All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.
– The Dhammapada, verse 1
In Him we live and move and have our being…
– Acts 17:28
Since the memorial service for Hal I’ve received repeated requests to expand on my eulogy, especially the part about faith and quantum physics. Some people asking about it were close to Hal and are grappling with a lot of grief, as I am; others are confronting questions of life and death intensely in other ways too. I’ll use this memorial blog to try to explain more, in hopes that others may find the ideas comforting, as I have.
An ancient Zen parable tells about a king who loved string music and ordered a guitar chopped to bits to try to find its essence. Of course, the essence couldn’t be found in the material of the instrument. Someone had to pick up the guitar and play it.
Modern physics is like this. Physicists have chopped matter into ever tinier bits, into atoms and slices of atoms, to try to find the essence of existence. Increasingly they are finding nothing at the root of matter except our own perceptions, our own consciousness, our own mind. The smallest building blocks of matter, known as quanta, seem to behave differently according to our observation of them.
Scientists are arguing, as scientists do, over what this means, bringing their own biases and preconceptions to the argument, as humans do. But some are coming to believe reality exists in our consciousness rather than outside of our thoughts and minds. Those who are resisting that conclusion don’t have much evidence in their corner. Science, for all its advances, has made no progress in explaining consciousness. Scientists can’t explain the existence of our thoughts – only the function of our brains.
Given all the above, it makes sense to me that our consciousness is everything. The universe is made up not of matter but of mind. Being the building block of all existence, consciousness is impossible for us to measure from within. It’s like the classic tale of the fish asking “Water? What’s water?” Trying to perceive our minds with our minds is like trying to see our eyes with our eyes.
So if our minds are creating the universe, why can’t we control it? Why can’t we imagine a wall is not there, then walk through it?
The answer is that the universe isn’t being imagined by your mind, or my mind. It’s being imagined by everyone’s mind as one. By some grand mind in which all our minds exist, and are separate from only in our small human perspective while we’re in material form on earth.
Whose mind might that be?
A Buddhist might say it’s the mind of the Absolute, the mind that is not relative to anyone or anything else but comprises all as one. For a Buddhist, everything on earth is relative to everything else – more physics – but in an absolute sense it’s all one thing, made of our thoughts and minds.
A Christian (such as me) might say the universe is the mind of God. We’re being imagined by God and moving in that dream freely, just like other people move freely and without our control in our own dreams. When we leave our bodies, we wake up as if from a dream, to the consciousness of all. Like matter in physics, consciousness can’t be created or destroyed. It’s simply there.
If the universe is made up of mind and not matter, has Hal actually gone anywhere? When we talk of his spirit, is that some squishy Hallmark-card idea? Or is our continuing memory and perception and consciousness of him actually as real and true as his body was? Maybe even realer and truer?
I’m in serious grief over the physical loss of Hal. Our imperfect earthly minds can’t grasp as well as our eyes and ears and fingers. I’ll miss the sight and sound and hug of Hal for the rest of my life.
But I’m not in despair because the most important part of Hal is still here. In meditation – all that means is letting loose of our own minds so the mind of all existence or the universe or God can come in – it can feel as if he’s sitting with me. Especially in the shadow of a tree he put next to my meditation bench right before he left earthly form. In our art gallery it’s like I’m working beside him. To my surprise and delight our gallery and home are places of great comfort and joy for me right now. He poured his unique creative vision into them, and they live on with his spirit. As I do.
One thought on “More on the eulogy: God, Jesus, Buddha, physics, life and Hal”
Wise and comforting words Bob. Much love and care as you traverse through grief.
Meadow & I were with my dad who passed, in our minds, at a too young age (68). I remember having this overwhelming sense of his soul dissapating into millions of bits of light and yet felt him deep in my heart. It was such a mystery, and yet wholly comforting. I still miss him deeply and your words confirmed my experience.