“It is imperative to abandon the idea of a “myself” standing in opposition to “others.” This is an illusion produced by a false view of things. To come to self-realization you must directly experience yourself and the Universe as one… you understand this theoretically, but… you must let go of logical reasoning and grasp the real thing.”
– Yasutani Roshi (1885-1973)
The standard American perspective has “me” as the center of my universe. We tend to enter into each moment with the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” We are looking for what in this moment will enhance me and guarding against what will detract from me. Admittedly sometimes our sense of enhancement comes from altruistic and generous motives, but we still have a sense of “me” as the source of altruism at the center of our consciousness. This is a perspective that makes sense from a highly personalized point of view, what can be called the egoic perspective, but it is a perspective that is extremely limited and limiting. It is a perspective that causes our experience of life often to be immediately, and always ultimately, unsatisfying, and one that has immense implications for humans as a source of harm and disharmony in the Universe.
Buddhism presents us with a radically different perspective for our consideration, one that has “me” as a center in the Universe and the Universe as the center of me. The Universe and I are one. It is a non-dualistic perspective. Ultimately, there is no “me” as distinct from the Universe or the contents of the Universe, for the Universe is all there ultimately is. The Universe is an infinite pattern of energy containing infinite patterns of energy all connected energetically. What we experience as “me” at its ultimate dimension is a pattern of energy, of physical and consciousness energy, within patterns of energy, within patterns of energy within the one great pattern of energy that is the Universe. It is into this ultimate dimension, and our connection to and through the expanding, concentric fields of energy and reality along the way, that Buddhism and meditation seek to awaken us.
That said… we are also, this dualistic consciousness in our perceptual experience, and so, there is me, separate, this physical body and mental processes and social affiliations, and the rest of the Universe is out there, and it is a mistake to turn that experience into a fiction, a delusion. There is me, in society (another pattern of energy that we are within) out there (welcome to paradox). I am the subjective center of that world. But to end there, to have that be all that we are, is a trap. It turns all of the world and its contents, including people, animals, the natural forces and resource of the planet into objects – literally resources for exploitation. From this perspective, we are able to rationally distance ourselves, engage in limitless manipulative and acquisitive behavior, and create much harm, as well as feel we are being harmed. It is a prison of subjective isolation in a perceived Universe of competing, sometimes hostile, objects.
So, when we live as if this “I,” this body and mental activity, is the limit of who I am, it is an ultimately harmful perceptual delusion, and we live trapped in this delusion. We are unable to realize and experience, that this “I” is, ultimately and at the most fundamental level, a center of perception, of consciousness, within the Universe that is made up of infinite such centers, thus allowing, in effect, the Universe to be the center of “me.” This center is nowhere specifically finite – and, here comes paradox again, it is. It is here. And it is everywhere. Wherever your consciousness perceives, there is the Universe, and the most fundamental “me” is this consciousness perceiving this moment. The Universe is not anything separate, but it is the essence of who I am, and, there both is and isn’t any sense of “I” at the center of it. From this perspective, we see the interconnectedness and relatedness of all of Life’s expressions and a natural compassionate and benevolent attitude results. With this realization also comes a deep sense of placement and belonging in the Universe. The personal perspective and the ultimate or Universal perspective balance each other.
This may sound philosophically/spiritually fascinating, but still, theoretical or even absurd, but it is, as a fact, the experience that is central to all that is pleasing and natural in our experience. We just don’t notice it. It becomes the accidental pleasure and joy in our lives that we attribute to the situation – as in being happy when we recreate or listen to music or make love or have a particularly creative moment in our work, or play with our dog or child, or take a fully attentive hike in the woods. It happens any time that our experience of the moment is direct and pure – there is no sense that there is an “I” having it. Sometimes this is called “flow.” There is only the moment in experience. We shift from having consciousness of “I” at the center of our experience, to the experience being the center of “I.” Perhaps it could also be expressed as the realm of our Beingness infinitely connected to shared Beingness with all Creation, in a given moment or activity.
This is the non-dualistic perspective of Buddhism and of mystics from every culture. “You must experience yourself and the Universe as one… you must let go of logical reasoning and grasp the real thing.” Now, why is this important? It is a marvelous esoteric concept, and it is great when it happens, but why must we “grasp the real thing?” Because it doesn’t have to be accidental, it can be cultivated, and it is our salvation. It is the path to individual salvation from being psychologically and spiritually lost, and it is the path to salvation for the human species, as well as the many, many species whose existence is threatened by human activity. It ultimately is the path that leads to sustainable well being for human society on this planet Earth. It is the necessary consciousness that opens humanity’s evolution into what the deep ecologist Thomas Berry described as the “Ecozoic Era,” when humanity realizes its naturally mutually enhancing relationship within the planet’s ecosystem.
When we shift having “I” as the center of experience, into experience (consciousness of the moment) being the center of “I,” the Universe opens. If you want your life to be wonderful (and who doesn’t?) you must allow your life to be filled with wonder, not “I” looking for wonderful experiences – which to the egoic “I” are unique, rare and exceptional. When we stop running the thought-driven mental program of “I, me, mine” and open consciousness fully into the world just as it is, then the reality of “I” as an expression of the Universe within the Universe expressing itself in infinite subtlety of form and energy, fills us.
This is the essence of wonder that is described as the spiritual or mystical experience, and the potential is there every moment, because this is the reality of how things actually are. Our connectedness to the flower, the bird, the tree, the person standing in front of us becomes obvious. Space connects rather than separates, and you “experience yourself and the Universe as one.” It is not a mental abstraction – out there. It is who we are, right here, right now, and true meditation teaches us this.
The entire world begins to be experienced from a subjective as well as an objective perspective. We live in both the personalized, social construct and the Universally related construct. Our personal lives become increasingly “wonder-full” and our relationship to Life and our fellow Beings, human, animal and planetary becomes increasingly deeply respect-full and care-full. And that is what I call salvation, “but… you must let go of logical reasoning and grasp the real thing.”