In terms of our meaning-seeking, the “celestial palace” we want is a mandala of the cosmos that embodies our understanding of our place in the universe. Buddhists have palace-mandalas to symbolize their map of their spiritual cosmos and to locate themselves and their leaders in that cosmos. The mandala is a building that stands as a framework for reality. Our scientific-cosmological mandala is much younger than the Buddhist ones, but quite sturdier in its reality-infrastructure. Science is still in the process of building our celestial palace.
We need the cosmic mandala, the celestial palace. We need to see how and where we fit in the picture of the universe and then make that picture as tangible as possible, hence the construction of a “palace.” Perhaps the closest science can come to a physically analogous Buddhist mandala is a good planetarium show. But a mandala is really a map and that’s what we need– a reality-map indicating the human coordinates in time and space. And that’s exactly what science wants to build. Indeed, one of the big questions astronomy is really after is:
Where are we?! … Where and what is our home in the cosmic panorama? In no way have we finished answering that question.
We experience every day with a secured sense that we are living out our lives on some sort of a stable milieu. Not the case, at all. Planet Earth zooms around our solar magnetic fireball at 30 kilometers per second– that’s faster than a speeding bullet (which is around 1 kilometer per second)!! And the Sun is rushing around the galaxy at about 200 kilometers per second– that’s faster than the fastest man-made object! The opalescent Milky Way itself is hurtling towards the Andromeda galaxy at 80 kilometers per second for an inevitable cosmic crash… A chaotic bee hive seems a more apt description of our reality than a steadfast terra firma. So much for any kind of physical stability.
Less than one hundred years ago, we could not answer the “where are we” question to much extent. This is because we didn’t understand what a galaxy was or if there were other galaxies. So we didn’t know what the universe was made of at all. How lucky we are to be in the instance of human history that’s starting to draw out the chart of existence. And that chart is transpiring into something slightly insane… Yes, we live on a speeding-bullet planet, on a faster-moving Sun in a system of hundreds of billions of stellar and planetary neighbors that are whirling through the cosmos at ridiculous rates. But there are also hundreds of billions of other star-embellished paisley galaxies that fill the cosmic jewel box that is the universe. It’s preposterous. There are more stars, planets, and galaxies looming in the universe than our brains can really register. What’s more, the vastness of the vacuum of space separating galaxies is so dauntingly gargantuan that our animal synapses can barely begin to imagine it. Yet the vastness swells as I write because of the acceleration of the cosmic expansion. And there’s nothing “outside” of the universe because the Big Bang itself sprouted time and space. Unless… there were other Big Bangs, in which case we live in the Multiverse, a stellar landscape of bountiful bubble universes. The Multiverse is not science fiction. If another universe touched ours or interacted with ours then we could detect it’s eerie existence. Some cosmologists think we’ve already found evidence of this!
Our celestial palace is something pretty absurd. And we are immersed in the absurdity. It can only get more absurd from here on out. But we’ve put ourselves on the map. We just don’t have any idea how far the map could stretch… We’re the cosmic Columbus in this flicker of earth history. We know where one green dot lies on the galactic map. But that’s it, we’ve only started. We’ve only just quasi-realized ourselves.