I've pondered the nature of reality for about five decades. Specifics aren't becoming much clearer, but I feel like I'm making progress on three basic questions and general answers.
(1) Is it possible to learn about the universe? Yes.
(2) Is it possible to learn about the ultimate origin of the universe? No.
(3) Is it possible to marvel at the mystery of the "Yes" and "No" above? Yes.
The two affirmations in 1 and 3 lead me to embrace science and mysticism. The negative in 2 causes me to reject religion.
Pretty damn simple.
This makes so much sense to me, it's difficult to understand why so many people get things completely backwards. They reject the knowable world that science honestly explores, while accepting the unknowable realm that religion falsely posits.
I suspect the reason relates to a fear of mystery.
Lovers of science have no problem saying, "I don't know." Ditto with mystics, who accept that the ultimate questions of existence have no answers.
Such as the biggest question of all: Why is there something rather than nothing?
Some argue that this question is meaningless; others say that it points to the ineffable nature of "God" (using that word in the only way it should be used -- as synonymous with "Mystery").
We can make progress toward understanding the what of our universe. What it and we are made of. What energizes it. What holds it together. What connections exist within it.
We are completely, utterly, marvelously, wondrously blocked from understanding the that of our universe. That it, or anything else in the cosmos, exists at all.
Consciousness can conceive or be aware of many things. But not of the primal that. Some words attempt to encompass it.
Being. Existence. God. Ultimate reality. Suchness. Brahman. Wu chi.
No word succeeds. No experience succeeds. Nothing succeeds in casting any light on the mystery of something.
This is where mysticism begins and ends: at the everpresent formless boundary between what can be known, and what can't.
If you take a step toward knowing, you're in the real world of science (and everyday life). If you imagine that you've understood what can't be known, you're in the fantasy realm of religion.
I fully accept that there is more to be understood about consciousness, mind, meditative states, subtle energies, and other subjects pursued by those with a spiritual bent.
However, none of this is genuine mysticism.
Mysticism is about mystery, plain and simple. Investigations into what can be known are science. This tells us more about what exists within reality, but nothing regarding the primal that of existence.
So it doesn't matter if someone has entered the seventh heaven (assuming there is such a thing) wearing an ethereal gown of cosmic light. Confronting the mystery of why this, or anything else, exists, they are bounced back onto the same level of existential ignorance we all are bound to.
Recognizing that God is mystery...wisdom.
Believing that God can be known...foolishness.
Life on the way of unknowing is not a steady progress or an ascent toward an attainable or even verbally specifiable goal. It is repetition, a continually beginning over; it is again and again to awaken as if for the first time to the subtle and infinite mystery that pervades each space, each moment I occupy.
Here, as before, we do not move "forward" toward answers and explanations. We don't "explain" the world's existence, or our own acts and lives, and then "move on." We don't seek answers to the questions of why the world exists or how action is possible.
Instead, we slowly begin to realize that our questions are not the first steps of a limited question and answer process; they are infinite koans which, sooner or later, bring verbal awareness to a halt, so that mystical awareness can burst out of all answers and all questions and dwell in the inconceivable.