mad in pursuit journal

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS, AT THE intersection OF science and philosophy

"Siddhartha" and Paradox

I just finished reading "Siddhartha" by Hermann Hesse (1922) — one of those books we had on the shelf that Jim probably purchased in the 70s or 80s. It's a short novel about the life of the Prince Siddhartha, who becomes (or shall I say "is") the Buddha. It was all the rage in the 1960s, but I didn't read it then.

I've been reading so much academic stuff on Buddhism, it was interesting to get the perspective of a novelist — even though the tale has that slight abstract feel of a Bible story. The strange element is that Prince Siddhartha crosses paths with Buddha during the journey of his life — what's up with that? Didn't Siddartha become the Buddha???

I think the key is in understanding that everything simply Is and there is no such thing as Time.

Buddhism presses you to ponder riddles and paradoxes. "The sound of one hand clapping." Mysteries. Like Christians believing in One God who is also the Holy Trinity. Or Jesus as both a mortal man and God the Son. The understanding comes only through releasing ourselves from our preconceived notions, emptying our minds of all their categories, classifications, and conclusions.

Lots of the email jokes that go around are based on how we develop "mental models" of the world. A recent one had you clearing your mind by doing simply addition exercises, then told to name a color and a tool. 98% of people say "red hammer." A little cultural template traps us somehow into a common answer. And yet the world is a rainbow of colors and a Home Depot's worth of tools. How can we let go of our red hammers and open ourselves up to turquoise saber saws and golden pliers?

All of this could be so much fodder for a college philosophy class, if it weren't that modern physics is also discovering bizarre facts about how the world behaves. The universe is made up of a fixed amount of energy and matter, which keeps breaking apart and recombining. So... every sub-atomic particle in our bodies might have already been everywhere else in the universe — in a star's flare, a toad's foot, a drop of ocean water, Caesar's toga...

The more physicists try to study and classify energy and matter, waves and particles, the stranger these phenomena become. They interact with the observer. They appear to maintain relationships with other particles they've been separated from.

I learned a little about this stuff back in my management days when I was introduced to Margaret Wheatley and her book "Leadership and the New Sciences." So I've already spend some time trying to hold these concepts in my brain. It is interesting to think about these things now from a more philosophical perspective.