bluebutterground-1541777Birth, maturity, decline and death, this is the destiny of the universe itself and by extension the destiny of everything in it, including us.  Trying to prevent this change from occurring causes much of the suffering in the world.

Not long ago almost all scientists believed the universe was in equilibrium.  Practically everyone believed the universe had been essentially the same since its beginning and would continue to be essentially the same throughout its existence.
Albert Einstein, whose initial theories on gravity indicated the universe was not in equilibrium, inserted a factor into his formula solely to create stability that he assumed existed. He later referred to that as the greatest blunder of his career.  Einstein’s original theories were correct. The universe is not in equilibrium, inside or outside.

We now know that strangely shaped galaxies are actually normal galaxies colliding into each other.  The Milky Way itself will soon (just a few million years) collide with Andromeda.

We would not even exist if not for stars much larger than the sun exploding on a regular basis.  We are made of star dust, and life could not exist without those supernovae explosions.  But if the wrong type of star exploded in the wrong place, it would annihilate all life we know exists.

Black holes are both monsters gobbling everything around them and the glue that allows galaxies to exist.

Black holes are also part of the evidence that the scientific laws we know are not absolute truth.  Inside each of the billions of black holes in the universe, the scientific laws we know no longer continue to be true.  It has become so obvious our scientific laws are not absolute truth that some scientists speculate there may be other universes with completely different scientific laws from those we know.

(I should note scientists do believe the conservation of energy and of information [not the controversial biological conservation of information, but the physics version] continue to be true even in the presence of a black hole.  It is very intriguing that the conservation of energy and information appear to be the most universal scientific laws we know.  Future chapters will discuss the implications of this.)

Not only is change continual inside the universe, we also know the boundaries of the universe have never stabilized.  The universe has continued to expand since it came into existence. Based on what we know now, nothing will stop the universe from expanding into oblivion.

According to what scientists know now, the universe:

(1) had a birth;

(2) had an infancy when it quickly grew and took shape;

(3) continues to mature;

(4) in time will suffer deterioration in its processes that give it life;

(5) and eventually will die.

That process should sound familiar, and not just regarding life.

We also historically believed the Earth was in equilibrium.  But the Earth is not in equilibrium.  The magnetic poles are continually moving.  The crust is continually shifting (The geysers in Yellowstone were once in Oregon.).  The rotation of the Earth is continually slowing down as the moon is moving further away.  In all probability the Earth will have go through devastating changes even before the Sun begins dying on us in 1.2 billion years.

  • Individual stars are born, mature, decline and die.
  • Mountains and streams are born, mature, decline and die.
  • Plants, insects and animals are born, mature, decline and die.
  • We are born, mature, decline, and will die.

Philosophically, if the universe must go through this process, it is not possible for anything in the universe to avoid it.

By the same reasoning, if all life must go through this process, everything connected to life–including organizations– must go through this process as well. Cultures, nations, industries, companies, careers, and families are all born, mature, decline and die.

I have a cousin who was trained in the printing industry but was forced to find a new career.  This website is part of the cause.

Society will change, no matter who is elected to Congress or as president.  Robert Penn Warren said, “The past is always a rebuke to the present,” referring to our romanticized ideas about the past.  Our society was never so close to perfect as those who fight to prevent it changing rationalize that it was.

Everything in the universe must and will have its time and pass on, regardless of whether we accept it.

About 2,500 years ago Siddhartha Gautama taught that much of human suffering is caused by the human tendency to attach ourselves to things and refuse to accept the inevitability that those things will change and die.

Gautama believed that if we all learn to accept the reality that everything must change and must eventually die, it would greatly reduce the pain and suffering in the world.

Suffering that we cause others from our illusions that we can prevent change can be worse than the suffering we cause ourselves. History is filled with extreme examples.  The inquisition, holocaust and apartheid were all desperate attempts to prevent change.  But it is not limited to history.  It is too much a part of our everyday lives.

The false feeling of security received from clinging to what is familiar is often like a narcotic.  We can behave in very hurtful ways that we normally would not behave simply from fear of loosing that false sense of security.

My favorite book is The Good Earth. It is about a man who felt a strong connection to his land and saw his land as what made him worthwhile.  Having grown up on a farm, I have always felt that connection to the land.  It took something out of me each time a piece of the farm my grandfather assembled has been sold.  It still feels as though that land had been part of our family for generations, though it had not.

We put so much emphasis on ownership, but we can never own anything in the absolute way we envision we do. It is all temporary.  Society recognizes some legal rights for a short time, but the universe only tolerates our illusions.

What we do have is a brief opportunity to enjoy the universe and perhaps make it a little bit better.  But the nature of the universe cannot be changed.  We cannot stop anything in the universe from continuing the process of being born, maturing, declining and dying.  We may be able to influence the timing of change very slightly, or we may be able to influence the changes a little.  But trying to prevent change from occurring can only cause suffering.

You may know that Siddhartha Gautama came to be known as the Buddha, which means enlightened or awakened. I should note that Gautama’s teachings were not a theology, since they did not involve any worship of a god(s).

The meaning of life is not to avoid any pain.  I choose to be close to my family.  But I also accept that along with the joy I often feel from that closeness, it will also sometimes bring pain.  Someday I will lose each one of them or they will lose me.  That is reality.

The same is true of anything I attach myself to, whether people, possessions, work, hobbies, desires, ideas, ….   It does not mean that I should not attach myself to any of them.  Some attachments are worth pain.

However, I should not attach myself to one finger in such a way that losing it would cause me to forever lose my appreciation and enjoyment of the others.

I can make the pain tolerable by preparing myself for it and keeping all of life in perspective.

There is a Buddhist story about a woman who had a young child who died. The woman could not accept the child’s death and carried the child from home to home asking for medicine to make the child better.  When she asked the Buddha for medicine, he told her that in order for him to help her she must go from family to family and collect mustard seed and bring to him–except the mustard seed must only come from families that had not experienced death.  The woman went from family to family again.  When she realized there were no families that had not experienced death, she accepted that her own child was dead and went on with her life.

One thing that intrigues me about Gautama is that he was a couple of thousand years ahead of scientists regarding the nature of the universe. He understood 2,500 years ago that the nature of the universe was not stability, but  change, long before scientists figured that out.

He was also correct about the unnecessary suffering that comes from our rationalizations that things should not change.

I have an opportunity to enjoy the universe for a short time. I have small opportunities to influence change for the better or worse.  If I plant a flower someone enjoys, I made the universe a little better.  If writing this enables someone to have more success at life, I made the universe a little better.

But clinging too tightly to things with the illusion they can be prevented from changing brings greater suffering not only to me, but to others.  And that makes the universe just a little worse.