We are more aery spaces than solid matter.
The true nature of things can befuddle and confound us the more you think about it. The universe is more than 99.99% empty space, including our bodies. If you take away everything that is physical in the world around us, the neutrons and the protons and the electrons that make up our selves; that is, if you take away all the material and solid substances that our universe abounds in, you are left with nothing. If you removed all the empty space from human bodies leaving only electrons and the other subatomic particles, it has been scientifically stated that all seven billion human bodies would fit in the space of a sugar cube. And that ‘nothing’ that is left is completely empty space, absolute cold, silence and darkness. It is infinite, eternal and indestructible.
Suddenly you look at your hands and wonder if the breeze blowing in through the window is actually flowing, not around you, but through you! It is an odd and challenging thought that can set you back on your heels.
And while this is no new thought that I am articulating, it surprises me each time I think about it. In the fathomless and empty universe that swirls around us, we are but barely solid wisps of sub-atomic particles, floating will o’ the wisps, a translucent image hardly seen, that, nevertheless, arrogates for itself stupid powers of might and knowledge.
But lets dig a little deeper. As human beings, we are not only ‘not here’, but more than that, we place our entire faith on intangibles, things not seen or felt, things as aery as concepts and ideas. We talk of a merciful God above us, through we have no tangible proof of His presence. Most of humanity believes in Him and His power to change our lives, to bless us with His munificence, to knock us down if we are proud and haughty. We pray to Him while we sit before stone idols or genuflect before His images. And the faith we have in Him is boundless and unshakeable.
And that is not it alone. We believe too in country, the land we live in, the little space we have bound within the lines on a map, or what we refer to by the numbers of longitude and latitude; we take pride in our country, in our nation, our nationalism. Indeed, I am an Indian and proud to be one. But ask me what that means and I will fumble. Perhaps, some of us would say we are what our Constitution says we are. We are the sum and substance of our past and our traditions, our practices and our beliefs. But hey, can I hold out my hand and say, look, this thing that I touch is India, this material object with this length and that height and weight, and its other physical measurements is the India that I am proud to belong to?
Well, the fact is that there is no such solid and material thing that my country is: it is but what I hold dear in my heart; it is the idea of India that suffuses each of us, it is the concept of Indianness that our founding fathers conceived as they fought against the British rulers, that even today makes each of us live for it; that would, perhaps, make each one of us die for it. It is the thought I hold in my head and my heart that makes me an Indian. An though we may argue with each other, through the lens of the ideology that we hold dear to us, we are arguing too on the basis of non-material thoughts and ideas. Why do I need a thing, a material brick and mortar thing called India, when I have it all clear and concrete in my mind.
Our great institutions too are but aery nothings that we hold dear in the very core of our beings. Marriage. A piece of material paper or a great stabiliser of society? Who can deny that marriage is that very foundation of society that makes us lead our lives in contentment and happiness. And through there are a million example of marriages gone sour and two people living together who hate each other, the real truth is that the institution of marriage has bound the world into an ordered and regulated place whose stability has enabled us to search for our dreams and make the world a better place to live in.
And about about family? The parents and the children, one unit of society, the glue holding each one of them together; it is family that seeds young minds with values and principles, building the future of the world. And don’t give me that argument of broken homes, and dysfunctional families. They only prove the point I am trying to make, rather than destroy it.
And money? Even in the days when material money was necessary, even then, the paper currency we held in our hands was but the solid representation of a promise to pay the bearer the sum of many stated. But we have gone even beyond that now. More and more each day, the meaning of a note or a coin is diminishing. More and more our financial transactions live in the bits and bytes of binary language, in the non-material world of zeros and ones. Today it is possible, at least in some places of the world, and increasingly in our country too, to live a happy and contented life without seeing or holding in our hands, even one currency note or coin.
And reflect about it little more. All the things we hold dear; list them out for me, please. Friendship? Trust? Businesses, governments, society itself, large metropolises and small villages,and so on and so forth. All bound together by some words on a paper, or even wordless but significant understandings that bring meaning to what we do and what we strive for. A nation was born with the words written by a few enlightened persons: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The clarion call of just three words, liberté, égalité, fraternité, overthrew one of the most powerful monarchies of the world and brought a new order in Europe. All of these words are but nothings: the ideas and visions that make us what we are. In our own country, two aery nothings, truth and non-violence, made us a free nation.
I need to make this a bit clearer: I am not talking about the stuff that we need to keep our body and soul together. I do not refer to food, clothing and shelter. These are material necessities for the sustenance of our very our lives. Although, remember, each of them, when broken into its sub-atomic constituents, would also be as airy and insubstantial as we are. I am referring to the great principles on which we order our lives, to which we swear our allegiance and our faith, the things that make us human and unique. All of them, sir and madam, I pray, are but lines scrawled on a paper or synapses that crackle in the neurons in our brain.
And that is why, as cognisant human beings, throughout our existence as conscious inhabitants of our planet, we have been searching for meaning. The material and physical things we see all around us pale into insignificance, they pall the senses and we are soon tired of it. True significance perhaps comes when the material things we hold in our hands transform into something that we cannot touch and feel and are not subject to the five senses. They transcend matter and become the non-material. And that is why our sages and wise men can sit in contemplation for years on end, hardly bothered about the body and its needs, and delving deeper and deeper into the aery nothingness of thoughts and consciousness, the non-world that transports them to the farther corners of the universe.
So what does all this mean? We have seen how we are barely matter in the solidity of our bodies. And we have seen too that we live by thoughts and concepts that are not matter. Someday perhaps, thought and matter may become one. Perhaps this is the dichotomy that we grapple with today; the chasm between matter and thought is what holds us back from achieving our true potential. Someday perhaps we may learn that they are both the same and then we may be liberated to become something we are not today.
Perhaps that is when we become the gods that we are destined to be.