These are a few thoughts about Easter and other spiritual traditions. If they make no sense to you, not to worry, they are only thoughts.
A few weeks ago we celebrated Easter. Interestingly, many of the world’s traditional calendars celebrate the New Year during the month of April – in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, other Southeast Asian countries, and in Israel (where it is the first of four New Years.) April is a time of renewal and regeneration.
At this time, Jesus Christ transcended death and rose to heaven. For two thousand years people have questioned whether or not this was meant to be a literal event. This may not be the correct question. From the vantage point of heaven, or a mystical reality, the physical world does not have an independent reality. One might say that after Christ rose from the dead, the physical world ended, or it never was.
To the Gnostics, a sect thought to be heretical, existing around the time of Christ and continuing to exist, despite intense persecution, in various forms throughout the centuries, Christ always existed only on a spiritual plane, never on a physical plane, and therefore could not have been crucified. From this point of view, the crucifixion was an illusion.
In the Hindu Vedanta tradition, the Sanskrit word “Maya” means illusion. It doesn’t necessarily mean non-existence. Applied to the world, it means delusion, or incorrect perception. An example often used is that if you see a snake on the ground and you are afraid, then at dawn, you realize that it was only a rope and not a snake at all, you simply misunderstood what you saw. That is the power of Maya, illusion. We take the physical world to be real, but higher levels of reality are more truly real in an ultimate sense. Indeed, some people take the physical, material universe to be the only reality, discounting any spiritual levels at all. Naturally, if one is one of those people, one dismisses an analogy like the one about the snake as meaningless.
To reach a mystical level of being, as was done by seers, saints, and rishis, in times of extreme antiquity and more recent times too, one must transcend the bipolar world of joy and pain. Both joy and suffering are felt as equal; one rises above the duality of seeking one and resisting the other.
Rising above the experience of joy isn’t really much of a challenge since joy is not unpleasant, so it isn’t a problem. That leaves the challenge of rising above pain. One finds the mystical world only by having flown on the wings of pain. There is no other way to rise beyond the world. This is the esoteric message of the death and resurrection of Christ, and the esoteric truth of many other religions.
The world of hell, which is the physical world, is the stepping stone to the journey of rising beyond it – into the pure reality of the mystical world. For animals, their suffering is profound and intense. They are angels and are innocent. For humans, suffering is complicated, beset with mental tortures which only humans can inflict on themselves and each other. Seeking suffering is a mistake, but it is an aspect of the world we live in which finds us.
Dakshinamurthy or Jnana Dakshinamurti is a form of Shiva who is the guru, the teacher. His wisdom is ultimate truth and awareness, beyond the world; flashing like lightning through the clouds, this wisdom comes from beyond. It is irrefutable, mystical insight. In Hindu temples, Dakshinamurti faces south, because south is the direction of death, of change, of transcendence. He sits under a banyan tree, with his right foot on a demon, who is ignorance. Students surround him, and sometimes also wild animals, all listening attentively.
Shiva destroys ignorance and the entire world of ignorance; transcending the world of duality and illusion in this way, he unveils the mystical light of heaven, the true world beyond the clouds.
Top photo: Painting by Fra Angelico 1395-1455 / Wikimedia Commons / “The work of art depicted in this image and the reproduction thereof are in the public domain worldwide.The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.”
Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Chennai Museum / Shiva
Quantum entanglement, as explained on one of the programs of the Universe series, on the H2 Channel, is not a theory, but a fact, demonstrated by scientific experiments.
Briefly, the experiment, which has been repeated a number of times, goes as follows: A subatomic particle, such as an electron, is paired with another electron. The first of the two is set spinning in a clockwise direction. At the same moment, the second “paired” one begins spinning in the opposite direction, that is, counter-clockwise. Then Electron Number Two is taken several miles away from the original site.
The spin of Electron Number One is then reversed and now goes in a counter-clockwise direction. At the same instant in time, the spin of Electron Number Two also reverses, and now goes in a clockwise direction. This happens, by itself, even though there is absolutely no physical connection between the two electrons. They are miles apart.
How does Electron Number Two “know” that Electron Number One has had the direction of its spin change, and that this must result in changing the direction of its own spin?
How the direction of the spin is changed, how it is observed, and how the second electron is moved several miles away is not described on the program “The Universe.” But we assume all this has taken place as reported—and we are told that the experiment has been repeated several times with the same results.
Why does it matter whether or not the electrons spin this way or that, and do we really care?
The reason we may care is that this is profoundly counter-intuitive, and it makes a mish-mash of all our natural, “self-evident” concepts of the laws of the universe.
It’s as if we have a pair of human twins. They are children and they enjoy spinning round and round in circles, each one spinning in the opposite direction of the other.
One afternoon, as they are spinning, one goes over to the neighbor’s yard, on the far side of the house, out of sight of Twin Number One, and continues spinning. Soon, Twin Number One gets bored with spinning clockwise and begins to spin counter-clockwise.
The children’s father, who is observing both children from a second floor window, where he has a good view of both, notices that, at the same instant as Twin Number One reverses his direction of spin, Twin Number Two also reverses his direction of spin. But how does Twin Number Two know that Twin Number One has changed directions? Telepathy springs to mind as a possible explanation. Well, okay, maybe in the case of the human twins it is telepathy—maybe even unconscious telepathy.
But that really doesn’t help us much with the electrons. Unless they too are conscious beings. Well, maybe they are, who knows?
Because of this strange scientific experiment, we are left with a puzzle. We are left with a universe in which – either all things and beings are conscious. Or information can travel instantaneously, faster than the speed of light. Or maybe on some other level the two electrons are not really separated by distance at all. Or maybe there is simply no such thing as the existence of time and space? One way or another, something is not as it seems.
The electrons are linked, “entangled”, caught together in a web, a charm that transcends space and time. No matter how great the distance between them, they behave as if they are together, side by side, in contact with each other. They instantaneously respond to each other.
It is well known that flocks of birds can turn, with every bird turning at the same moment. This is not like the v-shaped flight of flocks of geese, where there is one leader at a time, and all the others are following. I remember a few years ago, when the lighting conditions were just right, watching a flock of perhaps 70 pinon jays, flying over a canyon. When they turned one way, because the sunlight struck their wings at a particular angle, their wings all looked white. When they changed directions, their wings were in the shadow, and all looked black. As I watched for several minutes, they all turned at precisely the same moment in time. First the wings were white, then all the wings were black, then white again. This happened many times. No bird was even a nano-second ahead or behind the flock. No one was following anyone; they all turned instantaneously. Again, perhaps this was telepathy between the birds of the flock. Perhaps there was an angel of pinon jays guiding them? Whatever it was, it was remarkable.
There are connections which transcend distance, which transcend space and time, and most of us have noticed these one way or another in our lives – a strange premonition, a funny feeling later borne out by the facts, a healing miracle, an awareness of something we simply could not know by physical means and which does not fit into our normal expectations of the nature of space and time – or a mystical perception of angels, beings, presences, archetypes, God or Gods — of those others who we do not see with our eyes, but nonetheless, we have a profound certainty that they are there.
Thousands of years ago, the great sages of India wrote about the concept of Maya, or “illusion.” They called the ultimate reality Brahman, the underlying absolute reality that cannot be described in words. Maya is created reality, reality as we perceive it, within time and space, where there are events, people with whom we interact, the world of nature, the man-made world of cities, the situations and circumstances of our lives – the past, history and prehistory, the present – the world as we perceive it, our common world belonging to all creatures on the earth or our own individual world – the world that relates to our identity as humans, as beings of a particular nationality, age, or political view — whatever reality relates to our own experience.
All these things belong to Maya – they are real, sort of, but they are not absolute. From the perspective of ultimate reality, they are illusion.
There is more to the Cosmos than what we see – there are other dimensions, other levels, other worlds. There is more, much more, than the physical universe – much more than we could ever imagine.
In the words of Shakespeare, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Brian Greene’s “The Illusion of Time, part of the series “The Fabric of the Cosmos” aired Sunday evening, July 22, 2012, on “Nova” on PBS. Here’s a summary, followed by a couple of thoughts.
“Time is not what it seems…There may be no distinction between the past, present, and future.” Discoveries in quantum physics suggest that time is entirely different from how we perceive it to be in our daily lives.
All cultures, including very ancient ones, have found time fascinating. The Maya for example calculated time with three different, interrelated calendars; for the sun, the moon, and Venus.
In our search to measure time, the rotation of the earth and its revolution around the sun became our first clock.
Today, instead of measuring the earth’s rotation, the atomic clock measures the frequency of the cesium atom, which, in one second ticks 9 billion, 192 million times.
Asking the question, “Time is a mystery. What is it we’re actually measuring?” Brian Greene recalled the work of Einstein.
For Newton, time had been absolute and immutable. But with Einstein, time is experienced differently by each of us, and is affected by motion through space and time. Time and space are linked, and one person’s time is not the same as another’s. Although time moves more slowly for a person in motion, this is not something that we can observe in our everyday lives, but scientific experiments have proven that this is true.
By an experiment in which a jet plane circled the earth and time was measured by atomic clocks on the plane and on the ground, it was demonstrated that time moved more slowly on the plane, which was in motion, than it did on the earth.
The sharp differentiation that we make between past, present and future is an illusion because, Brien Greene explained, according to Einstein, “Time and space are fused together as space/time.”
In a different galaxy thousands of light years distant, an alien who is riding on a bicycle away from us, would not (assuming that he could look at us through his telescope) see us as we are in the present; instead he would see us in the past – perhaps during the time of Beethoven. If the same alien were riding towards us on his bicycle, he would see us, not in the present, but in the future – perhaps as we will be 200 years from now. So, says Brian Greene, “Past, present, and future are all equally real….the future is not non-existent….Einstein shattered the distinction between past, present, and future.”
Just as, in a movie, every frame already exists on film, the flow of time, from a past that exists to a future that does not yet exist, is an illusion.
Though we think of wormholes as something belonging to science fiction, Einstein’s equations actually predict them, and they would provide gateways through both space and time. Perhaps even if we don’t jump into them, we might just peer through them as a window to view what is far, far away, what has been, or what will be.
One of the most puzzling aspects of time is that it is one directional, though there is theoretically no reason why time should not flow in both directions. There is simply the fact that it doesn’t. The laws of physics do say in fact that time could go backwards, so the question asked is “Why doesn’t it?” If one drops a wine glass and it shatters, one can’t reverse the action and have all the pieces streaming back together again. Our lives go irreversibly in one direction, which leads to the question, “What is responsible for the arrow of time?”
Entropy is randomness, meaning that everything has a tendency to move toward disorder, like the pages of a book that fall apart, but do not fall back together again.
Billowing smoke becomes disordered. Degrees of messiness increase.
This problem of the directionality of time seems to be solved by taking entropy into account. The arrow of time comes from the tendency of nature to move towards increasing disorder. If one goes all the way back to the Big Bang, one arrives at a highly ordered situation.
At a single moment at the beginning, all matter was compressed neatly into one single point, all precisely ordered. After that came the beginning of disorder. The universe expanded and spread out. It can’t be put back, like the genie can’t be put back into the lamp. So, at the Big Bang, the arrow of time was given its direction toward disorder. “Time is a 13.7 billion year old drive toward disorder.”
Scientists, who used to assume that the expansion of the universe was slowing over time, had a rude awakening a few years ago, with the discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating – going faster and faster, and the galaxies are hurtling away from each other. One day, our descendants will see no other galaxies, and the cosmic past will be out of reach. Eventually there will be no movement and no time. Brian Greene summed it up by saying, “The flow of time is an illusion…We are part of a far richer and far stranger reality.”
A thought or two
“The Illusion of Time” is very fascinating and brilliantly presented, though it does come to a rather grim ending. (We can’t, of course, hold scientists responsible for how the universe ends.)
However, interestingly, the idea that time and space are illusory is not new at all. It is at least 5,000 years old – maybe 10,000 – maybe it is a timeless concept that has always been there.
The ancient texts of India describe time and space as illusory, as maya, having the appearance of reality, but not having the quality of ultimate reality. We do not see the world as it truly is because of the veil of maya, just as, on a cloudy day, we do not see the sun hidden behind the cloud cover. We do not see the true nature of time and space, until the veil is removed from our eyes.
Concerning the concept of entropy, long ago Hindu seers wrote that there are four ages – each on a lower, baser level than the last, until one arrives at the fourth, last age, the Kali Yuga, the age where we find ourselves now—an age of dishonesty, corruption, and negativity. This is an example of entropy – of traveling inexorably from order to disorder.
The concept of time as linear is, by and large, a western concept. In eastern thought, time tends to be not linear, but cyclical. The four ages, the yugas, are one day in the life of Brahma, the Creator. At the end of this day, Brahma goes to sleep, and then at dawn he awakens, ready to start a new day composed of another four ages. Of course it’s somewhat more complicated, but that is a rough outline of what happens. The four ages are one day in the life of Brahma.
This concept has a few things to be said for it – for one, it is not grim; for another, it has not only a poetic quality, but also a truthful quality. And it transcends the problem of being stuck in a purely physical reality.
Brian Greene is a brilliant physicist who has taken us on an amazing journey into a strange world, a very thought-provoking journey.
Physicists of today are by no means limiting themselves to a linear view, quite the contrary. There is the concept of multiverses. (Brian Greene examines this in other programs, as part of the “Fabric of the Cosmos” series.) This is the idea that there may not be just one universe, but countless or infinite parallel worlds; and one individual may exist in many of these at the same time or different times. Have you ever felt that you were in more than one place?
A book that takes a look at this possibility is “2012” by Whitney Strieber.
It’s basically a horror novel, but if you don’t mind the horror bits too much (I did actually mind, but found the book intriguing anyway), it is fascinating reading.
Then, from another angle altogether, there is the legend of the Chinese general who lost a very important battle. It is said that the reason he lost the battle is that many years later, mistakes were made in the liturgy of his funeral. The mistakes caused his life to be less auspicious and therefore led to the loss of the battle. I suppose, if we are not too confused already, we could meditate on this as an alternate view of time and destiny.
In all societies of the past, ancient spiritual traditions recognized many levels of reality. There is the material level of everyday life where we walk along on our journey from day to day, but there are also the broader, more sunlit levels above, of mystical or magical realities from which we see with different eyes – seeing farther and more clearly—beyond the bounds of time and space. The things we cannot see from this earthly level, can be seen from other levels, as if we are looking out the window of an airplane or riding on a magic bird that flies above the clouds.
Top photo: Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration / A star-forming region known as N90, on the outskirts of the Small Magellanic Cloud.
Second photo: NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (Arizona State University). Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble) / The Crab Nebula. Observers in China and Japan recorded the supernova nearly 1,000 years ago, in 1054
Third photo: Credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team / The Orion Nebula
Fourth photo: Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI) / The Carina Nebula: The Mystic Mountain
For more Hubble images and information, click here.
For more on the Nova series, “The Fabric of Time”, click here.
Did you know that sub-atomic particles can communicate with each other instantaneously over a distance?
Well, they can.
If you think about it, this is kind of amazing.
In quantum physics, there is something that physicists call “entanglement”, which refers to the relationship between two sub-atomic particles. (I don’t understand this very well, so one or two details may be amiss, but you can read more about it at
All this is interesting because of the implications of the theory. A number of actual physical experiments have been conducted, the Bell test experiments, which scientifically proved this.
Sub-atomic particles have a spin – either clockwise or counterclockwise – and this can be measured. When two particles are “entangled” or connected, one will have a spin opposite to that of the other. When the spin of the first one is changed, say from clockwise to counterclockwise, then the spin of the other will automatically reverse as well.
Now the really weird thing is that this happens even when they are not near each other. It happens across distances. In the experiments that have been done, in which the spin of Particle A is changed from one direction to the opposite – the spin of Particle B, which has been moved to several kilometers away, then changes automatically, by itself, at the exact same moment in time – even though there is no possible line of communication between the two. Somehow information has passed instantaneously, faster than the speed of light, from one particle to the other.
To actually understand this properly and be convinced, you’ll need to read an explanation from an authoritative source, which is not me – so I would suggest you look it up online – or read any of many books on quantum physics or watch any of several TV programs.
In any case, it is an accepted scientific observation in the real world.
These experiments are intriguing – and what seems most intriguing, though this is a leap from the scientific world of measurement to the philosophical world of speculation is that it would seem that the only way to explain this is to say that space and time do not have any absolute existence – indeed that the entire physical universe is not really real in quite the way we have always imagined it to be. This is generally accepted by physicists as true too, since the last time the physical world seemed to actually correspond to the “common sense” way of perceiving it was in the days of Isaac Newton (although even Isaac Newton had his own peculiarities, being obsessed with topics like prophecy and alchemy, but that’s another story).
Anyway, this lack of substantiality of the physical world cannot help but remind one of some of the concepts of ancient Hindu thought that evolved hundreds or thousands of years ago – like the concept of Maya – sometimes translated as “illusion,” but it certainly seems that the concept of Maya is much more complex than that. It is associated with ideas of “magic” and “power” and the bringing into existence of a field of limitations which cause one to see only the physical reality that we live in every day – and to mistake this for the ultimate reality, which we are generally blind to – except in flashes of great, clarifying insight.
The example used often is that of a rope. In the darkness, a rope lying on the ground can be mistaken for a snake, which can be a great cause of fear. But when daylight shines, it is seen clearly to be just a rope.
There are higher levels of reality, and we have glimpses of these – intuitions, inspirations, visions, and dreams – moments of clarity and insight, which come to us from a higher source or a higher world, where the things that are are not at all separate, distinct, and isolated – but where reality is much more fluid, where there are millions of unseen connections, not explainable by the simple laws physics as we think we understand them.
This awareness leads to a perception of art, myth, spiritual traditions, history and prehistory, as having a more profound, more pervasive reality than we might have thought – where “truth” is of a higher level – where we are not isolated individual beings – but instead are all interconnected – where, for example, the environment and the human are not in opposition, but are one – where, ultimately, the trees, the stars, the clouds, the butterflies, the rabbits, and the tigers are not separate from us. We are they, and they are us.
In the end, scientific and mathematical theory and also the knowledge passed down in the most ancient writings point the way in the same direction – that there is a mystical, spiritual reality – that there are levels infinitely more real — clearer, brighter, and more luminous than the foggy world shown to us through the cultural lens of our current world civilization.
Top photo: Wikimedia Commons. “This file is in the public domain because it was created by NASA and ESA.” / (Spiral Galaxy M51, NGC 5194) is a classic spiral galaxy located in the Canes Venatici constellation.
Second photo: / Wikimedia Commons / “This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or fewer.” / Photo of a 1904 painting by Raja Ravi Varma.