Religion is a strange thing. You realize that all the more so when you step into a holy place from someone else’s faith. Yesterday I had the pleasure of entering a Hindu temple for the first time. Gilded with domes and spires, the modest temple was adorned with pictures of Hindu saints and deities of which I didn’t know the names. But what struck me the most was how strange the place seemed to me, even though I had thought myself versed in all the world’s major religions. I had read the Bhagavad Gita, and perhaps a few excerpts from the Upanishads, but that didn’t quite prepare me for the aura of this place. It hit me without my conscious awareness, for I saw the place again in my dreams.
Last weekend my cousin was Bar Mitzvah’d and about half of the congregation wasn’t Jewish. I always wondered how a non-Jew would perceive a conservative Jewish ceremony. Would they grow bored and restless, fascinated and intrigued, or something else? And while I didn’t actually pray inside this Hindu temple yesterday (besides a respectful bow to one of their shrines), I did get a taste of what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange place. A place I thought I knew, yet really I had only read static words.
I read yesterday in this New York Times article that the Dalai Lama said “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” That’s a profound statement coming from a man who’s the spiritual leader of his people. Are we willing as human beings to abandon our beliefs if evidence arises to show them to be false? I think an answer for many of us is no.
Time and time again I’ve seen my conceptions of the universe shattered, and each time I try to formulate a newer, more inclusive definition of the Cosmos. And ultimately, that definition fails, and what I am left with is an ever shifting river of reality. Like the Hiesenberg Uncertainty Principle, when we point our finger at something and say, “this is here, this exists” it no longer does. By our very observation, the object of our attention changes, moves, becomes something else. The same holds true, for me, with the Cosmos itself. Whenever I try to define it, it eludes my grasp like sand slipping from the fingers. It seems to me that the universe is always in motion — alive, if you will. That concept might offend some: “No, the Cosmos is a series of physical processes.” It might intrigue others: “Yes, the Cosmos is alive and kicking.” But none of us can wholly agree on what exactly the universe is. And that indefinability is what makes the mystery all the more grand. What is this strange place that we inhabit? I think that’s why some of us go to our churches, or our temples, or our synagogues, to try and define our place in this ever shifting river. But that “place” eludes us because how can we have a place and position in something that is not in the least static?
Yesterday, again, my conceptions were shattered, even after accepting this “river concept” long ago. There is a Buddhist phrase which captures my sentiments exactly:
“GONE, GONE, GONE BEYOND, GONE BEYOND BEYOND, HAIL THE GOER!”