Who are we? Why are we here?
However absurd, even moronic, the following proposition may sound to you, please take it seriously, and please invite it into your heart as a genuine subject of meditation, for, however inadequately it may be expressed, it contains within it the Very Secret of the Universe and therefore of your True Self, and thus, it can quite literally liberate you from the apparent restrictions of form, time, and space, and therefore from all desire, suffering, and fear – and, of course, from death: The only constraint by which an infinite or unlimited being is constrained, limited, or bound, is that it cannot see itself in a mirror.
The only constraint by which an infinite or unlimited being – in other words, God – is constrained or limited, is that it cannot see itself in a mirror.
Thus, being infinite and eternal, there is nothing God cannot do, except observe His reflection in a mirror.
When you and I stand in front of a mirror, and gaze into it, we experience no difficulty whatsoever distinguishing our reflection in the glass from the reflection of the wall behind us, or of the chair next to us, or the potted plant behind us. Try it. Notice that the mirror, being a mirror, spontaneously reflects not only ourselves, but whatever happens to be around us. And notice too that despite the potential for confusion, we immediately recognize which is which – which part of the reflection is us, and which is the potted plant. Neither are we in any doubt about which us is the ’real’ us: the one outside the glass, or the one inside. Instantly and instinctively, we know; we do not even have to think about it.
But to an infinite being, to God, this simple experience you and I take thoroughly for granted time after time, day after day, first and last thing every morning and evening as we brush, and who knows how often in between, even every time we walk past a plate glass window downtown or in a mall, is an impossible and unthinkable task. However powerful it may be in its omnipotence, an infinite being is powerless to see itself in a mirror. And here’s why: By definition, an infinite being encompasses, or includes, or is, everything that there is, and therefore there exists – there can exist – no thing, no where, and no when, which it is not. Whatever is, it is. That is what being infinite means: Having no limits of any kind. No beginning and no end, no fixed center and no circumference. No boundaries of any kind, neither in time nor in space, or in any other dimension; no specific form, either physical or conceptual, no name, no shape, no home -- even, in that sublime image of the New Testament, “Nowhere to lay his head.” Come to that, no head.
There is nothing metaphysical, spiritual, supernatural, occult, or spooky about this concept; it is logic, pure and simple. Infinite means having no limits, and having no limits means beginning and ending nowhere, encompassing everything everywhere always. Therefore, from the point of view of an infinite being, nothing exists but it; it is totally, absolutely, and unconditionally everything and all that there is. To an infinite being, there are no others, not even the concept ‘others’. No ‘me’, no ‘you’, no ‘we’ no ‘they’ no ‘this’, no ‘that’, no ‘these’, no ‘those’. There is only ’I’. In all the Universe, there is only one identity, and it is ‘I’. And, mind you, this is not about polytheism or anthropomorphism or anything of that kind. Those are all fine concepts, and they serve well in their place; but not here. Rather, here, it is that, no matter how many things may seem to you and to me to exist, from the point of view of an infinite being, there exists only one thing, in only one place, at only one time, and all of that is and always is wholly itself, I.
So, as perceived by an infinite being, the answer to every question is the same. Thus, “Who are you?” I AM. “Who is he?” I AM. “Who is she?” I AM. “Who are they?” I AM. “Who am I?” I AM. “What is that?” I AM. “Where is here?” I AM. “What time is it?” I AM. “What is death?” I AM. “What is life?” I AM. “Who is alive?” I AM. “What is the purpose of life?” I AM. “What is going on here?” I AM.
Now suppose that such an infinite being, with no sense whatsoever of a separative self, were to decide it wanted to know itself, to consider its nature, to see itself in a mirror, how would it proceed? Obviously, as we observed above, in order to make proper use of a mirror, a viewer must be able to distinguish himself or herself from everything else reflected in the glass, not to mention from the glass itself, and the room in which it is located, and the time and the space in which the reflection is occurring. But how can you stand beside a thing when your sense of who you are includes the thing? How can you see yourself in a mirror when you perceive yourself to be the mirror? To get something of the sense of this, consider the eyeball. Here is an organ capable of seeing very nearly everything there is, except for one thing: itself. You can see my eyeball, and I can see your eyeball, but neither of us can see our own eyeball. Now, suppose, in an admittedly absurd image, that all of the universe existed, not around and about you as it seems to do now, but rather immediately behind your eyeball. No matter what turns or contortions you might attempt, the universe would follow suit, and remain immediately behind your eyeball, out of sight. Consider that predicament. You might know that there existed a universe, diverse and extraordinary; in some ways you might even experience its existence; but you could not see it.
This is God’s Dilemma This is the conundrum that besets God every day. And, being in effect a riddle, it has a riddle’s solution, something that resolves the dilemma, but that has no real meaning of its own.
The solution God devised is the apparent reality you and I each call ‘my life’. That’s right, the entirety of human experience, individually and collectively, is nothing more than a gimmick solution to the identity crisis inherent in being infinite. God had a problem, a dilemma we have articulated here as ‘How does God see Himself in a mirror?’ and we are the answer. We are how God sees Himself in a mirror. An infinite being can see itself in a mirror only by pretending to forget it is infinite, and that, in a word, perfectly describes you and me. Fortunately, as outrageous and heretical as this proposition may sound, there are documents to prove it.
Every spiritual tradition, every cosmology and mythology from every culture, offers its own explanation of how God resolved this puzzle, and each is equally beautiful, equally inspiring, and generally speaking, equally misunderstood. In the Judaeo-Christian context, it appears early in the very first book of the Bible, in Genesis, in a passage that has come to be known as The Fall. The orthodox interpretation of The Fall, as it has been taught to countless millions for endless centuries, completely misses the point of the story, and accordingly makes no sense at all.
Thus, the traditional telling of the events in Genesis is that, shortly after God created Adam and Eve, when they could not have been more than a few hours old, He placed them alone, unattended and totally defenseless, in a garden inhabited by a mean-spirited, venomous snake and a poisonous apple tree, both of which He created and both of which He put in the garden; and the full extent of His divine guidance and parental advice was, “Don’t eat the apples, and don’t get bitten.” And then, when the predictable inevitably happened, and they got bitten by the snake, and they took a bite out of an apple, what did He do? Did He apologize to them for having abandoned them, for having failed so miserably as a caretaker, for having forgotten about the irrepressible urge in children to put into their mouths anything and everything they can get their hands on? Did He promise to make amends, to look after them better in the future? Did He at least hug them, and hold them to Himself, allay their fright and assuage their confusion? No, He did not. On the contrary, He scolded them. He blamed them, and what’s worse, He punished them. According to this extraordinary interpretation of the beginning, the unavoidable outcome of God’s inexcusable behavior was the children’s fault, our fault, your fault and my fault, and we must pay for it, and feel guilty about it the rest of our days. And all of this took place in Paradise, where parents are perfect, everything is protected, and bliss is epidemic. Nice Sunday school story.
Happily, that is not the way it was. The garden was not poisoned. The snake was not a scoundrel. The apple tree was not forbidden. Adam and Eve did not disobey God, and God is not angry at us. What’s more, God is not a failure as a Father. Not then, not now, not ever.
Here’s what actually happened: Determined to resolve the problem we have identified here, God did in fact create a garden, and in that garden, He did place a tree, a tree He developed for this specific purpose, whose special fruit He fully intended to eat. This was, just as we have been taught, the tree of knowledge – the knowledge of a self separate and distinct from other selves. We might call it a perception-limiting tree, for the fruit of this tree contains a “substance” which disables the sense of being infinite. As we have seen, before eating of the fruit of this tree, God is totally incapable of perceiving differences anywhere, or of distinguishing between or among anything, and therefore of knowing Himself as a self or any other distinct thing.
But the moment God takes a bite, immediately distinctions come into focus. Names, shapes, and forms appear. Lines and boundaries arise. Colors and shades of colors divide and separate this from that, these from those, now from then, here from there, mine from yours. The One, which is one, and will always be one, suddenly perceives itself as many: As man and woman, adult and child, creator and creature, black and white, gay and straight, Christian and Hindu, Arab and Israeli, tall and short, fat and skinny, rich and poor, rocks and vegetables, cats and dogs, alive and dead. In Lao Tzu’s wonderful phrase, as “the ten thousand things.”
Precisely as intended, God’s tree of knowledge chops the infinite up into bits and pieces, so that now, finally, as Adam and as Eve, as you and as me, God can stand in front of Himself as a mirror, and observe, and not be confused by Himself as a potted plant. The scheme works. The fruit of the tree of knowledge creates the ego which says, “I am me, and you are you,” thereby establishing a sense of being some thing, and, at the same time, of not being other things. And so, suddenly, there are others – other people, other species, other places, other times. It is a remarkably effective drug, we might say, and why not, considering the Pharmacist Who created it.
But there’s more: Limiting His sense of awareness so that He could know Himself as a separate, distinct self, is only the first half of God’s plan. For the undertaking to be successful, God has to be able to transfer the sense of self- awareness gained in the state we call our lives, to His Natural Condition. After all, the idea of this exercise is not simply to become self-aware in an apparently limited environment, but rather to export or impart that sense of self-awareness to the infinite environment. Thus, this process is about creating God’s Sense of Self-Consciousness, the self-consciousness of an infinite being. Remember, this dance was choreographed because God the Infinite One seeks to Know Himself as the Infinite One. That was the focus at the outset, and it remains the focus. So, God creates the apple, and takes a bite from it. Instantly, as planned, He perceives Himself as us. Now, comes our part.
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