The Triadic Heart

In the movie “The Matrix”, humans are immersed in a virtual reality, their bodies suspended in liquid with electrodes implanted into their brains to give them simulated experiences. I used to think about stuff like this when I was a kid. My brother and I would argue about what you could actually prove, and what you could not. I used to say that he could not prove that he was not a brain suspended in liquid with electrodes attached. It was a big thrill for me to see this portrayed in a big Hollywood movie.

It begs the question of what is real, and what is not. Even without going to a Sci-Fi scenario, we experience a different reality than other animals. Dogs can hear very high frequency sounds that are beyond our perception. Bats and Dolphins navigate by echo location, and sharks can sense the electromagnetic fields around living creatures.

Even within humans, do we all experience the same way? Do we all see red as the same color? People who are colorblind see colors differently that those who are not. There might be an objective reality out there, but we can only perceive it through our subjective experience. We are embedded within the fabric of the universe, and have our subjective way of experiencing it.

Descartes said “Cogito Ergo Sum”, or “I think, therefore I am”. Descartes further defines thought as “what happens in me such that I am immediately conscious of it, insofar as I am conscious of it”. Given that definition, I think a better translation might be “I experience, therefore I am”. All experience is subjective. Descartes was very conscious of the limitations of the senses and how they don’t provide a complete picture of objective reality.

All experience is subjective. The fundamental experience of all beings is “self meets non-self”.  While we clearly know what we mean by the self, when you try to find the boundary between self and non-self, it is very difficult to locate.

Let’s say you take the obvious definition and define your self as the body. Then realize that this body is breathing, which means it is taking in air and absorbing the oxygen, and breathing out air with unwanted carbon dioxide. When exactly does the oxygen become part of the body, and when does the carbon dioxide stop being part of the body? The bacteria in our gut can be beneficial for digestion, or it can give us food poisoning; are both part of the body? Our bodies are constantly shedding cells and building new ones. Our blood seems to be part of the body, but if a Doctor takes blood sample, the blood cells will remain alive; are they still part of the body? I know of no clear boundary between the body and the rest of the universe.

We could also define the self as the Soul, that spiritual essence that is said to dwell within us. But we cannot experience the Soul with any of our 5 senses. The concept of self, while eminently useful, cannot be unambiguously defined.

Our experience is that of being embedded within the fabric of the universe. We cannot separate ourselves out from the rest of the universe. Etymologically, the word Universe comes from two Latin words: “Unus” which means “one” and “Vorsum”, which means “something rotated, rolled, changed”. Thus the word Universe means “Everything rolled into one”. In a very real and scientific way, we are one with the universe since we cannot separate our selves from it, or even define the boundaries of the self.

Tantric Yoga philosophy says our existence is Triadic: We are separate beings with our own subjective experiences that no one else shares. Yet we have so much in common with other beings, that there is some agreement and common perception of “what is out there”. And we are all inseparably part of the fabric of the universe.

This Triadic perspective is expressed the Shakta Tantra tradition as “I’m not you. I’m something like you. I’m nothing but you”. This approach is deep and profound, as well as eminently practical.

As an example of how practical this Triadic approach is, consider that much of our existence involves interacting with our fellow human beings. Let’s take an example of going to buy a new or used car, and dealing with a salesman who you have just met. You know that this salesman is a fellow human being, and is probably a lot like you. You also know that he is a separate being with his own interests in selling you a car – his paycheck probably depends on his commissions. And he is also part of the fabric of the community in which you live (which is embedded within the larger universe). If the salesman is a good one, he will also be aware of these three levels in how he relates to you. He will be aware that you want to get a good car for the lowest possible price. He will also know that you share common qualities of being human, possibly including being uncomfortable in dealing with the price negotiation. And you are a customer within the community, and how he deals with you will potentially affect where you take your car for service, and if you would recommend this salesman/dealership to friends. You might even be inclined to buy you next car there years later if you have a good experience.

Omitting any one of the three perspectives could lead to problems. If you “forget” that your salesman has his own interests, you may end of paying more than you have to. If you “forget” that your salesman is also part of the community, then you could end up alienating him and even the dealership, and causing “tears” within the fabric of the community; imagine later meeting this salesman at a party and how you would feel. If you “remember” how much you are like this person, the transaction will likely go more smoothly; he’s likely to be more cooperative, and try to come to terms in a mutually satisfying way. Of course the matter of choice applies here too: if you sense that the salesman cannot meet you in a satisfactory way, you can choose another salesperson, or another dealership. In any case, embracing our triadic reality can help us nurture our choices, which helps us keep our integrity and happiness, whatever the external results.

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