The Zoo Fence

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A Guide to The Nature of Reality


Chapter Three - The Nature of Reality

We have suggested that perhaps the first question any of us asks on the search for the truth about Truth is, who or what am I? Or, what is the nature of the universe of which I seem to be a part? Or, again, as we put it a bit less formally, what's going on around here?

Certainly, most religious scriptures begin with a discussion of this question, and science, which might be described as a religion of sorts, is prompted in the final analysis by a yearning for answers to this very inquiry. Indeed, it might said that “who and what am I?” is the only question we ever ask, that every other question is simply this one said differently, and that if we ever develop an answer to this one we may never need to query anything again, for all else will be clear. And, conversely, we might be able to affirm that if we still harbor any unanswered questions about anything, we probably have not yet fully answered that first one, however confidently we may feel that we have done so. Presumably too it follows that there is only one correct answer to this basic question, but that there appear to be many because each of us, in our groping, voices his answer in words that reflect his point of view and state of development at the time of speaking, and in that respect we are all different.

Thus, as we change our minds about which answer to this question makes sense to us, it is not the Truth about us that has changed but our perception and expression of it - or, the place from which we view it. It is not inaccurate for a bird to say of a tree that it is branches and for a worm that it is roots. That is simply all that either sees of the tree, and both are correct for themselves even though neither can see the tree as the other does, nor would either one of them, so long as he looked from where he lives, understand the other's description of the thing.

So, in some ways at least, the answer to ”who or what am I?” depends upon who and where I think I am at the moment of asking. And, by the act of asking the question, I change myself from a being who does not wonder about his nature to one who does, and in that change is already found part of the answer: I am a being who wonders about its nature. And, irresistibly, the more we wonder, the more we change. At first glance, this seems a circular process; the more I think about myself the more I think about myself. But actually it is less a circle than a spiral. The more we think about ourselves, the more our thinking changes and our perspective or field of vision broadens. And each time we look back at the subject of our inquiry, ourselves, we see it differently because it has changed into a being which has had new, additional, and different thoughts about itself.

Let's go back to our worm for a moment - As long as his curiosity about the nature of his universe remains unaroused, his sense of a tree will continue to be just roots. But the instant he wonders whether or not there might be more to a tree than that, he will change his perception of the thing and therefore its nature for him (from just roots to something which might possibly include more than roots). And the next time, after a rain, that the comes to the surface for air with this question about trees in his head, he might observe that the trunk towering above him is attached to or part of the familiar roots below. He had, of course, seen the trunk before on previous rainy days, but now, prompted by his awakened curiosity about the nature of trees and roots, he has seen it differently. His question has prompted him to wonder, and his wondering has brought him to see the connection between the trunk above and the roots below, a connection that was always there but which he had never before observed because he had never thought about it. Now, having acknowledged that his customary understanding of roots and trunks was, if not wrong, at least incomplete or limited, he might find himself looking at everything differently, wondering if perhaps other apparently separate or isolated aspects of his world are not also connected to each other, just as he found roots and trunks to be. And, as he discovers more connections of these kinds, might he not perhaps one day wonder whether or not he could apply this new, expanded perception to himself? If roots and trunks are actually two aspects of one whole, as he as seen them to be, might that suggest to him something about his own nature - is he connected to or part of something else too?

So, from his initial, apparently innocent question about the nature of trees, our underground friend has started himself out on a quest for knowledge which will lead him to seek out an understanding of the whole universe itself. And his eventual, final answer may be no different from his first; that is, as roots and trunks are connected, so is everything else, and thus in his new knowledge of trees resides all he will ever learn, although of course he will not recognize that until he has gone the full route.

Almost every, perhaps even every, religious scripture tells us in effect that we have been created in the image of God, that our True nature is God-like. Surely there is more in that coincidence than just accident. Perhaps if we look at this idea from a somewhat unorthodox angle it will help to shed some light on it. There is, as our worm's experience should suggest, often considerable and sometimes unexpected benefit gained from looking at a thing in a way entirely different that is customary. Not only may we thereby see in the thing aspects previously hidden from our view but also, and perhaps more importantly, we acquire a new appreciation of the process of observation itself.

What we believe about the nature of reality (what we think to be real) depends very largely on the image we have about the existence and nature of a Creator. Even the apparent absence of such an image is reflected in our outlook on the world around us. We cannot separate our impressions of Creation from those we have of its Creator; indeed, if they are not the same thing, certainly they are two sides of the same thought. In a very real sense, we can say that our reality, or our sense of it, stems from or is directly related to the image we have of God. And as our view of ourselves changes (through the process of inner searching and discovery) so will our understanding of God. We cannot alter our view of any creation, be it ourselves, the world, or a ceramic pot, without altering our understanding of its creator, and vice versa. In this sense, can we not then say that we are created (exist at least in our own minds) in the image - that we have - of God?

Does that admitted word-game contradict the teaching that we are created in the image of God? Indeed not, for He could have created us as He saw Himself (Perfect, Loving, and Whole) and still left us free to see ourselves differently (confused, cantankerous, and separate), and free to see Him as like us (vengeful, jealous, and playing favorites). To be sure, our view of Him cannot change the way He sees Himself, nor can our view of ourselves change the way He sees us. But if the way He sees Himself determines the way He sees us (as in His image) then what is true for Him must be true for us as well. Therefore, if we wish to see ourselves more as we likely are (as we were created rather than as we now seem or think ourselves to be) then perhaps it follows that one way to do that is to try to see our creator as He sees Himself by seeking to see ourselves as He sees us. This too may seem a circular exercise, but as a tool for self-discovery its thrust is definitely upward; and the centrality of its application to our discussion here will become increasingly apparent as we go along. At this point though it is enough to recognize that we cannot wonder about the nature of the universe, as we are doing, without wondering too about its Creator, for our thoughts about either one will reflect and be reflected in our thoughts about the other.

Telos is a Greek word, and its meaning has something to do with seeking to understand the why of things. So that, for example, if we ask why birds sing, the telic response is that they do so to attract a mate or to establish territory or whatever. And most of us spend much of our lives in a fruitless search for the telic answer to everything. Each of us can, I expect, identify with the tired parent who eventually responds to a child's incessant “Why?” with a frustrated, final “Just because”. We can identify with it because we have been there, but still we sense that it is an unfair and incomplete answer. Or is it?

Consider the common squirrel for a moment. We have all been taught that a squirrel works the summer and fall collecting nuts and other good things, storing them in a secret place for the long, cold winter ahead. Indeed, this activity of that furry little rodent is frequently held up to us as an example we too should follow: plan now for the rainy day to come, let today's effort be for tomorrow's harvest.

But is the coming winter really the reason that the squirrel so feverishly builds his cache? Or is it just possible that the squirrel collects and stores nuts in the summer and fall precisely, and only, because that is what a squirrel is: an animal that collects and stores nuts in the summer and fall? Perhaps winter is the farthest thing from his mind as he scurries up a tree to deposit yet another mouthful of acorns in a branch cavity. Perhaps he never even thinks about winter at all. But when winter does come, we can amend our definition to include: a squirrel is an animal that eats nuts and acorns stored in a secret place. So, a squirrel does what he does because it is his nature to do it, not for any telic reason we might develop about him. After all, surely we cannot suggest that winter comes because a squirrel stores nuts!

What this possible nonsense about squirrels and nuts has to do with this discussion is that early on we might do well to agree not to ask ourselves the why of creation, trying to square its apparent inconsistencies with our inevitably inadequate answers, and acknowledge instead, at least for now, that what is is because that is the nature of things. Let us direct our attention, then, not at why the universe was created (not try to psychoanalyze God, as it were) and instead concentrate our efforts on seeking to understand how our reality is formed (that is, the process by which we come to think of ourselves as we do). Certainly, the why of it will always be in our minds for it seems to be in our nature to wonder about that, but shifting our focus from there to the how can simplify our task, at least at this stage. Simply stated, we cannot understand the why of a thing until we understand what it is! [Editor's Note: For a discussion of the “Why?” of Creation, please see our book “In The Beginning” and the article “The Creation of Self-Consciousness

Words can be heavy things, and the word law is one of the heavier among them. After all, a law is something none of us wants to be in violation of, and if there is any danger that this discussion may be leading us in that direction, we want to be aware of that now.

In this search to fathom the nature of reality we rightly expect, I think, to discover laws which are, among other possible characteristics, immutable, constant, clear, and possibly even simple (in the sense of uncomplicated or fully distilled). Too, we can assume that these laws will be true and effective wherever, whenever, and by whomever applied. Indeed, we may even say of them that they must be fully in force whether or not any of us is aware of their existence. That is, they can be presumed to govern reality regardless of what we think of them or whether or not we think of them.

Remember, we are talking about basics here: the answer to my question, who or what am I?, if it is the true answer, must be true also about you and about everyone and everything else, with no qualifiers. Otherwise, it is not a law about the nature of the universe but a qualified observation - an observation about me, for example, which depends on others meeting all the subjective conditions of me at the time of observation in order to be applicable to them as well. A law, then, is objective, free of conditions, qualifiers, and exceptions.

What can we say in this connection about the laws of science, and to what extent must we feel bound by them in our search? If we apply the standards just suggested, it seems evident that they are not laws at all, but observations. To be sure, it is okay for men of science to use the word law to describe their conclusions, just so that we know what is meant by that use. In effect, what a particular scientist does, for example a student of homo sapiens, is to look in a mirror - albeit augmenting his field of vision with various sophisticated devices and techniques - and describe what he sees. Or, if his expertise is in another field, he moves from a mirror to a window, but still he describes what he sees “out there”.

We are all familiar with the numerous historical instances in which this morning's laws of nature as expounded by science are erased and replaced by new knowledge gathered this afternoon. And the additional information which rendered erroneous and obsolete the old law generally speaking, if not always, springs from a change in perspective represented by the development of a more powerful instrument, for example, or the relaxation of some institutional taboo. Thus, we can say that while this earth may never have been the center of the solar system despite the law which once so dictated, from man's point of view at the time, that is the way things seemed to be, and therefore, for all he knew then, were. The observation, as an observation, was fully valid when and under the conditions in which it was reached, just as the current, revised observation about the solar system is equally valid for its time. An observation then is a description, and is entirely dependent upon who is seeing, when, and with what.

What this means for us is simply that we need not feel discomfited, or allow ourselves to be threatened by the discomfiture of others, if in our search we gather impressions or develop conclusions which seem to violate what we understand to be the current set of scientific laws. From the point of view of a practicing medical doctor, if one pierces his skin with a nail, bleeding will result; from the point of view of an accomplished fakir, that will not be the case. Both men are correct from their point of view. At this moment, we need feel bound by neither.

Consider a child put to bed and left for the night in a darkened room. Unable to sleep, he looks about him, and suddenly coming out of the closet he sees a fire-breathing dragon, in a corner a rampant bear, against a wall a hangman's noose, and crawling out from under the bed a vicious serpent. Quite naturally, and surely this or its like has happened to each of us, he is frightened and lets out a frantic call for his mother, who leaves her dinner guests and, upon entering the boy's room to see what is amiss, turns on the light. In an instant, the menacing beasts are seem by the child not to be dangerous at all. More, they are seen not to have even been beasts, but instead an empty coat-hanger left on the closet doorknob, a sweater thrown carelessly over the back of a chair, the shadow of a tree against a wall, and, as for the vicious reptiles, well, he sees there is nothing there at all. But at the time they certainly seemed to be there, every bit as real and frightening as the cry for help suggested.

Perhaps the world we live in is something like the child's darkened room. Our abiding sense of insecurity and anxiety about poverty, loneliness, the impermanence and unpredictability of life, all these and more, may be born of a variety of fear-inducing and -sustaining ”things” - ideas, thoughts, impressions, conclusions, doctrines - which, when the light of knowledge is turned on, may be seen not only not to have been fearful but even not to have been real, at least not as they appeared to us in the dark. All of our current understanding of the world, then, mgiht be suspect, and should be acknowledged as subject to revision and possibly relinquishment. This admission does not demand that we start out by flailing ourselves with guilt about being misguided or wrong, but it does require that we be open and receptive to the prospect of having been misguided and wrong. The child is not punished for having seen dragons, but merely, gently with love, corrected.

At the risk of treading on thin ice (and much of the time here we will be doing just that), we might develop the darkened room analogy further to wonder if, even as he is overwhelmed by the apparent reality of the beasts all about him, the child - in his “heart” - knows that the dragon is only a coat-hanger, the bear a misplaced sweater, knows that what he had allowed himself to become convinced of is not really true. And if that can be said of the child, can it be said of us? Do we already have the knowledge we are seeking, and are we not perhaps engaged less in an effort of learning than of unlearning (or remembering)? After all, the child's light was on when he first went to bed. Was ours too?

A moment ago we mentioned the fakir who can pierce his skin with a nail without blood loss, and I am sure that each of us has seen on television or read of similar cases in which the apparently impossible has been performed. If these kinds of events seem religious in nature, the world labels them miracles, and if not, then aberrations. As we have agreed that the choice of labels is simply a reflection of one's point of view, we need not concern ourselves with which is the more appropriate. Either way we are acknowledging the possibility of exceptions to the rule, and the implications of that are obvious. However, these kinds of events themselves should be of interest to us because they may tell us something about the nature of reality, which is our focus.

Is it not possible that what is at work in the performance of these phenomena is the application of entirely different sets of standards about the universe? Certainly, it is evident that we label an event such as the one described “miraculous” or whatever precisely because it contradicts our present understanding of the universe. Remember our earlier discussion of telic reasoning, and our decision no longer to ask the why of things. Thus, from our non-telic point of view, we can say that blood flows not because skin is pierced, but rather that it is in the nature of the universe as we currently understand it that blood flows from skin pierced by a nail. If blood flow does not materialize under those conditions, we then say that our understanding of the universe has been superseded or negated, and we call the event miraculous. But is it seen as miraculous by the one performing the event? Or is it possible that he simply has a different understanding of the nature of the universe to which the absence of blood flow under those conditions conforms absolutely, and therefore what is cause for awe or alarm to us is to him merely the manifestation of the ordinary? And if, to continue with this example, the fakir could somehow teach us to understand, adopt, and practice the perspective he employs in his life, could we too then pierce our skin with a nail without consequent blood loss, and not see the event as miraculous? Indeed, if that were the case, it might then be exceptional if blood did flow!

If this brief discussion of the nature of miracles is anywhere near the mark, what can we learn from it? Perhaps we should recognize in the performance of miracles by others among us evidence confirming what we have already begun to suspect: that the nature of reality and of the universe itself depends, in an as yet unclear way, on our individual point of view or understanding of it. What we expect to happen under any given set of circumstances will happen precisely because we expect it; and conversely, what we absolutely do not allow as possible will not happen. This may explain why some experience miracles in their lives and others never do. In any case, perhaps one of the purposes of miracles is simply to flag to our attention the limits of our current understanding of the universe. Miracles may not be so much extraordinary events as they are suggestions to us of what, from a changed point of view, the nature of reality might be - and of how we can or should (not in a moral, but a practical, lesson-learned sense) see the world.

How does this conclusion square with most religious teachings that miracles are instances of intervention in our lives by God directly or through his emissaries? Possibly very nicely, if we recall our earlier suggestion that God sees us as like Himself (again, created in His image). His performance of miracles among us then might simply be His way of alerting us to how we might see the universe (as He does) if we would only choose to do so. Remember too that we said that He permits us the freedom to see ourselves and our world as we like, and, presumably, to accept the consequences of that choice.

We seem to be coming to an inescapable conclusion that reality has no characteristics or aspects which are true for all people under all conditions. The nature of things seems to depend in some definite if undefined way on what we think about them, how we view them, and where we are standing at the moment of observation. The world seems, or is, flat until we look at it differently, and then it seems, or is, round. We have all read of medical experiences in which patients who expect their condition to worsen, and who lose their will to live, fare less well from a healing point of view than those who have a more positive outlook. Again, expectations seem to govern reality.

The more we search for constancy, immutability, and predictability, the more, it seems, we come up with just the opposite. If one man's extraordinary and impossible are indeed just another's routine and likely, then where are we left in our quest for permanent, clear, and simple rules about the nature of reality? Having discarded all the so-called laws as no more than personal or institutional points of view valid only for those who adopt them, and only for so long as they do, are we then left standing at the edge of the universe holding an empty bag? If so, then the prospect is so unsatisfying (not to mention terrifying) that we were probably better off with the bagful we had, inadequate as its contents may have been. But if the only way we can discover predictability in the universe is by accepting the standards and observations of others, and remain always willing to change our minds as they change theirs, then the nature of reality becomes nothing more than another manifestation - the ultimate manifestation perhaps - of the jungle principle that might makes right. Whoever is the loudest, strongest, and most convincing among us is permitted to determine, even dictate, for the rest how the universe will be understood. Unless, in the very impermanence and relativity that we seem to have uncovered, there lie constancy and predictability.

The Creator made the universe and saw that it was good, we are told. To be sure, we cannot know exactly what was meant by His use of the word good, but perhaps we can assume that He intended more than that word has come commonly to suggest - more than tasty, sensually satisfying, fun, or amusing. Indeed, I expect - and here again I am stepping onto thin ice - we can conclude that good in the Genesis sense includes some of the characteristics we hoped to find in our search for universal laws: constancy, predictability, and consistency - that is, following a pattern or plan. If we are right, or even partly right, in this interpretation of God's use of the word, and if we can assume, as we must, that He could not have been mistaken, then we can say, as it seems that He did, that the nature of things is good, or, put somewhat differently, that it is in the nature of things to be good, or, again, that it is in the nature of things that good occurs. That is, the nature of the universe (the occurrence of events and the performance and characteristics of things) is good: constant, predictable, and consistent. Now, I recognize that we seemed, only a moment ago, to have concluded just the opposite, but stay with me another thought or so anyway to see if this apparent contradiction will iron itself out.

Let us go back just a bit and recall that God created us in His image, in the nature of Him, and therefore what He saw as good (consistent and predictable), so can we. And if we do not do so, as so far we seem not to have done, perhaps it is because we are looking at the thing, the universe, wrongly, or at least different from the way He looks at it. He was satisfied with His Creation. He saw that it was good, presumably because He saw that things were where and functioning as He intended. Let us now discover if we can see them that way too.

Perhaps the key lies in the idea that God saw that things function as they were intended to function. Quite simply, we have seen that the universe seems to conform to our beliefs about it - our flesh spills blood from a nail puncture because we expect it to do so, a fakir's does not because he does not. Perhaps that is exactly the way God created the thing. Perhaps He created the universe in just such a way that it would conform to our beliefs about it! It conformed to His beliefs about it we are told (He saw that it was good), and we are further told that He created us like Him, in His image, so possibly it follows that the universe must, by its nature, conform to our beliefs about it (again, as it did to His, Whom we are like). If you can see the sense in this, which you will if you open your mind to it, then it will become apparent that our beliefs and expectations are absolutely crucial, and that for an understanding of reality we must look inward, at ourselves, not outward, at things.

It is in the nature of things that good occurs. What that statement could mean for us is that whatever occurs does so because we want or expect it to happen. Not because we make it happen (in a cause-effect sense) but because that particular occurrence, whatever it might be, is an aspect of or conforms to the universe as we believe it to be, for the universe is created or programmed to conform to our beliefs about it. So, if, for example, we look about us, and see misery, illness, famine, and strife, perhaps they exist as they do, not because they are the inescapable lot of man, but because we believe in a universe in which misery, illness, famine, and strife are the inescapable lot of man. And the way to rid ourselves of those discomforts is not to build more hospitals, grow more corn, or enlist more policemen, not to seek to effect change outwardly, but to alter our beliefs about the universe, to change inwardly.

We may be living, then, in a universe in which our every wish, our every belief about it, is fulfilled. Again, not as a result of our having wished it, but by virtue of the fact that we wish it. The wish for something presupposes its existence, and may even be its existence. But who, we might object, wishes for misery or illness? And the answer, of course, is that we all do; by believing in a universe of which misery and illness are a part, we are granted such a universe. (Although they may not be synonymous, substituting the word wish for believe may help you get a handle on this idea.)

Seek and you shall find, we have been taught. If that is true about anything, it must be true about everything: whatever you seek you will find. And, conversely, whatever you find, you can be sure you were seeking, whether or not you realized you were. That may very well be the nature of the universe God created, and gave to us. The importance of realizing what it is we are seeking, of knowing ourselves, becomes of paramount significance. How many of the world's teachers have been trying to tell us that - know thyself - over the centuries!

To understand the nature of reality, we must understand ourselves, because our reality is ourselves made manifest. The individual, personal responsibility of that assertion is awesome, but it does meet the standards for a law which we set. It is constant, immutable, and simple. And it works, always, everywhere, and by whomever applied.

In geology, the term plutonic means something like: the shape or characteristics of a formation are dependent upon, are a direct reflection of, the activity of molten rock beneath the surface; shifts or changes on the outside are caused by or result from shifts or changes on the inside. (And here the idea is what I am after, so I ask the forbearance of any geologists among us.) The one and the other are inexorably linked; indeed, they are the same event.

What God is determines what He can create and what He sees. And what is true of God is true of us too, for we are created like Him. Therefore, as we think we are, so is our reality (what we think the universe to be). The inner and the outer are one and the same, plutonic. What we are, we see. As we are inwardly, so our world is. Now, take a look around you: what you see is what you are. The universe is keyed to its creator; our reality is keyed to us. That is the nature of things. So, we must not look to others to effect changes in a world we dislike because it is we who must change first, from within. What we see outside will follow suit. This idea may not come easily to you, but wrestle with it anyway for it can explain everything. We will be working with it together a lot more in the pages ahead, and it will become clearer as we go along.

We live in a plutonic universe. A universe created by God which reflects what we think about ourselves; and, as we have seen, that is reflected by, may be the same thing as, what we think of Him. So, again as we said earlier, if we wish to see the universe as He sees it, if we wish our reality to be the same as His, we must strive to see ourselves (to recognize that we are) as He sees us and to see Him as He sees Himself. Let us on earth see as it is seen in Heaven - Perfect, Whole, and Loving. So He is; so are we, for we are created like Him, if we would but see ourselves that way. The promise is His; the responsibility, and the challenge to fulfill it, are ours.

We must seek to see God as He sees Himself and ourselves as He sees us, as in His image, if we are to see ourselves as we are. And yet, so long as we consider Him a being, or Being, separate from us, a some-thing to be seen, an object for an observer to observe, we doom ourselves to failure. For the point may well be that it is the very idea of separation, with which we identify so dearly, that is itself the obstacle to our seeing correctly. So long as we insist on looking at Him as if from afar, a stance which has unfortunately come to seem less a choice than a fact of life, we remain blind to His true nature, and thus to our own. In a universe in which there is only one substance, be it energy or being-ness or Life, any hypothesis which suggests or depends upon separativeness misses the mark completely, and leads its adherents ever further from the truth.

But if the universe does indeed consist of only one essence or stuff, how can it have happened that we, as creatures of that unitary creation, could be so confused about its nature? How is it possible in an ordered and perfect, that is, error-free, universe, as it is described both by science and religion, that any aspect of it, in this case us, could see it erroneously? How can we be wrong about a creation which is by definition right, a creation of which we are an aspect? How, finally, can a thing see itself as it is not? Maybe this dilemma is what The Fall is all about.

Part of the difficulty with the traditional concept of The Fall may be that it has become for us much more, and much less, than its original, intended message. It has become so heavily laden with ponderous moral implications that all we can derive from it is an overriding and blinding sense of guilt. Rather than learn from it, we seek instead to be punished for it, or, at least, we assume that we ought to be. Seeing the Creator as we see ourselves, we assume that He is disappointed and angry at our having ”fallen”, and wanting to please Him Whom we love (or fear), we hate ourselves for failing Him. None of that is going to assist us in understanding what is truly going on. But suppose the Biblical account of The Fall was intended not as an account of God's displeasure with His creation but rather as an explanation of how we came to see ourselves as we are not. Perhaps it is a lesson, not an accusation, and its purpose is to facilitate our growth, not to excuse our punishment. I would suggest that The Fall story may be, albeit among other things, another way of telling us that the universe is plutonic. Recall, after all, that in all versions of this incident, it was Adam and Eve, or their other-culture counterparts, who chose to disobey, and were apparently free to do so. Had the Creator really intended to forbid the event, as in an irreversible and unappealable veto, certainly He was capable of arranging that. Indeed, what the story should convey to us is the advice so many of us have given our own children: Please do as I say for, believe me, your parents know best. And, true to course, our children go off willy-nilly, often to their later regret, but eventually to work it out with our freely offered loving help. Just as we are doing now, with His.

Adam and Eve knew their true nature when they chose to ignore it, but having known it, they likely remember being told not to forget it, just as the child in the darkened bedroom we spoke of probably knew all the while he was screaming for help that the beasts were not beasts and the room was really quite safe. Why would he choose to see beasts where there were none, and drive himself up the wall with fear, we cannot know - that may be part of the telic mire we have agreed to sidestep. [Editor's Note: Once again, for a discussion of that question, please see the essay “The Creation of Self-Consciousness”] But perhaps we can decipher how it might have happened, how one aspect of a unitary creation might have come to see itself and all the rest as not one, but many.

Consider the simple prism, an ordinary piece of multifaceted glass. As any school child knows, if we hold a prism up to a source of white light, and view the light through the glass, what was a single color will suddenly be seen quite differently: as a spectrum of separate, distinct colors. What was one (the single color white) now appears as many (purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red). Explaining this phenomenon in the classroom, we say that the prism has refracted or broken down the white light into its component parts. But, having said that, we must take care not to conclude that the parts exist independently of the whole. That is, the colors are not themselves separate, self-sustaining things which exist apart from the white light. They are not really parts at all. They are aspects of the whole and inseparable from it. The individual, apparently separate colors are just another way of seeing the one white light. Indeed, they are white light, seen differently. The spectrum purple-through-red is not a thing of itself, but simply white light viewed through a prism, and to demonstrate that point we have only to remove the prism, and the “other” colors disappear. They never really could exist at all without the white light, and they certainly were not separate entities, although in the glass they seemed to be. Again, the apparent separate and distinct reality of the spectrum is created by the prism (one color seen as many). Notice, too, that during our use of the prism, the white light is not itself actually changed, does not cease to exist as it was before or after our use of the prism, and in a very real sense, it is all that was ever really there.

Once again without seeking to understand why it might occur, suppose that one aspect of Creation were to hold up before its ”eyes” a similar prism, and then view itself and the rest through that piece of glass. Instantly, the One would be seen as many. The Whole, artificially broken into its apparent component parts, would suddenly look to the viewer as separate, varied, and distinct elements. Where there had been just white, there would now seem to be purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. The One would not have become many, but it would appear as many (just as white light does not become the spectrum, it is seen as a spectrum). And, continuing with this illustrative device, suppose our viewer forgot for a moment that he was looking through a prism (perhaps in his fascination with the colors); he might eventually forget the exercise altogether, and come to believe that the colors are real in and of themselves, that they are all that there is, and that the image created by the prism is not just a refraction of something else but the universe itself. The universe would then be seen not as the single source of light that it is, the one stuff which is creation, as in ôLet there be light”, but as the spectrum which it seems to be. What is one is now - appears to be - many, and as the prism itself is forgotten, so is the source and nature of the spectrum, and we come to accept as self-sufficiently real and complete what is neither. (Those familiar with the chakra, or power-point, concept will recognize in this prism effect spectrum the colors corresponding to those points. There may be more to that similarity than coincidence!)

One immediately evident flaw in this illustration lies in the fact that it assumes a subject, the viewer, using some kind of instrument, a prism, to look at an object, everything else. The problem, of course, is that the viewer is himself part of what he is seeing in the prism; that is, we are seeing ourselves incorrectly as well as everything else. The subject-object relationship of a viewer looking through a prism at a light source is easy enough to imagine; but we cannot so easily paint a mental picture of a subject looking at itself in that way, a subject-subject relationship. The dualistic nature of our thought process which interprets everything separatively in subject-object terms precludes our grasping a subject-subject relationship, and may itself be a product of the prism effect. We think that way because the parameters we accept for our minds themselves grew out of our employment of the prism. As we see the universe, we see ourselves, and if we assume the one to be limited and separative, then so do we see the other. One equally flawed way to get around this flaw in the illustration might be to consider the glass not as being between the viewer and the viewed but as a prismatic mirror, whatever that may be. Then, we might imagine the One, or an aspect of the One, looking in the glass, and seeing itself in the refracted reflection as many.

In any case, with all its shortcomings, the prism effect construction does at least serve to suggest the nature of the problem before us. Virtually all the great spiritual or religious teachers, and others who might not include themselves in that category but who have nonetheless attempted to decipher life's mysteries, seem to arrive, if by various routes, to a common conclusion that somehow we are seeing the universe as it is not, that we are neither what nor where we think we are, and that from that first error of perception spring our difficulties, confusion, and discomfort. Clearly, if that is the case, all of our efforts to adapt to our perceived environment - psychological, physical, and social - are bound to fall short, generating ever-increasing frustration and renewed, equally doomed attempts to fit in. Having started off on the wrong foot, and headed in the wrong direction, we simply cannot get into step or flow with the universe unless and until we start over. It is not, apparently, so much that we have not yet found our own drummer and that we are listening to the wrong one, as it is that we do not hear the only drummer there is.

”Let them see who have eyes to see” is a lesson found in practically every discipline, and since we all obviously have eyes, the reference surely is to a different kind of seeing, a different set of eyes, than we have come to rely upon. Perhaps the reference is to eyes that can see the prism for what it is, and beyond it, and surely the first step toward that accomplishment is to recognize that we may be victims and products of our own error, of the prism effect.

Or, said somewhat differently, in a plutonic universe, in which we are promised to experience what we expect to experience, we have got to deal first with our expectations, and clearly they are directly a function of our beliefs about the nature of reality. We cannot expect what we cannot conceive of, and we can conceive of only what we believe to be possible or likely - that is, as falling within the bounds or limits of reality as we believe it to be. To alter our reality, then, we have to alter our understanding of what is possible. We have to see the universe totally differently than we do now, otherwise everything that comes to us will simply be more of the same. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they are the same; and this is true, and will remain true, so long as the changes are effected within the old framework. It is not our attitudes or actions that are at fault, although they are telling symptoms, but our point of departure. Again, we have got to start over, from the beginning, for it is at the beginning that there was light.

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