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Mystery
Free Will
Origin of Mysticism
Mysticism - The Universal Mystery
Buddhist Mysticism
Greek Mysticism
Semitic Mysticism
Christian Mysticism
Islamic Mysticism
Mysticism, the Vedic Legacy - Part 1
Mysticism, the Vedic Legacy - Part 2

 
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Mysticism

The Mystery

by Anwar Shaikh

Secrecy runs throughout the texture of this universe, though it looks open, bright and self-revealing. This view is confirmed by the fact that every atom is an ambassador of mystery, marvel and majesty, thus making understanding of the cosmos extremely puzzling, pervicacious and even punitive. However, value of human life depends on comprehending the underlying universal mystery because it is only then that one can assess whether existence, individual or otherwise, is real or just an illusory phenomenon around us.

Why is the universe based on the principle of mystery? The answer is simple, indeed: it makes existence exciting through curiosity, which creates a goal, leading to planning and action for achieving it.

Besides curiosity, inspiration of awe through bafflement and amazement, appears to be another object of the mystery. As we know, it is the same stuff, usually called "atoms," which appear as a mountain, the moon or mars as inanimate things, and also constitute the life of a mouse, monkey or man. Yet there is a difference between the non-living and living. He could the same thing appear in myriads of forms to create stunning diversity without suffering a change in its basic unity? However, all these forms are not ephemeral processes; some do last millions of years as mountains, star- and planets. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that an intelligent being such as man, who is also composed of atoms, and dreams of an everlasting life, can enjoy an unrestricted span of life.

Even more stunning than the range ol existence is the mathematical accuracy of behaviour that heavenly bodies epict: waning and waxing of the moon, the exact symmetry of the spiral nebulas and planetary movements, are simply marvellous. Remembering the size of rivers, mountains, planets and stars, one ought to expect a devastating awe only, but this is not the case: everything is imbued with beauty and radiance. Even a straw when burnt, exhibits its hidden glow.

The word "mystery" usually refers to a secret doctrine, which is considered beyond knowledge to explain, tlough it also applies to anything artfully made difficult. No mystery is greater than the universal mystery that underlies the universe. Sages of all ages have tried to uncover it but the more they have tried, the less they have succeeded. In our time, it is the scientist who has led in this field. Though he has not been able to pinpoint the underlying principle, he has certainly proved that mystery is the fundamental law of existence. However, he describes it differently; he calls it uncertainty; it means the same thing because one is uncertain for lack of knowledge, which is another description of mystery.

It is clear that the universe has a mystical nature. As human life is the apex of this universal mystery, it has a hidden meaning which must be discovered because without it one cannot realise whether life has a purpose or it is just a mechanical phase. This is what makes Mysticism the right way of life because this is a search for the hidden meaning which happens to be the Truth.

In view of the significance of this statement, I am inclined to give a fuller account of the scientific investigations which testify to the fact that our universe has evolved on the principle of uncertainty or mystery:

1 . The German physicist Max Planck ( 1858-1947 ) discovered that a hot body gives out energy in the form of discrete pallets, or quanta and not as continuous waves. This is what led to the formation of the world famous quantum theory, giving rise to the concept of photon i.e. a particle of radiation, which was later developed by Einstein.

Quantum mecnanics or physics has established the truth that it is impossible to determine with complete accuracy what an observed quantity really is. This difficulty is caused oy the fact that it is not possible to assess exactly both the precise velocity and location of a thing e.g. an electron. The quantities, location and velocity (impulse) are considered mutually complementary. Heisenberg was the first to recognise the significance of the complementarity of two physical quantities. He asserted that there is a definite relationship between the levels of certainty and uncertainty of measurable physical quantities. He termed it as the uncertainty relationship. It was Max Planck who later discovered a constant to determine the uncertainties of physical quantities. So uncertainty is not just a hypothesis but a concrete fact. It has assumed a high significance in the field of physics by providing insight to establish the size of atoms. In fact, without quantum mechanics it is futile to think of life itself. The stability of the genetic structure is based on this principle.

Since uncertainty principle reveals that it is impossible to know at the same time the exact location and velocity of an object, it is not likely that one can tell the exact state of a physical system such as the universe at a particular moment. It also implies the impossibility of predicting its future behaviour with precision. Thus, the concept of determinism loses its validity. Instead, it gives rise to the idea of probability, meaning that an electron may be located at a particular site at a given moment, though it is still urcertain where it will be a little later. Professor Stephen Hawking has described this uncertainty principle of Wernen Heisenberg as "a fundamental inescapable property of the world."

The essence of quantum mechanics is that it does not predict one definite result, but forecasts a number of possible situations, and how likely they are to arise. It shows lack of determinism in the evolution of the universe and states that natural laws are quantum laws. Thus atoms and molecules can exist only because the action is quantized. Therefore, the fundamental principle of existence is not determinism but indeterminacy, wnich puts a restriction on man's ability to make precise measurements, thus rendering him incapable of having the exact knowledge of the world, and foretelling future. It surely exposes the myth that certain divines are equipped with the virtue of prophecy. This restriction or indeterminacy is also built into the laws of nature. Therefore, nobody, no matter how divine, can predict all future events precisely. Mystery or uncertainty is the natural sequence of the quantum indeterminacy. This is the essence of the universe.

2. Equally baffling is the vastness of this universe. There is no way one can imagine its spaciousness, which is absolutely essential for comprehending its mysterious nature. Of course, our telescopes can reveal billions of stars which may be several hundred times bigger than our sun and a thousand times more luminous than it, yet their distance serves as a blinker on our observational power. Astronomical distances are measured in terms of the time it takes light to cross them. For example, it takes light one second to reach the moon, and requires eight minutes to travel to the sun. So, we say that moon is one light second away and sun is at a distance of eight light minutes. It has been established that in the night sky, there is not a single star which is less than three light years away. It means a distance of 30 billion L(3x10-13) kilometers. This is the minimal astronomical distance. Human mind cannot grasp its intensity. Thirty billion kilometers is simply a colossal distance. It may be helpful to describe that we live at the edge of the Milky Way. This galaxy alone contains more than a hundred billion stars which exist in the form of a disk, having a diameter of 100,000 light years whereas its thickness is 5000 light years. Do these distances make any sense to you?

Light travels at a speed of 300,000 kilometers or 186,000 miles per second, which is a million times faster than the speed of sound in air. Yet, it is no more than the crawling of a tortoise on the astronomical scale. Why? It is all because of the fantastic size of the universe which involves unimaginable distances. To illustrate this point further, I may add that some quasars, which are special galaxies and whose cores emit energy estimated to be about 10,000 times more than our entire galaxy, are as far away as twelve billion light years. It follows that light has been travelling towards us for twelve billion years, which is 80 per cent of the age of the universe. This mystery is intensified by the fact that even the fossil glow enables us to look back to a million years after the beginning of this universe. One million years is certainly a very long time especially when it is right at the beginning holding the basic formative secrets of the universc. Again, as during that period temperature stood at several billion degrees, heat may have destroyed all the information. It is like a record office whose data has been turned into ashes by fire.

Exact knowledge is not possible for yet another reason. There are many things which we cannot see as they are, but as they were in the distant past. For example, many stars which we study today with telescopes, are no longer there owing to explosion or cooling off. We observe that is left of them as light travelling towards us through intergalactic space. When we look, say, at star "A," we are not viewing it as it appears today but watch it when it sent out the light vhich is reaching us now. We ought to remember that it takes light some 30,000 years to reach us from the centre of the Milky Way, which happens to be our own galaxy. And when we cast our gaze at the Andromeda Nebula, we see light which left that galaxy some two millon years ago when man was not even born on the earth. We are simply helpless in assessing as how the Andromeda galaxy looks today. To know the present state of this galaxy, one will have to wait for about two million years when the light emitted today will reach the earth.

Of course, it is baffling to know that there are roughly over one hundred thousand million galaxies, each containing some hundred thousand million stars. Yet in human terms, one can imagine the mystery of the universe as a hide-and-seek game of lovers, who hide only to be sought, and for this purpose, give clues to the seeker in signs, signals and speeches which may be cryptic yet capable of conveying a meaningful message. Thanks to the English genius, Sir Isaac Newton, who discovered that when light from the sun passes through a triangular-shaped piece of glass, known as a prism, it breaks up into its component colours or spectrum, as is the case in a rainbow. In exactly the same way, it is possible to observe the spectrum of light from a star or galaxy through a telescope. Though different stars have different spectra, the relative brightness of the different colours is always the same as the light emitted by an object glowing red hot. What human eye sees as different colours, is actually the different frequencies of light, which are extremely high and range from four to seven hundred million rnillion waves per second. The lowest frequencies appear at the red end of the spectrum and the highest frequencies at the blue end. This spectrum of a star is said to be like the signature of a person which can tell a good deal about his character.

Though the vastness of the universe is mysterious, through the brilliance of stars and their colour, it seeks to imbue man with reverence and makes him curious about knowing more and more about itself. Emotionally speaking, it is tinged with flirtation and carries a message of love; it encourages the seeker to keep looking constantly for a reward, which may be much greater than one's expectations.

3. Though man is an integral part or the universe - undoubtedly the test and the most reverential, there is a veil between the two. This illusion is certainly not permanent, and breaks down when he has developed sufficient vision to see through it. It is like standing at the bank of a shallow murky pond and keep wondering about its depth, for having no courage to fathom it. But, when one becomes sufficiently interested and feels inclined to take a plunge into it one find, the truth about it with amazing ease.

Many a time is greater the pleasure, which accrues from mounting a search for something than the delight of chance-finding it. It is so, simply to maintain the dignity and value of effort. Apart from the factors already mentioned, nature makes sure that exact certainty and predictability form no part of the universal make-up. When we look afar in our own galaxy, we find large masses of clouds, which restrict our power of observation. This difficulty becomes quite insurmountable especially in relation to the regions outside our galaxy, though it is not to say that it does not apply to itself. It is obviously not possible to pierce through the clouds of magellan which are 200,000 light years away from us or the Andromeda Nebula lying at a distance of two million light years. One ought to remember that these nebulae are galaxies of the same general nature as our own Milky Way.

In fact, what makes our cosmos so mysterious is the process of birth and death. The Hindu tradition in this connection is highly respectable. It states that it is the nature of the universe to evolve, devolve and re-evolve after an interval called a Kalpa. This mathematical fact was also described in a parable by Lord Buddha of India; he said: "every century there comes an old man to polish, with a handkerchief of the test Benares silk, a mountain that is higher and more concrete than the Himalayas. After one Kalpa the mountain will be worn down to the level of the sea."

According to the scientific calculation, the time required for this devolutionary process is 10/32 years. Thus Kalpa is broadly connpatible with modern investigation about the durability of atoms, estimated to have a half-life of 13/32 i .e. 1 00, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 years. However, the concept of half-life is rather puzzling. It applies; to the life of atoms, which last for a while and then change into other types of atoms. The usual example to explain this fact is that of carbon - 14 atoms which have a life of about 6,000 years. If we place 1000 atoms of this kind in a container, after 6,000 years, there will be left only 500 atoms; the number will decrease to 250 atoms arter another 6,000 years and at the end of 18,000 years, there will be found only 125 atoms in the pot, and so on. Though we know the meaning of half-life, we are not aware of what atoms will perish within the next thousand years. Even, it is likely that some of these atoms may dissolve within the next few hours instead of their projected life of 6,000 years.

Today, scientists have discovered that there are more than a thousand kinds of unstable atoms. Some of these have a half-life of only a thousandth of a second or less, whereas others may last for several billion years; for example, Rhenium - 187 lasts for fifty billion years and Samarium - 132 sixty, billion years.

This uncertainty of duration is further compounded by the uncertainty of behaviour of things. It is brought about by the element of indeterminacy which clearly exhibits that the overall nature of the physical laws is not absolute because they do have a factor of tolerance as a carpenter allows a margin when hanging a door. For example, take the behaviour of electric charges of the same polarity. According to the classical law they are required to repel each other. Of course, this is true USUALLY but not always because it has been noticed that scmetimes when a positive charge is fired, it keeps moving towards a sister charge, that is, another positive charge, completely ignoring its presence, though by law the similar charges must lepel each other. Again, there is no certainty that at what distance will they start repelling each other. Once this factor is taken into account in relation to the countless charges in the universe, the concept of determinism begins to look hollow and the probability-view of the quantum mechanics emerges as the truth. Of course, it is still possible to make e prediction but the scientific prediction is a probable event which takes place within certain limits, and cannot be a matter of exactitude. It implies that no matter how advanced the field of physics and the allied sciences may be, they cannot explain the reality on their own, though it also remains a fact that the truth cannot be discovered without the active assistance of science. Any article of faith or opinion which contradicts the natural law and scientific discoveries is just a flight of imagination.

The laws of physics must be respected because they are based neither on guesswork nor wishful thinking: they are neutral laws because they describe how events occur if certain conditions are met. Since they have no control over these conditions termed as initial or limiting conditions, they cannot ascertain reality or predict what really will happen.

One major source of mystery lies in the fact that reality is relevant to the seeker, or in scientific terms, it is relevant to the observer. Einstein's theory of relativity has established this fact beyond a shadow of doubt. He states that time and space are intimately interconnected. So, it is necessary to take into account the speed of the observer regarding the object of observation. Both time and space are influenced by speed. One may feel the same thing situated on the right hand side whereas another person may feel it on the left hand.

It is in fact a matter of individual perception of time and space. Everyone is right because one feels as one sees according to one's own perceptive power. This condition is brought about by the fact that there is no such thing as absolute time or absolute space. What exists is a "space-time complex," and its understanding depends on the speed of the observer. Since perception is physically individualistic, the level of understanding may vary from person to person. Therefore, what appears real to one may not look so to another.

This fact exposes the approach of the religion-mongers who claim that those who do not believe in their creed, will go to hell. To start with, the God who is dying to be worshipped, is himself unstable, and therefore, unworthy of devotion. How can He punish people for holding different opinions when everybody does not possess the ability to perceive and act in exactly the same way. It is a natural sequence of mystery that people must differ in their appreciation of reality.

4. Of all mysteries, life itself is the greatest. It is amazing that rocks, despite being made of atoms, cannot move or communicate, but man, who is also composed of atoms, can walk, talk, think, will, argue and invent. Thus, stone is considered lifeless but man is classed alive. What is the secret of life! How can inanimate things like atoms act as the fountain of life? Life is obviously dormant in atoms though one cannot trace any sign of life in the behaviour or chemical properties of the constituting atoms. The higher the intelligent life rises the greater becomes the mystery.

If various bodies were governed bv different physical laws, one could ascribe the emergence of life to this difrerence but the fact is that forms of matter from moon to mars and mouse to man are governed exactly by the same laws. One should not think that there is something different inherent in the behaviour of atoms in an organic body compared to the ones in inanimate matter. They are exactly the same: the difference appears in the past history of these atoms and the way they have been organised in a specitic structure. Both coal and diamond are made of carbon atoms yet they look different and command different values for the different arrangement of these atoms in them.

Possibly, the dormant tendency of atoms to become alive started when certain structures of atoms were able to make limited choices for themselves. A crystal could be taken as an example. This inanimate object acquired the property of selectivity through the juxtaposition of its constituent atoms as they reached a certain state of organ sation. To feed itself, it incorporates the matter it chooses, and not anything that comes its way. The criterion is obviously what helps best to preserve its identity. For example, an ice or salt crystal grows by collecting a small group of atoms or molecules from its surroundings until it becomes a definite structure through a repitition of this process. Thus its existence is brought about by the principle of replication.

The same principle of replication is at the root of a cell, which is the basic unit of life. However, there is a difference: in a crystal the endless replication is the exact reproduction of a single pattern but in cells it leads to hundred of variegated patterns. Again, a cell maintains its identity by extracting its needs from many diiferent kinds of atoms, including live and inorganic molecules, which may be totally different from itself but a crystal can use only one kind of atom or molecule for its growth.

Complexity of a cell is so stunning that it is impossible to gain its full understanding or describe it with complete accuracy. This is what enhances the mystery of life. A human body which is an assemblage of cells, on average contains more than one hundred thousand billion cells (10/14). Though life starts with a single fertilised cell, it swells to this incredible size through division, which is a form of replicaticn, changing itself into over two hundred kinds, each having a different function. They have different shapes, which can be spherical, cylindrical or like branches. An average cell contains about one thousand billion (10/12) atoms. The full structure that comes into being is simply so marvellous that man himself cannot fathom his physical existence. The understanding af his purpose and destination, make the mystery of living even more complex and baffling.

One ought to realise the mystery of harmonious working of such an assemblage i.e. a human body, which is far more complex than a planetary system. Even more mysterious is the fact that the basic principle of reproduction involves the same process of bonding and evolutionary processes, which the universe itself went through, thus marking the unity of existence from a particle to a patriarch.

It is obviously, the universe itself which creates life. It has been attested that life, was first confined to the ocean; about 350 million years ago, it came ashore when the ozone layer came into being to protect the atmosphere from the lethal rays which came from space. Where did the ozone layer come from? It is a product of the respiration of aquatic vegetation in earlier times. In fact, one thing leads to the creation of another. Reproduction is also a peculiarity of the living matter.

The universe is a variegated whole because the same creative principle pervades through it. The realisation that the millions of forms from flowers to fowl and dust to damsel are organised on the same precept, makes it incredibly mysterious, marvellous and magical. Take the act of love- making. On the outside, it is a serene, sweet and satisfying affair but inside the woman, the same state or chaos and strife prevails as it did at the time or the Big Bang. Spermatoza in their billions rise to fertilise the single egg to secure self-reproduction. So terrific is the competition for survival that only one or two may achieve their goal, and the rest perish in this battle. Yet, this is not the whole story: under the cell membrane of each of these spermatoza is boiling a cauldron of chemical reactions which produce proteins; atoms go through the same process of association and disassociation, and electrons dash around to form molecular combinations the same way as did elementary particles at the time of the Big Bang to form nucleons, and gradually changed into nuclei and atoms. It has been stated authoritatively that the genetic code which is inscribed into sex cells, was built up in the beginning of the universe. It simply confirms the unity of man and the cosmos.

To the untrained mind, matter is inanimate, yet everything comes out of it. Therefore, matter is the source or life though it may look inorganic. This is where the mystery of life deepens still further. How can a lifeless object make a live delivery ?

The viruses, which are the smallest disease-inducing organisms, are the closest live things to inanimate matter. Though nobody knows the precise mechanism for turning the inanimate into animate, it is understoocd to be the result of chemical reactions. Tobacco mosaic virus may help to understand this mystery. In its cystalline phase, it does nct protray any traits of life, whatsoever. It is just a dead matter, but when these virus crystals are dissolved in water and sprinkled on a tobacco leaf, they immediately become alive and multiply themselves quickly. It looks that being and non-being share the same threshold, and it does not involve a big effort to push the dead over to the live side and vice versa. It is only a matter of knowing how.

Knowledge is the opposite of mystery. Since life is the greatest mystery, one must know what it is all about; otherwise, it is not worth living. The magnitude of life is evidence to the fact that it is more than a mechanical phase. Mysticism is the only solution to this puzzle.
 

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