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Living the Eightfold Path

by Michael Maciel

Part One - Right Understanding

I ask myself, what does a student need in the way of understanding, to prepare him or herself for enlightenment? What is understanding, I mean when you reduce it to its essence? What is there to understand, and what is the right way of understanding it? To me, the answer seems clear: everything is an expression of heaven. If you understand this, you understand everything.

What does this mean "everything is an expression of heaven"? Think of boats in a harbor, and imagine that you are looking at them from below, from under the water, and all you can see are the hulls below the waterline, and maybe some anchors and chains. You can see the surface of the water, undulating with the waves, and a faint hint of the rigging, the sky and perhaps some people, all shimmering in the light above. This is what the physical world is like, and why I say that everything is an expression of heaven.

All of the objects, everything we see, touch, taste, smell, and hear is an expression of heaven. But it is just a little bit of what it is in totality, in its completeness, the way God made it. All we see is a tiny part of that, with a hint of the rest shimmering above in the light.

In physics, they say that it is impossible to visualize what the subatomic world is really like, because nothing behaves according to our commonsense understanding. Objects appear and disappear, then reappear somewhere else without having crossed the space in between. There is no way to picture that, not even with special effects. We can't imagine a thing that both exists and does not exist at the same time.

So, when I say that everything is an expression of heaven, the way boat hulls express themselves through the surface of the water, there is no way to picture it, not exactly. To really "see" that, you would have to imagine everything emerging out of itself, like a blossom, continually unfolding from the inside out, stopping at the precise point that we expect it to stop. This is what it would be like, everything in constant motion, a motion of becoming.

Nothing is as it appears to be, nothing is static or fixed. And nothing is revealed entirely, neither is it complete the way that it appears. In saying that everything is an expression of heaven, I am automatically ruling out the notion that things are put together from the ground up. By this, I mean that the world is not the product of an accumulation of matter that just happens to arrange itself in an orderly way.

Because everything is in flux, continually coming into existence and going out of existence, it is very malleable. It can be easily changed. But, to change it, you have to change the pattern to which it is constantly trying to conform. It is no use trying to change the thing itself, or to try to keep it from changing, because it will always try to reshape itself to the pattern.

Now, just imagine that what I am suggesting is true. Wouldn't it be the one thing that you would want to understand above all else? If you were going to understand anything, wouldn't it be the one thing that you would want to understand? If it is true, and you do understand it, then you would certainly have "right understanding", wouldn't you? As far as understanding goes, it would be right, no matter what you were discussing, because everything would have its beginning there. It would be the one thing that would be true about everything. What could be more right than that?

Buddha, if what they say about him is true, must have understood this in order to for him to say that the first thing you need is right understanding. He was all about "illusion", you know, what it is and where you find it. So, of course, any further spiritual development would have to hinge on the ability to see this fundamental fact, that everything is an expression of heaven.

Now let's consider what understanding is. At its root, understanding is knowing how one thing relates to another. We are not talking about objects in the normal sense, because there is no such thing as objects in the normal sense, not according to quantum physics. Everything is mostly empty space. Even the densest material is so diaphanous that you can fire a subatomic particle at it, the way they did with lead, and the chances of hitting anything solid is almost nil. And not only is matter "vaporous", it is also constantly coming into and going out of existence. So, we can forget what we think matter is, because it is definitely not that. When we attempt to relate one thing to another, we are not dealing with things, but energy events. We are attempting to tie together streams of energy, energy that is pulsing into and out of being.

The energy of matter is just energy. It's what tells the energy what to do that we are interested in understanding. For this, we have to know that energy is strictly a top-down affair - the higher vibrations tell the lower vibrations what to do, and they have to do it. Greater energy, energy that is moving faster than the energy it is acting upon, always rules. And just like a dog whistle that is inaudible to a human ear but is sound nonetheless, the energy that rules all of this coming and going out of existence is of a high vibration indeed. In fact, you could say that it is the "most high". So high, in fact, that it does not register anywhere. No ear can hear it, no eye can see it, and no instrument can detect it. It is the background Nothingness out of which, and back into which, everything goes. Just what it is and what it is made of we have no way of knowing. But we do know that it exists, because of the way all things in the universe behave. There is nothing more fundamental than this, and Buddha knew it. This is what is at the core of everything, and it is the first thing to understand, if you want to understand rightly.

The whole point of the Eightfold Path is to teach us how to eliminate desire, the source of all suffering. When we understand that all things are continually coming into and going out of manifestation and that there is an energy that controls the forms that it takes, what is there left to want? All things are at our disposal. Nothing can be denied us. Whoever sits at the gate of those comings and goings can create anything for any purpose. Science has been tinkering around with that for years. They have managed to create some pretty exotic materials, and the atom bomb was certainly impressive. Now with genetics the saga continues. Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the way they are using their knowledge, the principle is the same. The "real" world is a very strange place. When we understand this one basic fact, we have right understanding.