Excerpts: “Stepping Stones: My Tao in the Stream of Universal Consciousness”

Joe Mcfatter
19 min readAug 29, 2020

(Installment №1 of a series.)

As a child of the country, I had the opportunity to roam, explore and interact with nature. Thich Nhat Hahn, revered Buddhist monk nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize, might say that I was inter-being with Nature. I would say I was experiencing what the Aboriginal peoples of the land Down Under call Dreaming, the continuum of being immersed in and with Nature. I grew up deep in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. When I wasn’t in school, weather permitting, I was roaming outdoors, partaking of a natural “Montessori” education. One favorite, yet fleeting, past time was finding dandelion blooms in early spring, those open and poised for the next breeze. This is a vivid memory now, 70 years later. To pluck a stem and then gently blow on the bloom and see the delicate seeds buoyed by a breeze, carried away so care-freely, was in perfect harmony with my feelings at that time, as a prepubescent boy with dirt behind my ears and a bit of toe jam…..wild, innocent and changing daily, letting my next idea move me to the next idea and activity, my mind open, learning, and being filled with the mysteries abounding around me. I truly lived in the moment, and the next moment and the next were just flickers of the film of my living. At each moment time stood still. Today I realize that is what time is, merely a record of an infinite series of snap-shots of “no time.” Out of this wonderful thing called time emerges the story of an infinite number of relationships that we call “existence.”

If we just pause a bit, and reflect, the relationships we have with everyone and everything at this moment is not what it was yesterday, and really not even a moment ago. As we age and enter our senior years, we often find it is easier for us to “look back” at distant past years of our lives, and see how our inter-being with all that we interacted with changed. Nothing is permanent. Memory, that robust feature that our brain facilitates with its algorithms — built over 4.5-billion years — serves as our internal touchstone, I suspect primarily for our survival (“once burned, thrice learned”). It allows us to see changes in how we interact with our children, with our lovers, with everyone we have known and well, the entirety of the universe we individually apprehend.

For most of us what we see is like a sliding spectrum of what was past/present/future in our relationship with the world external to our brains, but also with the unfindable “self” we believe we are. If we look deeply, we see that there is nothing that is “us” or is the external world that does not constantly change, die and be reborn, whether the cells of our own body or the plants that come and go seasonally- or our thoughts. Like the flickering energies within quantum space, we and everything we apprehend are no more than flickers in the boundless scheme of the universe. Through inter-being with the world, we come to realize the meaning of impermanence. Since everything constantly changes, there cannot be anything that actually exist inherently, immutably; any and everything also exist in dependence on literally an infinite number of other “things.” Something we think exist changes in an immeasurably small increment of the time construct. We are time, time is us.

What we believe to be existent is merely the construct in the moment of what our brain assembles based on the inputs of our senses interacting with millions of years of programming of our neurons and synapses firing away. Even a hard rock changes daily, but those changes will sneak by our daily peeks at it! So it is time itself that renders the illusion of anything being existent. It follows then, that if something doesn’t really exist, then there is no real birth or death of that thing, whether the subject or object, including us. There is only change, transformation. Every moment our own bodies are being transformed, cells “dying” only to be transformed into smaller bits of matter that are recycled in the great caldron of Earth’s ecology; and as these cells leave our bodies, the nutrients we take in give “birth” to new cells. Through effort we realize that gaining this sense of the full meaning of impermanence allows us to appreciate the dynamism of that which is called universal consciousness (UC). This realization then yields an understanding that at the time of the “death” of our own bodies, there is a continuation of the series of transformations, as our bodies are returned “dust to dust,” yet the essence of our consciousness transforms from a corporeal presence engendered within our biological brain matter, to its original “non-matter” domain, within which the transformation continues.

Fortunately dandelions still grow just about everywhere, in the country and even in the cracks of the pavement in the city. I wonder how many children today experience that almost mystical moment of blowing on such ethereal blooms to become one with nature and observe this signal of impermanence: seeds to be carried by the breeze, perhaps close, perhaps very far, finding a tiny place on our Mother Earth to await just the right amount of rain and sun to sprout and begin the cycle once again. Coming and going, ebb and flow, the cycle of life, the cycle that permeates every bit of space within our bodies, within our consciousness, in every organism and throughout the entire physical universe. Ah, life!…the wonder of life, the wonder of the world, the wonder of who and what we are, the wonder of the unknown, to feel, to know! It is said that we are born of star dust. Perhaps though it was pixie dust, given the improbability of Homo sapiens even being brought by the universe to where we are today, to realize the sheer joy of wonder!

One unique thing that we humans universally carry, regardless of who or where we are, is a sense that there is something missing in our lives. Our very existence needs more — and that more is not to be found materially, or in our relationships or environs, although that is usually where we look. Of course such a thought or inner voice may not arise until one is mature, or should I say, one’s consciousness is mature…..it’s not an age thing necessarily. But eventually, I think each human being, where ever we are on the Earth (or in outer space) has at one time or another, a fleeting question, “Isn’t there more?” We may not speak it out loud, and often it is just a feeling that may arise in dependence of other things happening to our lives, lying dormant in all human beings at birth, one day to activate.

Likely each person of sufficient intelligence will have their personal, albeit speculative answer to that question. Our consciousness ask, “Is this all I am?” Deep within us all is the awareness, embedded within our self-awareness, this wondering, a pondering, asking “how did I and all this come to be?” Since this question must have been with us since consciousness began to blossom in the minds of our ancient ancestors, we can assume it is innate, not phenomenal. Was the “apple” Eve offered Adam as told in the Bible a metaphor for consciousness? With a bite from the apple Adam gained human consciousness and became self-aware, eventually gaining a conscience, and with that awareness surely came the question that we humans have borne through the ages, “Is there more?” Of course, God in the Bible is pretty straight forward with the answer, which makes for a great story for believers of the Judeo-Christian faiths.

Within each of us are these questions; in many it is perhaps latent, but it is there. It may be the one thing that makes us unique here on Earth. So I ask, what do you believe, and why? If you believe within some major religion, why? Do you just accept the answer on pure faith? Why? What is your basis of such acceptance? Do you believe in “God” and goodness when it seems if there is a creator “God” that she saw fit to omit love, compassion and relieving suffering from her recipe of the creation? Is your belief based on blind allegiance and obeisance to words spoken — or allegedly spoken — by a “prophet” or “savior” — or historical/scientific evidence? Do you cling to stories in your faith even in the light of scientific factual evidence offering different explanations, or cling even in the total absence of any hard evidence? Have you done objective research on the origins of your religion, and if not, why? (Not to pick on Christianity, but many of the objective Judeo-Christian Biblical archeology scholars have shed their belief in “Jesus Christ the Savior,” and Christians are leaving their faith in droves for lack of evidence and answers. Similar turnover can also be seen in other religions, when there are choices available.) More and more people long for answers to the questions lofted by their inner voices. Even if you opt for a humanism perspective, how do you explain that position to yourself? I mean, don’t we owe it to ourselves to understand what we say we believe? Faith based on what would be regarded as “hearsay” in American courts seems rather weak to use as a touchstone. As for myself, I would rather — and do — choose to build my “faith” in that which appears (to me) to be built on research and reasoning that attempts to integrate what I experience and apprehend, with philosophy and science. There is nothing wrong with having faith, and certainly I myself, as I testify in this book, have faith. I argue, however, that faith should be grounded in one’s own constructs having objectively taken in and considered both facts and other views of the “unknown.” I arrived at my present faith after a long spiritual trek involving great experience and deep reflection, and integration of the totality of it all. However, we each have our own life, our own path, so I just want to encourage the reader to be authentic in all that they undertake.

In 1959, Bertrand Russel, Nobel prize-winning philosopher, mathematician and peace activist, in a BBC interview, informed future generations of two things that should be important to them, one intellectual, one moral. Paraphrasing him in short, on the intellectual, he said stick with the facts; on the moral, stick with love. This also sums up very well the two lines of Buddhist teaching, wisdom and compassion. As Joe Friday of the tv series Dragnet that I used to watch in the 1950’s would say, “Just the facts ma’am.” The facts today point toward an understanding that sentient beings having consciousness are wholly participatory within the universal consciousness. I believe such participation also extends throughout the fauna and flora of Earth. Moreover, I believe all life throughout the universe — whether “carbon-based units” or other — participate in this ultimate splendor!

As I began writing this, I fully well knew the challenge awaiting me, that of obtaining to expression through words, my personal sense of “spirituality” and the road that led me here — having arrived at a point of awareness and understanding fully in harmony with the essence of Buddha’s “admonitions” that all is mind and that every human being must find their own enlightenment; furthermore, I have been guided by the Buddha’s cogent advice to the effect that if it doesn’t fit, then don’t wear it (it, in my case meaning the trappings of Buddhism). Along my way I cloaked myself, figuratively, in the robes of Buddhism, only in time to set the vestments aside, while retaining specific essential parts of Buddhist teachings that comport with my personal observations and experiences, and integrate with my study of pertinent philosophical/scientific thinking on the subjects of the cosmos, consciousness and religion.

Some no doubt will be drawn to this book having an acquaintance or even being intimate with the Buddhist concept of emptiness (Sunyata), while others may be tuned to the recent and ongoing discussion of the theory, “consciousness basis-of-all,” known also as a version of “idealism.” An epistemological “cousin” of idealism would be “solipsism,” which says, “Heh man, only believe your own mind; nothing else is for certain outside of your mind, not even other humans.” Both of these views have a long history in the history of philosophy. Most of today’s scientists remain in the camp that regards the mind and the physical universe as two different areas of study.

Scientists are people too, and people often struggle with the notion that the real world can somehow be integrated with the spiritual world (if they even believe in a spiritual world). In the traditional Western view, there is the mind percolating within the confines of the brain, but the brain and everything outside of one’s own mind is physical: this philosophical viewpoint is often called materialism. All things considered, I have arrived at the conclusion that the latter view is not coherent with many of the questions that do arise to the truly inquisitive mind, and represents the avoidance of taking on the more daunting field of studying the mind as being “one” with the physical universe. Fortunately, there is an increasing number of great thinkers today who see idealism, panpsychism and related ontologies as fertile and valid areas of study, combining philosophy and pure science.

This search and my studies have informed me that my beliefs, while perhaps not unique, do not fully resonate with any extant theories of conscious and the universe, in the context of spirituality. One or two come close, such as that called cosmopsychism. This view, as with panpsychism, and several other “ism’s,” some with roots in ancient history, are philosophical theories that seek union with science. In many respects philosophy and science are in themselves inter-being, as each influences the other. The challenge to seekers as myself today is that even theoretical physics and such fields as neuro-science have so much yet to be resolved, that they themselves have taken on strong philosophical hues.

My view holds that a universal consciousness (UC) pervades the totality of our multi-dimensional universe. Our human minds are essentially operational microcosms of the universal, working in concert within the UC to create that the external physical universe we apprehend and our own self-awareness. I believe it likely also that the totality of animals and organisms collectively, and the web of fauna, also feed into the “matrix” of the UC. Collectively, all life provides the UC with self-experience and data for its endless being. We and all life exist because the UC intended we exist, as the organs by which it experiences what non-organic matter cannot provide. Through us and through all other lifeforms in the universe(s) the universal consciousness realizes itself. Without the collective life, the UC would be purposeless.

Where I differ with other “similar” views is that I believe there is a web of supramatter — not to be confused with “dark matter” or “anti-matter” that confound physicists’ theories today — but a multi-dimensional web that is the intelligence of the universe(s), which exhibits consciousness through the “alter” minds that “spin” from it: While the material universe no doubt has basic laws encoded throughout its domains, that physicists and cosmologists struggle to decode, I do not believe that matter exhibits consciousness independent of the UC, and is dependent on the UC as its “driver.” The UC embedded the rules built into the singularity that birthed our universe (and perhaps as some physicists conjecture, many or even an infinite number of other universes), but the web of intelligence “overlays” the quantum universe of matter’s constituents. However, I do not believe this intelligence — the UC — at large is “conscious,” but that its own programming seeks consciousness through life that it creates through the web of matter. I also subscribe to the view that the UC actually pervades the domain of matter, but only exhibits self-awareness and voluntary characteristics in humans and higher life forms. UC undoubtedly presents as the “basis and potential” in all forms of life throughout the universe…meaning of course, “extra-terrestrials” as we call “them,” and other forms of life, where ever these elusive “others” may be, on other worlds across the Milky Way and other galaxies — and other universes. The supramatter web of the UC also in my view provides for the continuity of our own personal minds — or rather the “essence” or higher-order non-local minds — after this life; i.e., our minds being “alters” of the UC, are transformed into what we call the “spiritual” domain.

Although in Vajrayana/Mahayana Buddhism there are realms of “gods”….some schools including a “God” of this Worldly realm….a Hungry Ghost realm, even a realm of Hell, there is not a “one Creator God” at whose feet we can lay the responsibility for the physical universe and for having created us. Having mostly abandoned the mystical accoutrements of this belief system, I now hold a personal set of beliefs that also does not acknowledge a so-called “personal” god (i.e., such as the Biblical God), but is based on there being the UC I have described.

I believe this intelligence is “built into the equations” of the universe and has no beginning nor end. We humans are wholly incapable of comprehending infinity — much less understanding even what “time” is — so one must either accept the hypothesis of an endless cycle of the UC, or opt for everything beginning with what physicists call the “singularity” (or whatever) that caused the Big Bang (BB), with no preceding God nor intelligence at work in the design; i.e., just pure spontaneous creation followed by “natural selection.” Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant minds in history, was of this frame of mind….a total atheist at the end of his life, believing it all began with the singularity, and that it was moot to even consider what caused this or what might have preceded it, for his construction showed time itself began at the singularity. It is ironic to me, that Hawking also said at one time,

The laws of science, as we know them at present, seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.”

“Finely adjusted” implies intelligence in the laws, an intelligence with “intent” on the eventual creation of human and other beings, and for all we know, beings that replace humanity. Hawking also referred to the “mind of God” at least once: given that he was an atheist, I understand he used the word “God” out of deference to an intelligence we have not begun to understand as yet. I could only pray to have the intelligence of Hawking when my essence is reborn, but for now I will embrace my hypothesis of an “intrinsic governing intelligence” that permeates the universe we inhabit, and quite likely countless other universes, that I call the UC. I also know we do not have to worship it: we only need to appreciate that our own consciousness is “of it.”

By my way of thinking, the “All” in Buddha’s teaching that “all is mind,” can be taken literally, and “mind” is the “ocean of universal consciousness,” — the “intrinsic governing intelligence” of which our own mind and consciousness is a transitory “organ.” Each of us is connected to that ocean by our own little “mind stream” containing the same water that is in the great Sea: like the waters of our Mother Earth, there are many names and varieties of that precious wetness, but they are all water and are all connected and comingled (and we should be aware and remember that all the water on the Earth came from icy asteroids impacting our planet, so no only are we made from stardust, we drink and bath in stardust). You have your “stepping stones” along the water to rest and reflect as you explore and navigate the streams — and I have mine. Each of us in effect creates those stones by virtue of our mind via the engine of awareness (and I would add, karma — the actions and experiences of our prior incarnations and passing through other realms endlessly).

But first we must enter our personal stream and then condition our minds to “apprehend” those wet stones. Many humans sense there is “more to life,” but will be enticed, lulled and often forced by cultural conventions into adopting some religion common in their locale, and entirely miss feeling the wetness of full consciousness on their (spiritual) feet. We each have our own path, yet we are all wetted by the same vast and continuous pool of the universal consciousness. If we are consciously open, we can be assured that our own stepping stones will appear just when needed, so we needn’t fear slipping into the deep waters and drowning in confusion and fear. We do need to be diligent in our practices, to keep our minds clear, and practicing the Eight-fold Path of Buddhism (a practice not requiring one to be a Buddhist…even the most secular person can follow this path) — or any regimen that enhances the quality of our thoughts — is advisable.

Continuing with the water analogy, a few scientists/philosophers whose thinking I respect, such as Bernardo Kastrup, have likened the human mind to a tiny vortex — a “whirlpool” — in the primary consciousness. Our biological brain is the primary (and temporary) tenancy of the essence of our mind while we are in our sentient human form, but “we” are not our brains, nor the generated neurological awareness of these organs having a staggering 100-trillion synapses. The essence of our consciousness in my model is one that is an integral part of the universal consciousness, and “we” while in our present bodies are players in the machinations that allow the primary mind to grow and experience. It “is” because “we are.” I believe that is ultimately our sole purpose, to facilitate experiences for the UC and provide for its intelligent growth. Given the probability of countless other planets and lifeforms in the universe (and those likely residing in the dimensions of “non-matter”), the primary mind “lives” through the infinite totality of all these individual experiences. So, the UC consist of the primary intelligence, but we and all other lifeforms are the “flowers” — the dandelion blooms — through which the UC realizes awareness and experiences.

The UC could be likened to an infinite, intelligent “machine”, for lack of a better word, for it is cold and fully rational in its own ways, and does not have any built-in sense of right or wrong, or of joy or pain. If so, the world we know would not be what it is, unless that mind was also infinitely and purposefully cruel and uncaring: as the young Buddha saw when he first ventured out of the compound of his father’s castle, suffering is everywhere — but so is joy. The organic, built-in formulae of life is about suffering — and the “flipside” — joy. Buddha gave us the Four Noble Truths, indicating the path to escape suffering by attaining enlightenment. I now believe enlightenment is not to be taken as some “escape” from endless cycles of rebirth and suffering, but rather finding and abiding in a perpetual state of mind that will not be affected as a result of circumstances. I do realize this appears to be contrary to Buddhist teachings on seeking escape from endless rebirth, but the realizations I have on my intellectual path leads me to firmly believe this.

The mind of nirvana is accessible in the here and now. Enlightenment is not some “never, never land” to escape to, but a state of mind, of being. The Heart Sutra of Buddhism teaches of “no mind,” but also tells us of the buddhas reaching a place where the mind is unobscured. My belief is that by training our own minds and attaining the peace of a “little enlightenment” in this life, that we in time will achieve a state of being wholly “at one” with the mind of the UC, attaining a perfect and unobscured state. Meanwhile, the UC does need to experience suffering — and joy — in order to continue to grow and evolve itself, and biological life and human beings in particular are just players in this theater. This should not be seen as pessimistic, but rather as acceptance, knowing that by seeking and attaining enlightenment, at least we humans can remain unaffected at our spiritual core by the throes of suffering.

Enlightenment is an innate part of the UC’s intelligence, as we attain that state, so does the UC. We should also strive to alleviate all suffering to the extent we can in the world, whether the suffering are our fellow human beings, or animals, and I think, even flora. Life is a web, so if any suffer, we all do. Through our acts of kindness, continuing the “moral arc,” the UC also experiences and learns. An enlightened mind will, by virtue of the innate workings of the UC, eventually not experience reincarnation, but will remain diffused within the UC, totally free of any notion of “self.” Perhaps the UC will cease to “rebirth” when all life in countless rebirths has attained enlightenment, bringing the UC itself to a final state of balance.

Being now in the eighth decade of my life (in this incarnation) it seemed appropriate to put pen to my thoughts, primarily to logically filter and arrange the aspects of my view in a way that offers, for myself, a “neater” ontology of it all. While I know not the timing of my own transition from this world, I rest better as I approach the end knowing that I had done my best to arrive at a comfortable set of beliefs about life and the universe, and having answered to my own satisfaction the proverbial questions, mentioned above, of “how did I get here?” and “what is my purpose here (in this life)?” Having reached that state of being now, I can “just” live out my corporeal life trying to be a good, humble, compassionate, loving person. To write such a book as this, I knew I had to come to the reader with an authentic and heart-felt presentation of my views, and I do hope I have.

My quest started when a switch was flipped at the passing of my first beloved in 1994, seemingly “turning on” my spirit, then beckoning me into “the stream.” All along the way since, there have always appeared, “serendipitously,” a stepping stone each time I needed one to pause and balance upon, live life and think. I may be accused at times of “over thinking,” but “thinking” has proven to be — not my albatross — my bliss; certainly thinking has ushered me along my way for some twenty-five years now.

Expressing one’s personal spiritual journey in words seems to require more than narrative. Feelings, emotions, aspirations…are oft best conveyed in the form of poetry, music and art; sadly I have little faculty in any of these modes, but throughout this book I do hold out verses, some of my own penning, others borrowed from true poets and sages, in the hope these carry the reader closer to my intended meaning. I encourage any reader to try their hand at writing their own poems or songs…but then, you probably already do so! Occasionally I will fall back on quoting others who are specialists, people much smarter than I, to better explicate my ideation. But on the whole, I have endeavored to find my own words and approach to telling my story, and I hope I have found the right words to convey my story and sense of life.

(To be continued….)

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