Gurdjieff used to say that it was important for a person to have an aim. One person might want to become a general. Another, to acquire the ability to read minds. The best and highest, he said, was to become master of oneself.
I have been thinking recently about my question. I'm sure everyone has a question, at least for a while in their life. When I was younger, the question usually was, how can I get bliss? But now, older and wiser, I am coming to see that these the things of the world don't last, so they will not provide lasting happiness.
I believe my question is as follows: does the mind create matter, or does matter create mind (or some other combination)? I believe that solving this riddle will, in effect, solve many other questions: what is the meaning of life, who am I, what happens when we die. If the mind, or a mind, creates the universe, then this would suggest there is life after death, I am a spiritual being, and when we die, we probably do something else. If matter creates the mind, then we are nothing more but advanced robots. When our power goes out, so do we.
I am struck that how I formulate this question that it tends toward the two extremes the Buddha preached against: eternalism and nihilism. The Middle Way falls between these two, neither one nor the other.
The Buddha also taught a doctrine called "dependent orignation". Under this teaching:
When this is, that is.
From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
When this isn't, that isn't.
From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.
Imasmiṃ sati, idaṃ hoti.
Imass’ uppādā, idaṃ uppajjati.
Imasmiṃ asati, idaṃ na hoti.
Imassa nirodhā, idhaṃ nirujjhati.
This is a very interesting formulation. The Buddha did not say X causes Y. He said, X arises, and Y arises. When there is no X, there is no Y. I compare this to sitting at a computer. A green light comes on, then a red light. Other lights appear. Then a green light, and a red light. After a while, we may be tempted to think that the green light causes, or gives birth to the red light. This is clearly not true. If so, why is this not the case with all things? Why do we think that a seed causes a flower? At what point, exactly, does the seed pass away, and the flower arise?
If you were to follow this track to its root (which is a very Buddhist thing to do), you might get to a point where the universe is simply arising and passing from the Void. The Advaitins say this is just the case, except that instead of Void, they say Consciousness.
Other Buddhist schools deny that there is any universe outside the mind. The mind creates the universe. One of the best explanations of this theory comes from Berkeley, in his Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous. Berkeley carefully shows that we can never know anything beyond subjective, mental impressions. It is an intriguing concept, found especially in Chinese Buddhist schools. A Taoist may say of course, the Buddhists are replacing the Tao with Mind!
The other night, I had a dream about these two thoughts. In my dream, it was pointed out that the spontaneous arising theory was a school of Ancient Buddhism, based on the Pali Canon. The mind-only school represented a refinement of this idea (although not necessarily a final refinement). In the first case, the cause was unknown, in the second the cause is revealed.
And why not? Buddhist teaching itself is subject to the laws of change. I suppose in the end, the resolution of this question will depend on my experiences.