Why I Have Been Posting Less Recently

I have been writing less on this blog of late for several reasons.

I am finishing up a second novel about Aidan Alvarado, dream detective. It’s an adventure about life death and redemption, compassion and courage, for 9-12 year olds (of all ages! This age range is just because that’s what they want even when you self publish. What is the target audience? People love classifications. I agree guidance is helpful in some ways; it sometimes saves time. I actually think of it as just fiction; however, fiction that is appropriate for kids if they want to read it.).

It is time and energy consuming to pay attention and try to understand how to make a difference given the destructive horror show that is occurring in our government. And no, contrary to what I seem to hear from some Buddhists, you don’t need Buddhist insights to grasp this. I am not too enamored with socially engaged religious activities, though of course they could have a place. Mostly it seems to me to be more like advertising and self-aggrandizement. I agree with the Dalai Lama: we need more compassionate people, not more Buddhists (or Jews, or Christians, or Moslems, or Hindus or whatever). You want to do something with your sangha, church, synagogue, mosque, etc., fine, but don’t crow about it or stamp your beliefs on it, like that makes it special. I know fine people who are atheists, materialists, agnostics, deists, theists, religious, spiritual but non-religious etc. who care and band together to help or get involved with organizations and give to those who can make a difference without branding the help they are giving, or for that matter, themselves.

As much as I love science, I am reading less of it except for some of the fun stuff, mostly nature and biology (also there are great nature shows), or for what I do at work. I do appreciate the fact that physics can and should slap you upside the head saying no matter how you see the world, this cosmos, with your senses, the deeper you look the less “understandable” and solid it is. You can describe quantum physics and conceive some picture of what is going on, but it won’t be quite right. Can’t be. Words and concepts don’t cut it, even if they can approach it. You can come up with some idea of what might be going on: it is all energy fields (at best), ever changing with no inherently clear beginning or end, as it may be multi dimensional with multi universes. Entanglement suggests time and space is an illusion, or at least the way we experience space-time clearly is (as does relativity in a less fundamental way). The world of phenomena seems smooth and continuous and yet what seem like individual particles are described by waves, but come in discreet quanta. See my previous blogs on quantum mechanics (and now there are loads of good YouTube videos; I just watched a couple on 3Blue1Brown I liked about math and science, for example). I love that math designed and conceived abstractly as an intellectual endeavor sometimes comes to be the best way to describe the most subtle natural phenomena (like quantum mechanics).

I believe science, where it runs into the utter overwhelming fact of existence, the mind-boggling manifestations of life, of the universe itself, the nature of observation in quantum mechanics, the deep mystery of consciousness (mystery, that is, from an intellectual perspective), implies Mind is primary, is not a random epiphenomenon (though consciousness in terms of specific evolved brain functions may be so considered from a certain limited perspective. I do believe in evolution). There are great books by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman (Biocentrism and Beyond biocentrism) that explore that (see Honmei’s review of the latter book on the HazyMoon.com website) and there are several by Bernardo Kastrup. Bernardo has been writing a lot of academic articles; if you want academic arguments for what in Buddhism is called Mind Only, what he calls idealism, look him up.

So I don’t feel like writing about science and spirituality as much anymore. Others are doing just fine.

In my original post on this blog I wrote what I had heard from others that I considered the best description of what is true and that is what I still see:

 

You are the universe unfolding

No separation

No beginning no end.

 

I might add:

Mind is primary

The natural working of mind is compassion when not reacting from ignorance (ignorance: the sense of separation, thinking that ego and the words that pop into our head, our brain as it has evolved for us apes to survive, is mind, that our stories are real rather than short hand for what can’t be said)

Greed and anger are manifestations of our ignorance and cause pain, both for others and ourselves.

 

The best advice I have run into:

Don’t wish for a better past (or present or future, for that matter; it doesn’t help and is guaranteed to make you crazy; this is an abbreviation of Lily Tomlin’s statement that forgiveness is not wishing for a better past)

No self-deception

Pay attention

Don’t put a head on your head

 

I do my Zen practice. I try to act in the world with responsibility and whatever compassion as I can muster. I am lucky to have some great karma, though I see pain all around me, sometimes very close, sometimes big, sometimes small. I write fiction for adults that can be read by kids that I hope will provide a fun way to pass the time while being insightful and helpful. Writing fiction is a way to tell truths that non-fiction and didactic approaches can’t. It is an expression of my Zen practice.

I may write more about math and science and spirituality in the future. I’ll let you know more about my new fiction soon. So far this is the summary I am working on for the back of the book; it’s still rough (I have information about the first book on ralphlevinson.com and will put more about this one there and maybe here in a few weeks or so):

Eleven-year-old Aidan Alvarado had enough of saving the world; all he wanted to do was play soccer. That wasn’t going to happen! Aidan embarks on his second case as a dream detective when Emperor Wu (China’s only woman emperor who lived 1300 years ago) needs his help again. There is a war going on in the realm of the water spirit dragons and the balance of the universe is upset, threatening disaster for Wu’s empire and even the universe itself. The key is a golden feather. To solve the mystery Aidan has to travel in his dreams to ancient China, India, and Egypt. Along the way Aidan meets a few monsters and ancient deities, a boy who can morph into a cobra, a girl who talks to elephants, a poet philosopher who accompanied Alexander the Great, a beekeeper in Ancient Egypt and a mummy girl’s spirit.

 

Maat with her feather. She embodies Truth, the Way, the Balance of the Cosmos, the Dharma. You heart (like in China, in Ancient Egypt heart and mind are the same) is measured against her feather in what we know as the Egyptian book of the Dead (really the Book of Coming Forth by Day)

It’s All About Mind at Play; That Is, It’s All About You

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From the book “ A Beautiful Question” by Nobel Prize winner for physics Frank Wiczek:

“The human mind is our ultimate sense organ.” p. 159

This is true. Buddhism has had the mind as the sixth sense as a given truth for a couple of thousand years plus. Note Wiczek wrote “our” and that’s why “human brain.” It would also be true of any sentient being, brain or no brain.

This is also consistent with Biocentrism, as described in the two books by Bob Lanza and Bob Berman, “Biocentrism” and “Beyond Biocentrism.”

There is no separation, no out there. Sentience is all that exists. Beyond sentience, how can we talk about existence? What right, what warrant, as the logicians say, would we have for postulating something or nothing outside of sentience?

All our sense organs do is register changes in energy, but that is meaningless without sentience. In Lanza and Berman’s most recent book “Beyond Biocentrism” Berman writes about how it blew his mind and he had an enlightenment experience just contemplating that the whole universe he experiences is only what is in his head. This occurred when he was studying for an undergraduate biology course!

Savor that. He went satori reading a college level science textbook, usually thought to be the most intellectual, materialistic, uninspiring, boring thing anyone can read! Go figure! This is a valuable lesson: don’t limit your universe with your preconceptions.

Of course, that’s exactly what we do!

And how is that consistent with ‘no out there, no separation’? A couple of analogies or thought experiments might help:

Cut off one of your fingers (do it under local anesthesia, don’t be cruel). Keep it alive in some nutrient broth. You may experience phantom sensations, still experiencing that finger as being at the end of your hand. Like you did before you cut it off. Those feelings are all in your brain; the finger’s in a vat in another room. The finger was always an experience in your head. And later burn the finger. Did you feel it burn? That finger was you; it is you…right? Maybe not when your head doesn’t feel the pain? The finger has nerves that were kept alive, and they are certainly firing away, but how can we speak of pain as it burns in another room, separated from your brain? All we can speak of is the energy from the fire causing electric field changes in a tissue due to ion fluxes.

A current in the ocean appears to be separate from the water around it. It has different energy, that is, different momentum (it moves in a different direction and speed and may have different density from the water around it due to temperature differences i.e. a different mass/volume of space. Momentum is mass times velocity; velocity is speed with direction. Momentum, along with potential energy, is how we describe the total energy of a system in mechanics). The local differences in momentum are why it is experienced as a current. But it’s all water. It’s all one ocean, no matter how we divide it up with different names based on our limited experience, our local sampling of conditions, and our perceived needs in our subjective time and space. The energy of the current will dissipate and equalize with the rest of the ocean unless energy is pumped in by the sun and mediated by temperature changes, kinetic energy from storms, etc. Either way, nothing is lost, nothing is gained. Just energy transformations in One Ocean.

These analogies sound dualistic, so this and that, here and there. All those fingers, brains, oceans and currents. But that’s just the limited nature of analogies and language. What does Buddhism say about this? We chant “The Identity of the Relative and Absolute,” a Zen poem by Sekito Kisen from the Song dynasty about a thousand years ago that I have written about on this website before. He wrote: “the relative and absolute fit together like a box and its lid.” The ancient Zen master grasped this apparent scientific conundrum of what seems like duality in what must be non-duality (must be; how can there be something else? Again, by what warrant do we come up with such a silly concept as dualism?), and wrote a poem that holds up a millennium later. Gotta love it.

There is symmetry in the identity of the relative and absolute. The key word is identity; that is what a symmetry is. Change that keeps an identity. A circle is rotated; it changes but is still identically the same circle. It is symmetric to rotation.

As I have written about here before, symmetry is at the core of the mathematical formulations of modern physics. Wiczek writes about symmetry, describing it on p. 166 of his book as “Change Without Change.” He goes on to write that this is “a strange inhuman mantra for the soul of creation. Yet its very unworldliness presents an opportunity: we can expand our imaginative vision by making its wisdom our own.”

But while I agree about its wisdom, I think it is actually very human and not really unworldly, except in our limited day-to-day quotidian experience of our world; it’s just not limited by our humanity, by our “worldly” experiences in the illusion of time and space.

Change without Change. The identity of relative and absolute. That’s as hard-core, old school Buddhism as it gets.

Remember:

Science’s best model (quantum physics) says it’s all energy fields, throughout space and time. But as Lanza and Berman point out in their books on Biocentrism, time and space are dicey concepts. We invent time and space post hoc and ad hoc, to try to bring it all down to size, to grasp it all for what seem in our delusion to be ‘practical purposes,’ to fit our conditioned ideas of reality, our beliefs. Yet we know that relativity says time and space are part and parcel of each other, without independent foundation, at best fluid and relational and elastic, and quantum mechanics says time and space have absolutely no relevance to such basic observations as entanglement and two slit experiments, that reflect the behavior of particle or sets of particles, the most basic of basic entities science can grasp, and by extension, all that is.

Or as the Zen master Dogen wrote almost 800 years ago: Being-Time. Time as our lives. Time is Being, Time is sentience, time is Mind. Space is just the same.

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So we have quantum fields without beginning or end, bottomless and topless, because there is no “where” and “when” until we chose to define it. Fields are described by magnitude and direction wherever you look. A particle is a concentration of the energy of that field, a local manifestation, in the sentient perception of space and time.

That’s all there is folks. In quantum mechanics there is no difference between here and there, other than how energy manifests as field or particle when perceived (measured, which is perception), then transforming itself in response. Like Indra’s net of the Avatamsaka sutra, where every jewel instantly reflects the light of every other jewel, which then reflects the light of every other jewel, which then…

And in all this, energy is conserved. Energy is symmetric. Nothing ever added or lost, just self-transformed. Science only understands energy by its perceived transformations. Can’t define or measure it directly. Can’t say where it came from or where it is going (no beginning no end).

As written in the Heart Sutra, form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Fields (undefined, without limit, without substance, without inherent separate reality) are particles, particles are fields. Mind is stuff, stuff is Mind. Relative and absolute are an identity.

Symmetry.

Or as our ancestors said, as our Zen teachers who know what they are talking about teach, and as Lanza and Berman in their Biocentrism details, it’s all Mind, Consciousness. And keep in mind, mind is Mind, consciousness is Consciousness. Your mind, my mind, our mind, all is relative/local/particle (if you will) manifestations of absolute Mind. Your mind and Buddha Mind, you and the Buddha Field. Like particle and field, or particle and wave if you prefer, as identical as the identity of relative and absolute of ancient Sekito’s poem. Don’t get hung up thinking the words that pop into your head, the concepts you are conditioned to believe, are the limit of your mind.

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Red Pine writes in his translation of the Diamond Sutra that the Tang dynasty Zen master Huang Po said: “Buddha and beings share the same identical mind.”

Mind is Buddha, the ancients said. OK, they also said Buddha is a turd. Or the cypress tree outside. And they meant it. Literally.

Nyogen Roshi likes to remind us that the Buddhist sutras, the reports of the saying of the Buddha, are about us, our lives. Lanza and Berman, in their books on Biocentrism, say the same thing. It is you. Always was, always will be, to whatever extent we can talk about always. In all ways.

As the late Stephen Gaskin titled one of his books: it is all “Mind at Play.”

 

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