A strange buddha mandala I discovered under a temple in Japan

A strange buddha mandala I discovered under a temple in Shikoku, Japan

When I was  young, I recall being reprimanded for taking apart my aunt’s toaster—I just wanted to understand how it worked. Now I find myself attempting to do the same thing with reality itself. How is it all put together, what is it’s nature, how does it work?

I’ve never been that interested in a philosophical approach because I think one could easily get lost in a spiral of thoughts. I’m more interested in an experiential approach supported by a healthy skepticism. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that this search in intertwined with a spiritual journey. And the more the journey continues I realize that the spiritual journey of self transformation is actually the most important thing. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder: what is it all about.

In my search I have come across three powerful, distinct ways of understanding: meditation, science, and entheogens. (The term entheogen refers to mind altering substances used in spiritual ceremony. I hesitate to use the term psychedelic because of it’s connection with the drug culture of the 60s).

I learned meditation in the Buddhist tradition, and this practice has changed my life, softened me and helped me to understand my own mind. I see the buddhist teachings, mainly the mahamudra and dzogchen teachings as a pinnacle of understanding the nature of consciousness. I believe the great masters of the past and living ones today understand the nature of mind, and perhaps therefore reality, in a more complete and holistic way then any others on the planet. But they are not masters in other fields such as science, culture, politics, etc. (Ken Wilber will be the first to point that out).

Entheogens have played an important part of my understanding of myself and reality as well. I still maintain a healthy skepticism that altered states of consciousness could be just hallucinations. However, I am struck with the remarkable similarities between the wisdom gained from entheogenic experiences and the sacred writings of the world’s major religions. When I see futher similarities between the entheogenic experience and the latest multi-dimensional string theories of modern physics, my doubt in my own experience as hallucination diminishes. There is also the ineffable feeling I have sometimes in an ayahausca ceremony that the experience is ‘more real than real’.

I’d like to look at how these entheogenic experiences relate to religion and science. A common realization in an altered state of consciousness is that all is one, everything is light and energy. This can easily accepted by most religions as well as science.  In ayahuasca one might have a visceral experience that there are multiply dimensions of reality. Does this correlate with the latest versions of string theory that posit 10 or 11 dimensions of reality? Another common insight is that time is an illusion. Physicists have no problem seeing time as moving in both directions; as well this is a core understanding of mahayana buddhism.

In addition to physics and religion being largely in accord with the radical entheogenic experience, traditional cultures around the world have teachings which are also in agreement. For example, the wisdom of the Native American Indians, the south american shamans, the Australian aborigines all point towards a lucid, vibrant, world of magic, and energy, not just a solid world of objective matter.

With such an overwhelming weight of evidence pointing towards a more fluid, illusory nature of reality. I start to ponder that maybe it is my dualistic, materialistic world view that might be in error. To question what one has believed in for one’s whole life is a difficult thing to do.

So what is the nature of reality? For me, understanding this is a work in progress, and will be until the day I die (and perhaps beyond). But for now, my working understanding is this: The foundation or substrate of reality is consciousness and from this unfolds information, energy and then matter. This view comes buddhist philosophy and practice, theories of William Tiller and others as well as my own personal experience.