Birth and death are simultaneous events and there is great freedom in this remarkable perception! The degree to which we are able to perceive this truth is the degree to which we are free.
Obviously, if someone were to come along and tell us that birth and death are ‘simultaneous events’ we wouldn’t believe them. Our common sense tells us otherwise. Our common sense tells us that there absolutely is an interval (a reasonably lengthy one, we hope) between the two and this – needless to say – means that birth and death aren’t simultaneous. It is very clear to us indeed that they aren’t simultaneous…
The thing is however that when we’re are all about ‘the interval’ and how much stuff we can fit into it and how long we can stretch it out for (which are of course the main human preoccupations) then we are going to miss out entirely on what Wei Wu Wei calls ‘the vertical dimension’. By being all about the horizontal dimension it is inevitable that we will miss out on ‘the vertical’. We’ll never even know anything about it – we won’t even know that there is such a thing. The horizontal contains no reference to the vertical, after all.
If we can put aside our automatic objections to the perplexing statement that ‘birth and death are simultaneous’ we might find out that there is something to this way of looking at things, despite its apparent lack of plausibility. A good ‘starting off point’ is to think about this in terms of freedom. ‘Freedom’ – the lack or the presence of it – is the thread that – were we to pull on it determinedly enough – would cause our whole belief structure regarding the horizontal dimension to fall apart. Freedom – or the lack of it – is the key to everything.
We ‘pull on the thread’ by understanding that there is no freedom at all in linear time, (or in any linearity). Seeing this is what causes the woollen jumper to come undone, so to speak. There is no freedom in linearity because linearity means that ‘one thing always leads to another’ without there ever being a break. If there was a break in linearity then that would mean that the linearity wasn’t linear. Or to put this another way, if the continuum wasn’t continuous then that would mean that it wasn’t a continuum.
A ‘continuum’ equals logical causality. If we are talking in terms of logic we can say that ‘one thing logically leads onto another’ and if we’re talking in terms of causality then we can say that ‘one thing causes another’. Everything that happens within the continuum of logic follows on logically from the event that came before it and every event that arises was caused by the preceding event and – similarly – goes on to cause the next one, and the next one after that, and what this means is that – actually – no event ever ‘arises’ at all really. No events ever happen in a continuum.
We could say that no events happen because – in a way – it’s all ‘the one event’, the one event that was inherent in the situation right at the beginning of the sequence. It is all ‘the one thing’; everything is always all the one thing in the continuum precisely because the continuum is the continuum, precisely because there are no gaps or breaks. Nothing can ever ‘happen’ in a logical continuum because of this and that’s why we can say that there is no such thing as ‘something arising’. For something to ‘arise’ (i.e. spontaneously occur) then there would have to be freedom and – as we started off by saying – there is no freedom in a logical continuity. That’s the whole point of logic- that there can be no freedom in it. That’s what rules mean – rules mean ‘no freedom’. And when it comes right down to it it’s not even the case that the ‘arising’ of the continuum of logic is an event because the whole thing is nothing more than a ‘stretched-out redundancy’ and no sort of redundancy is real, ‘stretched-out’ or otherwise.
Our argument here is very clear therefore. Because there is no freedom in a logical continuity there is no freedom in linear time (since linear time is by definition a continuity. To say that there is no freedom in linear time is the same as saying that nothing can ever happen in it; nothing can happen in the interval that separates birth and death, therefore since if nothing genuinely new can ever happen in linear time then the interval isn’t ‘an interval’ at all! The destination is the logical extension (or projection) of the origin and so there is no ‘journey’ taking place here.
There is a ‘type’ of the journey (it could be said), but it’s a ‘virtual journey’ – it’s a journey that exists in appearance but not in actuality. Things appear to be happening but they aren’t. There appears to be something going on but there isn’t. The destination is actually the same place as the origin and so the perception of change that we experience so very convincingly is an illusion. Any perception of choice or freedom that we experience on this virtual journey is similarly illusory – if everything that happens is simply the deterministic ‘working out’ of the starting conditions then how can there be any ‘choice’ or ‘free will’? Everything was already decided right from the very beginning, after all. We aren’t talking about the doctrine of determinism or fatalism however, even though that is very much what it sounds like. The horizontal dimension is deterministic it is true, but ‘the horizontal’ was never real in the first place and so it doesn’t count; it’s the vertical dimension that’s real and there’s nothing deterministic about the vertical at all!
The vertical dimension is real but it has no duration. Nothing real has ‘duration’, contrary to what we might (and do) think. ‘Duration’ simply means ‘tautological extension,’ which means ‘saying the same thing over again’ (or ‘saying the very same thing over and over again in lots of apparently different ways’). The new is real, the unique is real, but the redundant repetition is not! Because the redundant repetition is not real there is no freedom in it; that’s what the lack of freedom is telling us – it’s telling us that the ‘reality’ which we are taken so seriously (‘seriously’ being the operative word here) is actually a hoax. The virtual journey is only ever ‘virtual’, in other words.
What we are being so very serious about in the linear is the self – it is the self that we trying to repeat or extend, it is the self that is ‘the redundancy’. What we are being ‘serious’ about (or ‘humourless’ about) is this onerous task of perpetuating the self therefore. This is what’s keeping us busy and this is what we are constantly worrying about – the big question is always ‘are we going to be able to perpetuate the self successfully or not?’ There is no freedom this imperative at all, as we would plainly see if we were to reflect on the matter. The imperative to perpetuate the self successfully has nothing to do with freedom; what we are talking about here is something very different indeed. What we talking about here is fear, and fear is the antithesis of freedom, not an expression of it! Oddly, we have got ‘fear’ and ‘freedom’ mixed up…
As long as we are transfixed by the self’s narrative then there is no freedom for us, therefore. The only freedom we will ever have is the ‘freedom’ to keep on extending the self forever (or rather the freedom to keep trying to). This is what we think will ‘pay off’ for us in the long run and this is where all our ‘seriousness’ comes from. That’s where all our ‘driven behaviour’ comes from and that’s also where all our negativity comes from. Negativity is always the by-product of the false self, as P.D. Ouspensky says. And yet the highly curious thing about all of this is that ‘the life of the self’ (which is supposed to be ‘the main event’, if not ‘the only event’) isn’t actually ‘an event’ at all. Nothing new happens, nothing new comes into the picture, and so no event has occurred. We only think that an event is occurring – quite erroneously, as it happens.
This isn’t as strange as it might sound – we in the West are all about linear time to (we’re actually totally obsessed with it) but not all cultures have been. Some cultures have more of an orientation towards Eternity, which is what the ‘vertical dimension’ is. The aborigine people of Australia speak of Dreamtime, which is another – more poetical – way of talking about the vertical. At the beginning of the journey of our lives we depart from Dreamtime and enter into the linear world of our day-to-day lives; at the end of this journey we find ourselves back in Dreamtime again and this means discovering that our apparent ‘journey’ never really happened at all. The so-called journey was a hoax! It was only ever ‘real on its own terms’. We all think that the interval between birth and death is exactly that – an interval. We all think that it has actual duration, but it doesn’t. There is no such thing as linear time really and so there can be no ‘interval’. That’s what our painful lack of freedom in the causal realm is telling us so very plainly, if only we could understand it…