When you take the perennial meditative journey to the depths of your own self, you discover what it was like before the beginning.
You come to rest in the timeless empty void before the universe was born, which the mystics call the ground of being. When you taste the profound freedom that is the inherent nature of that primordial ground, it can seem like the end of the path. Where else could there possibly be for you to go? The very notion of seeking for liberation, for enlightenment, for meaning or purpose seems absurd. The question, "Who am I? " is answered before it is asked. And the question, "Why am I here?" simply does not arise.
In traditional enlightenment, this is the end of the path. But the journey of evolutionary enlightenment does not end here. Why? Because the cosmic experiment that is life did not end here. If that empty ground, where every question is answered, was all there was to know and to discover, why would the universe exist? Why did something come from nothing?
Think about this for yourself: In the experience of the ground of being, which you can discover for yourself through the meditative journey, there is no desire to do anything, no impetus whatsoever. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no one to be or become. That's what it was like before the universe was born.
And yet, here we are. Out of that utter peace, from the depths of that desirelessness, for some reason this miraculous process burst forth. Why?
Why did something come from nothing?
This is not an abstract philosophical question but a profound spiritual contemplation that can take you to the essence of what it means to be alive. Why did something come from nothing ... and become light, energy, matter, life, consciousness and you -- 14 billion years later reading these words?
Why are you here?
If the eternal perfection that is the source of everything knows no desire, why would the universe have emerged? If the ground of all things has no impulse but to be, why did it become? But it did. And thanks to evolutionary science, we can behold just how far this miraculous explosion of becoming has brought us in the 14 billion years since that initial burst. We can reflect on its awe-inspiring progress, and wonder at its ever-greater complexity and integration and creativity. And we can ask ourselves, why did all of this come from nothing?
I believe that for a human being today who aspires to find enlightenment, that question is an essential part of awakening. It is not enough to follow the question, "Who am I?" to that timeless place where all questions dissolve. We also need to know: "Why am I here?" and to find the answer to "Why am I here?," understanding the primordial moment when something came from nothing is crucial. We need to know what actually happened at the very beginning, at that instant when being gave rise to becoming.
When I ask this question, I'm not just talking about whether you believe in a biblical God or a big bang, or a whole series of cosmic explosions. I'm talking about a different kind of knowing -- a direct, experiential recognition of what occurred in that moment 14 billion years ago. You don't need a powerful telescope to see all the way back to the big bang -- you can go there, right now, in your very own experience.
Scientists look at the big bang from the outside, so to speak, using complex instruments and the laws of physics to show us the explosion of light and energy, which became matter, which, in turn, gave rise to life, from which emerged the capacity for consciousness. But the perspective I'm sharing with you is one that looks at that very same event from the inside -- that gets right beneath the surface of the stillness before the beginning, and locates the very impetus behind that primordial moment of birth.
The big bang is not just a metaphor or a disputed scientific theory about what occurred 14 billion years ago. It's happening right now. Something is coming from nothing every second. You might not be conscious of it, but it's true. Your own experience of action and reaction is not unbroken -- there are countless moments of zero between each and every thought, every impulse, and every response. Something is coming from nothing, in and through each and every one of us, constantly. If you slow your experience down, and keep slowing it down, you'll start to see that there is a vast chasm of empty space that is the foundation of everything that is occurring, the ground out of which each impulse arises. Even as you are aware of the body, of the passing of time and the movement of thought, beneath it all you can become conscious of this current of stillness that is the ground of being.
Because you can locate that empty ground in your very own experience, you can also locate the seed of everything that came out of that nothingness. The essence of evolutionary enlightenment is found in that precise moment when nothing became something. When you contemplate the ground of being, you can begin to intuit for yourself what that very moment must have been like...
This article was excerpted from Andrew Cohen's new book "Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening."