Self is arrayed as the whole world.
Dogen, Uji (Cleary 1986, 345)

What you are aware of, mindful with, is the entire universe, as far as you are presently concerned. Can you point out one thing in the universe that you are not aware of?

No, but you can surely think of things or events that you became aware of, things that surely existed before you were aware of them, events that you did not foresee, places you have never been, situations that did not concern you at the time.

So you are aware that there is more to the universe than you are now aware of, or will ever be aware of. You also know that some of your beliefs about it have turned out to be wrong, which leads you to believe that some of what you now “know” may also be wrong. The universe of your awareness is infinitely incomplete. Does that concern you?

Charles S. Peirce was thinking along these lines in 1913, a few months before his death, when he wrote that

what I am aware of, or, to use a different expression for the same fact, what I am conscious of, or, as the psychologists strangely talk, the “contents of my consciousness” (just as if what I am conscious of and the fact that I am conscious were two different facts, and as if the one were inside the other), this same fact, I say, however it be worded, is evidently the entire universe, so far as I am concerned. At least, so it would seem. Yet there is a wonderful revelation for me in the phenomenon of my sometimes becoming conscious that I have been in error, which at once shows me that if there can be no universe, as far as I am concerned, except the universe I am aware of, still there are differences in awareness. I become aware that though “universe” and “awareness” are one and the same thing, yet somehow the universe will go on in some definite fashion after I am dead and gone, whether I shall be the least aware of it, or not.
— Peirce, EP2:472
Life flows on within you and without you.
— George Harrison, 1967

Charles Peirce and George Harrison are both dead and gone now, and life flows on without them. It flows within you too, the little current of awareness, the entire universe as far as you are concerned, but a drop in the Big Current of Okeanos. The bubble of what you know embodies your concerns, and though it’s only made of surface tension, there’s no getting out of it while you live. At best you can take in the odd bit from beyond the barrier to make it a little bigger.

Peirce was thinking about this too toward the end of his life:

… I was many years ago led to define “real” as meaning being such as it is, no matter how you, or, I, or any man or definite collection of men may think it to be; where I use the long and awkward phrase in order to avoid all appearance ​of meaning ​independently of human thought. For obviously, nothing that I or anybody ever can mean can be independent of human thought. That is real which men would eventually and finally come to think to be absolutely necessary to be thought in order to understand the truth, supposing the existence and advance in knowledge of the human race to be continued without any limitation, though I cannot pretend that I have as distinct an idea of exactly what that means as I could wish. But, alas, there seems to be a principle as inexorable as that of action and reaction condemning those creatures who enjoy the privilege of perpetually learning to find their outlook forever confined within a sharply drawn horizon, a confinement the more exasperating for the fact that they have only to exert themselves sufficiently in order to enlarge it while leaving it still a prison-wall.
— Peirce (R 681: 35–36, 1913) quoted by Lane (2018, 193-4)

What does it mean to suppose ‘the existence and advance in knowledge of the human race to be continued without any limitation’? Certainly not to believe that human life will never end, or that human knowledge will be forever advancing. It means to imagine what it would take for humans to finally ‘understand the truth,’ knowing the finality to be imaginary.

As for the little current, what does it mean to suppose you’ve been selected for a secret mission? It means to imagine that your life has a definite purpose. Why would you do that?

Gut feelings

In the early stages of writing my book Turning Signs, i was very strongly moved by the realization that the world is inside out – that the whole of your experience of the world is something going on in your brain. This activity is taking place at the cellular and subcellular levels, and not until the 20th Century was it possible to investigate in detail how these microcosmic processes actually work to generate our thoughts and feelings. More recently we are learning that the brain is only part of this microcosm.

At the same time, we have been developing the technology to explore the macrocosm, the vast reaches of the physical universe. This development began 400 years ago with the first telescope, but it was only 100 years ago that we recognized the existence of other galaxies far beyond our own. Our knowledge, our cognitive universe, has been expanding both inwards and outwards toward the micro- and macroscopic limits of our augmented perception. Our comprehension of time has also expanded in scale, in both directions: we have begun to appreciate how much can happen in a millisecond, and how long it takes the light from a distant galaxy to reach us. Our moment in cosmic time is marked by a wonderful flowering of the imagination.

Returning to the microscopic scale, this excerpt from a recent Science magazine article is a good example of that flowering:

Over the past 20 years, the recognition that the microbes living inside us outnumber our body’s own cells has turned our view of ourselves inside out. The gut microbiome, as it’s known, weighs about 2 kilograms— more than the 1.4-kilogram human brain— and may have just as much influence over our bodies. Thousands of species of microbes (not only bacteria but also viruses, fungi, and archaea) reside in the gut. And with as many as 20 million genes among them, those microbes pack a genomic punch that our measly 20,000 genes can’t match. Gut bacteria can make and use nutrients and other molecules in ways the human body can’t— a tantalizing source of new therapies.

The brain is the newest frontier, but it’s one with an old connection to the gut. The ancient Greeks, for example, believed mental disorders arose when the digestive tract produced too much black bile. And long before microbes were discovered, some philosophers and physicians argued that the brain and gut were partners in shaping human behavior. “What probably happens is that our brain and our gut are in constant communication,” says [John] Cryan, who over the past decade has helped drive efforts to decode those communications.

—Elizabeth Pennisi, “Meet the Psychobiome” (Science, 8 May 2020, Vol. 368 Issue 6491, p. 571)

John Cryan is a neuropharmacologist at University College Cork. He and a psychiatrist colleague, Ted Dinan, coined the term “psychobiotics” for the new field of research into microbe-based treatments for mental illnesses. No doubt this research is being funded by an industry hoping for profits down the road, but it contributes nonetheless to the flowering of imagination that “has turned our view of ourselves inside out.” In 2020, the virus which has turned our daily lives upside down should only add to our respect for life at the micro-scale and its effect on our human-scale lives.

On the other hand, our growing ability to conceive of (and measure) vast differences of scale in space and time is still rooted in the human scale of experiencing. We know much more about past events than we do about the future, but the past is no more present to us than the future. What is present to us is the remains of the past, the traces of what’s happened, the signs we can read in order to imagine our planet’s history with some degree of accuracy. In the same way, by reading what is present to us and puzzling out some reasons why it is the way it is, we imagine the future with some degree of plausibility.

Our ability to imagine the deep-time context of the present moment enables us to feel its presence all the more deeply. That’s the gift of this brief moment in the history of the universe. But our acceptance of this gift, our experience of it, seems to depend on the myriads of microbes inhabiting the psychobiome. We begin to see with our high-power microscopes how much of our mental life we owe to gut feelings.

Stealing into simplicity

Broadcast, O mullāh,
your merciful call to prayer—
  you yourself are a mosque
with ten doors. Make your mind your Mecca,
your body, the Ka’aba—
  your Self itself
is the Supreme Master. In the name of Allāh, sacrifice
your anger, error, impurity—
chew up your senses,
become a patient man. The lord of the Hindus and Turks
is one and the same—
  why become a mullāh,
why become a sheikh? Kabir says, brother,
I’ve gone crazy—
  quietly, quietly, like a thief,
my mind has slipped into the simple state.

— Kabir, from Weaver’s Songs, tr. Vinay Dharwadker. Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Nothing is hidden

Whatever i am saying now, it may be true or not, but there is no doubt that i am saying it.

Whatever you are seeing now, it may be real or not, but you are really seeing it.

The same goes for whatever appears in any way at any time to anyone.

This whatever appears was called by Peirce the phaneron. There is nothing hiding behind it; it does not signify something else; there is nothing else. It appears to none other than the primal person; there is no one else.

It may be called the buddha nature.

Thus, all are buddha nature. One form of all beings is sentient beings. At this very moment, the inside and outside of sentient beings are the all are of buddha nature.…

Buddha nature is immediate, and there is no second person, just as it is said, “Cut through the original person beyond knowing; action consciousness continues without ceasing.” Buddha nature is not the being of imaginary causation, because “Nothing is hidden in the entire world.”

“Nothing is hidden in the entire world” does not necessarily mean “The entire world is full of beings.” To say, “The entire world is self-existence” is a crooked view held by those outside the way. What is not hidden is not original beings, as it encompasses past and present. It is not an embryonic being, as it is not affected by even one speck of dust from outside. It is not a suddenly emerged being, as it is shared by all beings. It is not a beginningless being, as it is “What has thus come?” It is not an embryonic being, as “Everyday mind is the way.”

Know that in the midst of all are, sentient beings are hard to find. If you thoroughly understand all are, all are will be penetrated and dropped off.

— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Bussho’ (Tanahashi 2010, 234-5)

Kabir on Presence

For the sake of concord among religions, let us agree that the Creator is beyond our understanding.

Let us also agree that the Creator is not remote from us, but is a Presence in our lives.

15th-century Indian poet Kabir addressed these remarks to a sadhu (religious ascetic who has renounced the worldly life):

Kabir says: “O Sadhu! hear my deathless words. If you want your own good, examine and consider them well.
You have estranged yourself from the Creator, of whom you have sprung: you have lost your reason, you have bought death.
All doctrines and all teachings are sprung from Him, from Him they grow: know this for certain, and have no fear.
Hear from me the tidings of this great truth!
Whose name do you sing, and on whom do you meditate? O, come forth from this entanglement!
He dwells at the heart of all things, so why take refuge in empty desolation?
If you place the Guru at a distance from you, then it is but the distance that you honour:
If indeed the Master be far away, then who is it else that is creating this world?

Kabir III.63 (Tagore 1915)

Everything that is hath come to be through His irresistible decree.

Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas ¶7

All things proceed from God and unto Him they return. He is the source of all things and in Him all things are ended.

Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas ¶144


They were offered the choice of becoming Kings or the couriers of kings. They way children would, they all wanted to be couriers. Therefore there are only couriers who hurry about the world, shouting to each other – since there are no kings – messages that have become meaningless. They would like to put an end to their miserable lives but they dare not because of their oaths of service.

— FranzKafka (1961, 175)

Worlds in relation

John Deely (2001) uses the terms ‘object’ and ‘subject’ in their proper semiotic senses to explain the concepts of Umwelt and Innenwelt:

To begin with, the world of awareness includes only a small part of the physical environment. Furthermore, the world of awareness is organized differently than the physical environment is organized in its own being apart from the organism. The selectivity and species-specific network of relations according to which an organism becomes aware of its environment is called an Umwelt. “Umwelt” therefore is a technical expression meaning precisely objective world. In the objective world of a moth, bats are something to be avoided. In the objective world of a bat, moths are something to be sought. For bats like to eat moths, while moths, like most animals, are aversive to being eaten.

Each type of cognitive organism, we may say, has, so to speak, its own “psychology”, its own way of “seeing the world”, while the world itself, the physical environment, is something more than what is seen, and has a rather different organization than the organization it acquires in the “seeing”. The world as known or “seen” is an objective world, species-specific in every case. That is what “objective” throughout this work principally means: to exist as known. Things in the environment may or may not exist as known. When they are cognized or known, they are objects as well as things. But, as things, they exist regardless of being known. Furthermore, not every object is a thing. A hungry organism will go in search of an object which it can eat, to wit, an object which is also a thing. But if it fails to encounter such an object for a long enough time, the organism will die of starvation. An organism may also be mistaken in what it perceives as an object, which is why camouflage is so often used in the biological world. So, not only is it the case that objects and things are distinct in principle, the former by necessarily having, the latter by being independent of, a relation to some knower; it is also the case that not all objects are things and not all things are objects.

The “psychology” or interior states, both cognitive and affective, on the basis of which the individual organism relates to its physical surroundings or environment in constituting its particular objective world or Umwelt is called an Innenwelt. The lnnenwelt is a kind of cognitive map on the basis of which the organism orients itself to its surroundings. The Innenwelt, therefore, is “subjective” in just the way that all physical features of things are subjective: it belongs to and exists within some distinct entity within the world of physical things. The Innenwelt is part of what identifies this or that organism as distinct within its environment and species. But that is not the whole or even the main story of the Innenwelt. The subjective psychological states … constitute the Innenwelt … insofar as they give rise to relationships which link that individual subject with what is other than itself, in particular its objectified physical surroundings.

These relationships, founded on, arising or provenating from psychological states as subjective states, are not themselves subjective. If they were, they would not be relationships. If they were, they would not be links between individual and environment …. They exist between the individual and whatever the individual is aware of.
The relationships, in short, are over and above the psychological states. The relationships depend upon the subjective states; they do not exist apart from the individual. But they do not exist in thc individual either. They exist between the individual and whatever the individual is aware of …

A concrete illustration should help make the point. The first time you visit a new city, you are easily lost. You have little or no idea of “where you are”. Gradually, by observing various points of reference, the surroundings take on a certain familiarity. What started out as objects gradually turn into signs thanks to which you “know where you are”. Soon enough, you are able to find your way around the new place “without even thinking about it”. What you have done is to construct an lnnenwelt which organizes the relevant physical surroundings into a familiar Umwelt.

— Deely 2001, 6-7