The Invincibility of Loving the World

When his oldest friend and longtime collaborator, Michele Besso, died only a few months before he himself would pass from this life, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to his family. He mentioned that their letter correspondence later in life could never quite live up to their conversations on walks home from university when they were young, for “with his pen, Besso could not keep up with his versatile spirit.”

Einstein closes the letter with a now famous phrase: “Now he has again preceded me a little in parting from this strange world. This has no importance. For people like us who believe in physics, the separation between past, present, and future has only the importance of an admittedly tenacious illusion.” As the man who had corrected Isaac Newton, proving time is relative, not absolute, Einstein knew a thing or two about this “tenacious illusion.”

So did Siddhartha, the protagonist of Hermann Hesse’s eponymous novel. After a long journey through life that seems to have gone in one big circle, he, too, concludes that “‘times to come’ are a deception, are only a parable.” The enlightenment Siddhartha had been chasing? It was within him all along — and everywhere around him, too. “The world is not imperfect, or on a slow path towards perfection: No, it is perfect in every moment. All sin already carries the divine forgiveness in itself; all small children already have the old person in themselves; all infants already have death; all dying people the eternal life.”

Whether we do so through deep meditation or some other means, if we “put time out of existence” and imagine all happenings — past, present, and future — as simultaneous, we shall see that in this state of unity, “everything is good, everything is perfect, everything is Brahman,” Siddhartha explains. It is only from this oneness, this attitude of total, complete acceptance, that we can draw a unique kind of invincibility, he continues: “Therefore, I see whatever exists as good. Death is to me like life, sin like holiness, wisdom like foolishness. Everything has to be as it is. Everything only requires my consent, only my willingness, my loving agreement, to be good for me, to do nothing but work for my benefit, to be unable to ever harm me.”

Of course, Siddhartha had to walk a long and arduous path to arrive at this conclusion. He had to sin, to suffer, to lust, to lose, to desire and to despair “in order to learn how to give up resisting. In order to learn how to love the world. In order to stop comparing it to some world I wished for, some world I imagined, a made up kind of perfection I invented,” and to instead “leave it as it is, and love it, and enjoy being a part of it.”

It’s hard to believe that the world is perfect, especially with so much evidence to the contrary thrown in our faces every day. It is harder still, however, to practice this belief on a daily basis and act accordingly when it is tested. When you get fired, face disease, or lose a loved one. Yet it is outright impossible for me, or Siddhartha, or even a man as brilliant as Albert Einstein to hand you this belief on a silver platter. It must be won by walking the path of life. Your path. A path no one knows, not even you, until you’ve walked it.

Everything has already happened. Everything is always happening. Everything will always still happen. The golden Buddha was, is, and will be inside you. At which perceived point during the tenacious illusion we call time will you choose to be it? That might be life’s greatest mystery — but perhaps all it requires is our consent, our willingness, our loving agreement to be good for us, to do nothing but work for our benefit, to be unable to ever harm us.

After all, thus goes a message Einstein passed on to a little boy near the very end of his life, on against the imaginary yet stubborn current of time, a message he once learned together with his friend Michele when he was young: “One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. Do not stop to think about the reasons for what you are doing, about why you are questioning. The important thing is not to stop questioning. Never lose a holy curiosity” — and if it is curiosity that gets us to love the world as it is, to be a versatile spirit that enjoys being a part of life, the universe, and everything that exists, then that truly must be the noblest of all, perhaps even a holy pursuit, don’t you think?