Every morning I experience in a concrete fashion the tension between science and spirituality.
In my meditation area I always have several books available for my morning caffeinated reading. Some are scientific -- about neuroscience, evolution, global warming. Others are spiritual -- mostly books on Buddhism, Taoism, mindfulness.
There are days when I start reading a science book and it seems too dryly factual. Others days I'll pick up a spiritual book and find it annoyingly airy-fairy, dogmatic, or preachy.
So often I'll bounce back and forth between several titles, searching for science with a poetic soul and for spirituality that is grounded in demonstrable facts about reality. Recently some passages in a Zen book, "The Wholehearted Way," hit the mark in the factual spirituality category.
(I'm pretty sure this book was recommended by a regular commenter, perhaps tAo. Whoever it was, thanks; I'm enjoying it.)
"The Wholehearted Way" is a translation of Dogen's Bendowa, which to me is almost impossible to understand without the helpful accompanying commentary by a contemporary Zen practitioner, Kosho Uchiyama Roshi.
Modern neuroscience has learned that our conscious perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and so on are but the tip of the brain's much vaster unconscious "iceberg." We never experience reality as it is, but as our brains have processed countless bits of incoming information.
So I could heartily agree with what Roshi wrote (apparently this is a transcription of a talk to an audience):
This cup I am looking at now is not the same one that I will be looking at in the next moment. Each of you is also looking at it from your own angle, with your own feelings, and these also are constantly changing.
This is the way actual life experience is. However, if use our common-sense way of thinking, we think we are looking at the very same cup. This is an abstraction and not the reality of life. Abstract concepts and living reality are entirely different. The Buddhist view is completely different from our ordinary thinking.
...What Buddhism is concerned about is not something abstract, but the very concrete and actual reality of life. All beings exist through life experience of the self.
...That which experiences and that which is experienced cannot be divided into two. This reality that cannot be differentiated into two is called dharma or mind, and it is the meaning of the expression "dharma and mind are one reality."
Therefore, we cannot say that we appear on the world's stage when we are born, and leave it when we die. We were born with this world in which we live out our lives as life experience. We live with this whole world. When we die, our whole world will die with us also.
...Dharma is the reality of life, and each and every one of us is living out absolute life, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. We live out the self that is only the self. No one can become a different person. In a sense, from birth to death, we are completely alone.
Even if you think that you have good friends, family, or a loving wife, the fact is that your wife can never be you. You and your wife have different dreams and think differently.
We sometimes say that we know everything about an intimate friend, but that is really just something that we have thought up. It is impossible to really understand another person. In this sense, every one of us is living out the self that is only the self, and living out the present that is only the present. This is an absolute truth.
Then, a few pages further on, I came to what was for me a fresh explanation of "nonduality." I've read a lot of books about nonduality. I like the notion of reality being "not two," because this seems like a nice compromise between Oneness and Manyness.
However, I'd been under an impression that nonduality referred to some sort of cosmic interconnectedness, a unity that manifested as separate stuff -- something like that. Here Uchiyama Roshi offered up a way of looking upon nonduality that struck me as wonderfully scientific and experientially unarguable.
How do we live on the ground of the reality of life in a concrete way, rather than living with our heads in the clouds of concepts? We see a cup, society, and money in our own particular world.
In this whole world, north, east, south, and west, no matter where we look we see nothing but our self. Instead of living in the world that is shared by all of us, the self lives in a world in which there is nothing but the self.
The oneness of this world is dharma. Both "wondrous dharma" and buddha-dharma" refer to this.
Seen from the point of view of absolute reality, every one of us was born holding our own world. As soon as we are born, we have a world in which there is nothing but our own self. We are born and live holding our own world. When we die, the world in which there is nothing but our self also dies with us.
In Buddhism, life like this, which is only self, is called shin. Therefore, mind (shin) and dharma are never divided into two. The world that we experience (dharma) and our life experience (mind) are not two, nondual. Mind or subject and dharma or object are one reality. In other words, one mind is all dharma and all dharma is one mind.
...In other words, by living my own life, all things come to exist in my own world. By living my life, all things are able to exist, and I create a world in which I live.
A final comment: what he's talking about here isn't idealism. Reality isn't created by our minds. It exists independent of us. But for us, there is no difference between our subjective experience of life and the objective existence of life.
We live with this whole world. When we die, our whole world will die with us also. If you interpret this incorrectly, it might be mistaken for experiential idealism [the idea of experience as produced by our consciousness.]...Yet what I am talking about is totally different.
People involved in Seicho no ie think that material existence is the shadow of our mind. They say that if we think there is no sickness, it won't exist. Then what will happen if a dump truck is coming toward you? If you think that the truck is a shadow of your mind, will the truck disappear?
If you are lucky, the truck driver will yell, "You idiot! WHere are your eyes?" If you are not lucky, you will be run over and killed. This is reality.