Uttaraloka Sketches 02

Space-time is doomed

A few months ago I listened to a some talks by Donald Hoffman who presents a clear and convincing case for our sense perceptions of space, time and objects being no more than a valuable illusion, a representation of Reality, but not Reality itself. He suggests that space-time and objects are the way evolution through natural selection has enabled us to survive in an otherwise infinitely complex and very different kind of Reality. He makes an interesting analogy with the way we operate computers by manipulating icons on a desktop even though they are far removed from the reality of the computing processes. He goes on to suggest that consciousness is more fundamental than the material world which, he suggests, is generated by the interactions of networks of conscious agents. This, or similar ideas, seem to be attracting a lot interest in the scientific community. The phrase ‘Space-time is doomed’ seems to be circulating quite widely. (Google it)

This perspective also sits comfortably with the Yogacara perspective and especially the imagery of the Avatamsaka Sutra – particularly Indra’s net, Vairocana, and Maitreya’s tower. Over the last few months I’ve been meditating on this view and working on letting go of the illusion that the material world – space, time and things – are fundamental. It seems that letting go of the four elements and space goes much deeper than seeing them merely as impermanent and interconnected, it actually consists of seeing them as illusions – like ghosts or spirits, magical illusions, dreams etc. – albeit invaluable for survival.

So what of consciousness? Focusing on the mind rather than sense experience reveals a universe which still has form – ideas as well as subtle visions, auditory and somatic experiences, and even odours and tastes – often associated with powerful feelings and emotions. Dreams, meditation experiences, and the imagination generally offer a direct realisation that the mind is capable of producing experiences of profound value. The worlds of dreams and visions often have greater depth and meaning than sense experience. But sense experience (the kamaloka) has a solidity to it that we tend to grasp, whereas it is perhaps easier to realise that visionary experiences, in the rupaloka, and especially in the arupaloka, are empty . This is why dhyana is of such great value in nurturing insight.

There was once a witch of great power, the guardian of a storage jar. When it was opened by her assistant, a beautiful young man, a brilliant shocking explosion of clear light burst forth into the world. For an instant it was possible to see through the jar, as if through a portal, into a universe of clear light. But mere mortals recoil in fear – it is too shocking, too terrible to see. The light became a brilliant silver as it flowed into this realm and then transformed into white light that caused whatever it touched to burst into an cascade of tiny brilliant coloured jewels.

The clear light of the Bardo Thodol reveals itself only when the universe is renounced completely, but this is terrifying and so we recoil. But all is not lost. The clear light takes form as the rainbow bodies of the Five Buddhas. But even these are too bright, too brilliant, and so the light from their bodies flows forth to generate the four elements, space, time and the multitude of forms in the phenomenal realms.

Modern physics looks at an object and sees that it is made of small particles; but these particles are made of even smaller particles which turn out not to be particles at all. They have no location in space and time but are perturbations in a small number of fields (the electromagnetic field is one for example) which are perhaps just manifestations of a single, as yet undiscovered, Unified Field and space-time ceases to exist as the fundamental ground of the universe.

The model of the ālāyavijñāna, a fundamental non-dual awareness generated by the actions of all beings, is a field of consciousness. And, as the base of consciousness, it is analogous to the Unified Field Theory of modern physics, but it looks in a different direction. Science hopes to find Reality through an exploration of the realm of the senses. But Yoga looks to the mind, awareness or consciousness regarding that realm as fundamental. This avoids the so called ‘difficult problem’ of how consciousness can possibly emerge from matter. That form can emerge from consciousness is a fact observed by anyone who dreams or has visions but no-one has yet had any idea how consciousness can emerge from matter.

The clear light of the ālāyavijñāna is too much to bear and does not support existence in any of the six realms, so it manifests as a few fundamental spiritual forces – represented by the Five Buddhas, that in turn generate individuals – albeit fuzzy individuals like fuzzy particles – which in turn generate the worlds of form. All this of course happens at every instant. Each individual conscious being emerges in their own specially constructed world which is however informed by connections through networks of other individualised consciousnesses – so that to a large degree we share our world with some other beings. Although they can be broadly classified into the six realms there are in fact as many worlds and there are beings.

I realised recently that when ‘I’ die my ‘world’ also dies. Will I be able to stand the glare of clear light or will another fuzzy individual pop out of the field of consciousness. I suspect the latter.

Vajrayogini, in the form of Vam, stands, as it were, on the edge of creation, in the Dharmodaya, the source of all phenomena. In one direction the ecstatic non-dual clear light, in the other dualistic generation, the world of phenonema, the richness of her mandala. She is heroic because she has no fear of obliteration, she is ecstatic because she enjoys unalloyed freedom. I wonder, dare I let her embrace me. Normally I run away.

I recently retired from the presidency of the Bristol Buddhist Centre and as a parting gift I was given this beautiful image of Vajrayogini who now sits in her own niche in the Uttaraloka shrine room.

Tipu Arrives

I was sitting in the kitchen with Vasubandhu one evening when we saw the rat run from behind the fridge, although we didn’t see where it went to or where it could have come from. I quite like country rats but I’d already decided that a rat in the kitchen would be the red line. What to do?

As it happens a newly arrived feral cat had been hanging about the Guhyaloka community. He was completely black except for the tip of his tail that had been dipped in some mysterious white DNA. The only problem was that he was very chatty and his meows sometimes turned into aggressive yowls. But the coincidence of his arrival and my needs was too much to ignore so – after a fight to get him into a cat-box and the din he made as I drove – I brought him to Uttaraloka. He settled in quickly and did his job well. I felt some conflict about bringing in a professional assassin to kill off my neighbours or at best frighten them away, especially when it became clear that he didn’t distinguish between rats and lizards and birds. I was shocked to see him devour a small rat that he brought to the terrace where we ate lunch. As if he were a human eating a chocolate mouse he simply started by biting off the head and then chunks of the body finally slurping down the tail. He ate everything head, bones, fur, tail, everything, and then licked his chops. For the first few weeks he got in ferocious fights with the other local feral cats and we’d find him hobbling along with an injured back leg, or a torn ear, or some kind of injury to his front foot which meant that he hobbled about on three legs for several days. He has grown into a very big cat adding fifty percent to his weight in a couple of months. I’m not too sure that I like him, although when he is asleep belly up on the sofa, there is something very peaceful about his presence and his quiet meow is endearing. He still meows rather too much but he is getting quieter, and seldom yowls.

We, of course had to give him a name. Tiggy is a black cat at Guhyaloka, so we thought Tippy in recognition of his tail, but then came up with a more respectful name with Buddhist connections – Tipitica – but then I decided on Tipu because he turns out to have the spirit of a tiger, a tip on his tail, and it will remind me of my friends in Montana.

So Tipu has arrived