A Solace of Quantum – or, how some of our librarians spend their spare time thinking deep thoughts!

After forty or so years of a long fascination with Buddhism  –  and all such mystical systems of self-discovery  –   during the last couple of years a light has been turned on for me on the subject from a quarter I would never have expected:  physics.

Physics?   What, all those endless and incomprehensible equations scrawled on blackboards?   Easy and understandable to feel that way unless you’re a physicist yourself, which I’m certainly not!   But over the past few decades a quiet revolution has been taking place in the world of physics; a revolution that really does speak to ordinary folk like you and me; a revolution based on tried and tested experiments and calculations which,  when understood,  challenges and utterly changes our beliefs about ourselves and what we are;  and it seems to me we’re at a point where science,  philosophy and religion are at last beginning to speak with the same tongue.

For 250 or so years, physics has reinforced what appears to be our everyday perception of ourselves:  i.e. we are specks of embodied consciousness, or mind,  in a vast and solid physical universe which would exist regardless of our presence in it,  and matter is the “real” building block of ourselves and everything we experience.  Even atoms, we feel, are tiny but nonetheless “solid”  balls which when clustered together create bigger things.  Yet the new physics, Quantum Physics, strongly suggests something dramatically different:  it tells us that the universe deliberately sets about creating conditions in which sentience – such as ours – can arise! Why would it do this? Because it appears to be endlessly curious about itself – and only through the consciousness of sentient beings can the universe actually create itself and thus experience itself as “other”.

Only by experiencing life as though it was separate from the world it inhabits can the universe turn a mirror upon itself and wonder about its own existence.  And as ancient (mostly Asian, though a strong vein of such mysticism quietly runs through all three of the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam) mystical traditions and practices have been telling us for thousands of years: that mind, not matter, is the true building block of everything we know and see; at the sub-microscopic (Quantum) level, atoms and the particles within them are not solid at all; in fact, they more resemble ideas than definable things.

Long-established schools in the Buddhist tradition such as Yogacara and Dzogchen, for example, agree with this view and insist that consciousness actually – over vast periods of time – creates and sustains matter, rather than the opposite. By turning their own minds in on themselves in deep and sustained contemplation, practitioners of these and other similar systems have actually experienced what a Quantum view now also suggests – that the basic field of existence is a vast  “possibility field” from which our own minds – and those of all other sentients – pull shape and substance. Suddenly the universe (at least as science has long believed) ceases to be a cold, incomprehensible place in which our separate minds mysteriously came into being out of matter, and instead becomes something akin to what Hinduism has always called “Maya”, or “play” – one energy, one unfathomably vast field of ultimate reality (and yes, some like to call it God) acting out an endless number of roles in order to experience itself.

What does this mean for you and me? It means the spark of consciousness looking out at each other from our apparently entirely separate bodies is actually the same undivided spark, and we are in fact – and not just belief or hope – one with everything (like the Dalai Lama’s pizza!). If this is so, causing pain or suffering to others is akin to hurting ourselves, as we are not divided at all, just as Buddhism has long held. And although connections and parallels between modern Quantum Theory and ancient mystical practices remain controversial, evidence is mounting for a marriage of the two. If so, we are all living right now through astonishing and thrilling times: perhaps the dawn of a self-awareness based both on science and religion.

^David – that guy with the amazing beard who helps you find your books.

David is willing to chat about the mysticism of the Universe, just pop by the desk and have a chin wag when you see him!

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