A Wide Wide View
from a mountaintop or the open sea from a ship’s deck puts me in mind of Wordsworth’s “Holding Infinity in the palm of your hand and Eternity in an hour.”
When we allow ourselves to come to the awareness of the vastness of a view from a mountain summit or of dark starry-night skies, we cannot understand it like adding two-plus-two.
if we do try to understand, reason and logic only muddy our awareness. Better to think poetry or music, the friendly cousins.
At those moments, especially if we’ve come to them after a sweaty climb to a peak, we can’t even raise a question like, Who am I?
What we experience at such times transcends the puny little me who would be asking.
If any question does arise, it would be a far far bigger one — more like What is it all about? Or perhaps What am I in all of this?
And if such questions do come to mind while standing there in awe of it all, an answer probably does not come.
Thinking About It Back Home
Curiosity though, continues after I return to the comfort of our casita out here at the end of the road in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
I’ve had to turn to Eastern philosophers after years spent so fruitlessly with Aristotle, Hegel, Kant, Berkley, Hume and other Western philosophers.
Right in the beginning, I discovered that Eastern philosophers pondered such questions as these over a 3000-year-long history, studying the inner life of man, rather than the world around us as has been the focus in the West.
Eastern philosophers wanted to know more about me experiencing my view from the mountaintop, while we Westerners were more interested in studying what’s out there that I am seeing — the geology, biology, botany, archeological aspects.
Astonishingly, the inner life and the what’s-out-there came together for me after only a short time studying the Eastern perspective.
The East examines the kernel of ideas that rise in mind about things out there, not the things we observe. They want to understand our psychology in viewing things, rather than their strata, molecules, atoms.
Interestingly, the Twentieth Century brought Western science to its knees in its reducing the material world to subatomic levels, and science began taking a closer look at the instruments doing the observing, including the one behind the instrument. And that brings Westerners full circle around to meet the Easterners where they’ve been focused for so many centuries.
So What Am I?
What’s just dawning to Western philosophers is what the East has known for centuries, that there is only one unified reality and we humans are unified with it, eternally, like everything being in space that is all around it as well.
What I am is what it is.
In the East they have examined the all that is both out there and in us. We can test it in our personal experience. A good beginning is our mountaintop awe about what’s in us and out there all around us.
Our awe is experiencing our unity with it all. This experience is beyond words and ideas. It is the essence of all.
It is being, consciousness and contentedness. I use the word contentedness instead of bliss as the Sanskrit word ananda is usually translated.
Bliss has more a connotation of exceeding happiness. And it is difficult for me to see the forests, trees, birds, streams and mountains as being super-happy, though the Psalms indicate they are.
But, when I come to rest in the peace that is always out there in the desert at night or a mountain at dawn I can readily believe all is contentment peaceful.
Both East and West agree that the base-level of all that exists are vibrations. Western scientists consider light as a basic substance which is wave as well as particle. The East simply thinks of reality as sound vibrations.
Interestingly, by studying the inner workings of humans Eastern philosophers have a model of vibrations as they manifest as words we speak.
Spoken words have to arise through four levels. There are no English equivalents of the Sanskrit words, which are transliterated as Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama, and Vaikhari.
Don’t be put off by the language. The mental model is really quite simple. Let me explain.
The spoken word is sounded by the mouth, of course. That is the Vaikhari level of the sound of the word.
Before the words are sounded they are ideas in mind. Words in our head. This is the Madhyama level.
But, now it gets a bit tricky. There is a level we are vaguely aware of when we can’t think of the words we want to speak, but we say they are on the tip of our tongue. So, we are somewhat aware that there is a level of what we are about to say that exists below the threshold of our awareness. That level is called Pashyanti.
Finally, someplace way down below all this, is our first impulse to want to say something. That is the level of Para. At that level our impulse to want to say something, way before we begin formulating it into words is called a Shota.
Now roughly speaking, the Pashyanti level is similar to what Western psychiatrists call the subconscious mind. It is a huge storehouse of memories and an intellect that makes lots of tiny decisions about our impulse to speak.
For one, it puts the impulse into words of our native language.
It shapes the impulse according to our pre-meditated ideas, reflecting our particular inclinations and biases. This includes our highest ideals as well as our darkest lies.
But — and here is the good news — below that level of Pashyanti is that Para. That level is pure and good. It is the universal being of all things, including us of course.
We in the West have some inclination of this that we express in a variety of ways. The artist is seeking to reach it no matter the medium. The scientist is seeking it. The theologian also is seeking it. We seek it at a coarse level in our search for happiness and gayety in everyday life — parties, sweets, love, wealth, prestige, power. And none of them, once attained, has a lasting pleasure. They are always followed by an unpleasant let-down.
Coming back to the mountaintop. It is one way in which, when we drop all ideas from mind, we can come into awareness of the unity of all. It is eternal being, consciousness and contentedness. You can’t force it. But you can come back to it, if you come to stillness and stay there for a bit. That stillness is always there awaiting our return.