The Primal Essence
Nearly every wisdom tradition asserts that there is a timeless, pervasive, dynamic essence that pervades and unifies everything that now exists, a common source for all creation, present at the beginning of our universe. The primal essence may be what Taoists refer to as the Way, or Tao, or what many religions call God, or the Brahman of Hinduism. Perhaps it is the energy field that modern scientists have discovered at the subatomic level beneath all matter, the “discovery” of quantum physics that Lao Tzu and the Buddha instinctively knew of 2,500 years ago.
The origin of this primal essence is beyond the limits of our human comprehension. Time is a dimension – like height, width, and length – and, as such, is a uniquely human invention that has no cosmic relevance. Einstein explained that time and space are an artificially contrived duality; they do not exist independently. There is only space-time, just as matter and energy exist as matter-energy. It may be that seeking the origin of this essence is a foolhardy exploration – an anachronism fueled by the human invention of time – which can have no convenient answer. If there is truly a union of space and time, and if it were possible to travel backward beyond the point of ultimate origin, then we would be transported into a different reality that has no relationship to our current one.
This primordial force was present in all things at the beginning of our current reality – our known universe, or the totality of all that we can examine through human observation – when all that we now believe to exist became so densely packed that it occupied an area about the size of a tennis ball, until it reached one specific point of critical mass and spewed forth in an enormous explosion that we have colloquially termed “the big bang.” Science has observed that this explosion, beginning some fourteen to fifteen billion years ago in human time, is still occurring as the expansion of our universe not only continues, but accelerates. Yet, quantum physicists have discovered that events or phenomena that occur in any distant part of the universe are instantaneously known throughout the universe. Is this because the primordial essence alluded to by all of the great wisdom traditions remains present in everything?
If there truly is a primal essence, we cannot study it, or observe it, because it is ubiquitous and escapes our senses; it permeates all that exists. We can no more separate ourselves from it for empirical study than a fish can separate itself from water. It is pervasive and inter-connects everything, joining all that emanate from it. No artificial barrier can be constructed between the observer and the observed. Many spiritual sages have taught that we can come to “know” it – through meditation and mindfulness, for example – but we can never adequately describe it, much less dissect it scientifically. The best we can do is observe the seemingly predictable patterns of behavior it exhibits, which we have termed “nature.”
From it, manifestations of energy appear and disappear, subject to the same cycle – an ebb and flow of existence from energy to matter and back to energy again. Manifestations are created as forms which we recognize as consisting of matter or, rather, probabilities of patterns of matter. Although forms appear to us as solid matter, science now teaches us that at the subatomic level, there is only energy that appears solid because of the chemical bonds formed by the “electron exchange” of countless atoms. Solid matter is an illusion. Things that appear solid are, in reality, an electric field that is part of an infinitely greater field of pure energy.
This fundamental reality contains no blueprint for life that we can easily discern, yet creation proceeds in a natural course, rising and falling, behaving in predictable ways that we consider to be “natural laws.” These include physical laws, such as gravity, that are easily observable by science, and others that are not as obvious – a progression toward extremes naturally gravitating back toward its opposite, for example.
Some manifestations increase in complexity according to natural laws and spur further manifestations. These continuing iterations of complexity is a process we call “evolution,” the natural process that produced our current galaxies, our solar system, our planet and all that exists on it. Each evolutionary form is thus unique, yet similar, due to the connection of all other forms through the energy field of the primal essence.
It is this evolutionary progression that has led to the development of our species — not as a separate, distinct act of creation, but as a link in the dynamic process of nature’s evolution. Our uniqueness derives from the distinctive development of a specialized organ – the brain.
At some point in our evolution, our brains reached a size and level of complexity that enabled consciousness, the mental activity that permits us to distinguish ourselves from the environment – and from each other. “Rational” thought developed and the “self” emerged. Each of us became an individual “I.” The expansion of the self spawned our illusions of separateness and specialness.
The ego arose as a defense mechanism to protect the self as a separate entity, thereby strengthening our illusion of specialness, and serving as a nearly impenetrable guardian, a barrier between artificially created separation and the oneness of primal nature. The ego obscures reality, prevents the abandonment of the self, perpetuates the illusion that we are separate beings distinct from everything else and fosters the notion that we are unique creations.
Rational thought is both a blessing and a curse. It provides the impetus and capability for us to change and control our environment, but it is also primarily responsible for obscuring the fundamental reality. Eastern wisdom tells us that if we eliminate the ego and go beneath the self, we can experience the fundamental reality. If we do so, however, we will cease to be special in our own minds.