I slide my phone shut as the track finishes downloading and look around. Airports. At times, perhaps even more than cities, they are the symbols of the material center of the modern world. Here is perhaps the greatest display of the best and the worst of humanity. Paranoia and tensions mix with impatience as each traveler is made to go through such intense screening just to see another part of the world. Yet here still is the greatest mix of people that an observer could ever see. Be they the archetypical New York businessman pacing around in front of the window, or the rowdy group of kids that are quite obviously still in high school suited up for an off-time tropical spring break adventure, or the noticeably Orthodox Jews emerging from a plane inbound from Israel, these people are from all parts of the world and all corners of societies, and they all exist here traveling and searching for something.
The song that I downloaded is one that I haven’t heard before, as the CD it is supposed to be on was scratched when I bought it off of eBay, curiously enough over only that one track. As I listen to this song that I should have heard long ago, but didn’t, I am struck by one line in the chorus, “I’ll ***** a path far from here.” Now, this line intrigues me for two reasons. The first is that I cannot pick what word goes in that second slot. I’ve narrowed it down to “light” and “write” but because of Tom Delonge’s habit of warping words and somehow managing to stick an extra Y-sound into each word he speaks, I cannot go any further. And although I am personally more partial to have the “write” inserted into the blank, given my field of interest, the second reason is that either word makes for a phrase that gets me to thinking, about myself, about all these travelers around me, and even about the species as a whole.
This small device, I realize, is just as much a window into the world as that one behind me whose light is glaring off the screen I am trying to look at. A hundred or so years ago, as the movies tell us, at everybody’s side was another small device, a gun, which through flame and controlled explosion was capable of killing. Now, each of us carries at our side one that through electrical signals and controlled radio frequency is capable of uniting any and all at any time. If that small progress is not a sign of hope for us, I cannot say what could be.
I slide open the phone once more with the intention of locating the missing word in this phase once and for all. Instead, I am distracted by my mobile’s homepage on Wikipedia. The article of the day catches my eye as a term I have heard of before, but never delved into too deeply.
There exists a concept in eastern religious tradition (primarily Hinduism, but also Buddhism to some extent) known as Brahman. According to the article, it is usually translated as Supreme Cosmic Spirit or Absolute Reality. The American transcendentalist writers of the 1800’s translated the concept as the ‘Oversoul’. It is an eternal and omniscient, though not necessarily sentient, universal consciousness. It is from this Brahman that all knowledge emerges, and indeed what all life is connected by, as we are each a part of this essence.
I accidentally press the clear button as I am scrolling through the article, bringing me back to a desktop picture of me sitting on the couch with the Simpsons. Still, the article had given me enough to ponder for the moment. Brahman, Oversoul, whatever one chooses to call it, it is always described, like so many other things along these metaphysical lines, as being unknowable and indescribable. I don’t buy this. Resorting to simply saying something is beyond human comprehension seems like admitting defeat rather than trying, and almost an insult to human potential.
And I suppose that dichotomy of attitudes, different ways of thinking about our roles in the universe, whether active or passive, is embodied in those two different possibilities of lyrics that I cannot decide upon. On the one hand, there is the possibility of light a path far from here. This is the passive path, accepting the Brahman or the Universe or whatever higher ideals may exist as being unknowable and simply letting it guide your fate.
Then there is also the other option to write a path far from here. And in this option is an active choice, to not simply accept that which the Universe has given you, but to mold it and sculpt reality to your own design. That wannabe-hippie walking through the metal detector who is likely giving some cliché speech to the security personnel about living free at least has the right idea, though he likely doesn’t realize it. If I were to ask him what his motives in life were, he would likely give a quasi-Taoist answer along the lines of “going with flow” which is nothing but an inherently passive approach to life. Yet, a closer look would reveal the choice that he made when he was tired of waiting for someone to show him the way, and instead saw that one small chance to be himself and took his life into his own hands, writing his path in the Oversoul.
So what is the Brahman? Short of sounding like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s definition of the Force, Brahman is a universal essence that is all around us and which connects us to all other life and contains the sum of universal knowledge. All of these people walking past this row of uncomfortable seats, those taking to the air and those returning to the ground, even that crying baby two rows over that first convinced me that I needed to download the song so that I could listen to anything else, we are all supposed to be connected by this essence. Yet, what else can connect us?
I open the phone again and access my Facebook account. On it, I can find out things about my friends that they may never have even told me, like my friend Travis who calls himself “the coolest friggin nerd you will ever meet” or a certain bearded classmate of mine whose recently updated status tells me that he is currently wasted on PBR. This is just another way of connecting to each other and all information on here is volunteered by, created by, the people accessing it. When we are all out there, creating our own mark in this kind of environment, choosing what part of ourselves we show, perhaps DeLonge’s former bandmate sums it up best in his lyric, “None of us are strangers anymore.”
This ever-present essence of Brahman is something that exists all around us and yet is completely outside of our comprehension, our grasp, as it has existed before time and creation and is beyond both. Yet, there are those who spend their entire lives (or even multiple) in an attempt to grasp it, which although admirable, is ultimately futile when what you are seeking can admittedly never be found.
But, that then begs the question of what are we looking for? Most would likely say meaning or purpose. Perhaps salvation. Does the Brahman fill this void? Does the idea of something, anything beyond us give us that slightest hope and light the way? It seems more an answer constructed out of fear.
Why is it that the path must be lit for us? Are we so terrified of what will happen if we write our own? Is everything that we have already done not enough to justify even the slightest bit of hope to those who seek it elsewhere? We now have our own collective unconscious that retains all of the knowledge of our universe, and unlike the Brahman, which is so far out of our reach, our artificial Brahman is very tangible. Likewise, rather than looking outward and upward for a purpose to be illuminated to us, perhaps it is time that we look around ourselves and inward and realize that we can create our own purpose.
The loudspeaker calls out that it is time for me to board the plane. I check to make sure that my backpack is zipped and full of food before heading toward the gate. It’s going to be a long flight, I realize as I am redirected to another article vaguely related to Brahman.
There also exists in Eastern religious tradition a concept called a vimana. It is a type of ancient flying machine said to be used by the gods as chariots as they fought their wars in the heavens. There are even texts within the ancient Indian epics regarding the vimanas that are essentially what we would consider technical manuals. And so in these cylindrical vessels of godliness, we have again written another chapter along our own path.
As the plane begins to move, I am asked by the captain to shut off any mobile devices, including my phone, effectively cutting me off from the collective unconscious of the world for the time being. Yet, I know that it is still there going on without me as the rest of the world is leaving its own imprint upon this artificial Oversoul, drawing upon its knowledge and adding to it in the process. I take the microSD card out of my disabled phone and once again start playing the track in my media player, and for the moment, I can take solace in the fact that I do not know whether it is “light” or “write” that should be in that inspiring lyric, since I know that we as a species are doing both. So you too, go and write your own path.