Seeing the recent pictures from the James Webb telescope I recalled an answer a Professor of Astrophysics at an Oxford College recently gave me when I asked him,
‘Where is the Universe?’
As in ‘Where do you live, what’s your address, will I need a visitor’s parking ticket if I come after nine am? Talking of time, what are the Universe’s hours?
Is it above something, is anything next to it, is there anything below it or, as Einstein once joked, does it sit on a turtle and it’s ‘turtles all the way down.’
Does it have an edge? Are there warning signs saying, ‘Edge of the Universe 2 light years ahead ‘?
In answer to these the Astrophysics Professor seized my hand and pointing to the centre of my palm announced
It’s not good enough. Here we are, all that money spent, and we still don’t know where we live.
A learned friend explained the Professor’s answer. It comes from Buddha & The Monkey: After escaping from Laozi’s furnace, Sun Wukong battles his way through heaven until the Buddha is called in to halt his rebellion. The Enlightened One makes him a wager that, if he can jump out of his hand, the macaque will become the new ruler of heaven. Monkey agrees to the wager and jumps into his palm. With one tremendous leap, Sun speeds towards the reaches of heaven, clouds whizzing by him in a blur of colours as he travels across the sky. He lands before five great pillars, thinking them to be the edge of the cosmos. He tags one of the pillars with his name and urinates at the base of another in order to prove that he had been there. Upon returning, he demands that the Buddha live up to his end of the bargain. Yet the Buddha explains that he had used his infinite powers to cloud Sun’s mind, tricking him into thinking he had left, when he actually stayed in his hand the entire time. But before Monkey can do anything, the Buddha overturns his hand, pushing it out the gates of heaven, and slamming it onto earth, transforming it into the Five Elements Mountain (Wuxing shan, 五行山). There, Sun is imprisoned for his crimes against heaven (fig. 1) (Wu & Yu, 2012, pp. 193-195).