“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens,” the Jewish prophet instructed. Whenever I do that, it makes me feel small. I think that was the prophet’s purpose. While we might be the dominant species on this third rock from the sun, we are overshadowed by our surroundings.
More than a thousand earth-sized planets would fit inside our largest neighbor, Jupiter, and more than a million of the same would fit inside the sun. That sun, giant as it may appear, is aptly classified as a yellow “dwarf,” for it is pint-sized compared to other celestial brothers and sisters. The largest star in the Milky Way galaxy is 2,000 times larger than the sun, so massive it is beyond our minds to imagine, and yet so far away, we cannot even see it with the naked eye. And this little galaxy we call home, populated with billions of stars, is just one among the trillion of such places. The universe is 550 sextillion miles of expanding light, dark matter, and cosmic energy.
In the words of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “If your ego starts saying, ‘I am important, I am big, I am special,’ you’re in for some disappointments when you look around at the universe. No, you’re not. You’re small in time and in space; and you have this frail vessel called the human body that’s limited to Earth. You are the center of nothing.”
The point could be made, by sheer astronomical fact, that we don’t matter all that much; mere bugs on universe’s windshield; specks of sand on creation’s infinite shore. We are little more than low-functioning, carbon-based organisms formed from a primordial soup in a marginal corner of the cosmos, our species only a finite flash in the pan. But, the opposite point could be made as well, a point well-sharpened by a story from the Buddha.
He posed the followed to a group of students: “Suppose that this earth were one great ocean, totally covered with water; and a small hoop floated on its surface. For a hundred years the hoop floats about; north, south, east, and west. In this ocean, there lives one single, blind sea turtle. At the end of those hundred years, what are the chances that this one blind turtle, coming to the surface of the water, could stick his head through that one hoop?”
Those listening to him thought for a moment and answered, “It would be very unusual – if it could ever happen at all – no matter how many chances the turtle got.” The Buddha replied, “And just so, it is very, very rare that one gets this chance to be alive.”
We would all do well to live a life of humility, for certainly no human being is the center or cause of the universe. And we would do well to live this life with all the zest and zing we can muster, for to have this chance is something of a miracle.
Photo by Cedric Frixon