Within this Body Is the World

Verily, I declare unto you, that within this very body, mortal though it be, and only a fathom high, but conscious and endowed with mind, is the world, and the waxing thereof, and the waning thereof, and the way that leads to the passing away thereof.
                                             --The Buddha

One bright September morning some years ago, I walked to the end of my driveway to get the newspaper, and my whole world turned inside out -- or, more precisely, all distinction between inside and outside simply disappeared.  I looked up at the blue sky and saw the clouds racing by overhead and a flock of geese flying in formation, and it was as if the sky and the clouds and the geese were all part of me and I part of them.  I had the sense at that moment that I could almost reach up and part the clouds with my hand.  The world was utterly transformed -- and yet everything was exactly as it had always been: sky, clouds, geese, the morning paper waiting in my mailbox.  There were no visions, no voices, no heavenly choirs.  The crucial difference was this: every thought of separation or boundaries had been snatched away like smoke in the wind.  I knew this was no mystical experience.  This was the real world, the world before we reshape it with our thoughts.

The mind is quick to rearrange the furniture of life without appearing to have moved anything.  Start with the most basic arrangement of all between ourselves and the world we live in.  We think of ourselves as operating in the world, but that's not how things are actually presented to us.  What we see is a whole world contained within our own awareness.  All we have to do to be reminded of this is close our eyes, and the world is plunged into darkness.  If we die, the world as we experience it ceases to exist.  Are we in the world, or is the world in us? 

Practically speaking, what difference does it make?  Just this: if we live our life as it is actually presented to us, we might approach things very differently.  It is one thing to think of oneself as a small creature scurrying about with other small creatures in an immensely large space called the world.  It is quite another to realize the world and everything in it is contained in an immensely large space that is oneself.  We are not the small creatures we thought we were.  We are nothing less than the ground from which everything comes into existence.  We can reach up to the moon and stars, and if not grasp them in our hand, at least know they are contained within our own being. 

Three thousand years ago, the Psalmist looked up at the sky on a starry night and pondered his  place in God's creation.  Far from feeling dwarfed by the cosmos, the Psalmist clearly felt that its vastness confirmed a larger sense of himself.  "What is man that thou are mindful of him?" he sang.

...thou has made him little less than God
and dost crown him with glory and honor
Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands;
Thou has put all things under his feet.Psalms 8: 3-9

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