We can define and explore reality from either an objective or a subjective viewpoint.
Consider objective and subjective views of space and time. From an objective view, space contains an infinite number of different theres, and time contains an infinite number of different thens. But from a subjective view, space itself is always here, and time itself is always now. Every different place is here, and every different time is now. Where is it in Berkeley? On the moon? In the Andromeda Galaxy? In all cases here. When was it 10 years ago? A billion years ago? 100 years in the future? In all cases now. It follows that here and now are not properly features of the universe at all, but rather, from a subjective view, the universe itself is a feature of here and now.
In the same way, these contrasting viewpoints apply to consciousness. From an objective view, there are myriad conscious beings inhabiting the universe. But from a subjective view, there is only your one consciousness. From a subjective view, all other beings are features, or sense data, of your one consciousness. Indeed, the universe itself is a feature of your one consciousness.
This contrast between objective and subjective viewpoints leads to the familiar, yet paradoxical nature of individual experience: wherever there is consciousness in the universe, there is also the universe itself in consciousness. This enigma recalls the Buddhist metaphor of Indra’s Net: every being in the universe is like a jewel hung at each eye of this infinite net, and in the polished surface of each jewel is the reflection of all the other jewels.
Our world is in a state of possibility and crisis.
Our crisis has to do with how we define and explore reality. Modern people tend to function through an objective viewpoint. When this view is taken to its extreme, there is a complete distinction between self and world. Human beings are discrete objects, small pockets of consciousness, practically insignificant, vulnerable to oppression, lacking connection, security and meaning in the universe.
In light of this view, the possibility before us is to explore our subjectivity. The possibility is to revolutionize our experience of “I am.”
When a subjective view of reality is taken to its limit, the distinction between self and world is nonexistent. A human being is a keeper of the universe, a point of actualization for life itself, secure in a meaning that transcends the particular, temporary circumstances of life on earth.
Our crisis has to do with the fact that we are more familiar with the depths of separation than we are with the heights of union. Buried deep within us an unbelievable truth is waiting to shine through. But we forget. For some reason, we can’t unearth the vision at the center of our being. We stay hidden. We barely remember something is missing. We don’t know what to do.
Those who are startled by our crisis sometimes dare to ask: How high can someone soar on the wings of absolute union? If they search, they will find how this flight culminates in an ecstatic subjectivity, embodied here by the Sufi mystic, Hafiz:
Know of beauty
That no one has ever
How could that be possible
When I may seem
So new in infinite time?
It is because God belongs to only you!
Did you hear that?
Did you hear what Hafiz just said?
God belongs to only you!
To take the subjective viewpoint literally is to risk, pursue and even practice annihilation in the unfathomable, intimate totality of your own consciousness. The possibility before us is to take that risk, as individuals and a collective. A measureless subjective territory awaits our exploration.
This journey is, in fact, not optional. The push to explore objective reality is, on the most basic level, being exhausted. In simple terms of territory, there is nowhere left to explore on earth. And it is not within the abilities of human beings to colonize other planets anytime soon. Outer space itself appears before us like a barrier, compelling us toward inner exploration.
Paleontologist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin saw this happening in the early twentieth century: “The banal fact of the earth’s roundness…was bound to cause [an] intensification of psychosocial activity.”
For this we should be grateful, and for this we should be terrified. We are trapped on a voyage of self-discovery together. At the height of our quest, we will uncover our own value, as well as that of the whole cosmos, exactly where we are:
You may seem to be the microcosm;
In fact, you are the macrocosm.
The branch might seem like the fruit’s origin:
In fact, the branch exists because of the fruit.
Would the gardener have planted the tree at all
Without a desire and hope for fruit?
That’s why the tree is really born from the fruit
Even if it seems the fruit is created by the tree.