without thought, ideas or opinions - what of our sense of individuality or self? Thoughts, and all our mental workings and imaginings, like dreams, are ethereal and have no actual substance - they cannot even be touched or eaten. While their basic use would originally perhaps have been as an aid to purely physical survival, within the human intellect this has evolved to include protecting and nurturing, primarily it seems, our self-image of opinions, ideas, ambitions, desires and aversions - in other words, our ego.
Many authentic and enlightened souls throughout the ages have indeed described, as best they might, the way to freedom and liberation from this limited circle of our 'normal' self-centred existence, however inadequate our capacity to fully comprehend them may be, but they all admit that in the end words themselves mean nothing - for they belong to the very illusion they attempt to negate!
Where one knows nothing, there is verily no versification.
The supreme and free one, pure of thought,
absorbed in the consciousness of the homogeneous being,
prattles about the truth.
The great sage Dattatreya in the Avadhuta Gita
... and from the final uttering of the 'other' Book of Nothing:
The way is beyond language,
for in it there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today.
HSIN HSIN MING - Verses on the Faith Mind (or The Book of Nothing) by The 3rd Zen Patriarch, Sengstau
Nevertheless, the greatest statements of 'truth' do seem to click with something that seems familiar and relates to the life and common experience of everyone - they are universal, have no shelf life and are not confined to any particular time or location. Great art also touches on this process, when the artist, by whatever means, draws inspiration from within and connects with that sense of recognition in the viewer, listener or reader. Although such intuitive feelings may be nameless, they still can dance with the intellect in words. So in this writing, if some wayward word or two may happen to strike a meaningful chord in you, I trust it will be sweet to both our souls - but if not, then perhaps my own enjoyment and the art of words alone will suffice to be its purpose and excuse.
Some truths are evident to all, though they may seem so vast in scope that it may take years of life experience and a certain depth of contemplation for their full validity to become apparent:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
From Shakespeare’s 'Macbeth'
Other statements, however, may not sound like the truth as such, but their significance can lie in the effect they produce on our sense of being - which can only be experienced by sampling them, by entertaining their premise or perspective, and seeing where they lead us. There should be no harm in this, any more than a scientist testing a theory or hypothesis - if it means this or feels like that - then what are the implications? However we can only do this by being free and open enough to choose to believe or imagine something to be true, even if only for a short time, and then through reason, reflection, feeling or intuition, judge its effect and thereby, its value. When it comes to spiritual or philosophical statements and ideas, for example, does it engender a sense of peace and contentment, a broader or more refined perspective, an understanding or an elevation of spirit? Such experience can lead to knowledge and understanding - even when imagined.
As an example of this, there is the idea of 'eternal return' or recurrence proposed by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, suggesting that life is an eternal repetition - in other words, that everything we do, and indeed are doing now, we have done countless times before and that everything repeats itself thus, ad infinitum. Such a concept may seem crazy and hardly worth a second thought, but if you try to imagine that right now, what you are doing you’ve done before, again, again and again - and that you’ve been here, reading these very words countless times before just as you are doing now - how does it make you feel?
If nothing else, it may bring our attention to the present moment. It might even lead us to a momentary pause – long enough to feel a sense of self as the witness of all, separate and independent of the externalities of life. Long enough perhaps, to help us feel what it might be like to stop and get off the merry-go-round of mind and experience, and from eternally, repeatedly, leaping from thought to thought and from one thing to another - which, of course, is what we usually do.
Although truth is generally defined as a statement of some unalterable fact, it could be that there exists no spoken or written truth that is absolute in itself. Thus there may be as many truths as there are beings and states of mind to perceive them - each being true to itself in its own situation and context. Above all, different truths, nay, all truths, may thus exist simultaneously, both in parallel and paradox, such that truth is what is happening all around, but what it is depends entirely on our individual perspective.
Two men looked out from prison bars.
One saw the mud, and the other saw stars.
Then it may also be that there can be no truth which does not confirm or infer the potential existence or truth of its opposite. Our whole existence is framed in the juxtaposition of opposites - good and bad, light and dark, hot and cold, to name but a few - whereby neither polarity exists in isolation without its opposite. What does bad mean if there is no good? What does good mean if there is no bad? For example, it may be true beyond a doubt that the world is imperfect - fleeting, transitory and full of imperfections and suffering, and yet from another perspective it has to be true beyond a doubt that everything is perfect, simply because that is how it is and cannot possibly, in this very moment, be any other way. Similarly, every perspective simultaneously negates and complements its opposite and their interrelationship creates the drama of life. They are opposites, yet each concept gives meaning to the other and it is only the contrast between them that allows for anything to have any meaning at all. Thus perfection and imperfection, like all pairs of opposites, are but two inseparable sides of one and the same single coin.
There is one exception, however, to the puzzle of not being able to have anything here without the inevitable and necessary existence of its opposite and that may lie in the thought that while the apparent opposites of something and nothing would seem to be co-dependent - in that an empty, vacant space is needed as a location and background for anything to exist - nothingness, by its very definition being the absence of any and everything, needs nothing for it to be nothing!
Emptiness or nothing is generally thought of as simply having no existence on its own, because our whole reality and intellectual understanding is based on the relationship between one thing and another. As space or emptiness, it only is only identifiable as such when there is something ‘in it’. Yet, as Lao Tzu would say: “It is the emptiness that makes things useful”, like the windows and doors of a house or the hub of a wheel. And where indeed are our thoughts displayed, if not in emptiness? The screen must be empty to display the pictures. The cup must be empty to hold its contents. And yet can emptiness itself really be confined in any way? The walls of a container simply divide space from space - like a line drawn on water. It is infinite and definable only as the absence of anything at all.
Yet it is this emptiness, devoid of the duality of subject and object and without any of the coverings of existence as we know it, that can best be labelled the only truly unalterable ‘truth’ when compared to the ever-changing impermanence and play of opposites in the realm of ‘something’. Indeed, depending for its appearance on the ‘presence’ of emptiness, but lacking any stability or constancy and therefore, we might say, any permanent truth, this whole creation, including 'us' and our experience of it, most resembles some kind of illusion.
in this respect, the teaching of Buddhism talks about two Truths - an ‘ultimate’ truth indicating absolute emptiness and the other, the conventional, relative truth of the existence of multitudinous names and forms with which we are so familiar.
Longchen Rabjam, the 14th century Tibetan master and mystic, attributes the apparent reality of the phenomenal world to a case of ‘mistaken’ identity, whereby the one single, formless reality, uncontrived 'mind-as-such', while constituting the undeniable sense of ‘presence’, and therefore reality, in our awareness of the appearance and experience of all phenomena, erroneously identifies itself as the separate, localised and particularised existence of all those multifarious objects of existence, including ourselves, which thereby appear to be true while in actuality are completely unreal or fictional like a dream, a mirage or phantom.
In its varied shadings like a finished painting,
In becoming mistaken about itself, the One
presents itself to itself in many guises,
And by taking the many guises as something real,
its flow of mistaken presentations does not stop.
Alas! This actuality of Being presenting itself
as fictitious being is like a dream.
Longchen Rabjam, 'Kindly bent to Ease Us, part 3 - Wonderment' (translated by Herbert V. Guenther)
Perhaps the final arbiter of truth, from a practical perspective, is the bare fact of being aware of the existence of anything. Awareness, or consciousness, is the very actuality of our existence whereby every perception, thought, feeling and action are seen, like the pictures on a screen which, as we all know, come and go. At the same time, perceptions are the only evidence there is of the existence of awareness itself. Thus, in reality, what are these pictures, which do not have any independent existence of their own, if not themselves the 'visible' form of one and the same awareness itself? And yet, as the subject of all that can be, pure awareness, like the movie screen, has no bias or discriminating capability as to the objects it is aware of - completely detached, unmoving and single in itself and yet inseparable from, and yet at one with its display of whatever our multifarious individual stories and experience of life may be. Without any pictures or ’objects’ to define it then, what exactly is this awareness? Unfortunately, from the point of view of objects, including none other than we ourselves and our intellectual capacity - it is impossible to say whether the screen or such a thing as awareness exists if we do not! So this means that while we cannot exist without, and indeed are nothing other in essence than awareness, we are incapable of identifying it as anything at all - and thus we call it, ‘emptiness’, void, nothing at all or simply the complete absence of everything we can possibly know or perceive. In the context of pure awareness then, while undoubtedly being the ultimate ‘truth’ or sine qua non of the existence of our selves and everything else, none of our concepts such as truth and falsehood can have any relevance or meaning at all. thus:
Whatever is there before the mind having
become mistaken about itself
Has no truth or reality value in itself. This very moment
understand this !
The state in which there is neither truth nor falsity
and which in its non-duality passes beyond the intellect
Must, of a certainty, be known to be the self-existent
Longchen Rabjam, 'Kindly Bent to Ease Us, part 3 - Wonderment' (translated by Herbert V. Guenther)
Imagination may be the most powerful force in the universe, and perhaps even now we exist only in the imagination of God. Indeed it seems that pure 'mind-as-such', the eternal subject of all, can only see itself in terms of the objects of its own projection, and when appearing to be embodied as the heart and mind of an individual soul, seems to be helplessly addicted, like some cosmic Narcissus, to seeing its ever-free Self solely in terms of the infinite proliferation of images that are reflections of its own making. In that case, the words from the Bible, “and God created man in his own image” would have quite a different meaning than that which we usually assume in believing that God must just be like us, only perfect in all respects. Then again, there are those who say that any belief in the existence of a Supreme Being, God or Gods is akin to having the imaginary friend of a child, but from a realised soul's perspective, the whole world around us is imagined and even our very existence is no more than a dream.
It is because of that which always, of its own accord,
imagines (everything) quickly and freely
that this magical show (of the world) is projected in the waking state.
Imagination - the creation of images in the mind - is certainly one of the greatest human gifts when used creatively and yet paradoxically it can also be one of our greatest burdens. Used as a tool, the potential significance of a willingly entertained idea or hypothetical situation can be tested and tasted, vicariously as it were, by applying reason or feeling to the imagination of such a reality and the consequences thereof. Allowed to run wild, however, imagination can turn a harmless piece of rope seen in the dark into a deadly snake - and our belief in it lead to panic. Such is its power. Some even say it is a metaphor for our predicament here - running away from facing up to the transitoriness of life, of death and the loss of all we cherish and hold dear - the inevitable suffering entailed in physical existence - and yet forever searching for something to take us back, in the faith and hope of rediscovering an ever-abiding, secure and invulnerable reality behind these scarily fleeting forms, that will lay all our fears to rest..
For fear of Him, fire burns;
For fear of Him, shines the sun;
For fear of Him, Indra, king of the gods, and Vayu, the wind god, function;
For fear of Him, death, the fifth, stalks on the earth.
From the Katha Upanishad
It seems that all living beings down to the tiniest cell, from the moment they become aware of their individual existence at birth, are driven by a primary directive to survive at all costs. Their greatest fear is that they should cease to exist - despite the fact that just a moment before, as far as they know, they did not. So it is that life itself and all our stories are, in this respect, relentlessly propelled by an instinct for survival - not only of our bodies but also, as humans, of our sense of identity as an individual or ego - and the fear of losing or not getting ‘something’, of death, and of ceasing to be.
It is not that we live in a perpetual state of fear, however, but rather than think the unthinkable, we tend to carry on through life as if the present will last forever. The present requires no further imagination to be simply as it is, whereas the future is always imagined, no matter what indications or clues there may be as to what will probably happen. In particular, fear is always concerned with the future and what we imagine is going to happen in both the short and long term, and so the very impermanence of everything here means we are unlikely ever to feel completely secure, albeit as Alan Watts has said, that fear is only an image that exists solely in the mind.
Like an artist frightened
by the devil he paints,
the sufferer in Samsara (worldly existence)
is terrified by his own imagination.
The great Sage Nagarjuna (around 200AD)
As an antidote to fear - if it cannot be ignored and if we are unable to see that the snake is in fact a harmless piece of rope - we then have the option of another form of imagination, namely faith, or trust.
In making such an effort to remedy this poignantly tragic condition in which we find ourselves unable to keep anything, even our bodies, longer than a certain limited period of time, there are some who go so far as to put their faith in a belief which they cannot allow anyone to question, even to the extent of seeing those that do so to be their mortal enemies. Yet the fact is that belief itself is a form of imagination that only has relevance when we do not know something for sure, so it’s rather a sad picture when we talk about a ‘true’ belief. Belief is what we substitute for the real or actual knowledge of something and thereby implies the lack of it, so it seems a pity for us to imagine that only our belief is true to the exclusion of all others. And if such a belief, as is often the case, is professed to be in a loving, all forgiving, merciful and universal God, it must surely break that heart of tenderness to see it used as a justification for imposing suffering on others.
Supporters of a football team enjoy the competition and rivalry while sharing with the supporters of other teams the same love of football. The nature of the human collective however, based as it is on tribal instincts of loyalty and security in numbers, means that it is often quite another thing when it comes to some of the more ardent adherents of any religion, who should, in theory at least, find common ground with those of others in the love of God, while differing only in the names used and means of worship. Such prejudicial attitudes, often fanned into a raging flame by politicians, blend easily with the sentiments of certain narrowly exclusive groupings and even of national identity and patriotism, especially in times of conflict, whereby people easily accede to the belief that their nation, race, religion or ideology is somehow intrinsically better than others, and subscribe to a negative opinion and feeling toward others or even, in extreme cases, demonise those who are not the same as them. Thus it is a rare soul who would stand alone in the face of such powerful social pressures and maintain an independent, unbiased and comprehensive view of the life conditions and basic physical and emotional needs that we all, as humans, have in common, and whereby it is seems so patently obvious that it is the same inviolable spirit that equally animates us all.
Yet, in the face of the unknowable, belief is all we have to deal with the ever-present insecurity of life. Though fundamentally flawed in being only a proxy for reality, its power is such that it may well underlie the very idea of our existence itself. Believing we are, we certainly seem to be, and at this level of conviction we entertain no doubt whatsoever that one breath will follow another, or that we might forget how to put one foot past the other and walk. We happily allow ourselves to pass into the oblivion of sleep, never doubting for a moment that we shall wake again, and indeed, when it comes to the scenes and events of the external world, we say 'seeing is believing' and thus it certainly all seems real enough! So it seems we are in little danger of losing this belief, especially when it comes to the credibility of our individual existence and immediate environment because everyone, from the moment we are born, confirms and reaffirms its 'reality' again and again, so to challenge it would seem absurd. Yet it could be that all this is being sustained by a belief or imagination so strong as to be deluding us completely - like the snake in the rope - keeping us here, inseparably welded to to our individual identities, thoughts and opinions, unable to let go as if clinging madly to a runaway horse and believing beyond any doubt that we are who are, that everything is just as it appears to be, and that this is all there is.
Of that about which we are less sure, however, belief is quite another story. It’s a gamble, and yet is one on which many are prepared to stake their lives. Why feel so vulnerable? To whom do we have to prove our faith but to ourselves? Can I prove that anything exists if I do not? So where are we running to and what are we trying to change?
Yet is it possible to imagine a state of absolute reality and truth that does not depend on us, on our perception or belief in it - a reality that is not imagined or contrived by anyone in any way? Perhaps - when our imagining stops!
The common mind imagines a self
Where there is nothing at all,
And from this arise emotional states -
Happiness, suffering, and equanimity.
In the meantime, the fact remains that belief is a form of imagination that inevitably implies an element of doubt – being a substitute for actual knowledge. Faith, belief, and imagination, are simply degrees of much the same thing. At their best, they are conscious attempts and a means to discover an ever-abiding truth, and indeed it is often seen that a firmly held faith and absolute trust, even in the face of all indications of an opposing reality and against all odds, can 'move mountains' or achieve the seemingly impossible. Alternatively, as some have said, faith is not wanting to know, like a convenient blindfold whereby we can avoid taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions, blindly following others or doggedly clinging to our fixed opinions - not wanting to know or admit the fact that in the total scheme of things, we really know nothing, and may indeed, in the final analysis, be nothing at all!
Such is the power of the need to believe in something - some final solution to all that’s missing, the end of fear and suffering or the satisfaction of every unrequited desire - that we can cling to our inherited, imposed or chosen beliefs so desperately, blocking out our rational faculties, shutting our ears and minds to any murmur of contradiction, and making it our secret or public mission to convert the world to our point of view.
Indeed, the whole art of politics rests on the manipulation of belief - but the search for knowledge can allow nothing to be set in stone.
Belief or imagination is a tool! You can pick it up and put it down! Its best use is to further our knowledge and to comfort our souls - and as a means to explore and discover the ultimate truth about who it is that believes.
So well may we honour, use and enjoy this gift and our natural right to the power of creative imagination, faith and belief - hopefully for the good and to our hearts’ content - while fully respecting the right of others to do likewise - but never should we doubt our primal innocence and freedom to let it go, knowing that it truly is imagination and that it originates in us alone, and of our own volition - an overlay or covering, as it were, on that which really is and what we truly are.
The self that seeks is the self it finds.
Weapons cannot cut it nor can fire burn it;
Water cannot drench it nor can wind make it dry.
For this soul is incapable of being cut; it is proof against fire,
impervious to water and undriable as well.
This soul is eternal, omnipresent, immovable, constant and everlasting.
This soul is unmanifest; it is unthinkable; and it is spoken of as immutable.
Therefore, knowing this soul as such, you should not grieve.
Bhagavad Gita 2:23,24,25
Hide and seek
Dear friends, ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, lovers and children, and any other spark of consciousness that regards itself as an “I”, let’s play a game - it’s called “Looking for God!”.
It’s obviously the most amazingly incredible game in the universe - and in fact, the universe itself is the game!
So where shall we look? Up there? Down here? Over here? Over there? Did God make the world and then go home again? What did God make the universe out of if nothing existed before? Maybe He, She or It imagined it, imagines us all - but in reality, who imagines whom? The mind boggles. Where and what exactly is God? If space and time did not exist before the universe was created, exactly where did the Big Bang take place?
Well, if one’s choice is to entertain the concept of God as most understand it, my baby logic says that He, She or It must create everything - that is, the totality of all that exists, including the power to imagination it, out of Him, Her or Itself - there being nothing else ‘in the beginning’ to do it with. Following the same simple logic, the only conclusion is that absolutely everything seen or unseen that can possibly exist is in fact, in essence and truth, God - being created by God out of God. So That which was before, is now, ever is and can only be God - and there never was, could, can or will be anything else!
As Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita,
There is nothing besides Me, Arjuna.
Like clusters of yarn-beads formed by knots on a thread,
all this is threaded on Me.
The Bhagavad Gita 7:7
Bearing this in mind, it follows that every atom or less that comes into existence, encompasses and is one with the essence of the whole universe, being made of ‘God’ - even though for all our intents and purposes, each appears, functionally and situationally, to be separate, isolated and individual.
So now we know where God is - everywhere! That was easy. So who is looking? Well, of course, that must be God too!
What? You can’t see God in a pen, a computer, or yourself? Well, if you really knew you were God, and you knew that the pen and computer were God, then it would just be God looking at God and so bang goes the idea of creation! Pop! No more subject and object - just God being God and nothing but.
No more diversity, where did it go? No more waves, only water - just God and God alone.
End of story!
As by knowing one lump of clay, all things made of clay are known,
the difference being only in name and arising from speech…
exactly so is that knowledge, by knowing which we know all.
From the Chandogya Upanishad
Is that what we’re looking for - the end of the story? Probably. So let’s imagine it this way: There is only God, and God is always God and everything is hunky-dory - but simultaneously for the apparent purposes of creation, God is pretending not to be God - imagining being you and me and so many other identities all calling themselves ‘I’, all looking for Him, Her or Itself, and apparently having all sorts of troubles. It’s happening now, and as far as we’re concerned, it’s probably not the end of the story – so the great game goes on - the ultimate game of ‘hide and seek’!
There is the story of a group of novice monks who were listening one morning to their master's teaching that everything without exception was, in reality, God. Later as they were collecting firewood in the forest they heard a mad elephant crashing through the trees towards them and its keeper, the mahout, shouting for everyone to get out of its way. Fearing for their lives, the monks scattered in all directions or climbed the nearest tree - all except for one earnest young man who thought to himself, "My teacher told us that God is in everything, so the elephant must be God too", and so he remained standing in its path with his palms together in prayer as it thundered towards him. The elephant, however, picked him up, threw him off into the trees and continued its rampage. On returning to their hermitage with the bruised and shaken young monk, and hearing his reason for not running away, the master said, "Yes, it is true that the elephant was God, but so was the mahout, and he was yelling at you to get out of the way!"
So, this whole universe and all the different parts of the game are the miraculous display of God and there is nothing but God, however the ultimate understanding of this can only be found in the actual realisation of that same divinity residing within ourselves.
Hiding inside yourself! No-one will think of looking there!
I have lived on the lip of insanity,
wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door.
I’ve been knocking from the inside!
The great Sufi, Rumi