Article 25 The Great Switcheroo
What happens to a fish taken out of water? It soon dies and so is soon no longer a fish. Does the fish exist separate from the water it is born, lives and (usually) dies in? Similarly, do any forms exist outside the container of space? No. Now leaving aside any concerns about what exactly is meant by the word ‘space’ for it could be just a fancy label for ‘nothing at all,’ isn’t it interesting that, just like zillions of fish, we all – and by ‘we’ I mean all life forms – share the same ocean of space.
If we all swim in the same ocean, are we really – each and every one of us – truly independent, individual, separate entities?
Before answering that, let us also consider: every single form aspect we witness is unique and particular. You can have two chairs side by side made by the same carpenter but they are in different places; furthermore each spot on each chair is unique, particular, the light shining at a slightly different angle, the wood being ever so slightly different, the threads on the upholstery changing from one nano-location to the next. We don’t even need to get quantum on this. Every single thing in the realm of form is unique. With our own bodies, for example, every single spot on our body is different from every single other one, whether it is the obvious differences like nose versus elbow, or endless differences like one spot on the little finger’s fingertip versus the neighbouring spot. So in the realm of form we encounter literally infinite layers and levels of particularity. Put another way: nowhere in the realm of form is any single thing the same as any single other thing.
And yet in the realm of the formless, there are no particularities, no details, no beginning, no end, no this, no that, no up, no down, no in, no out, no place, no time – no nada nowhere no how!
So what’s the Big Switcheroo? Simply that nearly human beings, aka ‘we,’ operate under some sort of mass illusion or delusion, summed up beautifully by Descartes’s famous ‘I think, therefore I am.’ It makes sense in a simple fashion and probably most of us can go along with it easily. But just because you are thinking, does that really mean that you exist as a unique ‘you’ or ‘I’? Yes, every single aspect of reality in the form realm is unique and particular as stated above, but is the spot on the chair really separate from the rest of the chair? Is the I that is thinking separate from the world it is thinking in? Many of us imagine some sort of ‘Little Me’ somewhere in the middle of our heads, presumably in the brain, some sort of ‘President of the State of Me.’ Come to think of it, that’s how we imagine our Presidents, as a man or woman somewhere controlling everything that goes on everywhere in the entire nation.
This sense of being an independent entity is known in Buddhist jargon as ‘ego’ so that usage is not quite the same as in psychiatric practice perhaps. The idea is about how we believe there is an independent, permanent entity – known as ‘me’ – that exists somewhere even though we know that in fact we are all part of the same all-embracing larger universe contained in the same all-embracing space we all share.
I like to say that fishes are the eyes of the ocean. The ocean, if you like, is a great field of awareness but in order to see itself it grows organisms with eyes. There is an old Buddhist text written many centuries ago, by a yogic philosopher called Longchenpa, translated in one version as “You are the Eyes of the World.” That text features a first-person voice talking to the reader, and this first person voice is ‘pure and total presence’ or ‘I, Creative Intelligence.’ The idea is that we all live in the same ocean which is an all-accommodating space, which also is awake, alive, intelligent. In other words, our own innate intelligence comes from the underlying intelligence field in which all living forms live, just like fish living in the ocean. We think of the phenomenal world around us as being essentially dead matter out of which, through physical chemical reactions, some sort of life emerged, almost miraculously. Some scientists have even managed to recreate this apparently. However from the point of view of this old text, the source of life is the living intelligence field we all live in which exists, like all formlessness, before and after birth, before and after time, before and after form.
So although there are limitless particularities in the realm of experience, nevertheless the notion that we exist as fundamentally solid, permanent, separate entities is an illusion. That is the Great Switcheroo. Or perhaps we could say, more positively, that the Great Switcheroo is when you flash on how your notion of being an independent, solid Ego is empty, illusory.
Let us end this one with a quote from Longchenpa’s text, this one being part of three verses explaining how Body, Speech and Mind – the three spheres of experiential being – reflect and are reflected in this universal continuum. In this case I chose the Speech verse since I had an Article entitled ‘The Realm of Speech’ a couple of posts ago. The language is a little academic, but no matter:
This teacher of teachers, the majestic creative intelligence,
Displays the integrated structure centered around the inner reality of communication.
Everything that exists and is designated
Displays itself as linguistic communication coming from the unborn field
And is gathered into this inexplicable inner reality of communication,
The supreme Ordinary Principle’s symphony.
Hopefully this text makes sense in the light of the last few Articles. Personally, I enjoy contemplating these things. Not in long-drawn out Big Think sessions, but just allowing them to lightly arise, butterfly-like, in various moments in daily life. I hadn’t read this in over thirty years but in the course of offering up this spontaneously arising collection of articles, remembered that I was sort of going where Longchenpa (1308 – 1363) had tread so many centuries ago.
This two-sides aspects – including masculine and feminine in the human realm experience – is especially fun to start picking up on. And indeed this article got caught up in one, namely that our universe comprises both limitless particularities in the form aspect contained within the formless aspect which features none. In a way, reality is the formless growing forms so that it can appreciate highlights of experience by creating a universe of limitless particularities featuring location (space) and movements of varying duration (time). It’s a gi-normous production, a collective dream in which we are all both dreamers and the dreamed.