Alone atop a self-made world, an infinite being sat.
For the fun of it, he split into near-infinite shards,
each one reflecting a particular perspective,
becoming a creator playing amongst his parts.
A metaphor only works when we can relate to what’s being compared. This is why many of us in the modern world can’t relate to ancient spiritual teachings. The messages may be true, but the metaphors are meaningless. This was my problem until I stumbled onto an updated metaphor, simulation-theory, that says existence is comprised of a computer program in which everything is mere flickering pixels. For me at least, this modern metaphor makes sense.
People that propose simulation-theory don’t always tout it as a spiritual idea, but at its core, it most certainly is. Like any religion, it can provide a comforting backstory for our earthly existence, it can explain different phenomena in our surroundings, and it can be used to construct meaning for ourselves, allowing us to find fulfilling roles within an otherwise meaningless world.
The funny thing is, once I began to embrace the concept of virtuality, all the ancient spiritual stuff started making sense. I now have a working metaphor by which I can relate to what they were saying. Aha! As someone that could not previously grasp spirituality in any form, I can tell you that the before and after is remarkable. The answers were there, I just didn’t get it.
What all these teachings are trying to say, from ancient to new-age, is to be your authentic self, play the role of you but without the fear. The “you” shrouded in anxiety is a selfish beast that feels besieged by danger, thus ready to lash out. But the actual you is a character in a game that’s here to fulfill his role with dignity and grace. The role of you has already been written, just play along.
A game without obstacles isn’t worth playing. So in life, we really do want problems to solve. The trick is in embracing those problems, not lamenting their existence. Furthermore, we get to pick from a menu of options. Whatever issue we focus on becomes ours. We don’t necessarily have to accept every problem that crosses our path — we can pick some while ignoring others, or at least focus on the aspects we prefer.
Now, do unenlightened anxious people distort religion due to their fear and feelings of lack? Yes. There’s no limit to what a confused mind might manifest. So religion can certainly suffer from corruption, which is why it might be good to start anew every once in awhile. Religions are simply collections of ideas that remind us we have nothing to fear. With an appropriate religion tailored to our tastes, our minds are able to rest upon answers that satisfy our existential angst.
Have you ever gone into the kitchen and mixed random ingredients together? Some ground-beef, bananas, cinnamon, grape-jelly, flour, orange-juice — combined, then cooked for a random amount of time? No? Probably because it’d be gross. Good food follows guidelines. Random accidents can result in interesting alterations to entrees, but there’s always an underlying structure.
Yet randomness was how I assumed life begat many millions of years ago (cosmic stew, primordial stew, etc.) In my understanding, random ingredients magically mixed together into the right amounts while systematically evolving into viable entities. But after decades of philosophical consideration, I no longer hold this view.
Nowadays I think of the world as a planned and programmed simulation of sorts. And just as big-man-in-the-sky theory was dumped by pop-culture in favor of randomness, I think randomness will be abandoned in favor of a programmed virtuality. After all, fashions tend to perpetually swing between opposites.
Although big-man-in-the-sky and virtuality overlap in some aspects, there’s some differences. In the first theory, there’s a creator manufacturing hapless victims of existence — man lives by whim of the gods. But in the virtuality theory, the player is the programmer — he simply hides this fact from himself on purpose.
From observing life over several decades, I’m quite convinced that there’s an underlying narrative. There’s too much manufactured drama for the ongoings in this world to be a coincidence. Man is clearly the star of this show — and he’s coddled the entire time. Just look at all the people whose wishes and dreams came to fruition — an improbability within a purely physical world.
The very structure of success had to be manufactured for this fulfillment to happen. There is no randomness here folks. Randomness means chaos and incoherence and incompatibility. Yet we’re all pretty much on the same page, following similar themes, and avoiding major catastrophes. There’s certainly a lot of dramatic acting going on though.
Now, why bother philosophizing about all this anyway? Because, we all need an underlying belief that allows us to enjoy our lives. I found that I wasn’t comforted by big-man-in-the-sky theory or the randomness theory. In fact I found them unsatisfying, full of plot holes, and anxiety-inducing. Whereas virtuality puts me in control, boosting me up while minimizing the unpleasantries of life.
I’ve been on the virtuality bandwagon for a while now and can notice the marked improvement in my attitude and well-being. For instance, I’m not worried anymore — the world will work itself out just as it always has — there’s an obvious balance, an equilibrium that’s being maintained by some kind of programming.
And as long as we don’t wish for the worst, our individual lives will also work out just fine. The stress, discomfort, and difficulty we experience comes from our fearful imaginings, not the actual circumstances of life. Comforting theories, such as virtuality, give us license to ignore our scary thoughts. Ultimately there is no truth to uncover, it’s beliefs all the way down — so it’s our task to develop a satisfying system of belief — this is where happiness comes from.
An excerpt from the fictional tales of The Daily Beacon.
Dear Rich, this whole virtuality thing makes you sound like a recent religious convert that’s given himself over to God or something. What’s the deal?
Well I’ve no doubt that it’s the same mechanism, that virtuality is pressing the same buttons, that it’s just a different way of characterizing the same thing. But for me, technology is an easier concept to grasp than spirituality or God. “Life is God experiencing himself in infinite forms….” Huh? “Life is an immersive video-game?” Oh, got it.
I didn’t grow up surrounded by spirituality — I grew up with TV, movies, and video-games. I’m like the TV-show jock in high school that needs his homework explained in terms of sports analogies. Some people have an innate spiritual sense whereas I had a severe blockage and couldn’t grasp it. But now, I get it.
And I suppose I am proselytizing a bit. If you stumbled onto some miracle-cure for a sickness you had, wouldn’t you attempt to tell others about it? Of course the trick is to realize that each cure fits a particular illness and does not apply to all cases — that’s why it’s best not to shove your beliefs down everyone’s throats, just plainly present what you know and let them decide if it’s applicable in their own lives.
So, dear reader, you caught me. I seem to have inadvertently joined the cult of virtuality. Oh but the air is fresher here my friend, the fruit sweeter, and the soothing comfort of certainty in a belief is oh so relaxing. And all it takes is the acceptance of an idea that life is a simulation, a virtual experience had by a player located somewhere else, a fun-seeker that’s safe and sound.
An excerpt from the fictional tales of The Wandering Monk.
Running from distress,
we fall, spilling the poison.
Now fill with what’s good.
(in other words)
Many are not drawn to the spiritual life by way of a resplendent star lighting their path. Nay, many feel the hot flames licking their heels and thus run from the torment. But when fleeing, stumble, and are consumed by fire. Yet what burns is not the eternal essence within, but the toxicity that caused such pain. Now reborn from the ashes, free of confusion, look to the light, nourishing with wholesome rays.
Religion helps us deal with life by providing quick answers to difficult questions, helping us digest the otherwise indigestible. When applied appropriately, religion keeps us from constant quandary, no longer having to figure out answers to timeless questions each and every time they arise. Religion therefore, is not an enemy of logic and reason, it is simply a tool to satisfy the mind.
But such a powerful tool needs to be handled with care — we must be vigilant against its misuse. We must not stretch it beyond its capacity as a collection of comforting concepts. These ideas are not absolutes but simply a set of abstract explanations. We must refrain from fetishizing, obsessing on obscure aspects while missing the point entirely: religion’s goal is to soothe our soul.
Religion performs its work by providing us with an external perspective of existence. This far-away viewpoint minimizes the importance of our everyday endeavors. We no longer have to worry, as there is something greater than earthly artifacts and daily drama. And from this heavenly distance, borders blur, distinctions diminish — we are no longer struggling singletons, but a thriving interconnected congregation.
Religion allows us to alter life’s intensity. If at any time we’re overwhelmed, we can simply see life as an illusion, a show, a game, a fictional experience. Religion provides the option to fill-in the blanks with whatever we find pleasing. Religion bestows life as a gift, allowing gratitude — and there is no better display of thanks than a smile on our face as we receive each and every day.
I’ve never taken part in formalized religion. Early on it was because such a thing wasn’t commonly in view where I lived. There were many churches around but I assumed they were simply vestiges of a bygone era. The irony is that the region I grew up in was originally steeped in religiosity, being founded by folks seeking a closer connection to their creator, where regular devotion was a necessity of life.
But nowadays when we think of religion, we tend to think of significant structures and garments and chants and a reverence toward statuary. Religion is no longer a way of life but a compartmentalized segment set aside for particular dates and events. But that misses the meat of religion. It’s attempting to eat the candles of a birthday cake instead of the tasty insides.
Simply put, religion is a well-defined perspective of life. It’s a philosophy that interprets life’s underlying meaning. If we allow ourselves to meander through life without a set of well-organized explainations, we’ll tend to be in a constant quandary, always wondering “why?”. So religion in its purest form provides quick answers to difficult questions.
But as people are wont to do, they fetishize things. They obsess on obscure aspects while missing the point entirely. It’s not religion’s fault if some people manically stare at a particular part. Religion therefore, is not an enemy of logic and reason, it is a perfectly justifiable means to digest the otherwise indigestible. The problem is in taking it too far, reading too much into it, thinking of these ideas as absolutes instead of as a comforting collection of concepts that make life more palatable.
Who that looks at life through the lens of levity can commit a wicked act? The immoral deeds of life stem from over-seriousness — a view that the material aspects of existence are precious commodities that must be protected at all cost. Religion, on the other hand, tends to minimize the material while elevating the spiritual. By its nature, this external perspective of life tends to encourage an understanding of unity. For instance, if a creator creates everything, then everything is connected and worthy of existence and respect.
There are those that spin religion for their own gains of course. Not because they believe in the religion, but because they see it as a tool of manipulation. Again, they take the material aspects of life too seriously, seeking more of the mirage before them. This again is not religion’s fault, that’s like trying to blame words themselves as the root of all evil. Religion as a tool has comfort as its goal, and profiteers attempt to use these pleasant feelings as an easy way to influence others into a kind of servitude.
But because religion can be misused, this does not invalidate its usefulness, just as a knife can be a valuable tool in the kitchen. Like any powerful tool, we must treat it with care as it can cause harm if mishandled. We must be vigilant of its misuse and attempt to steer away from misguided obsessions. Religion is not an archaic concept limited to primitive minds — we all believe in a religion, a set of beliefs that define life — we just don’t necessarily label it as such.
But the more we solidify these explanations, the easier and more effectively we’re able to deal with what life throws at us. Why figure out new answers to timeless questions each and every time they arise? Can we hope to progress with such a Sisyphean effort? And we need not limit ourselves to a menu of popular beliefs, we are welcome to tailor doctrine to our particular preferences.
For my own creed, I tend to see Earth as my church and everyone a parishioner. Not a building nor a book can contain that which creates all things. The power of creation can only be described by the entirety of existence itself. Worship is the daily endeavor of living out our lives while seeking to appreciate what we’ve been provided. And there is no better display of gratitude than a smile upon our face as we receive our daily gifts.