Nobody has ever found ‘the universe’

Rupert Spira
Rupert Spira

Rupert Spira

Our entire world culture is founded on a single belief, the belief that there is a substance that exists outside of Consciousness, called ‘matter’. The matter is believed to be the fundamental reality of all existence, and Consciousness is believed to derive somehow from this substance of the matter. Whether we realize it or not, almost all our thoughts, feelings, activities and relationships are founded upon this primary assumption.

Strangely, the idea of matter was invented a few thousand years ago, and we have been looking for it ever since. Scientists are still looking for it — they haven’t found it! Many scientists believe that it’s just a matter of a few more years and a few more million dollars until we eventually find this stuff called matter. And philosophers have been thinking about the nature of matter and its relation to Consciousness for over two thousand years.

The fact that nobody once, for a moment, has ever glimpsed this substance seems not to have had too much impact on the debate. It’s like spending centuries discussing the eating habits of the Loch Ness Monster. The fact that nobody has ever seen the Loch Ness Monster is considered detail and seems to have been overlooked. It is believed that one day we will find it, but in the meantime let’s continue to discuss its eating habits. That is how absurd the debate about the matter is!

The second most important unanswered question that Peter mentioned last night is the ‘hard problem of Consciousness’. The question, ‘How can Consciousness be derived from matter?’ is a pseudo-question, a non-existent question. Did anyone else notice the contradiction in those two questions? The first question was, ‘What is the nature of the universe?’ and the second question was, ‘How is Consciousness derived from matter?’ Is the contradiction in those two questions not staring us in the face?

In the first most important unanswered question, ‘What is the nature of the universe?’, we acknowledge that we don’t know what the nature of the universe is. In the second question, ‘How is Consciousness derived from matter?’ we make a huge leap of faith. We presume this substance called matter, having already acknowledged in the previous question that we have no idea what the universe is made of, and then we ask how Consciousness is derived from it.

Even in the first question, there is a subtle presumption, which turns out in the end to be a belief. In fact, it is a religion, the religion of materialism. It asks, ‘What is the universe made of?’ but nobody has ever found ‘the universe’. Has anybody here ever had an experience of the universe as though conceives it?

What are we exploring when we try to explore the nature of the universe? Are we trying to explore something we don’t experience? All we know of a universe is a series of fleeting perceptions, and perceptions appear in Consciousness. Therefore, until we know the nature of the Consciousness in which our perceptions appear, it is not possible to know anything that is true about perceptions themselves, let alone to know anything true about the universe.

I believe that one day the highest science will no longer be considered the science of physics; it will be the new science of Consciousness.

Excerpted from Science and Non-Duality Talk, Titignano, Italy 2015.  Rupert Spira is an international teacher of the Advaita Vedanta and a notable English potter. His 60th birth anniversary is being observed on March 13.