Saturday, September 22, 2007

Myth As Fact?

God has created the world in play.
– Sri Ramakrishna

A simple, childlike story in India’s ancient scriptures tells how multiplicity emerged from unity. The Lord, the One without a second, felt very lonesome one morning. After all, he was the only thing that existed in the entire universe, so when he looked around him, he could see no one but himself. This did not satisfy him at all. He wanted to play.

So he made playmates. Out of himself he created the myriads of creatures, the two-footed and the four-footed. He started playing with them, playing hide-and-seek, which is what life is all about. We are all playing this game with the Lord. We are all seeking him, and he is hiding playfully from us.

It is easy to talk about this, sing about this, paint this, but it is an entirely different matter to experience it. Yet in deepest meditation, the veil separating you and me can drop. Then, beneath the varied costumes, we will be able to perceive the same supreme Reality whom we call God, who is playing his game in the world.

--Eknath Easwaran

I like Easwaran's wonderfully clear and simple telling of this ancient Hindu story better than I do almost any other version I've come across. But the thing is, Hindus and Wilberians alike seem to take this story as fact. They may call it "myth" and explain that it "points at" rather than embodies Reality, but it seems to me that, when all is said and done, they take the story quite literally. The "Ultimate Reality" is consciousness that has intentionally "involuted" Itself into the world that subsequently struggles and evolves to regain its original unity.

But every time I hear and consider this, I wonder why the perfection of Ultimate Unity would EVER consciously--i.e., intentionally--become a messy and chaotic multiplicity wracked by suffering. Yes, I know that the Hindu and Wilberian mystics joyfully proclaim that this multiplicity and suffering is still, ultimately, a perfect Unity. But their perception and mine on this seem so far apart that I wonder if one of us isn't terribly deluded and whether I am necessarily the one so afflicted. This world seems anything BUT unified and perfect, and just because mystics and integral philosophers tell me it is doesn't mean I buy what they tell me.

Ken Wilber suggests that if I undergo the right "injunction" or spiritual discipline, I will discover for myself that the mystics are right and that my old way of seeing things was wrong. But I wonder if this is isn't all-too-analogous to saying that everyone who takes psilocybin will, at some point, see strange things happen to the objects in front of their eyes; therefore, those things are ACTUALLY happening. The floor is REALLY undulating like the ocean, and those plants in the vase before you are REALLY growing and shrinking, growing and shrinking before your very eyes.


Tom said...


Great issue. Ken Wilber deals with the matter in an interview he did that is online called "A Ticket to Athens."

You write, "I wonder why the perfection of Ultimate Unity would EVER consciously--i.e., intentionally--become a messy and chaotic multiplicity wracked by suffering."

Ken's response to that is in line with what you've quoted: "Here you are, the One and Only, the Alone and the Infinite. What are you going to do next? You bathe in your own glory for all eternity, you bask in your own delight for ages upon ages, and then what? Sooner or later, you might decide that it would be fun -- just fun -- to pretend that you were not you. I mean, what else are you going to do? What else can you do?"

I know it's no comfort. It doesn't seem to get anywhere. It's wholly not palatable. But dukkha is fun. What a trip.

But my way of looking at it -- and not experiencing it -- is that we are truly deathless and united so our concerns in life, that manifest as dukkha, are delusional. But what can WE do, as little individual beings, other than play the hand that is dealt to us.

Your psilocybin analogy may not mean anything real because the concept of there being a separation between mind and matter or there being one in charge of the other is a misconception, a duality that isn't "real."

It's not a satisfying explanation of EVERYTHING, but what other explanation could there possibly be?

Nagarjuna said...

Tom, are you saying that when we see the undulating floor, the fact that there is no ultimate "separation" between our mind and the floor means that the floor really IS undulating?

Tom said...

I would say that the floor in undulating, but your question could be rather perverse. While locating the ultimate deeper, truer reality isn't really possible, we DO know that what I perceive is wholly dependent on impulses in my brain. So, for all I know, I'm wholly idle, hooked up to a machine that's creating a reality for me, as was depicted in The Matrix.

Tom said...

I found another answer to your question of why are we in this "messy and chaotic multiplicity wracked by suffering."
This from a post by ebuddha in the defunct blog, Generation Sit:

For myself, I’ve always thought that you can’t have a world, without ups and downs, without peaks and valleys.

As soon as you have a world, there is a “seeming” separation. You can’t actually have a world without this.

Interestingly, there is also an article on Wired, about VIRTUAL worlds.

Here is the article - “Why abundance sucks, and other unexpected lessons of the game economy”.

What if everything in life were free? You’d think we’d be happier. But game designers know better: We’d be bored.

So that’s another point of view - a world of plenty produces boredom.

Nagarjuna said...

Tom, I agree that we don't know for sure that there really IS a world and floor external to our consciousness, although I suspect that you share my belief that there is and that seeing the floor undulate after taking psilocybin is a drug-induced hallucination rather than a perception of what is REALLY happening to the floor outside our perceiving eyes and brain.

I also agree with you that a world in which we could instantly have everything we desired without the slightest effort would, indeed, be a terribly boring one reminiscent of a classic "Twilight Zone" episode in which a guy dies and finds himself in a place that he takes to be heaven--since his every whim and desire is satisfied immediately--until he becomes increasingly bored and unhappy and then discovers that he's really in hell.

Having said this, I still wonder why a perfect consciousness steeped in the infinite bliss and goodness alleged of a perfect unity consciousness would be subject to human limitations of boredom such that the only way it could amuse itself and improve its lot is to fashion a universe and populate it with sentient manifestations of Itself who not only don't know who and what they truly are but who suffer inordinately their entire lives or even multiple lifetimes for their ignorance, and whose ultimate aim is to discover their supreme identity and regain the bliss of unity that occasioned the very boredom that led to an escape from that blissful unity in the first place. It all seems ridiculous.

Tom said...

I cannot deny your reasoning.

Basically, I am the Devil's advocate at this point. I think it is likely we are like dogs trying to understand string theory; it is beyond our ken.

Life on earth, the existence of a universe, is utterly imposible to my mind. How can there be anything going on at all? And yet, I am here. Even if it is a delusion, I am here. And you are here.

We are told, and I believe, that our suffering gets us closer to something. Ultimately, we will see that the egoic things we held onto, that we thought were so damned important, weren't. Our suffering will help us, eventually, to recognize what bliss awaits us. The Tao tells us that we know what is short from what is long. What is cold by way of what is hot. From suffering, we learn bliss -- if our 'experience' of it is right, somehow.

We must slog on and not dispair.

Tom said...

This sounds like cornpone, but this I believe:

We each view ourselves as tiny, unimportant and disposable, but each of us is a unique window onto the universe and we are each everything. We are not pieces of the universe; we are the whole of the universe. "One moon shows in every pool; in every pool, the one moon."