The discovery of the Buddhist notion of mindfulness, also present in Stocism (which comes as close to my beliefs as any system I have thus far studied), helped me to somewhat escape many of the preconceived notions and to approach at least an initial understanding of the universe. This notion of “god", at least as I understand it is not a sentient being, it is more like nature incarnate. It is nothing more than the “way and order of the Universe“. It is difficult to express really. It simply is. It is as water, fleeting and insubstantial; an ever-changing substance that changes even as you attempt to grasp it in your fist. From the Tao Te Ching:
The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.
As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless;
As "the Mother" of all things, it is nameable
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations
These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.
I am at last able to begin to understand this passage and much of the rest of the Tao Te Ching. The whole notion of the yin and yang, where each aspect of reality has its counterpart that both opposes and compliments it. It is not some far fetched concept at all (as I had thought for so long). It is no more complicated than saying this: without something to compare it to, a thing can not be said to exhibit certain characteristics. Strength cannot exist without weakness, else how could the fact that it is strong be ascertained? And as long as the two exist, and they do and must, there will be varying degrees of strength and weakness. A thing can be said to be strong only to the degree that another thing can be measured as weak, and vice versa. It is the same as saying that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It is also possible to cast the notion of reincarnation in this same light. Matter is never lost- everything returns to energy, a continuous cycle.
And none of these ideas are incompatible with Atheism, or with science for that matter. Both science and mindfulness are methods of understanding the universe. Science consists of categorizing objects and phenomena based on certain criteria and in giving names to these objects and phenomena. Mindfulness consists of analyzing the universe, but in a manner that involves discarding the manmade nametags so that one can see each object in its true light; unhampered by preconceived notions, but no less rational.
While I lend little credence to theology, the monotheisms in particular, it is possible to look at the various religious texts as feeble attempts at understanding the universe; analogies made by people with imperfect tools for observing the mysterious history of the universe. While there are nuggets of truth, and wild exaggerations, there is also much evidence of various agendas and rather distasteful clinging to tradition in the face of the discovery of new evidence. Additionally, there is much evidence of man’s baser characteristics in these works (greed, intolerance, the need to feel superior, etc). I believe that where theology errs is in assigning attributes to this “force” (read: god, Tao, Gaia, Logos, etc). It is in the details, the specifics. Particularly in fundamentalism, where adherence to even minor details and differences can inspire hatred to the point of murder. In a more global outlook details about something as enormous and thus far mysterious as the universe would have importance only so far as their veracity is concerned. When these details are arrived at rationally, with right thinking and proper contemplation, one will see that there is no reason for contention, because everything is one, all part of the “Tao“, and ultimately all will return to it- even if one‘s conscious self is no longer in existence. It is less about faith and more about…acceptance. It is not a clinging, it is a release. It is about arriving at a point where faith is a null issue, where one no longer needs to have the final answers, even to the point of manufacturing them. It is simply about being. None of us are important enough that the universe would pause even for a nanosecond to accommodate us, and we are all of us made infinitely important by the mere fact that we are an insignificant part of the greater whole.
I think I may have come across as sounding vaguely “cosmic” and new age, which was not my intention at all (and which is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself). It is really just a matter of a rather abrupt change in perspective. I hope that I have conveyed my view in some small way.