Friday, September 1, 2017

Pondering Sanskrit

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As I stare into a clear night sky and ponder mysteries such as the existence of life on other planets, I recall that life almost came to an end on our own planet during the Permian-Triassic extinction around 250 million years ago, long before the more famous dinosaur extinction. Life mysteriously arose on Earth nearly 4 billion years ago, then gaily swam about for the next 3.5 billion years before evolving the ability to come out of the water and onto the land. So it was just about half-way between then and now that life’s experiment on Earth nearly came to an end.

I have a hard enough time acknowledging the ephemerality of my own life, but to realize that all life on the planet almost went belly-up is mind-boggling, not to mention heart-wrenching. We think our presence on Earth is inevitable because we’re here. Our memories are short. Like a gorilla in Rwanda who shares 98 percent of our DNA, we don’t think about millions or billions of years ago. We get into enough trouble worrying about the past and future of our own lives.

What if life’s great experiment had gone belly-up millions of years before human consciousness had ever formed? Before a human thought had ever been born? Before anyone ever needed to be reminded to “be here now” instead of living in a dream? Before quantum packets of starlight ever sparkled into a human eye and kindled an imagination?

Would the universe be void and meaningless without us? Without aliens on other planets who may have been shaped by their own near-miss extinctions? There is no such thing as 16 billion years ago, at least not in this 15-billion-year-old universe. What was the meaning of life before there was even a universe?

Some probability of human beings must have existed in that first spark some 15 billion years ago, the spark of creation itself. The alpha scintilla shaped itself into a sprinkling of gassy stars, some of which eventually burned through their hydrogen and helium and exploded into supernovas whose furnaces furnished the elements of life and scattered them about the universe. Let gravity pick them up. Let scientists put them in order, lightest to heaviest. H-He-Li-Be-B-C-N-O-F-Ne, and so on.

Like any other sentient creatures that may exist in that vast cosmos, we are made of the elements formed in supernovas, shaped into life by the universe itself.

“Tat Tvam Asi,” the Dharma says. “Thou Art That.”

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