Before we launch into the question of whether our brains are the tools to employ in attempting to understand Reality-As-It-Is, let’s first look at a much, much smallerquestion just to get a feel for the brain’s effectiveness as an arbiter of Truth.
Question: “How many stars are there in the universe?”
In asking this question, it is important to distinguish between the universe as a whole and the observable universe. Because the universe was born 13.8 billion years ago, we can only observe objects up to a certain distance from Earth — light from more distant objects hasn’t had time to reach us yet. To estimate the number of stars, we must limit the discussion to what we can observe.
Astronomers estimate that the observable universe has more than 100 billion galaxies. Our own Milky Way is home to around 300 billion stars, but it’s not representative of galaxies in general. The Milky Way is a titan compared to abundant but faint dwarf galaxies, and it, in turn, is dwarfed by rare giant elliptical galaxies, which can be 20 times more massive. By measuring the number and luminosity of observable galaxies, astronomers put current estimates of the total stellar population at roughly 70 billion trillion (7 x 1022).
Do you, my dear friend, understand what that “70 billion trillion” symbol represents? Can you fathom what it means? No. You can’t. I can’t. Nobody really can. It’s a crazy concept, meant to represent something that is ultimately utterly incomprehensible. It’s like the Buddhist measurement of time called a kalpa.
Conceptualization of a kalpa (from Wikipedia’s take on traditional Buddhist teachings): “Imagine a gigantic rocky mountain at the beginning of a kalpa that is approximately 16 x 16 x 16 miles (dwarfing Mount Everest). You take a small piece of silk and wipe the mountain once every 100 years. According to the Buddha, the mountain will be completely depleted even before the kalpa ends.”
Do you “understand” what a kalpa represents, what it really means? Me neither. Now, let us try to grasp what we are actually working with to try and figure out that question, and all other questions. What does our tool of inquiry really consist of?
Well, the average human brain weighs about three pounds and is roughly the size of a large grapefruit. This tiny speck of potential brightness thinks it can know both what is going on in the universe and what shouldbegoing on–especiallyin the so-called “separate, private world” of the unit it’s attached to.
No human hubris in that–ya think???
We use the brain to go beyond the brain.
We use mind to transcend mind.
And our vehicle, our tool?
No vehicle. No tool. Understanding happens.
It does not happen to an ego, but inspiteof an ego. It does not happen to a person, but through a person. It does not happen to our “character”–it happens only in the absence of our character. It does not happen to mind, but rather through mind. It does not happen to a brain, but only through a brain.
We approach the Gateless Gate boldly, carry a double-edged sword. One edge is wisdom. Through wisdom we know that there is nothing we can do to make awakening happen. The other edge is love. Through love we give attention to the books, practices, and teachers that we are pulled toward anyway.
Recognizing that there apparently is no free will–indeed that there is noonepresent to either have or not have free will–we act as if we have free will anyway.
We live our lives. We shower attention on all the details. We don’t stand at the side of the pool of Life trying to figure out if it’s really water, or perhaps a mirage. We don’t sit and wonder if either water, or void will be wet, or warm, or cold. We don’t calculate what’s going to happen in the pool or after the pool. We simply leap from the edge and let whatever is there take us.
We surrender nothing with complete abandon. And when we do, Truth will catch us. Still, silent joy arises.
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Fred Davis, Creator & Editor-in-Chief Betsy Hackett-Davis, Minister of Detail Roland Jackman, Web Master Kathleen Sutherland, Editor Christopher Warnock, Legal Counsel Mike Zerbel, Sangha Coordinator John Ames, Editor Emeritus