Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Universe, Relativity and the Present Moment: Ancient and Modern Perspectives

"Always think of the universe as one living organism, with a single substance and a single soul; and observe how all things are submitted to the single perceptivity of this one whole, all are moved by its single impulse, and all play their part in the causation of every event that happens. Remark the intimacy of the skein, the complexity of the web."
-- Marcus Aurelius --
("Meditations," IV:41)
Written nearly two thousand years ago, these comments on the non-dualistic nature of the universe by Marcus Aurelius - a Roman Emperor more famous for his book of "Meditations," than all his victories on the battlefield - seem remarkably modern.  Consider the following quote by Albert Einstein:
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Do not the comments of the Roman Empire's great "philosopher-king' and the father of the "New Physics" talk of the same reality, reminding us that we are separated from a holistic, non-dual universe only by our consciousness?

Einstein once wryly described relativity as being the same process by which holding one's hand on a hot stove for a few moments seems like hours, while hours spent talking to a  beautiful woman seems like minutes. For his part, Marcus Aurelius noted the following:
"Were you to live three thousand years, or even thirty thousand, remember that the sole life which a man can lose is that which he is living at the moment; and furthermore, that he can have no other life except the one he loses. This means that the longest life and shortest amount to the same thing. For the passing minute is every man's equal possession, but what has once gone is not ours. Our loss therefore, is limited to that one fleeting instant, since no one can lose what is already past, nor yet what is still to come - for how can he be deprived of what he does not possess? So two things should be borne in mind. First, that all the cycles of creation from the beginning of time exhibit the same recurring pattern, so that it can make no difference whether you watch the identical spectacle for a hundred years, or for two hundred, or forever. Secondly, that when the longest and shortest-lived of us come to die, their loss is precisely equal. For the sole thing of which any man can be deprived is the present; since this is all he owns, and nobody can lose what is not his."

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