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A souvenir of the Oneness

Strolling through street markets in Bali with an idea in mind for an especially memorable souvenir, many times merchants have thrust their trinkets at me and insisted they’re "same, same, but different”.

Interesting to think about how we see and assess things as being the same or being different. Sometimes things are the same and different simultaneously: but in that case it’s not the things themselves that change, it’s us who change our way of seeing them.

Think how no two snowflakes have ever been identical: each is unique in itself and different from every other. Yet, at the same time, all snowflakes are made of the same stuff, water. Each flake is a different example or different expression of the same substance, H2O.

Moreover, all the water that ever crystallises into snow has all fallen from the one sky.

We may see there a metaphor to describe the nature of the many things that make up our experience of reality. Each individual thing in itself is different from all other things; but at the very same time everything is made of the same basic energy, E = MC2. So, each thing is different but everything is the same. What we make of things depends on our perspective.

To take everything one step further, all the energy that has ever existed comes from one single Source in the Big Bang, which was the explosive expansion of the Primordial Singularity, 14 billion years ago. From the Primordial Singularity (the prime single, or "first One”!) energy materialised into space and time and atoms and gas and dust. Stars and planets formed, life evolved, dinosaurs came and went; and now we are here, thinking and talking and wondering about everything, including who we are and where it all came from.

But we’re not the first people to wonder about life, the universe and everything. All the traditions of philosophy and religion, East and West, reaching back over five thousand years, have wondered about the Source of who and what and where and why things are.

Not only that, all religions and many philosophies (including modern science) can be seen to offer a similar answer to those core questions. Each tradition has its own distinctive version but the essential narrative of the One and the Many is central to all. The basic story is that the whole manifold variety of life, the universe and everything has one single Source; and by living in tune with the Source, our souvenir is meaning, peace and happiness in life.

The core story of the One and the Many isn’t well known by that name, but it is easily recognised because it always follows the same formula. We see it in the science theories of the Big Bang and Evolution, which both tell how the many things come from the one thing.

It’s in the Hebrew book of Genesis (sacred text for Judaism, Christianity and Islam), which opens with the famous declaration: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” The pattern of the One and the Many is clearly there: from one divine Source comes all created things. Other religions, in their different ways, tell a version of the same story. "The one Tao is the mother of the 10,000 things,” says Lao-Tzu. In Hinduism, the one ultimate reality of Brahman is the spiritual essence of everything that exist; in Buddhism, too, the one Mind is found as the source and substance of all things and lives and minds.

Philosophy and religion describe the connection between the One and the Many in the macrocosm of the universe, from the ultimate reality of the primordial Source to the individual reality of this moment in time.

Through sustained reflection on the microcosm of our own individual experience of present-time-consciousness, we can retrace that flow of unfolding energy to the Source of our own existence, which is the Source of all existence.

Naturally, we treasure experiences of oneness that connect our life to the whole of all life; and it’s nice to have a trinket to remind us. But the most memorable of all souvenirs is a perspective that sees the Many, the Oneness and the One as "same, same… not different!”