30 Nov

Buddhism and Your Brain

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / November 30, 2008 / 9 Comments

This week I read a fascinating book called Rhythms of Life: The Biological Clocks that Control the Daily Lives of Every Living Thing. The book is about circadian rhythms—the processes inside all of us that sync us with the beat of our environment. Though spiritual beings, we are also clearly of the Earth: There are mechanisms in our brains that register cycles of daylight and darkness and adjust our bodies accordingly—for sleeping, eating, etc. It happens involuntarily. We’re wired into the planet.

Turns out, our primary brain clock is a bundle of cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus—commonly abbreviated SCN. The SCN is what scientists call a ‘self-sustaining oscillator’. This means that it maintains its own internal rhythm, like a metronome in our heads that never winds down. The SCN constantly takes in information from our eyes about relative levels of light and darkness in our environment, keeping it properly synced to its surroundings. It then sends out neural (electric) and chemical impulses to various organs in our bodies at appropriate times of day: We’re signaled to feel hungry at intervals, sleepy at other intervals.

The SCN is located about two inches behind our eyes, centered directly between them. Interestingly, this spot corresponds exactly to the place in the head Buddhists refer to as the ‘third eye’. Focusing on this area in meditation is said to help a person experience a feeling of timeless unity, in which archetypal dualities such as light/dark and day/night are transcended.

I wonder… Does Buddhist meditative focus somehow affect or interrupt the functioning of the SCN, temporarily suspending circadian rhythms, leading to a mystical feeling of timelessness?

Is there a scientific basis for this spiritual experience?! Comments welcome.

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16 Nov

Kabbalah and Einstein

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / November 16, 2008 / 20 Comments

Isaac Luria was a 16th century Jewish mystic who redefined Kabbalah with sublime teachings about creation, the nature of God and the spiritual purpose of human lives.

Luria illuminated a three-stage cosmology. It began with God existing alone, as an infinite plenum of conscious energy called Ein Sof. Desiring to create the universe, Ein Sof withdrew itself from a small area to allow space for a material world. Within this space, God then eminated a ray of generative light. This light was mediated through 10 vessels called sefirot, which were supposed to manage the transition from pure unified energy to diverse physical creation, much like prisms refract white light into a rainbow of colors. But God’s light was too powerful for the sefirot, and they shattered. Sparks of the light became trapped in shards of the vessels: Divinity became lost in physicality, soul became lost in body. God became unrecognized in the world, hidden inside matter like a pearl in a shell.

The mission of all human beings, taught Luria, is to ‘raise’ these sparks: to find and recognize the Or Ein Sof—the light of the infinite—in ourselves and in everything, redeeming all creation!

Four centuries later, Albert Einstein, during a career of great genius, produced the seminal equation E=mc². Put into words, this equation says that energy (E) equals mass (m) multiplied by the speed of light squared (). This means that energy is equivalent to mass sped WAY up. Einstein’s correspondence between mass and energy is profound—it indicates that all matter in our universe is really made of pure energy! This idea is most clearly realized by performing a quick algebraic transformation on the equation, rewriting it:


Written this way, the equation now says that mass equals energy divided by the speed of light squared: Mass can be described as energy slowed WAY down. Basically, mass is energy trapped in relative stillness! We look around ourselves and see seemingly solid, still objects, with all their limitations and boundaries. But the energy inside wants to break free—it wants to be raised! Our truest nature is energetic: fast and infinite.

Was Luria right, then—is every particle of which we’re made just a shell, within which exists an energetic pearl of pure divinity?

Did Einstein confirm Kabbalah?!

Comments welcome.

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10 Nov

On Duality

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / November 10, 2008 / 5 Comments

Our greatest spiritual systems testify about interdependent opposites. Taoism has yin and yang; Hinduism has Shiva and Shakti; Kabbalah has its “Pillar of Mercy” (kav yamin) and “Pillar of Severity” (kav smol). Sufis worship God as both transcendent (as-Zahir—’Manifest’) and immanent (al-Batin—’Hidden’).

Everything we know, we know both in-and-of-itself and conditioned by its essential opposite. Duality is built into our bodies: our inhale and exhale, the systole and diastole of our heartbeats, the hemispheres of our brains. It’s built into our psyches: We love and hate, rejoice and grieve simultaneously—often confusing ourselves. Our most fundamental physics is characterized by a phenomenon called wave/particle duality—turns out, everything we’re made of behaves both ways! It’s a puzzle.

Einstein’s E=mc2 says everything is energy, and what is energy? The dynamic interaction of positive and negative charges—duality.

The cliche that ‘there are two sides to every story’ holds: Our world is dual.

But our minds analyze and fragment our experience—it becomes ‘either/or’. Valuable for basic survival, for distinguishing threats from benefits to escape death and enhance life, this orientation comes with a high price. It causes restriction and suffering, because we are ‘both/and’. The universe in which we live is ‘both/and’—at least! Fragmentation keeps us safe, but it also lessens us: We miss ourselves and each other. Embracing holism can align us with our full, sacred nature; we can strive to transcend polarities and grasp Truth. But then even that truth can become polar—a broad thesis to which we can propose an antithesis, throwing everything we know into humble question. And we can try to answer that question by reconciling our thesis and antithesis, creating a synthesis—a new, even higher-level truth. And then we can do the dialectic again, and again, embarking on a journey not of infinite regression, but infinite ascension—a seeking of ever higher and deeper truths.

Am I describing the scientific method, or a striving towards God?! Comments welcome.

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26 Oct

Indra’s Net and the IGM

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / October 26, 2008 / 44 Comments

I love religious mythology—its poetry and its gravity.

One of my favorites is the Chinese Hua Yan Buddhist myth of Indra’s net. This tale tells of a wonderful net hung in the heavenly palace of the Vedic God Indra. In every eye of the net, everywhere its threads cross each other, a perfectly round and reflective jewel is sewn. Indra’s palace is infinite in expanse, and so the net is similarly infinite, and its jewels are therefore infinite in number. Even more remarkable, though—the net is hung in such a precise way that every jewel reflects every other jewel in the lattice! The effect of this arrangement is awesome: Each jewel reveals and, so, in a sense, contains every other. Altering or removing any individual one changes the entire system of reflections—every other jewel is affected. A natural holism is thus co-created. And the arrangement is completely egalitarian, lacking any hierarchical structure—no start or end points, causes or effects are discernable. Indra’s net simply is.

Hua Yan Buddhists believe Indra’s net is analogous to the true structure and nature of reality.

Both the image and its philosophical implications resonate: Everything is connected. We’re all interdependent. Nothing exists in isolation. And we’re all equally vital.

Recently I was browsing headlines at a cool website called Science Impossible and found a link to a National Geographic article about the IGM—the intergalactic medium. Fascinated by cutting-edge cosmology, I read eagerly. Here are the first two paragraphs of the story:

Much of the missing “normal” matter in the cosmos has been found clustered around wispy ropes of invisible matter spanning the space between galaxies.

The filaments form part of the vast weblike superstructure of the universe, within which galaxies are embedded like sparkling sequins.

The quote’s italics are mine, added to indicate the place in the article where my jaw keeps dropping—this online science story seems to be painting a similar picture of the structure of our universe to that of Indra’s net!

The parallel is beautiful to me. It’s also compelling: scientific observation according with religious intuition.

What happens when metaphors become measurables? For me, wonder increases and life becomes more mystical.

What happens for you? Comments welcome.

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19 Oct

An Introduction

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / October 19, 2008 / 10 Comments

This blog is an exploration.

Five years ago I went on hiatus from my job, moved my furniture into storage and dropped out of the world. For the next two years I read 10 nonfiction books per month, educating myself in a wide variety of topics. It was a luxurious time for me academically. My favorite subjects of study quickly became religious mysticisms and modern science—quantum, chaos and system theories, etc. I found wonder and beauty in what I perceived to be poetic interconnections between these two seemingly disparate ways of approaching the world: devotion and cognition, intuition and experimentation.

The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas quotes Jesus as saying “Be passerby.” I take this statement to be an exhortation toward both non-attachment and humility. So my challenge in writing this blog will be to strike a balance between wanting to enroll you in seeing the world as I see it, and just sharing some discoveries I made that dazzled me, hoping they also dazzle you.

Thank you so much for your readership! I hope you enjoy the blog.

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