The universe as imagination

This post begins with a little story that I can’t quite remember where I read (I suspect it was somewhere in the Vedas). It is about a dissatisfied disciple going to his guru and asking him a question.

The disciple asks, “How many gods are there?”

The guru replies, “There are 33 crore gods.”

The disciple is unconvinced by this outlandish estimate and asks again, “No seriously. How many gods are there?”

The guru relents a little and says, “Fine fine. There are 33 gods.”

The disciple is still not satisfied, “Please stop fooling around and answer me truthfully. How many gods are there?”

The guru throws up his hands and says, “You win. There are only 3 gods.”

Ever the skeptic, the disciple asks again, “I find it difficult to believe you. Tell me one last time. How many gods are there?”

The guru smiles and says, “There is only one god.”

I love this story for many reasons. One is its construction, designed to hammer home the point through repetition. The other reason is its open disregard for ritualistic detail. But what I like most about the story is that it is perfectly possible to carry the narrative forward to its logical conclusion. Here’s how:

The disciple scratches his head a little and asks one more time, “Are you sure? Let me ask you again. How many gods are there?”

The guru wipes the benevolent smile off his wise old face, leans forward and looks the disciple straight in the eye, “There is no God. There is just you!”

If you like well-rounded endings, then imagine the disciple running out of the ashram in utter bewilderment, screaming at the top of his voice and going mad with the sheer force of the realisation that he is all alone in the universe. Unfortunately, that is the very point I am out to make with this blog post – there is just you!

The nature of the universe

The universe, according to the Vedas, is not so much a creation as it is a manifestation – a dream or an experience. Think of your own dreams. In our dreams, we experience an enormous number of realities – some pleasant, some unpleasant, including many that don’t matter enough to be remembered the next morning. In our dreams, we love, we hate, we run and hide, we are tortured, we meet real and imaginary persons. In short, we encounter the most outlandish realities. Yet, none of it is separate from ourselves. It all comes out of our own minds. What the Vedas say is that the universe is God’s dream. Everything you see around yourself is thus, happening inside God’s imagination.

What is real then? The answer is the same as the guru’s final one – only you.

Of course, when I say “you”, I don’t mean you the person. I mean you the consciousness. The you that exists apart from all your identifying signs. You are not your name, not your job, not your nationality, not your religion, not your species, not your body, not even your memories or your thoughts. You are not any of those things – they are only labels. You are the remainder. You are what remains after all such labels have been stripped off. You are the consciousness, the soul.

You are what is experiencing this world. And what is experiencing this world is God. Therefore, you are God. This is what is meant by Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahma, the one, the only, the ultimate reality).

There is a school of philosophy in Hinduism called Advaita. Advaita literally means not-two and is also known as the philosophy of non-duality. It holds that the creator and the creation are not two separate entities but are in fact one with each other. So there is actually no difference between the atman (individual soul – you) and the paramatma (the super-conscious – God). The only distinction being an illusion of separateness – the veil of Maya that is this dream, this world. The soul is that bit (or aspect) of the super-conscious that is experiencing this universe. In other words, the soul is to God what your dream self is to you.

Consciousness is a singular entity. It is something shared by all of us. You and I do not have two separate consciousnesses. What makes us appear separate is the dream – Maya. The same way that people in your dreams appear to be different from you and each other even though they are actually manifestations of the same mind. We are all channels through whom God himself is experiencing this universe. We are his many points of view.

The meaning of enlightenment

Here’s another story, much like the one at the beginning of this post. This one involves the Buddha and a disciple of his who is curious about the state his master has reached.

“Are you an angel?” the disciple asks.

“No,” replies the Buddha.

“Are you a god?” asks the disciple again.

“No,” says the Buddha.

“What are you then?” the disciple asks finally.

“I am awake,” says the Buddha.

This, in short, is the story of all enlightened individuals. They are simply awake. They have snapped out of the dream that God is watching. They do still live in this world and play by its rules but they do it knowing that the world is unreal. They watch the world around them and it looks made-up to them. Think of Neo from The Matrix movies – he can transcend the rules of the virtual world more than others because he, more than anyone else, is aware of its fakeness.

Enlightened individuals are like lucid dreamers. They wake up from the dream but not from the sleep. They manage to stay in the dream and observe it as an outsider. They get to feel the oneness of all things. They see the unreal nature of things and in some cases, like lucid dreamers, even manage to alter it (like Neo stopping bullets with a wave of his hands). I believe that’s what miracles are.

An enlightened one simply wakes up to the fact that he or she is God. It’s realising God, as opposed to “finding” God or “reaching” God.

The process of waking up

It’s not so much a question of how as it is of when. If God is asleep and the universe is his dream, then it goes without saying that he WILL wake up. It is only a matter of time. But what does that mean in human terms? How does the ending of God’s dream translate into the reality that we know? My favourite answer to that question is The Omega Point.

Our universe began in a singularity – a state that contained no space, no time, and no matter. Somehow, everything that exists, erupted out of this point of nothingness. Quantum physicists say that all matter (and space and time as well) existed inside the singularity as “quantum possibilities”. I like to think of these quantum possibilities simply as ideas. If the universe is God’s imagination, then the singularity may simply have been God’s dreamless sleep during which he could have imagined everything, but didn’t.

Any dream, if it is not abruptly ended, begins in dreamlessness and ends with dreamlessness. So by logic, the universe must end in a singularity as well. This means that the mind of God will collect itself from its many manifestations and become completely aware of itself.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit paleontologist is credited with having come up with the phrase “The Omega Point”. It was the name Teilhard gave to the singularity that he imagined would come at the end of the universe. The Omega point, in short, is when the universe wakes up to the fact that it is one consciousness and not many, as it thought during its dream. Omega Point is when God completely wakes up and really finds out that he is God.

And this process is already underway. Waking up happens in stages, little by little. The entire universe is in the process of waking up this very moment. Take yourself for example. Once you were a bunch of molecules spread out through inter-stellar space. Then you found shape and became part of a slightly greater whole. Then that lump of matter found itself on a life-supporting environment — this planet. Then you somehow turned into an organic compound and became a cell. Then you combined together with other cells and evolved into an animal life form. Eventually you reached the state you are in now. You woke up to consciousness and are on your way to enlightenment. Enlightenment, the final stage in any being’s evolution, is inevitable.

Every molecule in your body underwent this same cycle. One day, every molecule in the universe will undergo this very same cycle and reach a stage where it wakes up. Every time a Buddha achieves enlightenment, God wakes up a little. As more and more of the universe achieves consciousness and gets on its way to enlightenment, God continues to wake up. All this keeps leading us to the singularity at the end of time, the Omega Point.

And so on and so forth…

The Vedas say that Brahma sleeps for the duration of 4,320,000 years. After that he wakes up, and after waiting a while, goes back to sleep in which he dreams another dream. The Vedas also speak of multiple universes, each with its own dreamer. Brahma, the one who dreams this universe is only a manifestation of a higher force.

The most amazing thing about this myth is that it is only a very small slice of a much greater cosmic view. The details of it are hard to digest, but they are extremely tasty from an imagination point of view. One of the main reasons I wrote this down was because it was proving difficult to carry around in my head – it’s just too heavy an idea to fit in the human imagination. I can only hope that I have made sense.