Societies that are based on the modern scientific paradigm are rooted in logical thinking and a binary view of existence. Our entire education system is based on a dualistic and materialistic viewpoint. Firstly, we are taught that the physical world is all there is, and secondly that one can discover the physical nature of existence and establish oneself forevermore in that scientific truth. All of life’s wonder and mystery is wrung out in the cold scrutiny of the laboratory. But in the 20th century, even science began to see the cracks in this limited perspective.
First with mathematics, then in physics, and now in biology, existence hints at unfathomable depths in Creation that are yet to be probed by the human intellect. The more we learn, the more we realize how much we don’t know, and with evermore dimensions of knowledge come perplexing paradoxes – for example, consider the perplexing conundrum of quantum mechanics. If our physical universe is so incomprehensible, then we need to allow, even embrace, the spiritual paradox. Let’s look at a few.
Since we started with human knowledge, let’s stay with that theme for our first spiritual paradox. In our journey of spiritual maturity, we tend to gather a lot of knowledge in whatever tradition we are following. We read spiritual books, listen to our teachers, learn practices, and gain so much head-knowledge. The paradox is that we must let all that go, in order to attain. And the deeper paradox is that in attainment we know everything, and yet know nothing. To say it another way, one gains spontaneous access to the infinite intelligence of existence yet holds nothing in the mind.
To highlight human knowledge, we must also highlight human suffering. The paradox here is that suffering leads to liberation. Suffering is a balancing of karma and a purification. We are used to running from suffering and trying to shun it. Ironically, by opening ourselves to all that arises, including the pain, we open ourselves to liberation. It is said that light shines through the cracks.
We also talked about the realm of physical existence. In fact, there are many realms of existence at various subtle levels, some of which are not at the gross physical plane. Still, the notion of beingness is automatically a dualistic notion. In order to be something, there must be something else that it is not. And yet, from the accounts of countless saints and enlightened beings, we know that there is only One. There is only no-thing. This is our next paradox – everything exists in a relative plane, and yet does not exist in the infinite stillness of the deepest Truth. The no-thing expresses itself in every-thing.
Related to that is the Self in realization. When one abides in the silence of existence, consciousness, and bliss, one is at once everything and nothing. Another wonderful paradox that our logical minds cannot grapple with – logic has no seat in the infinite, and that’s a key roadblock to many who have come up through western systems of thought.
Then comes the paradox of good and evil. People will very often point to evil as being against God. Yet in a pure state of equanimity, we can see that such notions are dualistic. All is One, so it must be that evil is simply the state of being lost in the illusion of separation. As human beings, we are designed to only know a thing by experiencing the contrast. We only know wet because we know dry – a fish does not know what wetness is. We live by boundaries – we define our bodies by its boundaries. You can not know light without having known darkness. That seems to be why we incarnate on earth – to consciously experience duality so deeply as to recognize the non-duality of being.
Finally, let’s look at an age-old paradox. Is there a God, or is there no God? Not even referring to the debate between science and religion, but within the realm of spirituality itself, there is the debate of whether there is a God or not. For example, many Buddhists will often say there is no God. How can enlightened masters from different lineages firmly state that in their experience, there is a God, or there is no God? Well, the first thing is what do we mean by God. In Vedanta, God is defined as Existence, Consciousness, Bliss. In that immensity without limits nor boundaries, can we say that God both exists and still is no-thing? God is and is not, both and neither. The nature of pure existence is the ultimate paradox, ever infinite silence, ever manifesting in divine play.
And so in the end, we cannot make any declarations with full certainty, and therefore we must rest in the cloud of unknowing… ever seekers of Truth. Perhaps it was Nisargadatta who said that comfort with ambiguity is a mark of spiritual maturity.
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