This is Part 1 of a two-part article:
Let's journey back approximately 13.7 billion years, to the Beginning of Everything - the moment in time when time itself began:
All that is and ever will be - all space, time, and matter - is contained within an infinitely dense and infinitely hot primordial "egg", the size of an atomic nucleus. Within .000000000001 of a second, the four forces of nature - the strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetic and gravity - begin to separate as this egg expands at a speed faster than light, and within .0001 of a second the Universe is nearly a mile in width, and trillions of degrees hot. The Universe continues to expand and cool as simple elements meet to form new substances, and the pull of gravity collapses clouds of cosmic gasses in to stars, and then planets. Chemical-rich cosmic debris bombards our little Earth, fertilizing its land and air, birthing life. Simple single-celled organisms grow more complex and diverse, until suddenly self-aware beings arise who can begin to wonder why they were born, where they come from, and what they are meant to do.
This description is based on the familiar theory of the Big Bang. Just 80 years ago, however, the accepted theory was that everything that exists always existed in an unchanging and unchangeable "steady state", and that the Universe consists solely of the Milky Way Galaxy. Then, astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that many of the glittering objects that everyone thought were nearby stars are actually incredibly distant Galaxies, and in that one moment humanity learned that the Universe is hundreds of billions of times larger than we had thought. Hubble also observed that every object in the sky is moving away from every other object. If this is so, it was postulated, all matter must have, at some distant moment in the past, emerged from the same point. Suddenly, the comprehensible, predictable notion of the Universe was shattered forever, and scientists discovered that there seems to be, in fact, a Beginning of Everything.
This Beginning, though, is stranger and more elusive than anyone could have imagined. Scientists recognize that they can not understand the precise moment of the Big Bang, because a tiny fraction of a second before this event all reason breaks down, and everything that we know about reality collapses in to incomprehensible impossibilities. Newer propositions, such as String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and the possibility that ours is just one in an endless creation of Multiple Universes, do nothing to clarify this dilemma. It appears that there is simply a moment in time that is inaccessible to human rationality.
Does the trail end here, then, a tiny fraction of a second before the Big Bang? If so, we are left with several essential questions, such as: How can order emerge from chaos? How can something come from nothing? Why did physical creation happen at all, and How can inanimate, simple unified matter eventually become the incredible diversity of life?
In order to explore these questions, let's journey back again, approximately 13.7 billion years, plus .000000000002 of a second or so, to bring us to a moment "before" creation. We can get a glimpse of this pre-physical existence by examining a component of our being that is not physical; that is not restrained by space, time, and matter, yet is intensely real. This component points us toward an understanding of creation that complements the Big Bang theory, yet resists the scientific method, because it is not physical in nature. It creates our very experience of life, giving us the ability to form abstract concepts, to remember, to plan, and to emotionally connect with others. This is our consciousness.
We may think that consciousness is simply the electric impulses in our brain. These impulses, however, are just the carriers of thoughts, not the thoughts themselves, and certainly not the totality of our awareness. Inexplicably, our physical body produces, or contains, non-physical awareness. Even if our entire consciousness is defined by the activities of the brain, we are still left with the basic question: What animates the brain - what is its "power source" -, where does consciousness come from, and how does it interact with us? We may phrase the question of consciousness as follows:
How is it that there is a non-physical component to our physical being that is unrestrained by the limitations of space, time, and matter; that allows us to be self-aware, and to which we can connect?
This is not a theoretical question, because there is nothing closer to us than our consciousness. It is the very core of our being, defining who we are, and is the vehicle for our lives, our growth and continued evolution. Without consciousness we are just lumps of organic matter. The exploration of consciousness, though, takes us beyond the realm of science, which utilizes measurable and repeatable observation, and in to a different way of knowing, relying on our experience and intuition - that which we immediately recognize as true, even though we haven't processed the information rationally.
Because consciousness is non-physical, we can say that it did not necessarily originate in the primordial egg, but exists "outside" of physicality, and that it somehow came "through" the Big Bang co-mingled with physicality, bursting in to existence embedded in space, time, and matter. This is not as fanciful a leap as it may sound. After all, just as all matter that exists, and will ever exist, began in the primordial egg, any quality that we have now must have existed at the moment of creation as well, because in order for us to have it, it must have existed then, in a potential state. All our emotions, thoughts, and desires, then, were formed by the essential energies that came in to being with physicality at the beginning of time.
And, because consciousness is not dependant on physicality to exist, we can envision it as existing "before" the creation of physicality. That is, we can see Consciousness (I capitalize it to indicate the pure consciousness - eternal and unchangeable -that existed independent of a physical vessel in which to "dwell") as the only reality before the Big Bang, existing without time and space. This Consciousness contains/contained the seeds of all the varieties of consciousness that we experience in their essence: pure Being, and pure Desire to Become. Pure Being is the eternal "now" of existence, forever re-created moment by moment, and the Desire to Become is the urge to grow toward the future, which is embedded in all life as the need for relationship - the desire to know and to be known; to love and to be loved. This is the mechanism of evolution.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week, in which we explore the questions of suffering, and the very reason that we are here.