Copernicus may have demoted us humans from an objectively real position at the center of the cosmos, but most people continue to believe that everything revolves around them.
Why else would we get so upset when life doesn't give us what we feel we deserve, even though much of the time what doesn't come to me benefits someone else? (Like the guy who darts ahead of my car and takes a choice parking space that I'd been lusting after.)
The crazy thing is, being the center of the universe really isn't much fun.
It's exhausting trying to keep reality revolving as it should. It's anxiety-producing to feel that if I don't get my way, life has gone seriously awry. It's stressful to keep defending my position against other people who don't have the good sense to see that I'm right and they're wrong.
So it's wise to extend the Copernican principle by also demoting ourselves from a subjective sense of cosmic centrality. I'm attracted to Taoism and Buddhism because these philosophies do just that, often in a light-hearted fashion.
As noted in my previous blog post, "Letting go -- the essence of Zen," my favorite Zen'ish writing is Hubert Benoit's "The Supreme Doctrine." I like how he psychologizes Zen teachings, making them more down to earth and less esoterically Buddhist'y.
Benoit says there's no reason for us to give up our likes and dislikes, our passions and preferences, our ooh's and ah's that make life so pleasingly zesty.
But we should realize that our positive is someone else's negative; what we're attracted to will repel another person; our notion of "good" will be viewed by others as "bad." In short, we need to give up the exclusivity of our perspectives, while otherwise holding onto our subjectivity (as if we had a choice).
The importance that we attach to certain aspects of the world is not false, it is not illusory; what is illusory resides in the exclusive character of this vision, in the fact that it denies the same importance to the rest of the world.
The vision of things as they are would attribute an equal importance to all aspects of the Universe; everything would be important and in consequence nothing would be important in the preferential sense that we usually give to this word "important."
It is only in the partiality of our imaginary vision that the illusion resides, not in the vision itself... the idol is not an obstacle to Reality; the reality that we see in the idol is not opposed to our reunion with Reality.
The obstacle is only the ignorance through which we deny to that which is not the idol the same reality that we see in the idol. The only obstacle is ignorance, and ignorance is partiality.
...Subjection does not lie in seeing Reality in the evocation of Jesus or of the Buddha, but in only seeing it there by denying it to the rest of creation.
This is why Benoit says that "spirituality" should be shunned. Why? Because spirit almost always is considered to be higher and better than matter; God is elevated above Satan; supernatural phenomena are viewed as more desirable than worldly perceptions.
Religious spirituality is partiality raised to the extreme cosmic level. It masquerades as unity, yet is dualistic through and through. It makes personal dogmatic beliefs the measure of all things, perpetuating the illusion that the human psyche is cosmically central.
I like these thoughts which conclude a chapter in Benoit's book (the capital letters are his, so I've left them as they appear in "The Supreme Doctrine").
Zen is categoric on this point and could not in any way be considered as a "spiritual" doctrine. It is radically atheist if, by the word God, one means Reality assumed to be conceivable by our mind.
"From the beginning not a thing is." Rinzai said also:
"IF ON YOUR WAY YOU MEET THE BUDDHA, KILL HIM... O YOU, DISCIPLES OF THE TRUTH, MAKE AN EFFORT TO FREE YOURSELVES FROM EVERY OBJECT... O YOU, WITH THE EYES OF MOLES!
I SAY TO YOU: NO BUDDHA, NO TEACHING, NO DISCIPLINE! WHAT ARE YOU CEASELESSLY LOOKING FOR IN YOUR NEIGHBOUR'S HOUSE? DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE PUTTING A HEAD HIGHER THAN YOUR OWN?
WHAT THEN IS LACKING TO YOU IN YOURSELVES? THAT WHICH YOU HAVE AT THIS MOMENT DOES NOT DIFFER FROM THAT OF WHICH THE BUDDHA IS MADE."
As an organism, nothing is more important than my health and well-being, so in that sense, I am the center of the universe. Likewise, as consciousness, I'm a character in a story I'm telling as events unfold. If it's it possible to be one or the other or neither, who or what is to say?
Posted by: chauncey carter | April 03, 2011 at 03:48 PM
Yes, one is the center of the universe.
So is everything else.
Posted by: Jon Weiss | April 03, 2011 at 06:51 PM