The simplest view

There is a view that explains nearly all of the big questions humans have, and does so in a simple, logical, and elegant way.

That view is that all is Spirit, all is God, the divine, Brahman, Allah1.

The world and all of existence is the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways. What we take ourselves to be is a local expression of the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself.

It explains just about all the big questions and does so in a satisfying way.

As a bonus, it also happens to fit our own immediate noticing when we find our more fundamental nature2.

It explains the question of evil, our relationship with the divine, what the meaning of life is, and much more3.

The main question it doesn’t explain is how there is something rather than nothing4. To me, that’s completely baffling. It stops my mind and I cannot find even the beginning of an answer.

It also doesn’t really explain what happens after the death of this human self. To myself, I am the timeless that time happens within, I am what the appearance of birth and death happens within and as. And yet, that doesn’t mean that the consciousenss I am continues after the death of this human self. It may continue and it may disappear with the body. I cannot know for certain. It’s tempting to say that consciousness continues but if I am honest, I have to admit I don’t know and cannot know.

It leaves some things open, which is how it should be. It leaves the things I don’t need to know now open. It leaves it to be discovered at another time, or not.

And, as any view, it’s a question about the world. It’s something for us to explore.

(1) To some with a Western materialistic mindset, it may seem fantastical and unnecessary. And yet, is it any more amazing that all is God than that all is matter? To me, they seem about equally improbable and fantastical, and the former is – in many ways – more logical. (This also has to do with what we mean by God and what images we have of God. I am not talking about the standard Christian or theistic God here.)

(2) I find I am what my field of experience happens within and as. I am the consciousness that forms itself into any and all experiences that happen here. To me, the world is the play of consciousness. It’s lila.

(3) Evil = part of the play of the divine. Our relationship with the divine = we are a part of the larger divine whole. The meaning of life = for the divine to experience itself as and through us and everything.

(4) Some say it’s because of God, but that’s not an answer since God is something rather than nothing. Some also say that it is all nothing, which is technically true in that all appears as consciousness and not a “thing”. That too is missing the point since there are still appearances. When I say “something” I include appearances, anything that’s not a complete absence.

Image by me and Midjourney

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Rumi: Things are such

Things are such, that someone lifting a cup,
Or watching the rain, petting a dog,
Or singing, just singing — could be doing as
Much for this universe as anyone.

– Rumi in The Purity of Desire: 100 Poems of Rumi, reinterpreted by Daniel Ladinsky

This question sometimes comes up for me as a kind of life-koan. For health reasons, I am doing far less in the world than I used to and imagined I would, so this comes up for me. Does my life have meaning and value even if I am not doing the things I imagined I would do in the world?

What do I find when I look into this?

The essence – taking it literally

We can take the poem literally and look at what our activities do for the universe.

If we are engagest in the simplest of activities, and perhaps appear to be doing very little, how can that be doing as much for the universe as anything? Does our existence, in itself, do as much for the universe as anything?

What first comes to mind is that I cannot know. I cannot know if not laughing, or petting a dog, or singing isn’t doing as much for the universe as anything. Perhaps just existing and experiencing what I am currently experiencing does as much for existence as anything.

We can also look at this from a systems view. We can see the universe as a seamless evolving system, and we and all beings are parts of this system. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. In this sense, any activity or experience may do as much for the universe as anything.

And if we see the universe as the divine itself, then our experiences and activities are the experiences and activities of the divine. Here too, the simplest of activities and simply existing may do as much for existence as anything.

We can also bring it home. Here, I find that my current experience does as much for me as anything. In other words, it does as much for my universe as anything, and it does as much for this local part of the universe I call “me” as anything. Right here, I find how it’s true.

The essence – bringing it home

Often, these apparently metaphysical questions are about something more immediate and simple.

Does my life have meaning and value? Even if I don’t do what I had imagined? Or as much as I imagined?

This is where it makes sense to talk about meaning and value. My life as it is, even in the simplest of moments, is of immense value to me and to those who love me.

For our personal lives, this is perhaps the most important and the essence of the question.

Our sense of meaning and value is often colored by less-than-helpful assumptions we have adopted from our culture, perhaps telling us that our value is tied up with what we do, so it’s helpful to notice these, examine one at a time, and find what’s genuinely more true for us.

Some painful beliefs worth examining may be: My life doesn’t have value. If I don’t do X, my life doesn’t have value. I need to do X to be loved. And so on. What this really is about is often something universal, vulnerable, simple, innocent, childlike, and essential for us as human beings.

IN A BROADER CONTEXT

I’ll go into a few related topics and angles since it has direct consequences for how we live our lives, and the choices and priorities we make individually and collectively.

There are a few related but distinct questions here: What does an activity or our existence do for the universe? What does the activity or existence of anything do for the universe? What’s the value we assign to these things and how does that influence our perception, choices, and life?

Protestant work ethic and value through productivity

Coming from northern Europe, I am familiar with the protestant and capitalist work ethic suggesting that we have our value from what we do in the world. Productivity equals value.

Is that really true? What about a baby? A baby isn’t productive and still considered valuable. Is it just because we expect it to become productive later? Is someone with a handicap not valuable? Someone in a coma? Does nature only have value for what it produces for itself and us?

It all depends on how we look at it. People with a disability are loved by someone, and that makes them valuable to that person – and others who value love. And the same for a baby, and even someone in a coma.

Cannot find value outside of what the mind assigns to it

Of course, the idea of value is an idea created by the mind. It’s not inherent in reality.

We – collectively and individually – decide what’s valuable, and it’s good to remember that this is, quite literally, imagination and fantasy. At a collective level, it does help with coordination and cohesion, and it’s also something we can question. We can recognize it as imagination.

This also means that we can, as individuals and even collectively, assign value to what we find useful to us. For me, it seems useful to assume that all living beings, all ecosystems, and all life has value just from existing. Beyond that, I would assign value to all parts of Earth since the non-living parts of Earth – water, air, rocks – are as integral and essential to this living planet as anything else. All life, including ourselves, depends on it for our life.

Assigning value to all life and Earth as a whole allows us to live in a way that honors the living systems we are part of, and even ourselves independent of productivity or anything else. It’s practically useful since it opens up for some reverence for all life and makes us consider if we can meet our needs in a different way. Perhaps one that minimizes harm to life, and may benefit life overall.

A systems view

If we see the universe as a seamless system, then we see all things as part of this evolving system. All parts of the system have value as parts of this larger dynamic system.

We can also see all beings as the universe locally bringing itself into consciousness. In the words of Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. All life is, in its own way.

If we see it this way, it’s natural to also see all life as having value and all things having value in themselves.

Divine creation or the divine itself

We can see all of existence as divine creation, and as such, it has meaning and value in itself.

We can also see all of existence as the divine. We may see the physical body as the divine taking physical form. And this opens up for even a deeper sense of reverence for all of life and all of existence.

Capacity for the world

When I find myself as capacity for the world, and that which anything I think, feel, see, hear, and so on happens within and as, this all looks a bit different. Here, everything has value. Everything is what I am. Everything happens within and as the one. We can also say that everything is the divine.

Here, the reverence for life and all of existence comes from direct perception.

Values and a pragmatic approach

We can choose to assign value to all life, and that doesn’t mean we won’t prioritize and make difficult choices. For instance, we can choose ecosystems over individual life, and we may choose our own life over that of plants we eat to survive. We always make these kinds of choices, and it’s good to be conscious of it.

Life is a mix of destruction and giving life. We eat life to stay alive. We ourselves are eventually consumed by other life. That’s how things work here.

As mentioned earlier, by assigning value to all life, we may live with more reverence for life and find different strategies that minimizes harm to life and perhaps even benefits life overall.

And as Albert Schweitzer said, by living we put ourselves in debt to life, and we can do our best to repay that debt through how we live our life.

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The gifts of atheism

Being from a country where most are atheists or agnostics, I am familiar with the gifts of those views.

The different main -isms reflect aspects of reality. There is some truth to each of them.

Here are some examples.

Atheism. Our images of God are not it. Reality is more than and different from our ideas, images, maps, and theories.

Agnosticism. We don’t know. We cannot know anything for certain.

Non-theism. Spirit is all there is. Everything happens within and as Spirit. The divine is not a separate being.

Panentheism. The universe is Spirit, and Spirit is more than that.

Of course, this is very simplistic. But it can be interesting – and fun – to explore the grain of truth in any views, as it appears to us.

What other gifts may there be in, for instance, atheism? This is what comes up for me. It reminds me to not automatically believe something just because someone told me it’s true. It reminds me to have a healthy skepticism towards religions. It reminds me of the downsides of religions. (Their main purpose is, almost inevitably, to maintain themselves. They can get mired in dogma. They are sometimes used for a few to gain and maintain power. And so on.) It reminds me, as mentioned above, that me images of something are images and not reality itself. And militant atheists remind me that any idea or ideology can be made into a religion, and that I don’t know anything for certain.

For me, these reminders are not so much about religions since I have never really been drawn to them, but other areas of life. Which areas of life do each of these reminders apply to for me? Where can they be a healthy reminder and correction? Where do I tend to believe something someone else said? Or make something, any idea at all, into a religion for myself? What are my own most cherished beliefs or ideas? Where do I get defensive? (As if I am trying to protect an idea or identity.)

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Atheist?

This is something that was more important to me in my teens and early twenties, but it came back to me after seeing an article about atheism in the US. (The article was about how atheists is the one group left in the US that’s often seen as fair play for intolerance.)

In some ways, I see that the atheist label fits me.

I don’t subscribe to the idea of God as a person, or entity. Unless we see all of existence – capacity, formless, form – as an “entity”.

I am a-religious, in many ways. I am mildly curious about religion, as a social, psychological and mythological phenomenon. I appreciate the value of what they offer (community, guidance), and sometimes enjoy going to ceremonies etc. I also see the drawbacks of religion, especially how it’s sometimes used as a tool for social control and power, and limits how people see themselves and life. But there isn’t so much more there for me.

I am science oriented in terms of methods and also in appreciating and making use of the content of contemporary science.

I grew up in a religionless family and culture (in Norway), so atheism is natural for me. I became a self-described atheist in elementary school, and even back then criticized religion for often misleading people and being based in having to take what someone else says as gospel.

Also, the Buddhist label fits me, since I have found the pointers there helpful and accurate. And the Christian label fits me, since I do have a strong connection with Christ and the Christ presence. Aspects of many other labels – including panentheism – also fit.

And really, none fit very well. Reality cannot be captured by any label of set of images and ideas. And I find pointers from just about any religion and spiritual tradition, and also many pointers from outside of religion and spirituality, helpful.

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