Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Law and the Dharma

We live in a universe of laws. When I move my body, and I feel the sensation of my flesh, it is the culmination of the action of many different physical, chemical, electrical, and magnetic laws. All of these different laws intersect; moreover, they are intersecting in trillions of trillions of individual quantum level interactions at the same time.  This is happening innumerable times all over the universe at every instant. So the action of the Dharma is the action of law.

When we look at particle physics, and we realize that we have to split the atom into smaller or smaller parts, each one of which is subject to a set of laws of its own, we realize that this ubiquity of law penetrates down so far that it goes beyond the perception of both humans and instrumentation, into realms that can only be tested theoretically, or with gross evidence of particles whose behavior must then be assumed using mathematical models.

 One rarely considers this. We get up out of bed in the morning and experience our lives, admitting that we are subject to certain grossly perceived laws, and nothing more. Yet the question remains — why are there laws at all? Physics can't answer this, and philosophers have been stymied by the question as well.

What seems to be clear is that before the Big Bang, there were no laws — at least, not as we know it. So the instant of the Big Bang, in which the universe was (presumably) created, the advent of law took place. Lawful interactions between elements in the energy plasma were imposed upon its existence from the instant that it began to expand. Why? Was this necessary? Is it inevitable that law follows an event like this, or should it also be possible that absolutely random and chaotic action ensues? No one knows the answer to that.

The fact that we inhabit a universe so absolutely dominated by law, and that that universe is fractal, and that the laws reflect themselves in increasing degrees of complexity and interaction throughout the existence of the material, suggests that there are conceptual forces at work which lie beyond the ability of the mind to comprehend.

 Yet the mind, itself, seems designed to do just that — to comprehend. Above all, the mind can perceive laws. And without consciousness, without a mind, law is an unknown. Jellyfish, for example, obey law, but they are not conscious of it. One might argue that dogs are a little more conscious of law than jellyfish, because they obey the law of the pack; nonetheless, law as an overarching philosophical, mathematical, physical, or chemical concept is beyond their ability to conceive of. They participate in the action of law; they have a sophisticated ability to sense chemical law to in the form of odors, but they don't know this. So it is possible to inhabit law without knowing that law exists at all. There are, in other words, demonstrable levels within the context of law; levels, that is, of awareness.

All of these questions occurred to me when I got out of the shower this morning and felt the jiggling of a little excess fat on my middle aged waist as I rubbed myself dry with a towel. It seemed quite extraordinary that this ordinary action of drying myself with a towel was the instantaneous expression of so many laws; laws, moreover, that had existed for billions of years, and that were perpetually expressing themselves.

 Dogen's questions about the inexorable relationship between cause and effect, and its implications in regard to an awareness of the Dharma, all stem from these questions. Law is inevitable; we cannot escape it.

Yet why is there law at all in the first place?

 May your soul be filled with light.


  1. cos it's not all random...and we can come to know that and make choices about what we do...easy

  2. that there are observed regularities 'laws' is simply a datum of experience - that there are 'laws' is a mystery and the gift of a consc life is the mystery that encompasses it (lewis mumford).

  3. hmm, on second thoughts not so sure about how many choices I make :)


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