Didn't know this: Wikipedia tells me that the familiar "the devil is in the detail" saying was preceded by "god is in the detail."
OK. So it looks like detail is really important whether we aim at hell or heaven.
This is the intriguing premise of "Things Fall Apart" by Philip Kitcher, a philosophy professor at Columbia University.
In his Queries to the “Opticks,” Newton looked forward to a vision of the cosmos in which everything would be explained on the basis of a small number of physical principles. That Newtonian vision remains highly popular with many scientists who turn philosophical in their later years and announce their dreams of a final theory.
Yet, since the 19th century — since Darwin, in fact — that has not been a convincing picture of how the sciences make their advances. Darwin did not supply a major set of new principles that could be used to derive general conclusions about life and its history: he crafted a framework within which his successors construct models of quite specific evolutionary phenomena.
Model-building lies at the heart of large parts of the sciences, including parts of physics. There are no grand theories, but lots of bits and pieces, generating local insights about phenomena of special interest. In the revealing terms that Nancy Cartwright has borrowed from Gerard Manley Hopkins, we live in a “dappled world.”
Reading his essay, I thought of a similar divide between "grand theories" and "bit and pieces" in spirituality, mysticism, meditation.
By and large, I'd say that transcendent approaches to ultimate reality like Hinduism are more into grand theories, while here-and-now approaches like Buddhism are more into bits and pieces.
Hinduism, along with other spiritual belief systems, views this world as maya, illusion. The goal thus becomes immersion or union with an elevated unitary reality: Brahman, God, Universal Consciousness, whatever you want to call it.
Buddhism, along with other spiritual belief systems, views this world as the very reality that is sought: emptiness is form, form is emptiness. Which means:
In his book on the Heart Sutra the Dalai Lama calls emptiness "the true nature of things and events," but in the same passage he warns us "to avoid the misapprehension that emptiness is an absolute reality or an independent truth." In other words, emptiness is not some kind of heaven or separate realm apart from this world and its woes.
The Heart Sutra says, "all phenomena in their own-being are empty." It doesn't say "all phenomena are empty." This distinction is vital. "Own-being" means separate independent existence. The passage means that nothing we see or hear (or are) stands alone; everything is a tentative expression of one seamless, ever-changing landscape.
I like how Zen finds cosmic meaning in the most insignificant details of life. Making tea. Arranging flowers. Raking sand. Taking a shit. Chopping wood. Writing or reading a blog post. Eating a strawberry.
In his book, "Nonduality," David Loy writes:
For the deeply enlightened person, each experience is complete in itself, the only thing in the universe, each action is "just this!"... As Bodhidharma walked from India there was no thought of why in his head; "he" was each step. In the same way, there was no why to Huang-Po's blows: "he" too was that spontaneous, unselfconscious action.
Lin-chi's sudden realization of this overflowed into his exclamation. "So, there isn't much to Buddhism after all!"
This isn't really what Kitcher is talking about in his details essay, yet in a way it is.
In both science and spirituality, it is easy to assume that the reality we are looking for is some grand majestic unitary transcendent cosmic Truth that stands separate and distinct from the seemingly mundane details of everyday life.
However, what if we're looking for something far away, while what we seek is right in front of us? What if we're trying to grasp something huge, while what we want is every little bit of experience that passes into awareness?
Sounding kind of like a Buddhist, Kitcher writes:
The molecular biologist doesn’t account for life, but for a particular function of life (usually in a particular strain of a particular species). Nagel’s 19th-century predecessors wondered how life could be characterized in physico-chemical terms. That particular wonder hasn’t been directly addressed by the extraordinary biological accomplishments of past decades. Rather, it’s been shown that they were posing the wrong question: don’t ask what life is (in your deepest Newtonian voice); consider the various activities in which living organisms engage and try to give a piecemeal understanding of those.
Likewise, don't worry about understanding the Meaning of Life or Ultimate Reality or Highest Truth or Your Inner Essence.
Just do whatever you're doing. Think whatever you're thinking. Feel whatever you're feeling. Experience whatever you're experiencing.
All these bits and pieces may not add up to more than what they may well be: grains of sand, each of which encompasses the universe.