There’s something odd about us. Isn’t there? Like – here we all are, but apart from being the result of a few minutes’ abandon by an unknown man and woman (identity revealed later) we’ve no idea how we got here; now we’re here, we don’t know what the point is or even if there is one; we don’t know where we were – or even if we were – before we arrived; we have no idea where we go – assuming we go anywhere – when we die; everything in our known universe, including ourselves, is in the process of disintegration; and when we’ve gone, the trail we leave behind is hardly more enduring than that of a bird through the sky. Very odd.
Nothing, it seems, is permanent – apart, that is, from this constant state of impermanence. For all we know, we may have been blown here on the wind; and if that’s the case, the wind will surely blow us away again. To quote Omar Khayyam, who had a thing or two to say about all this –
“Into this Universe and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.”
On the face of it – we’re pointless. Maybe we’re just some one-off quirk – a hiccup in the mechanics of the universe – a cosmic accident having no purpose and ending in nothing.
Except – it just doesn’t seem that way. Oceans of midnight oil have been burned over the centuries in the struggle to find answers to those questions. And given the present level of complexity and sophistication of the human mind, it might seem odd that we are little nearer an answer than were the builders of Stonehenge. So could it be that our irrepressible curiosity is – as many have posited – an outcome of our terror of the dark – the fear that we really are just a pointless accident going nowhere?
But – ask yourself the question – would you turn your house out looking for something you knew wasn’t there? The fact is – we sense something. But call it God, Nirvana, Shangri-la or the Land Beyond the Rainbow – we have little idea what it is we sense. It is not an idea; words don’t work with it either. And although intangible and not of our everyday world, it is, even so, with us, at some level all the time if we look, in the background to that same everyday world. So how is it that this thing has managed to elude, over so many centuries and throughout so many cultures, the probing of some of the most adept minds and intellects that have turned their spotlight on it, often spending their lives on that and little else?
If there’s an answer to that, I think the clue is probably in the words ‘mind’ and ‘intellect’. They have both acquired, over the centuries, huge power – to the point where, today, they virtually run society. I suspect the belief is common that by their use and given time, we are capable of ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’ anything and everything – the workings of our own brains, our bodies, nature, the planets, the stars, space itself and ultimately, the workings of the whole universe – so that then, we can write – “Universe – done. QED.”
I don’t think so. The mind and the intellect are not the be-all and end-all. There is something else. Watch raindrops as they fall on the petals of a flower; look deep into the eyes of a child; listen to birdsong at sunrise; watch an autumn leaf drift gently to the ground; close your eyes and listen to Rachmaninoff. The mind, the intellect have no part. Bring them in, and the magic’s gone.
That, of course, still hasn’t answered the initial questions. But for those who believe that we will, one day, know and understand all things, here’s another one – where and by what means did we arrive at the conviction that all things are even knowable? That everything in the universe, without exception – even including the universe itself, can be the object of ‘knowledge’? Knowledge exists only as a duality – that of the knower and the known. But what if the knower and the known are one and the same? How then would you ‘know’ that which is your own self? As the ancient eastern aphorism has it, would it not be rather like getting the thief to surprise himself in the act?