‘The Theory Of Everything’ has the acronym TOE. But it is the other TOE that is much more interesting – the Truth Of Everything; not mere theories, no matter how grand. Beyond the mathematics and workings of physics, truth is ultimately to be realised, not just understood, to be experienced, not just speculated. This would be where the Buddha’s teachings come in, as an avenue to experiential truth. The Buddhadharma also has lots to say on cosmological matters, though its immediate practical concern is how to liberate all from suffering.
Born in 1942 and on the 300th death anniversary of astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world’s best known theoretical physicist and cosmologist, once mentioned that he feels a strong sense of identity with him. Galileo, who proposed that the earth revolves around the sun, was persecuted by the Inquisition, forced to stay silent on the subject as it was deemed blasphemous, anti-biblical. In 1992, the Catholic Church finally and formally apologised for this huge mistake.
How amazing, that Hawking, whom despite his inability to speak, other than through a speech synthesiser, would not be silenced on speaking and writing against what he sees to be unsound dogma despite his debilitating ALS challenges, that paralysed him such that he could only move a few fingers of one hand and his eyes. Initially predicted to survive for merely two years, he is still outliving his condition, beyond 50 years.
Perhaps, just perhaps, Hawking could be a habitually adamant reborn version of Galileo? ‘And yet it moves!’ Thus was Galileo supposed to had uttered under his breath on the reality of planetary motion, despite being coerced from forwarding the motion further. Before Galileo’s ‘pardon’, Hawking, when visiting Vatican City, had asked to see the documents recording his trial. Perhaps, being an internationally renown figure, he did play some part in changing the Church’s position?
Famed for his confidence that there is no need to speak of a creator God to explain the universe, it would be interesting to know why, if there was an all-good, all-wise and all-powerful creator, would he ‘create’ a ‘formidable’ spokesperson, who continue to win much respect around the world with his bestseller books and now an award-winning biopic, whom some see capable of destroying the traditional notion of God, who also ‘made’ him severely disabled in all aspects but his mind, seemingly on the brink of destroying him. Is this cruelty or mercy… or just the absence of such a creator? The Buddha taught that the last in the right answer.
In the movie, an audience member in a talk asks, ‘You have said you did not believe in God. Do you have a philosophy of life that helps you?’ Hawking answers, ‘It is clear that we are just an advanced breed of primates on a minor planet orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies. But ever since the dawn of civilisation, people have craved for an understanding of the underlying order of the world. There ought to be something very special about the boundary conditions of the universe. And what can be more special than that there is no boundary. And there should be no boundary to human endeavour. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.‘
Whether Hawking will indeed discover a grand unification theory or not, his is clearly a case of the power of ‘mind over matter’, and this itself is inspirational enough. As he put it, ‘You can’t afford to be disabled in spirit as well as physically.’ The mind is surely the most powerful force in the universe, the potential of which has yet to be fully tapped into by most. What is more wondrous about the universe we wonder about is our ability to wonder. It is the mind that seeks liberation, becomes unfettered despite the worst of conditions, and realises enlightenment!
Are Buddhas Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent & Omniscient?