6.5 mins read + a video
A nun in South Africa sent me a video recently, a quantum physics thing. You’ve probably seen videos like this by now on social media or elsewhere, or maybe you even study science?! It seems to me like some of modern science is catching up to Buddha’s wisdom. I have to say that because whenever I see anything or read anything about quantum physics—and I do find it fascinating, at least when it’s in plain English—I always think “That’s what Buddha said! Only, like, 2500 years ago!” However, perhaps more to the point, not only did he say it, but he also showed us how to actually gain personal experience of these mind-boggling facts and use them to our advantage to be rid of all our suffering and get happy.
So there’s around 7.7 billion human beings, or thereabout, on this planet … (didn’t we just get to 7 billion the other day?! I can’t keep up). In any event, there are a lot of us, not to mention all the animals and so forth … But … (and do pause to think about this for a moment) … if you removed from human beings alone all the empty space between our atoms, how much matter would be left?……
A sugar cube.
The entire human race would fit into a single sugar cube!
C’mon, that’s pretty impressive, don’t you think?! Fits nicely with one of the earliest examples I read about which is how, if you look at a wall, it appears very solid – ‘cos everything appears solid to us. This is the persistent illusion we have that there’s a real, physical, external, solid wall, which has nothing to do with our perceiving consciousness. But a solid wall is made of lots of atoms, and molecules, and quarks, and leptons, and the rest of it, and they’re all whizzing around really, really fast, and the space between two atoms—apparently, this is what I read—is the equivalent of the space between two planets. And there are also absurdly huge spaces between the subatomic particles. Turns out there is 99.999% more space than matter in a solid wall and in anything else that mistakenly seems solid.
I mean, that’s crazy, no, how it is nothing like it appears?!!!
So why, from a conventional or scientific point of view, do things appear so darned solid if they’re not, if they’re just space?! Because apparently these subatomic particles are moving so fast that they give the illusion of solidity. Maybe it is like quickly twirling a stick of incense in a dark room – it appears like a continuous ring of fire when it is just the point of the incense stick.
As the video says:
The hidden truth of reality is that this is a universe built on pure energy—pure consciousness … This consciousness has no physical boundaries. It is intimately connected everywhere.
This science confirms what Buddha has always been talking about, that everything depends 100% upon the mind and everything is interconnected – something he proved in many different ways.
Okay, let’s get back to the 7.7 billion of us who are now shrunk to the size of a sugar cube. That’s us, right, a sugar cube. So, where do all these apparently solid bodies that we see keep coming from!? Why are we seeing them everywhere? Where are they really? How come they keep getting in my way?!!
As Einstein is quoted:
Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
Buddha also takes this a lot further because, for one thing, the molecules, the subatomic particles, and the space are also all mere illusion. They’re dreamlike, we can’t find them anywhere if we look for them, they don’t exist from their own side. They are mere appearance, mere name, like objects in a dream.
Buddha explained how everything is “empty like space,” and he did so thousands of years ago, long before the invention of particle accelerators and fancy microscopes. He went a lot further than modern science – proving that nothing exists from its own side, not that sugar cube, not even the consciousness perceiving it.
Things’ lack of existing from their own side, or objectively, is ultimate truth. It is reality. There are no ultimate or findable constituents of the universe, not even really dense sugar cubes. Everything is empty of inherent existence. We can’t find a single thing when we go looking for it. There is nothing there to grasp at.
Conventional reality is an illusion, and therefore, if you think about it, not really reality. Only ultimate truth, or emptiness, is reality because only emptiness exists in the way that it appears.
As this video shows, what we’re doing is projecting a world that’s not there; even on the level of conventional science we’re projecting a solid world. We don’t go around and see infinite space everywhere, do we? No, everything appears to be solid and chunky and real. And the problem is, we believe it. We’re actually projecting that solidity with our thoughts, with our consciousness, but we still manage to believe that it’s real.
Our whole lives are trapped within the imaginary confines of that hallucination. If we are so far off understanding and perceiving reality, we are suffering – how could it be otherwise?
And Buddha also had an enormous amount of insight into consciousness – what it is, how it creates our world, and how it is not just doing that in this one brief dreamlike life but in life after life. Everything is arising from the continuum of our consciousness moment by moment, as in a dream, in a never-ending story.
What are the implications?
However, Buddha didn’t explain these things simply so we could all go, “Whoaaaah!!!!”, followed by “What’s for supper?” This kind of information may not be impacting us at a deep level because we don’t really know what to do with it.
This video, at 5 minutes, is almost too long by today’s standards but still it goes by very fast. It may make some of us think “Wow!” But how long does this wonderment last if we don’t slow down to think about it and take the implications deep into our heart? And how can it help us? As the video says:
But despite this knowledge that has been written about in countless ancient mystical texts, and proven time and time again by modern science, we continue to behave as if it wasn’t true. We continue to use the old paradigm model of a physical universe when trying to change the world and fix its problems.
I was telling my childhood Guyanese friends about this video over a Chinese meal in Jamaica Queens, and their eyes did widen. Five minutes later, however, we were discussing Prince Harry and Meghan leaving the royal family, “You’re British! What do you think about THAT?!” Any potential implications from this mind-boggling insight into our existential predicament were already dismissed or forgotten in favor of useless opinions about the “real world”.
And I thought, “Well that had a lot of impact!” I didn’t blame us – it is Albert Einstein’s point, we are living a very persistent illusion. Most people never seem to leave it, even for a minute – it’s horrible, to be honest. And even those of us who do, thanks to the kindness of our wise teachers, are going to keep getting sucked back into this illusion until we can maintain a far deeper knowing in our heart.
The purpose of Buddhism is to gain a deep functional wisdom of all these truths, which sets us free — finally!!! — from the beginningless hallucinations of samsara. Plus it is so much easier to study Buddhism than to study quantum physics! Given this, I cannot resist exploring this video to see if we can start taking its revelations into our hearts and lives to really change stuff up. More coming soon …
Meantime, I would love to hear what you make of all this in the comments below!
What are the building blocks of reality?
I’ve always found this teaching mind-blowing and usually mind-expanding. I remember so clearly, as a kid, reading that the mere observing of an object changes the object from what was approached to what it becomes. On a gut level, in my heart, maybe from a previous life of greater spiritual evolution, I’ve always believed this. I was never a skeptic or a cynic. Nevertheless, familiarity with the ordinary has such a pull on me that I can’t, for the majority of my moments, flip the switch from living in appearances to living in reality. It’s a frustrating path but thankfully one I know I need to be on. Thank you for your wise words and exciting video. With love, Chuck
And I must suspect that the cube would be very heavy. Much heavier than most all things that size, maybe even heavier than a lead cube. Maybe, so heavy, that nobody could lift it. But if it’s all energy, then it might even explode or burn or radiate light. And yet if it’s all consciousness, then it might be a cube of all our thoughts and memories.
Yes, I wonder.
Can’t really get all our formless thoughts and memories into a cube 😁
I think it’is helpfull in a certan way, to know that the wood piece is empty “of matter-ish / space like” but I then look at the piece of wood and it’s still there!.. I feel someoke is playing a trick on me!
Angus, I think that talking about forces won’t help us realize emptiness. But thanks for the info :).
Amazing 👍 can you possibly share a link to this video?
It is quite frustrating to read one’s statement and find all sorts of odd Iphone translation errors in the text. That’s what happened in what I just sent. Oh well. More issues around the hassles of existing in that conventional world of this and that that is so tricky to sidestep and just present in this very moment of direct experience.
Yes, thank you for your comment — I was reading your comment with interest and intend to go back to it when i have a bit more time. If you wanted to post it again without the errors, I could delete the original one. Up to you.
Interesting info re the sugar cube. I had not heard that one before and it is a really good metaphor for thinking about the world and the solidity of not only our bodies in the physical universe but our thinking .
One thing above you might want to correct – And of course this is from the normal linear world we all spend most of our time in, that is around 99.9% of our time in – the word you use “cos” should more accurately be written as “‘cause” ( a contraction from “because”. But to continue, we live in a conceptual world, which seems to solidify everything. It’s hard to get away from that without directbut to continue, we live in a conceptual world, which seems to solidify everything. It’s hard to get away from that without directly experiencing the reality of the very moment of experience. That is, in reality, there is no future or no past except as a thought in the moment. Incense thought is a concept, there is no present experience as I thought either. But without having a direct experience of each moment in all of its brevity, you can’t really think your way out of the normal world. And at least Americans, and I think all Westerners, have a lot of difficulty sitting for more than a few minutes in a row and being quiet and dropping into the ”Now”.
I think most people come to this Buddhist practice in response to suffering that they are tired of experiencing and they are looking for a relief, or perhaps they on occasion are drawn by curiosity or fascination about some of the Buddhist writings they happen to encounter along the dusty road of life.
My friend, who studies Kadampa Buddhism, sent me this article on the cube. And I live in Flagstaff, just down the road from the Williams temple. I’m sure I will show up there one of these days and enjoy what you all have to offer. I have been studying Mind via first Zen, then Vipassana, and then Tibetan methods for around 40 years now. Always learning and settling back into “allowing mind” as often as possible.
Thanks for your presentation.
I love the analogy of the sugar cube. It’s straightforward logic is definitely one for the tool-kit in understanding conventional truth. The more significant issue remains though – that is our grasping. So long as we have self-grasping ignorance, knowledge of quantum physics, while helpful, won’t ultimately be of much use.
Agreed. This is just another way to see how we are grasping at things that are not there.
Thought I would chime in with a few thoughts from a practicing Physicists (and daily meditator). Hopefully this won’t be taken as an attack on your beliefs.
When physicists at the beginning of the 20th century discovered that most of the mass in an atom is in the nucleus with electrons orbiting much further out they did wonder how things could be ‘solid’ when there’s so much empty space in an atom.
However, the explanation that mainstream physics holds these days isn’t the one that’s given in that video.
The reason you can’t push your hand through a table despite the table being mostly ’empty space’ isn’t that the empty space is filled with ‘consciousness’ or ‘energy’.
It’s because the negatively charged electrons in your hand repel the negatively charged electrons in the table when they get very close to each other. It’s similar to the way that two magnets can repel each other without touching.
Please keep practicing meditation and metta but also learning about the fascinating world of physics with an open and inquisitive mind 🙂
Thank you for sharing this.
There is still a lot of space, though, far more than we are seeing?! I suppose the main point I was trying to convey is that we are seeing things that are not there even from a scientific point of view, let alone an ultimate point of view; meaning that we are creating a reality with our thoughts.
This is an inspiring article and video motivating me to deepen my Dharma practice. Thank you so much!
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I loved the article, this physics of emptiness. Within 48 hours of discovering my local Kadampa Meditation Centre, I found myself enrolled in an FP class studying The New Heart of Wisdom. As a total novice, I found a lot of the concepts of emptiness challenging, but during the past two years, I have made some progress in understanding it with my heart, rather than intellectually.
But these 7.7 billion people, the solidness of their bodies constituting only the volume of a sugar cube, really got me thinking. What if we “deconstructed” the cube back to its 7.7 billion parts. Each part, each person would be undetectable to our five senses. So even to those us struggling with our self-grasping minds, they would essentially be invisible, lacking inherent existence. We see the empty space and impute the person.
Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us. This one will go up there with, “I’m a rainbow, you’re a rainbow, the whole world is a rainbow” in helping me understand emptiness.
I am so glad this sugar cube discovery is helpful! I have been finding it really helpful too. I hope you quickly realize emptiness directly.
Where is this sugar cube of matter?
haha, yeah, where?!?
The real truth about “our reality” is proven by science, why do we persist in keep ignoring it?
..Because it is not enough to read about it with our intelectual understanding, we need to gain a deep experience of it to really get it.
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one”
I really loved this article!!
Thank you, that sums it up!
As I was reading this article, I closed my eyes and visualized my full of space reality. Should be easy to manifest. 😁
Thank you for writing this beautiful and wise article. I love it.
We must keep putting Dharma out there for everyone to realize this truth!
We just need to keep on keeping on,trying,putting Dharma out there for people to get ❤️💙😊
Your articles are wonderful. Thank you
I love this article. Thank you. It succinctly points to the actual problem facing many of us who have meditated and studied for years : ‘the persistence of the illusion’ and as you say: “Most people never seem to leave it, even for a minute – it’s horrible..” I have often thought that if Steven Spielberg wanted to present the ultimate horror story, it would be explaining in a cinematic fashion, this truth. The other ‘dharma’ blockbuster movies like ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Inception’ would pale into insignificance. I hope this is done, one day, soon, by a practicing Buddhist film-maker. You also say: “The purpose of Buddhism is to gain a deep functional wisdom of all these truths, which sets us free — finally!!! — from the beginningless hallucinations of samsara.” This ‘deep functional wisdom’ is what I need and you point to the place where I really need to put my attention.