It is said that when the Buddha emerged, fully enlightened, from under the Bodhi tree some 2600 years ago, he was reluctant to teach because he was not sure people would understand what he had discovered. We know that the Two Realms are found at the very heart of his teachings. The first of these realms is the conditioned – the realm of duality where there is birth and death, light and dark, moving and standing still. The second is the unconditioned – the ultimate realm of non-duality where all is one, nothing exists independently, and yet there is unlimited potential for anything to exist. In recent years, many words have been written around the observation that the Buddha’s realization accurately describes the findings of quantum physics. There is the apparent world where particles and waves exist, where things cannot be in two places at one and events go on independent of the consciousness that observes those events. In the quantum world, however, nothing has independent existence. Particle and waves merge to become something that can exist in many places at once, and many things can exist in the same space. Conventional time does not seem to exist in this world, and consciousness cannot be separated from the quantum world. To the Buddha’s colleagues, it was clear from his demeanor that he had gained some incredible knowledge and peace of mind, so they convinced him to share his discovery. Imagine what it was like, 2600 years ago when no one knew what an atom was, when it was thought that the earth was the center of the universe and there was no distinction between religion and science. And now the Buddha has been asked, in essence, to explain the principles of quantum physics. How would you go about that? How in the world could you explain that in a way that people would understand? Let’s put ourselves in his mind. You know that everything that once seemed to be true about the world around you is only due to a limited perspective. Once you get outside of that perspective, you can see that this view is incredibly constraining, and is, in fact, the main cause of suffering in the world. But in order to get outside of that perspective you must let go of everything you believe about the world and abandon yourself to a realm where there is no black and white or life and death, and in fact you yourself do not exist as an independent being. If you walk in and say that to your colleagues, you’d end up in the 500 BCE equivalent of the loony bin. Yet you also know that if they can accept and truly understand this point of view, it will free them from the suffering caused by clinging to their limited point of view. So you decide to start from a place that they can hear and accept. You “invert” your teaching, starting from the bottom up, rather than the top down approach of laying out a broad new discovery that no one would understand and then describing the practical implications of that discovery. You start by saying, “We all find life to be unsatisfactory. We suffer because of that.” OK, everybody is still with you. After all, this sense that life is unsatisfactory is the whole reason you and your colleague became monks in the first place. Then you say, “The reason life is unsatisfactory is because we cling to things as if they are permanent, when they are, in fact, transitory.” OK, everyone has mourned the loss of a colleague, family member, or beloved pet even though they have always known that everything dies eventually. Then you say, “But we can escape from this misery.” Now you have their attention. They are ready to listen to anything you have to say. You outline an eightfold path, leading them slowly in the direction of discovery. Some understand quickly and others struggle with this teaching. So you find another way to describe the same things. You find that your colleagues have become your followers, so you organize the teachings into lists to help them remember. Twelve links of interdependent co-arising, five aggregate, seven factors of awakening, and so forth. You tell stories and parables to illustrate the principles. Different people respond to different way of teaching and different ways of saying the same things. So everything you teach, every parable and every list, is a way to bring someone another step closer to the big discovery, the moment that the light goes on and the involuntary “ah-ha!” escapes from their lips. That leap into the quantum world of understanding is the purpose of each and every list and practice. That leap is what will minimize suffering in the world. Today, though, we know about quantum physics. We have studied it and heard about it, so we can re-invert the teaching. We can turn it back right-side up by teaching the basic principles first and then describing the practical implications of those principles. From the broad reality of our non-dual quantum world, we can see that this means there are no independent beings, that the world we see is an illusion, that everything we do and say causes ripple effects throughout the universe today, and a cascade of effects into the infinite future. We can say that our ideas of fixed space and time are incorrect. We can point out that if we try to to cling to anything, it will cause us to suffer because nothing we can see or touch is permanent and unchanging. We can say that matter and energy are merely different aspects of the same thing. We can say that reality is so complex that we cannot predict the specific effect that any particular action may have on our collective future, and that we had better tread lightly because of that very lack of understanding. We can point out that science confirms we are not a bunch of independent beings, but merely patterns in a complex and interconnected web of energy, that we are all in this together. We can point out that when I hurt you I am hurting myself because there is no division between you and me, or between me and the environment. Each of us is everything we all are. Only by understanding all of this can we ever hope to fulfill the promise, and the potential, of the quantum.


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