Views from the third world. Earth.

0.3) The Superunknown

Soundgarden's Superunknown album

For all of the time before time, in all of the space before space, I was unknowable. Before I was born a single time I was undead. So let me eat your brains.


We, in our ignorance, call most of the universe dark. 'Dark' energy and matter are 95% percent of the universe. 'Black' holes are at the center of nearly every galaxy. We're slowly falling into one right now. The terms 'dark' and 'black' really refer to our ignorance, not the nature of whatever is out there. What is out there? As the late Chris Cornell sang, it's the Superunknown.

I invite you to just dwell there, in the unknowing. That feeling of unknowing is the closest you get to the fabric of the universe, the minute you feel you understand it, you've got it wrong. The Buddha had the best answer to these cosmological questions, which was "No." As he said to Malunkyaputta,

"So, Malunkyaputta, remember what is undeclared by me as undeclared, and what is declared by me as declared. And what is undeclared by me? 

'The cosmos is eternal,' is undeclared by me. 
'The cosmos is not eternal,' is undeclared by me. 

  'The cosmos is finite'... 
  'The cosmos is infinite'... 
  'The soul & the body are the same'... 
  'The soul is one thing and the body another'... 
  'After death a Tathagata exists'... 
  'After death a Tathagata does not exist'... 
  'After death a Tathagata both exists & does not exist'... 
  'After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,' 

is undeclared by me."

The Buddha said asking these questions was like getting shot by an arrow and asking if they guy who shot you was a Brahmin, where he was from, and what sort of bow he used. Hardly relevant to saving your life. What the Buddha declared was a very clear path out of suffering and everything else was undeclared. As he said:

"And what is declared by me? 

'This is stress,' is declared by me. 
'This is the origination of stress,' is declared by me. 
'This is the cessation of stress,' is declared by me. 
'This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress,' is declared by me. 

And why are they declared by me? Because they are connected with the goal, are fundamental to the holy life. They lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That's why they are declared by me.

The very idea of the Big Bang is seductive in that it seems to provide a complete, observable cosmology of the world, but what happened before the Big Bang? The questioning is endless. It's turtles all the way down. The fact is that Vedic and later Buddhist philosophy clearly had the idea of multiple universes, expanding and contracting in endless cycles. Calling this the Big Bang rather than a lotus creeping out of Brahma's navel is no more or less useful to the yearning of a human soul. It's just another story, and one which the Buddha didn't consider especially relevant.

We of course consider the scientific story more 'real' because it produces real magic like nuclear energy and bombs but, I mean, is that good? What's the point of discovering Brahmastras only to point them at our own skulls. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul. It's all very interesting, but hardly the way out of suffering. That was the Buddha's point, but it's not mine. I'm a bad Buddhist. I'd like to dwell on the interesting a bit longer.

The fact is that wherever I was before spacetime unfolded is still around us, in all the energy and matter we call 'dark'. It's still waiting down there at the bottom of every 'black' hole. If you see the Milky Way, you can see it bending every star, calling us all back to the 'dark'. If you reach out your hands it's all around you, it's passing through you right now. This is not especially useful information, but it is fascinating. And I must say, unlike the Buddha, I like being reborn.

As many adventures as I may have had in some other universe, this one is quite beguiling on its own. As many possible ways as there may have been for matter to organize and self-organizing, this is the one that matters to me and, I presume you. So I spend some time in the dark for accuracy's sake. Honestly, I should spend 95% of the book in the dark. This book should be 95% black, 5% gibberish, and just a question mark at the end. But such scrupulous truth is boring. Let's stay in the realm of stories, as I begin to tell mine.