Square, Triangle, Circle, Sengai (1750-1838), ink on paper. Photo courtesy of Idemitsu Museum of Arts.
Square, Triangle, Circle, Sengai (1750-1838), ink on paper. Photo courtesy of Idemitsu Museum of Arts.

One way of viewing the millennium is that the infinite would again take finite incarnation to benefit beings at a certain point in space and time. Although such an occurrence is always welcome, we should be aware that the infinite is always present and place our emphasis on recognizing that. Otherwise, we are always stuck in finite, relative reality, where the concepts of space and time constrain and solidify our experience. It is exactly beyond the relative reality in which the concepts of space and time exist that we contact the infinite, space and time being constructs co-emergent with our finite, incarnate mind-body system.

In Christianity, the event of the next arrival of a physical incarnation is described as the Second Coming, and in Buddhism in this particular cosmic era (good kalpa) we anticipate that one thousand Buddhas will appear, Shakyamuni being the fourth, and Maitreya the fifth (a few million conventional years from now!).

As a working theoretical physicist, I am aware of the many intriguing questions that still linger on the relative level connected with the concept of time. During the earliest times in the history of the universe, as we go back to pinpoint the origins of the Big Bang, energy densities became so high that gravitational forces between elementary particles became as important as the strong electromagnetic forces between these particles. As a result, quantum mechanics, which governs the laws of physics of these particles, modified Einstein’s classical theory of gravity (for that time period) in such a manner that both space and time fluctuated. That is, the geometry itself (the path light travels), which is determined by the distribution of energy, was not fixed or concrete, but pulsated in an uncontrollable fashion around some average value.

The result: Gravity gets described by quantum laws that only govern probabilities and that possess uncertainty relationships; and Einstein’s theory of relativity, which relates the nature of space and time (geometry) to the energy distribution present, gets modified because the constituents of the energy—and thus space and time themselves—are governed by uncertainty relationships.

zthe revolution of the spheres, according to sixteenth-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. Photo courtesy of American Museum of Natural History.
zthe revolution of the spheres, according to sixteenth-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. Photo courtesy of American Museum of Natural History.

Consequently, what we take for granted—that we are defined by being here in a particular place at a particular moment of time—is only an accident of our not being entities that were conscious during the creation of this particular universe. For then, there were no space and time as we experience them now. It was only as the Big Bang progressed—so that the universe expanded and energy densities decreased (total energy is fixed, so that energy per unit volume goes down as the universe expands)—that one can think in terms of the scientists’ conventional notion of space and time that Einstein so clearly presented when he discovered general relativity.

The other aspect of time that we, as products of the twentieth century, take for granted is that there is a direction to time—namely, that as time evolves there is increasing disorder, and that eventually everything runs down to the most disordered state. This idea that there is an “arrow of time” might also prove incorrect once we have the correct theory of how the universe started. Since the energy densities were extraordinarily high at the beginning of the Big Bang, we need a quantum mechanical description of the entire universe—there needs to be one wave function that describes everything. This is what Hawking and Hartle called the “Wave Function of the Universe.” This, then, leads to some fascinating questions, such as: What was the initial state of the universe? Will time flow “backward” (order increase) if the universe collapses after it first expands? This latter question confused even Hawking for a while. When science analyzes the first moments of this universe in this manner, it is entering the more mystical field where there is no initial separation—no duality—no observed and observer. Starting from this initial nondual context, duality does somehow enter, and the concepts of space and time, as well as subject and object, develop as the universe makes a transition from the quantum unity and uncertainty to the classical certainty, duality, and separation. Is this somehow related to the myth of the Garden of Eden, the original sin of Christianity, the original co-emergent ignorance of Buddhism? Did the “arrow of time” have to emerge as a result of this transition?

Finally, in light of all this, what importance should we give, anyway, to an arbitrary conventional time period of one thousand years based on a conventional decimal number system, which does not even correspond to any important cosmological time cycle?

The complex workings of a watch are composed of wheels within wheels. Photo courtesy of Patek Philippe
The complex workings of a watch are composed of wheels within wheels. Photo courtesy of Patek Philippe

Both Buddhism and Christianity have three concepts to explain the inseparability of the absolute and relative realities. In Buddhism there are the three inseparable aspects of enlightenment:dharmakaya (emptiness-absolute reality aspect); sambhogakaya(clarity-energy aspect); nirmanakaya (physical emanation-manifestation). In Christianity there is God the Father (ultimate reality); the Holy Spirit (energy aspect); Son of God (physical manifestation of the ultimate). Thus, the finite physicality of both the Buddha and of Jesus may be understood as the embodiments of the infinite. The importance of the physical manifestation is that the teachings of the absolute can then be transmitted using conventional methods such as word and gesture that make contact with our ordinary senses of hearing and sight.

On deeper reflection then, the millennium can be seen as a bridge between the relative and the ultimate. It can turn our attention to considering the nature of space and time; it can lead us to reflect on the relation between the absolute and relative realities that are always inseparable and to realize that the absolute need not be looked for outside our own minds since it is always present. We just have to recognize it (the essential nature of our minds). In this way we can always be in contact with the Adi-Buddha (Samantabhadra) or Christ Consciousness or whatever limited conceptual linguistic terminology we use in trying to describe the absolute.

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