Indra’s net, Bell’s Theorem and Enlightenment
In Buddhism there is a beautiful scripture, the ‘Flower Garland’ sutra, that contains a description of a net used by the King of the Hindu Gods, Indra. The net goes on infinitely (he is the king of the Gods after all) and – hanging in at each cross-point – is a jewel. If you look closely at one of the jewels, in its polished surface you can see all the other jewels reflected. In other words, each jewel contains every other jewel, just as any part of a hologram contains all the information of the entire image.
Indra’s net is in fact an ancient precursor to recent research in the hard sciences, where physicists have proven Bell’s Theorem – where events happening in one place can have an instantaneous impact on other particles that are not connected in any way to them in space. Therefore atoms (just like us) are not discrete entities, islands unto themselves, but part of a field of reality where everything is interwined with everything else. This is the A-field (or Unified Field) that network theorist Ervin Laszlo and others think might well be the ‘theory of everything’ that will at last connect Quantum Theory with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. This is also remarkably similar to Derrida’s insight that ‘texts’ (books, films, political beliefs, policies and humble words) are never fully ‘present’ in themselves – they always refer, infinitely, to other ‘texts’.
Human society too is like Indra’s net. Although it appears as if we are separate individuals, all alone to fend for ourselves, when we reflect deeper into reality we see we are all intrinsically linked to everyone else through the webs of life; money and financial crises; global trade; and the digital network. What happens to one impacts us all… and, perhaps, we are not many but just one. If I experience myself as the same as my neighbour then – as Christ suggested – I will truly love them as I do myself. Waking up to this truth is the real nature of enlightenment.