In Night flight (1931) by Saint-Exupéry, the immense night has the blackness of charcoal. Islands of light float not far from Patagonia giving the Earth the appearance of a sky studded with stars. The aviator contemplates these traces of human life before abandoning himself to a “deep flight meditation”. Fifteen years later, in The little Prince (1946), asteroids, planets and flowers – these stars on Earth – tell us about our tiny presence in the cosmos. Even if light pollution has extinguished the darkness of the night, space continues to envelop us in its infinite depth. Using massive telescopes on the ground and in orbit around the Earth, astronomers scrutinize the spectacle of the stars. As the universe expands, the galaxies move away from us. Their luminosity decreases and gives the night the intensity of its darkness. In a traditional Indo-Tibetan approach, we are not immersed in a universe endowed with an existence of its own. Our body can also allow itself to be felt in its cosmic dimension as an echo of the universe.
Contemplate the magnificence
In his latest book (vertige du cosmos, 2019), Trinh Xuan Thuan takes up the theme of beauty that he had approached with Matthieu Ricard (Infinity in the palm of your hand, 2000). The astrophysicist distinguishes three forms: physical beauty which nourishes the poetic impulse of a Saint-Exupéry and gives birth to aesthetic pleasure in us; the beauty of the cosmic order understood as the art of articulating harmonious relationships between the movements of celestial bodies; the very abstract beauty of the physical laws and theories that describe the universe. Matthieu Ricard evoked the spiritual beauty “which gives us a feeling of plenitude”. In all cases, it is implicitly a question of an experience of wonder and abandonment. It momentarily consumes the reference to an individualized self (the ego) and unintentionally opens us up to the infinitely other than ourselves. This dissolution of limits empties the subject and the universe of their objectivity. A transparency emerges to approach the non-dual posture of the Mahayana, the one that affirms that “everything is spirit”.
Everything is mind, mind is empty
Astrophysicists examine the infinitely large in search of explanation and meaning. Trinh Xuan Thuan opts for pantheism. On the scale of the infinitely small, neuroscientists are trying to digitally “reconstruct” brain function (1). Until then, neuroscience considered consciousness as a phenomenon dependent on a biological substrate, the brain or the body as a whole. It is now believed possible the existence of cognitive functions independent of any biological support. In addition to the worrying nature of a computer simulation of our cognitive faculties, the possibility would come to endorse the reality of a continuum of consciousness or the idea that consciousness emerges from a matter with a high degree of complexity (neural networks) . In the “all is mind” approach, consciousness is void of any subject-object duality. Thus the exteriority of space and the appearances that we perceive proceed from the mind and exist only in the manner of dream visions.
The contemplation of the cosmos nourished the wisdom of the philosophers of Western antiquity. Today, astrophysics translates the unspeakable, fuels our astonishment and certifies our fragility.
“Nothing having essence, everything is
That perceptions within your mind.
Not having realized the nature of your mind,
You produce fictitious ideas. »
Sutra of Entry into Lanka (Lankavatara, 79)
Le Gandavyuhasutra extends this position by relating the cosmological, pure and timeless vision of awakened beings. Kaleidoscopic and fractal images illustrate the theme of interdependence and the holographic conception of the universe.
“In this gigantic tower, he saw a universe of a billion worlds in which he could distinguish one hundred million groups of four continents (…) Composed of innumerable jewels, the checkerboard walls of the towers sparkled. »
Gandavyuhasutra, Chap. 39
The contemplation of the cosmos nourished the wisdom of the philosophers of Western antiquity. Today, astrophysics translates the unspeakable, fuels our astonishment and certifies our fragility. At the same time, it amplifies the experience of the marvellous. The observation of endless expanses comes to us in popular works and NASA images. Astrophysicists tell us what our eyes guess and the excess that escapes them: the 400 billion galaxies light years from Earth, black holes, wormholes, nebulae, white dwarfs, possible multiverses ( 2)… On our scale, our eye is satisfied with magical visions on the Internet or on glossy paper.
Wonder marks the rediscovery of the sense of the sacred. This is undoubtedly one of the points of convergence between astrophysics and Buddhism. A convergence that invites us to inhabit the world with intelligence and sensitivity.