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The Tao of Physics

In Japan, the strong influence of Zen on the tradition of the samurai gave rise to what is known as bushido, the way of the warrior, an art of swordsmanship where the spiritual insight of the swordsman reaches its highest perfection. According to Ananda Coomaraswamy, myth embodies the nearest approach to absolute truth that can be stated in words. Chinese and Japanese mystics have found a different way of dealing with the language problem. Instead of making the paradoxical nature of reality palatable through the symbols and images of myth, they prefer very often to accentuate it by using factual language. Thus Taoists made frequent use of paradoxes in order to expose the inconsistencies arising from verbal communication and to show its limits. They have passed this technique on to Chinese and Japanese Buddhists who have developed it further. It has reached its extreme in Zen Buddhism with the so-called koans, those nonsensical riddles which are used by many Zen masters to transmit the teachings. Thus the aphorism of Einstein, As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. Einstein experienced the same shock when he first came in contact with the new reality of atomic physics. He wrote in his autobiography: All my attempts to adapt the theoretical foundation of physics to this (new type of) knowledge failed completely. It was as if the ground had been pulled out from under one, with no firm foundation to be seen anywhere, upon which one could have built. The great extension of our experience in recent years has brought to light the insufficiency of our simple mechanical conceptions and, as a consequence, has shaken the foundation on which the customary interpretation of observation was based. --- Niels Bohr All things in fact begin to change their nature and appearance; ones whole experience of the world is radically different . . . There is a new vast and deep way of experiencing, seeing, knowing, contacting things. --- Sri Aurobindo The most important consequence of this modification is the realization that mass is nothing but a form of energy. Even an object at rest has energy stored in its mass, and the relation between the two is given by the famous equation E= mc2, c being the speed of light. The diameter of an atom is about one hundred millionth of a centimeter. In order to visualize this diminutive size, imagine an orange blown up to the size of the Earth. The

atoms of the orange will then have the size of cherries. Myriads of cherries, tightly packed into a globe of the size of the Earth-thats a magnified picture of the atoms in an orange. To see the nucleus, we would have to blow up the atom to the size of the biggest dome in the world, the dome of St Peters Cathedral in Rome. In an atom of that size, the nucleus would have the size of a grain of salt! A grain of salt in the middle of the dome of St Peters, and specks of dust whirling around it in the vast space of the dome-this is how we can picture the nucleus and electrons of an atom. These laws, however, were not easy to recognize. They were discovered in the 1920s by an international group of physicists including Niels Bohr from Denmark, Louis De Broglie from France, Erwin Schrddinger and Wolfgang Pauli from Austria, Werner Heisenberg from Germany, and Paul Dirac from England. These men joined their forces across all national borders and shaped one of the most exciting periods in modern science, which brought man, for the first time, into contact with the strange and unexpected reality of the subatomic world. In the history of mans penetration into this submicroscopic world, a stage was reached in the early 1930s when scientists thought they had now finally discovered the basic building blocks of matter. It was known that all matter consisted of atoms and that all atoms consisted of protons, neutrons and electrons. These so-called elementary particles were seen as the ultimate indestructible units of matter: atoms in the Democritean sense. Although quantum theory implies, as mentioned previously, that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units, this was not generally perceived at that time. On the experimental side, new particles were discovered as physicists refined their experimental techniques and developed ingenious new devices for particle detection. Thus the number of particles increased from three to six by 1935, then to eighteen by 1955, and today we know over two hundred elementary particles. The two tables overleaf, taken from a recent publication, show most of the particles known today.

As to the Avatamsaka-sutra, it is really the consummation of Buddhist thought, Buddhist sentiment, and Buddhist experience. To my mind, no religious literature in the world can ever approach the grandeur of conception, the depth of feeling, and the gigantic scale of composition as attained in this sutra. It is the eternal fountain of life from which no religious mind will turn back athirst or only partially satisfied.

The idea of cyclic patterns in the motion of the Tao was given a definite structure by the introduction of the polar opposites yin and yang. They are the two poles which set the limits for the cycles of change: The yang having reached its climax retreats in favour of the yin; the yin having reached its climax retreats in favour of the yang.8 In the Chinese view, all manifestations of the Tao are generated by the dynamic interplay of these two polar forces. This idea is very old and many generations worked on the symbolism of the archetypal pair yin and yang until it became the fundamental concept of Chinese thought. The original meaning of the words yin and yang was that of the shady and sunny sides of a mountain, a meaning which gives a good idea of the relativity of the two concepts: That which lets now the dark, now the light appear is

From the very early times, the two archetypal poles of nature were represented not only by bright and dark, but also by male and female, firm and yielding, above and below. Yang, the strong, male, creative power, was associated with Heaven, whereas yin, the dark, receptive, female and maternal element, was represented by the Earth. Heaven is above and full of movement, the Earth-in the old geocentric view-is below and resting, and thus yang came to symbolize movement and yin rest. In the realm of thought, yin is the complex, female, intuitive mind, yang the clear and rational male intellect. Yin is the quiet, contemplative stillness of the sage, yang the strong, creative action of the king.
The Sanskrit term for meditation samadhi- means literally mental equilibrium. Entering into the samadhi of purity, (one obtains) all penetrating insight that enables one to become conscious of the absolute oneness of the universe.*