Discovering the World Within

By Jin-yeong Yi

“While I am clearly a creature who lives in a specific time and who occupies a particular place, I am not like the plants of the field or the beasts of the forest. I am not bound in the same way that they are bound by either time or space. With my mind I can move back into the past and forward into the future. I can even transport myself to places different from the one I presently occupy. So I experience something about my life that is both limitless and timeless.”

—John Shelby Spong, Eternal Life: A New Vision

“Each Star must go on its own orbit.”

—Aleister Crowley

In everyday life, I not infrequently step back from my current situation and surroundings and examine them. I am almost never satisfied with the picture I see. I find it natural to ask myself, Is this the only existence, the only world I will ever know?

I actually don’t think that I despise this world, even if it may look like I despise it. Besides giving me life, this world made my standards, and provided me with all of the inspiration I have.

That said, I consider this world to be a cradle. I don’t know about you, but I can imagine a richer and grander existence than that of grinding away as a cog in the machine of civilization, forever a slave to financial and social obligations. I can imagine a more sublime and poetic existence than that of long commutes through the concrete desert, of paying bills, of dealing with human dysfunction, of reading about the latest horrors in the news. Above all, I can imagine a freer existence than that of having my desires restrained and restricted by the laws of nature. I can imagine a bigger world, a more beautiful world. It’s not difficult to imagine how humankind came up with the idea of supernatural realms, of an afterlife.

I’m not calling for a revolution here. As I have stated before, I am of the opinion that no human efforts can redeem the prison of the real. If anything, I am suggesting the obvious: that we can make the best of our term of incarceration. We can’t redeem prison, but we can redeem our time in prison, or at least try. What that entails will differ for each individual, given the variation of predilections among us. However, there are certain methods that most of us can use, in similar ways, to our advantage.

One of these methods is creativity. To my mind, there are few greater ways to redeem the time than taking the imagination and translating it into something concrete, whether it be a painting, a song, or a poem.

If you aren’t content with this world but don’t believe that you’ll ever be given another, then consider creating your own. Let’s face it: how likely is it that the countless factors directing the course of history will swing in your favor? Will the world you desire eventually come about if you work hard enough, or just wait long enough? Probably not. It seems clear that you’re going to have to take matters into your own hands, in the here and now.

One of the greatest saving graces of being human, in my view, is the ability to dream up places other than the one we inhabit. Though these parallel universes don’t exist outside of our minds, they are real enough for us to live in, thanks to another saving grace of being human: the ability to mentally transport ourselves beyond the boundaries of space and time. That is why we can find so much value in the creations of a J. R. R. Tolkien, a Henry Darger, or an H. P. Lovecraft.

I encourage you to never fall into the trap of thinking that this mundane world is all you have. Recognize that you can fashion your own world and live in it–even in the midst of the daily grind. If you haven’t already, why not start today by answering this question for yourself: If you could, at this moment, leave this world for your own world, what would your world be like, and what would life there be like?

The Sandbox of the Gods

By Jin-yeong Yi

“The brain is wider than the sky, / For, put them side by side, / The one the other will contain / With ease, and you beside.”

—Emily Dickinson

A Japanese translation of the title of American Unitarian Universalist writer Robert Fulghum’s widely parodied collection of essays, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, reads, “Jinsei ni Hitsuyou na Chie wa Subete Youchien no Sunaba de Mananda,” which may be translated as “All the wisdom I need in life I learned in the sandbox in kindergarten.” The key word here is the word that was added to the original: sandbox.

This sentence helped me to realize what I really want to do in life: play! Unlike most activities, play is not engaged in for the sake of something else, but for its own sake. Here the line between goal and accomplishment is blurred.

In some schools of Hindu thought, the cosmos and all events within it are said to be the product of creative play (lila) by Brahman, or God. I can think of no grander mode of existence. It’s as pure as it is unrestricted. And it turns out that a humble pastime of small children, and not the worldly ambitions of adults, bears the closest resemblance to life as a God.

Hence my near-obsession with the dream world–it is a limitless sandbox in which one can, in theory, do just about anything that one can imagine oneself doing. In the universe that exists within the depths of one’s mind, no barrier exists between imagination and realization. In the dream world, to imagine something is to make it real.

Rediscovering God in a Godless Universe

By Jin-yeong Yi

“It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God – but to create him.”

—Arthur C. Clarke

“If there is no God…if there is no thing called ‘God’…if He is nothing, can’t something come from Him?”

—Stephen Colbert, interview with Lawrence Krauss

I am an atheist, but I believe in God. Depending on your cultural background, this sentence may have made absolutely no sense to you. Not long ago, it wouldn’t have made any sense to me either, because the only definition of “God” that I was really aware of was the omnipotent/omniscient/omnipresent monotheistic, patriarchal deity of orthodox Christianity. My inquiries outside of the Christian mainstream; specifically in deism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Spinozism, as well as progressive Christianity; eventually cured me of this myopia. I came to realize that the word “God” could mean anything at all. Then finally, I realized that the word could mean something for me as well.

Seen in this light, the “One nation under God” controversy seems pointless, a complete waste of time, even. There have been myriad religions throughout the millennia that affirmed different and conflicting definitions of the word “God.” Depending on the definition, “God” can be something affirmable for everyone, even atheists. All that one needs to do is to refashion the word for one’s own purposes.

One of the people who helped open up the possibilities of this Word of words to me was the Dutch Christian pastor Klaas Hendrikse, a religious maverick who caused his share of controversy in the late 2000’s with his book, whose title is translated as Believing in a God Who Does Not Exist: Manifesto of an Atheist Pastor. He explained, “God is for me not a being but a word for what can happen between people.” His words never faded from my consciousness, and they continue to inspire me in my ongoing quest to find out what God means to me.

In the same way theists use the word to denote what they worship as the Most High, I use the word as a linguistic vessel that gives expression to my subjective emotional reaction to something I find to be particularly beautiful or sublime. In this sense, I may experience the presence of Godhead, in varying degrees, when looking at a work of art, listening to a piece of music, reading a book, watching a motion picture, gazing at natural scenery, or ruminating on the wonders of science and mathematics. If religious service is the contemplation and worship of everything that one holds to be holy and sacred, then daily life for me is, on some level, one continuous, unending religious service.

The word is also a source of daily inspiration in my life. For me, God is the impossible standard of absolute perfection. God cannot be reached; God can only be pursued, for God is infinite. We can move toward God, but we can never reach God. This is only natural, for God is infinitely above us. But as long as we move in the direction of God, we cannot help but grow and evolve through our efforts. To understand God is to recognize that growth and evolution have no end point any more than progress with a musical instrument has an end point–that there’s always, always room for betterment. Amen.