The Divine Mystery
The fundamentally relational ground-of-being is fraught with mysteries and paradoxes. It has a mind-boggling dimension as it confronts us with incomprehensible facts. For example, where is the experiencing self that knows? Is it in the bouncing molecular billiard balls of our nervous system? Your experience of "green" (not to mention such things as "love") is not merely a pattern of electrical stimulation being passed through some nervous tissue. Clearly there is some relationship between our nervous systems and our experience. But a pattern of nervous excitation is a pattern of nervous excitation, not "the experience of green."
The preceding statement is one way of describing
The Mind-Body Problem.
Let us explain this further.
But when we look at yos brain tissue and examine the pattern of nervous stimulation we find there, try as we may, no matter how closely we look, we will not see "green" or "orange." So, where is the experience of green or orange?
Well we do know that the experience is being "known" by an experiencing self. After all, you do exist, and you do have experiences such as "green." But where is your self in the spatial dimensions of the physical world? As much as it may be tied up with brain activity, it simply isn't "in the brain"; again, no matter how carefully we look we will not find the experience/sensation/awareness of green when we examine your brain tissue.
With all your science can you tell how it is, and whence it is, that light comes into the soul? (Henry David Thoreau)
This "mind-body problem," along with numerous other impossible questions/paradoxes, lead us to a fundamental state of awe that need not include any of the magical thinking typically associated with words like "soul." We know that the experiencing mind, psyche, self "arises out of"—or is "tied to" or "correlated with"—phenomena in the material world. Simultaneously, it does not exist in, cannot be found by examining the material world.
Bishop Berkeley, the British Empiricist, took it one step further: All known features of the material world exist only in minds that cannot be located in that physical world. Minds arising out of a physical world? Or a physical world that exists solely in minds? The incomprehensible, the paradoxical, is real.
I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on . . . reside in consciousness. Hence if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be . . . annihilated. (Galileo)
Magical Reality . . .
In the most modern sciences, such as quantum physics, we find an experience of Reality that is fundamentally "magical," though not fraught with "magical thinking." In other words, Reality is magical in the sense that it is a profoundly incomprehensible, mind-boggling impossibility that simply is.
The early quantum physicists were quite perturbed to find that their theories were leading them toward an incomprehensible quantum world filled with paradoxical notions that the human brain cannot visualize. This has led more than one scientist to stand transfixed in wonder as they contemplate the empirical data of Reality. These scientists sometimes describe a spiritual, religious awe using terms that are similar to the language used by mystics of many otherwise incompatible religions.
. . . vs Magical Thinking
It is important to note, however, that the paradoxical magic of The-Impossible-That-Is (for example, what we find when we examine the quantum world) is not the same as magical thinking. In magical thinking, this awe and the paradoxes inherent in existence achieve a pseudo-resolution by the invention of invisible beings and/or spirits.
Of course, it has frequently been noted that these magical Gods and spirits explain nothing and resolve no paradoxes; they simply pose new ones. Where does this type of God come from/exist? What is the nature of these invisible spirits? How do these "beings" interact with the material world? Etc., etc.
And we know that questions about the nature of this type of "God" are not of mere passing interest; for all known human history, people have been killing each other over the question of whose imaginary God is better. So, how can we embrace the mystical (with its truly magical aspects) without dangerous and misleading "magical thinking?"
Roll up! Roll up for the mystery tour . . .
Roll up! Roll up for the mystery tour.
Roll up! Roll up for the mystery tour.
Roll up (WE'VE GOT EVERYTHING YOU NEED),
Roll up for the mystery tour.
Roll up (SATISFACTION GUARANTEED),
Roll up for the mystery tour . . .
The magical mystery tour
Is coming to take you away,
Coming to take you away,
Take you today.
"Yo" is a word that functions as a placeholder for the magical mystery. Yet, it contains no magical thinking; we only can know what we experience and use reason to derive from our experience. Yoans believe that it has been conclusively demonstrated that believing in things simply because we want to, because we were taught them when we were little, or because some supposed authoritative source "said so," is a cause of fundamental misunderstandings. If something cannot be shown to be so in our own collective, direct experience—i.e., if something can not be intersubjectively verified—then we know from human history that it can be very dangerous to assume it is true and to use it as something the community should believe in and act on.
I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. (Bertrand Russell)
Yet, magical wonder rejecting materialism, that is, materialism in reaction to magical thinking that throws the wondrous baby out with the bath-water, cannot be our response. Yes, when magical thinking is adopted by a group, it has, all too frequently, turned out to be very dangerously dirty bath-water, indeed. However, the profound awe we experience when we fully realize that the universe itself is amazingly magical in its paradoxical existence is the wondrous baby that should not be disposed of with the dangerous, unnecessary, magical thinking muddied water. It appears to be a well-kept secret that our greatest scientists describe something akin to religious awe as they humbly accept the ineffable nature of the universe that science attempts to comprehend:
"Science" means the unresting endeavor and continually progressing development toward an aim which the poetic intuition may apprehend, but which the intellect can never fully grasp. (Max Planck, Noble Prize winning founder of quantum theory)
Yes, the Universe follows its own rules (Laws of Nature) and can be most clearly known in very important ways only through careful empirical observation—e.g., factual statements and logical relationships to be used to predict how our actions will affect our future experience can best be developed using the scientific method. Yet, there is also a fundamentally non-logical, magical—i.e., that cannot be reduced to scientific logic and observation anymore than "green" can be reduced to biochemical billiard balls—wonder when we realize that the universe is fundamentally paradoxical, incomprehensible, yet undeniable, i.e., "awesome."
That awe is as real as any other solid fact, as real as rocks and hard-headed scientists, themselves. Yo is a placeholder that stands for that miracle baby, the awesome wonder in the face of the Almighty Reality of Existence. Or "Yo," for short.
Yo: The Ineffable Mystery
Inherent in that mystery is another great paradox. Since all we can know is what we experience and derive from reason about our experience, we cannot know what lies "behind," what "generates," or "maintains" the regularity of our experience. David Hume suggested that it is meaningless to talk about that which we do not know; when we do so, he thought we are merely babbling.
The other two well known British Empiricists, John Locke and Bishop Berkeley, believed there must be something beyond our experiential world that maintains or generates our experience. Locke said that we can know nothing about that which is beyond our experience while Berkeley labeled it, "the Mind of God." Beyond this label, however, Berkeley was also unable to say anything more that was based on direct experience or reason.
Going beyond Locke based on what we have learned since his time, we believe that something that is completely unknowable—something that lies beyond our experience, something that gives rise to our experience—has been proven to exist by modern science! Once we have proven the existence of this "Unknowable Essence" that gives rise to All-that-Is, we still might not wish to call it "God." However, we do have to admit that we face an awesome mystery about how this Unknowable Field (or "strings" or quarks, or whatever hypothetical constructs we use to try to form an understanding of the subatomic world) comes together to generate the known world, about where this "field" came from, how it came into being, etc. At this point, before we prove the existence of Yo, let's just use the word "Yo" as a placeholder for the mystery, itself.
On the other side of the world (from where Yoism first took form), many years earlier, this issue was addressed poetically by Lao Tzu, who apparently also agreed with Locke and Berkeley.
The Tao that can be known is not Tao.
The substance of the World is only a name for Tao.
Tao is all that exists and may exist . . .
Lao Tzu went on in his description of the Tao, in which we could substitute Yo for Tao. But this is already too much for many Yoans who number among the "poetically challenged." We present the full (but brief) poem in the next Yo FAQ, in which we also present a clearer statement about what Yo is and prove Its existence in hard scientific, "objective" terms. The Tao may then be re-conceptualized in the "objective poetry" of modern science. As we go along, we will see that, long before modern quantum and relativity physics, some humans (e.g., Lao Tzu, Baruch Spinoza, and many others) had uncanny access to the most profound conclusions about what science would one day teach us regarding the nature of our world.
Once the words yo (the pronoun) and Yo (the same syllable used as a placeholder for the Divine Mystery) came into our usage, we were in for quite a surprise. We later learned that in the religious tradition of the Bambara people of Mali, they not only use the same syllable to refer to their sense of this mystery, they seem to have a similar, mystical notion built into their conceptualization of what God is!
A rose by any other name . . .
For Yoism, one of the tests of the validity of any concept is whether it can be experienced directly—as are the religious notions found in most mystic traditions—and is not primarily derived and constrained by the words received from some "authority." If a notion can be derived from direct human experience (a characteristic of empirical, experienced truth) then we should find it in the deserts of Africa, the plains of America, as well as in the cities of Europe.
If we find a notion in many parts of the world, arising independently, it is likely to reflect some aspect of experienced (empirical) Reality (another Yoan word for All-That-Which-Is, the Universe, or the only knowable World of Our Experience). The fact that it is repeatedly, independently perceived by humans living in different contexts and cultures makes it more likely that the notion is not a concept that is primarily dependent on hearing and believing the words from a single source/authority (a characteristic of political, imposed "truth"). Such repeatedly, independently arising experiences are more likely to be due to fundamental aspects of the way in which the unknowable Yo manifests as the world of our experience. That is, such notions are more likely to be tied to empirically verifiable realities.
So, if there is a mystical wonder that is universally, directly experienced (as opposed to imposed, indoctrinated beliefs)—i.e., if there is a reliably similar "mystical wonder" that occurs in many different contexts when we humans suspend our learned, familiar notions and open ourselves fully to our experience and contemplate the paradoxes inherent in existence itself—that wonder is likely to give us valid clues about the essential nature of our Being-In-The-World. So, let us take a moment to compare our placeholder, "Yo" (as described above), with a mystic's version of the notion of God presented by a major figure in Christianity, with the notion of God developed independently by people in Western Africa, and with notions of "God" that come from a very empirical scientific tradition.
It is important to keep in mind that mystical religious notions come from or are derived from the direct experience of divine individual selves. (Also, remember that, in Yoan belief, all sentient selves, including you, the reader, are fully divine; we are not talking about people who have some special non-human powers.) Even if these mystics were raised in a specific religious tradition, the mystical experience is not typically taught; it is significantly different from "church teaching." So, mystics come to their religious feelings through their direct experience, and then they tend to put them into the language of their local religion.
In contrast, traditional religious notions are received from authorities who tell followers what to believe. Typically, these authorities claim that one can have direct experiences that prove the validity of their notions. In practice, however, blind faith is required in order to have such experience, i.e., only if one already believes (has faith without evidence) can one have the faith-dependent direct experience upon which belief could be based! And, in contrast to the mystics who comprise a small percentage of most traditional believers, for the vast majority, these prescribed "religious experiences" almost always occur in a group setting and are dependent on group contagion.
If the human psyche is designed to experience group identity, joy, contagion (and there are reasons to suggest it is), then we should be able to produce these experiences without the specific content of any particular religion. Lo and behold, we can, and regularly do. The Landmark Forum, summer camp, rock concerts and festivals, political rallies with either left or right-wing content, just to name a few, all frequently produce religious-like group euphoria, the experience that "We are great/have truth/know something special" and that, as a member of a very special, important group, "I am a very special, wonderful person." And we know that religions with diametrically opposed "truths" can all produce sublime joy and powerful states of heightened self-esteem and well-being.
So, while the profound joy of group identification and belonging is an empirical fact, and the ecstasy of more private, mystical religious experience is also a fact, the particular belief systems (derived from specific group identities) that the latter are ascribed to may be post hoc rationalizations, not fundamental truths. In comparing our notion of Yo with a description of the mystical from Western Africa or Western Europe, we want to see if we can find the fundamental awe/truth/direct experience behind the words used in divergent traditions when describing the empirical reality of direct mystical experience. We then also find that notions from modern, Western science—e.g., quantum physics—also may be groping toward the expression of something remarkably similar.
What did the European Mystic, the African Pantheist, and the Quantum Physicist say when they saw the Wonder of Yo?
First, consider how a Western, Christian mystic referred to God. In reference to the opening words of one of the Christian gospels
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John, 1:1) the mystic Christian, Meister Eckhart, said
God is the Word that speaks itself.
In the place of awe, from which Meister Eckhart seems to have been speaking, there is no imaginary, magical, super powerful humanoid craftsman presenting His creation, the Universe, to Eckhart. Despite the typical way in which the Christian notion of God is expressed—in which God seems to stand outside of His creation—in this mystical notion, God is not the Old Potter crafting His Uni-vessel and then showing it to Eckhart. God is the manifestation manifesting Itself. And when we take Eckhart's words and combine them with John, 1:1, there is a pretty clear implication that All-that-Is emanates from this "Word." Thus, it seems likely that in this mystical experience Eckhart included himself in this spoken "Word." Eckhart was describing the experience of wonder of being a part of Reality (a part of the Manifestation, the Word, the Supreme Being, etc.) realizing that his experience was of the Infinite One that creates Yoself (including the experiencing Eckhart). Though different in its derivation, this is very similar to the awesome wonder of the scientist who marvels at the fact(s) of the Universe (of which the scientist is but one experiencing "node").
Consider how similar this is to:
In their own words:
Yo comes from itself, is known by itself, departs out of itself, from the nothingness that is itself. All is Yo. (The Bambara people)
We would suggest that there may be a profound similarity between such religious notions and the notion of a vibrating Universal Field of matter (energy, mass) pulsating through time and space and manifesting as All-that-Is. Compare the awe of the scientist as yo contemplates the uncreated Universal Field (of which the scientist is a manifestation), with the mystic's "Word that speaks Itself," or the Bambaras' notion of the creative sound of Yo that "comes from itself." Could it be that all three traditions are trying to capture the awesome wonder at the mere fact of existence? The mind blowing notion that anything could exist at all. That the moving, pulsating, "alive" universe could be manifested in us as our experience of the immediate moment, without it being created by some other, a third party, who stands outside of the relationship between the experiencing self and the heard Word.
The experience of paradoxical awe can spontaneously arise within you, when, in a timeless moment, you become aware that You are the Word you are hearing that is speaking Yoself.
As Robin Williamson and The ISB sang:
This is the wonder of Yo.
And now, proof of the existence of Yo.
If we were to look closely through a special microscope that showed every nerve cell glowing brightly as it passed an electrochemical impulse along its shaft to the next cell, and if we were able to watch in very slow motion, we might see a similar pattern occurring each time our subject looks at a green wall. And a different pattern when yo looks at an orange wall.
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the Mysterious — the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty . . .
The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. The religion which is based on experience, which refuses dogmatism . . .
There remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. (Albert Einstein)
A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge. (Carl Sagan)
The Bambara of Mali believe the universe begins and ends in the sound of Yo. Yo is the first sound, but it is also the silence at the core of creation. And emanations from this void through the root sound Yo, created the structure of the heavens, of the earth, and of all living and nonliving things. They proceed with the belief that everything, including human consciousness, emanates from the root sound Yo. (Clyde Ford, The Hero With An African Face: Mythic Wisdom of Traditional Africa)
Similar to the Bambara use of the word "Yo," many Hindus and Buddhists say OM is the sound the universe makes as it creates itself. As creation unfolds, one note becomes many. This music of the spheres becomes a chord, a sonic tapestry of myriad vibrations in glorious harmony.
It's you! Your brain is evoking it all!