By Gary Gill
The Buddha said there is a still point within each of us about which the endless cycle of pain and suffering revolves but does not penetrate. A place within from which the appearance of the world is transformed and transcended. From this place, what we thought was wrong about the world is revealed in its perfection and inevitability. What we may have looked upon with abhorrence and repulsion, we suddenly see with love and acceptance. Though we may have spent many years away from this still point, it is nevertheless within us and the basis of our being. We see also that all beings are thus connected, consciously or not, to the truth of the universe, actually are that truth and can be nothing else, no matter how far afield from its basic tenets we may appear to stray.
Without conscious contact with this still point, the world appears to us in a series of convincing opposites between which we feel compelled to choose. Good and evil, peace and war, life and death, now and not now, beginning and end - are manifestations of the ground of the infinite perceived through the limitations of the imposed finite. These are phenomena that are created in our minds and exist nowhere else.
Consider two points in space. There is a line that stretches to infinity in each direction that is implied by the points. There is also a line segment between the points. When we limit our consideration to the segment we see it has a beginning and an end and a middle. It is a finite piece of line. When we include the rest of the line, the beginning and the end disappear, and every point becomes the middle. Any point we choose has infinity to its left and infinity to its right, hence all points occupy the exact center of the infinite line. Everywhere is the same place. When we limit our consideration to a segment, the idea of beginnings and ends and middles arise. When we include the rest of the line, they disappear or are radically transformed. The middle of the segment is one separate point, an exact location. The middle of an infinite line is every point. A concept that serves to distinguish and to separate in the realm of the finite flips around and destroys the distinction between this place and that in the realm of the infinite. It is our decision to include or exclude the infinite, to examine the segment or the entire line that determines what we observe.
It is the same with our consciousness. As long as we impose limits upon our experience and are aware of only one segment or another, we will see and believe in beginnings, middles and ends. We will see and believe in the apparent relationship of the parts which is opposition and miss the realm of the infinite from which the parts arise. When we are born, we move from the infinite to the apparent finite. Our birth is analogous to the beginning of the line segment; our death to its end. They are actually only the beginning and end of our limited awareness. By ignoring the infinite preceding our birth and following our death, we make nonsense out of death and time. When we come to see that the infinite is not interrupted by our birth or our death, an entirely different set of relationships are revealed that govern our existence and interaction with the world. The order of our normal reality is turned on its ear. The teachings of Christ and Buddha suddenly make sense. "You must become as little children . . ." "The first shall be last and the last first . . ." "Fear not them which kill the body . . ." "All that has form is deceptive. But when it is seen that all form has no form, the Buddha is recognized. All things are Buddha things."
When Christ says to love our enemy as ourself, he is speaking from the perspective of the infinite. Just as everywhere is the same place in the infinite, everyone is the same person. When you love your enemy, you truly do love yourself and when you hate your enemy, you hate yourself. "Them it was their poisons hurt . . ." The apparent boundaries between self and other collapse. When Christ said, "I am the one way the only way, there is no way but through me," he did not mean that only the Christian Church offers salvation. He meant that there is truly only one person in the world and that on the deepest level, we all that person. No matter which teacher we choose, even if we choose to teach ourselves, Christ will be our teacher.
Buddha talked of the illusion of self that gives rise to all suffering. I believe he was talking about our identification with our finite perception of ourselves and the misapplication of the rules of the finite to our lives. When we shift our consciousness to the infinite, we are freed from the cycle of greed and fear and illusion. We see that there is no basis for greed. We have what anyone has and we lack what anyone lacks. We naturally stop envying those with plenty or more than plenty and turn to helping those with too little. We see that there is no basis for fear. We live when others live and we die when others die. This includes species and even the fact that life has ever occurred on Earth, should it cease. We see that there is no basis for or consequence from illusion. Illusion is not madness nor is it a mental deformity. It is a simple small mistake that has horrific apparent consequences. A mistake in perception cannot alter the truth of the world, even if whole nations and worlds participate. We cannot impair our infinite origin, the infinite love of the universe, a kind of primordial vibration that can be mistaken for pain and agony. We are restored to a state in which awful becomes awe full.
It is perhaps our greatest irony that only when we realize that we cannot harm one another on the plane of the infinite, that we become able to stop harming one another on the plane of the illusory apparent finite.
Gary Gill is an engineer who lives near Seattle. This essay was written shortly after Gary attended Thich Nhat Hanh's 1989 retreat with Vietnam Veterans in Santa Barbara.