Buddhist and Christian Soul-Making

So far as I know, John Keats coined the phrase “soul-making” in a letter to his brother and sister in May of 1819.
He writes:

“…suppose a rose to have sensation. It blooms on a beautiful morning. It enjoys itself–but there comes a cold wind, a hot sun–it cannot escape it, it cannot destroy its annoyances. They are as native to the world as itself: no more can man be happy in spite, the worldly elements will prey upon his nature.

The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is ‘a vale of tears’ from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven. What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you Please ‘The vale of Soul-making.’ Then you will find out the use of the world. (I am speaking now in the highest terms for human nature admitting it to be immortal which I will here take for granted for the purpose of showing a thought which has struck me concerning it): I say ‘Soul making.’ Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence…There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions–but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself. Intelligences are atoms of perception–they know and they see and they are pure, in short they are God. How then are Souls to be made? How then are these sparks which are God to have identity given them so as forever to possess a bliss peculiar to each one’s individual existence? I–low, but by the medium of a world like this? This point I sincerely wish to consider because I think it a grander system of salvation than the Christian religion–or rather it is a system of Spirit-creation. This is effected by three grand materials acting the one upon the other for a series of years. These three Materials are the Intelligence, the human Heart (as distinguished from intelligence or Mind), and the World or Elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming the Soul or Intelligence destined to possess the sense of Identity.”

Keats offers his scheme of salvation as an alternative to the Christian religion, which he says later in the same letter has disenchanted and depersonalized the world because of its obsessive monotheism. Without an “elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other,” the Intelligence is unable to mature into Individuality. The Soul remains a potentiality unable, through the schooling of a living universe, to self-actualize.

I’m interested in the spiritual fruits that may mature by bringing Keats’ scheme into conversation with Mahayana Buddhism and Esoteric Christianity. For the Buddha, selfhood was an illusion to be dissolved. Ego is not only a source of suffering, but its cause, since only such a false sense of identity allows one’s inherent Buddha-nature to become deformed by grasping after the fleeting images arising and perishing in the round of samsara. Samsara, for Keats, is the vale of tears. Nirvana is realized when our true identity, dependently co-arising with all that is and is-not, replaces the false identity of the ego.

The teachings of Christ suggest that within each of us dwells an innocence akin to Adam’s prior to the Fall. Through love of our neighbor, the world, and God, each of us may be born again, “not of the water, but of the Spirit.” Then, “not I, but the Christ in me” lives eternally within the heart of the Creator. The world becomes a vale of soul-making when Earth is no longer radically separated, due to our sin (or clouded perception), from Heaven. Instead, an economy is opened between the Above and the Below, such that creative divinity participates even in the shaping of the dust from which our bodies emerge and return. Each becomes, like Christ, a Son or Daughter of God. The Soul gains an identity by making itself particular, learning from the trials of the World aided by the universal Intelligence aflame within it. Soul-making is no less a task for humanity than incarnation is for divinity. To become who we really are: perhaps in this mission both Buddha and Christ are our partners.

I’ll be exploring some of these ideas further in an essay to be posted soon!

Meister Eckhart, Philosophy, and Soul-Making

The following is an essay written for a weekend course taught by philosopher Jacob Needleman on Meister Eckhart the 26th and 27th of February 2011.

————————–

Meister Eckhart, Philosophy, and the Soul

By Matthew Segall

And there shall be for thee all soft delight

That shadowy thought can win,

A bright torch, and a casement ope at night,

To let the warm Love in!

Ode to Psyche by John Keats

When Love said that word, my soul mellted and flowed away. Where he comes in, I must go out!

-Meister Eckhart summarizing the Song of Solomon (5:2-7)

“When thought races ahead of Being,” writes philosopher Jacob Needleman, “a civilization is racing toward destruction” (WIG, p. 19). It takes a genuine philosopher to voice such a prescient insight, a being rare among mortals who for better or worse has awakened to his or her participation in the ancient current of world-historical becoming. Practicing philosophy requires more than contemplation, and more than learning. It is also an art: that of thinking (noiesis) and speaking (poeisis) the truth of Being.

To philosophize, one must first have tasted the stillness of eternity abiding within the soul, a treasure hidden deep beneath the ephemeral garments of space and time. The philosopher has felt the breath of God upon her ears and, upon hearing its wisdom, is overcome with love and possessed by the duty to convey its meaning to others. Nevertheless, despite all brushes with divinity, the philosopher remains adrift in an inherited stream of collective unconsciousness, a mortal destined to die like any other.

Philosophers are responsible for shaping the further course of earth evolution by informing and reminding Human Being of Divine and Cosmic Being. The life of the philosopher, at least traditionally, has been guided by the love of wisdom, even unto death. Unfortunately, these days universities employ more scholars of philosophy than philosophers. But no matter: wisdom always finds a way to be heard.

The short essay to follow will record my philosophical participation in what John Keats called “soul-making.” This, according to Keats, is the lost-sight-of purpose of the world, the reason for the body’s trials in time and sufferings in space. Spirit needs a home, but cannot dwell in matter alone. It is the poetic soul who prepares its abode. Both a sincere love for the True, the Beautiful, and the Good, and the sermons of the medieval sage Meister Eckhart, will guide me along the textual path to follow.

The crisis of our civilization is bigger than politics or ecology, more deep-seated than a new policy initiative or technological invention could hope to overcome. Any sufficiently sensitive soul must already have confronted the existential void at the heart of our techno-industrial civilization’s demented cosmology. As a sensitive soul and an aspiring philosopher, I’m compelled to pursue solutions to our collective situation not by offering new ideas or forms of thought, but by provoking new modes of consciousness.

Before I can begin to think and feel with Eckhart, a few distinctions must be drawn: 1) that between ideas about reality and real wisdom, and 2) that between the mind and the soul.

1) The mind is interested in the active manipulation and production of worldly things and ideas, while 2) the soul is called to the timeless task of becoming inwardly silent—without thinking or acting or entertaining any idea (ME, p. 96).  This silence, according to Eckhart, is not an end in itself, but is done in preparation for the birth of the Word of God within us, which is but another name for wisdom. In short, the mind thinks about reality, employing a multitude of ideas to mediate its encounter, while the soul patiently labors to beget the Real within itself.

The philosopher Owen Barfield once echoed Needleman’s warning for our civilization: “We are no longer capable of thinking deeply, because we think too quickly” (WA, p. 67). What is needed is a participatory and heart-centered, rather than an alienated and skeptical way of engaging the unknown depths of Being. The philosopher cannot hold the mystery of life at theoretical distance, but must approach questions concerning the essence of existence with the quality of gentle intimacy that Keats called “Negative Capability”: dwelling in uncertainty without rushing to cover over its ambiguities. Contemplation of God is the soul’s source of meaning, and while definite answers about the Ultimate may remain forever elusive, it is the act of asking—of opening oneself to the procreativity of Godthat may produce the desired transformation.

“Since the soul itself does not know, it wonders” says Eckhart, “and, wondering, it seeks, for the soul knows very well that something is afoot, even though it does not know how or what” (ME, p. 100).

Though it cannot see what it seeks, since vision always reaches out beyond it to external things, the soul retains “the power to hear the eternal word within” (ME, p. 108). The eye is the organ of the searching mind, while the ear is the agent of the loving heart.

Perhaps Eckhart’s most important teaching concerns the difference between the passivity of the ear and the activity of the eye. Though the soul is largely ignorant of what it nonetheless is intrinsically compelled to seek, such “divine unconsciousness” pacifies the soul of its pretensions, quieting all its faculties so that I may “discover the birth of God’s Son” within myself (ME, p. 107-108). The human soul’s passivity “is the chief of [its] actions,” while God “should both be active and passive in order that he may know and love himself in the soul, and the soul may know as he knows and love as he loves” (.ibid). Though “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18), the ears of an open-hearted soul make room for God’s Word to transform all the agents of the soul, so that “the eye with which God sees me” becomes “the same with which I see God” (Sermon IV). Creature and creator here unite in “one sight, one knowledge, and one life.”

Eckhart was deemed a heretic by a Franciscan-led inquisition, mostly because of the near identity he believed could come to exist between the human soul and God. As we have seen, he taught a path of inner stillness, so that, with the restless activity of the desiring soul quieted, God might speak his silent Word to a receptive heart. The utterance of this Word within our soul is a divine and eternal birth, “which occurred at one point in time, and which occurs everyday in the innermost recess of the soul—a recess to which there is no avenue of approach” (ME, p. 109).

There is no avenue of approach–no point of access, in other words—even to our own innermost nature. Eckhart’s doctrine of the soul is difficult—nay, impossible!to grasp. We cannot gain access to the Word who is perpetually being born within us, because we are Him already in eternity. The difference between will and grace, between works and salvation, is here resolved. There is nothing to be done about Christ, because there is no time to do it. The Spirit is present when I am it, and absent when I’m not. Heaven requires no work, but nor is it bestowed by grace from beyond. Every human being already takes part in the immortal life as a being existing by virtue of Being, if only he might remember.

Socrates once said that philosophy is learning to die. Eckhart’s way of soul-making is to overcome death with love: “Death separates the soul from the body but love separates everything from the soul. It cannot endure anything anywhere that is not God or God’s” (ME, p. 124). Eckhart points us to the core of our soul, where God takes on the burdens and beauties of human nature so long as we are able to die to our personal selves for the love of others, whether foreign or familiar (ME, p. 126). Death is crucifixion upon the axes of space and time, but heaven is touched by neither: “The course of heaven is outside time—and yet time comes from its movements” (ME, p. 131).

What sort of teaching is it that demands we “be dead to everything” (ME, p. 132) to participate in divinity? Eckhart is not interested in knowledge about God generated by ideas in the mind; he seeks the wisdom of God granted only through transformation of soul. Curiosity concerning the creaturely things of time and space leads in many interesting directions, but it cannot lead to the Love and Wisdom of God, since to these there is no approach or access. An inward rebirth is necessary before the “secret spring” of the soul can give birth to Christ, the Word of God (ME, p. 127). This change is produced by the death of the ego to all things of this world, so as to love them each with disinterested equality. God is in all things, but the body-bound mind does not see the Spirit dwelling in the world because it cannot hear the voice of the Son amidst the noise of its many desires (ME, p. 131).

This teaching is harder than hell, but God sends messengers to aid us along the impossible path. Angels are the ideas of God, and born in our mind they bear the message of his coming. Part of their divine message is the identity of being and knowing, which for thousands of years has been the founding principle of the philosophical pursuit. But, as Eckhart reminds us, God’s being is transcendent, and so cannot be known by any mental faculty. The soul that, with the help of angelic persuasion, has discovered a likeness to God in the primal purity of its core, “where everything that can be named is sloughed off,” comes to the only knowledge of the divine that is possible: that by way of identification (ME, p. 142).

Eckhart reminds us of the teaching of the Scriptures, which points to three factors preventing a person from knowing anything about God: time, materiality, and multiplicity (ME, p. 151). Of course, learning to remember our likeness to God may still take time, as when fire tries to burn wood, the wood must be progressively warmed to the point of smoking and crackling before giving up entirely to the fire, since the two are at first so dissimilar (ME, p. 152). The materiality of language, both spoken and written, may also be an aid along the way to inner transformation. Just as the Word took on flesh to commune with humanity more intimately, thoughts must be uttered and recorded in the idiom of the day so as to convey the way of God to a soul whose agents are initially turned toward the world. The Word must first meet humankind in the world if it wishes to lead us toward heaven.

The soul is more a potential than a given perfection. Its magic must be made, its sacred soil cultivated by good will and faith in the beauty of truth before its divine destiny can flower. “Soul-making” is nothing less than the task of birthing God on earth, one individual at a time. Eckhart’s insights are an invaluable source of guidance for those on the path of transformation. He is a true metaphysician, offering healing prescriptions for those seeking that which lies beyond. And yet, he also points us to what is already at hand: “God is nearer to me than I am to myself” (ME, p. 129).

Bibliography

1) Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation translated by Raymond B. Blakney (1941)

2) What Is God by Jacob Needleman (2009)

3) Worlds Apart by Owen Barfield (2010)

Meister Eckhart and the Core of the Soul

For a little more than a week now, I’ve been engaging with Graham Harman‘s object-oriented approach to philosophy. I’m intrigued, but not yet convinced by his tactics. I still have questions about access, about epistemology. How do I know anything about mind-independent objects if their essence remains infinitely hidden? I’m forced to rely upon analogy, the most important tool in the Hermeticist‘s repertoire. All knowledge comes through analogy, as all things are connected, not directly, but analogically. It is metaphor that carries the mind beyond itself to the inner life of things. Harman recognizes this, as well, going so far as to suggest that not just the human mind, but things themselves come into contact with others by way of analogical relationship.

The medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart, was deemed a heretic by a Franciscan-led inquisition, mostly because of the near identity he believed could come to exist between the human soul and God. He taught a path of inner stillness, so that, with the ideation and imagination of the desirous soul quieted, God might speak his silent Word. The utterance of this Word within our soul is a divine and eternal birth, “which occurred at one point in time, and which occurs everyday in the innermost recess of the soul–a recess to which there is no avenue of approach.”

There is no avenue of approach–no point of access, in other words–even to our own innermost nature. And yet, there is a state of transformed consciousness which grants us participation in that of which and by which we are always being made. Like Harman’s objects, whose molten core recedes forever from view, Eckhart’s doctrine of the soul is difficult–nay, impossible!–to grasp. We cannot gain access to the Son of God who is perpetually being born within us, because we are Him already. We cannot grasp the inner life of things, because it lives already within us. Knowledge of things themselves, then, depends upon knowledge of ourselves (which is also knowledge, or love, of God).

Perhaps there is still a trace of occationalism in Harman… or at least, perhaps I cannot understand his tactics without God’s help.

“The saints see in God an idea, and in that idea all things are comprehended–and the same is true of God, who sees everything in himself.”

Eckhart continues:

“There is Truth at the core of the soul but it is covered up and hidden from the mind, and as long as that is so there is nothing the mind can do to come to rest, as it might if it had an unchanging point of reference. The mind never rests but must go on expecting and preparing for what is yet to be known and what is still concealed. Meanwhile, man cannot know what God is, even though he be ever so well aware of what God is not…As long as it has no reference point, the mind can only wait as matter waits for form. And matter can never find rests except in form; so, too, the mind can never rest except in the essential truth which is locked up in it–the truth about everything. Essence alone satisfies and God keeps on withdrawing, farther and farther away, to arouse the mind’s zeal and lure it on to follow and finally grasp the true good that has no cause.”

Excerpts from Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation by Raymond B. Blakney

Alchemical Distillation

Alchemy is an ancient science, so primordial that its practice assumes a unification between art, technology, and religion. Prior to the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, these spheres were understood to be concerned with one and the same pursuit: the realization of the ends of spirit in earthly time. Distillation was never merely* a physiochemical process of purification, but a method for the instigation of psychospiritual transformation.

“Arthur John Hopkins [offers] a coherent picture of the alchemical procedures of the Egyptian alchemy in what he called ‘the standard method,’ a four step process aiming to impose, in a progressive way, on a chaotic matter of black colour, the so- called prima materia, the necessary water, air and fire to promote its evolution. A process which imitated the natural evolution process of the minerals they believed took place inside the mines, the “womb” of the Mother Earth…The abundant references to sulphur and sulphur-containing compounds in Graeco-Egyptian alchemy suggests that they were seen as particularly suitable for attracting pneuma: a concept adapted from Stoic philosophy, the vital spirit that pervades the entire universe and made possible the existence of life, associated indeed to fire and air. It is not surprising nor arbitrary the choice of sulphur-rich compounds as preferred pneumatic materials, we only need to recall the predominance of metal sulphides among the common metal ores, which were seen, according to extremely old metallurgical traditions, as mineral embryos, entities alive and maturing in the natural world” –Joaquín Pérez-Pariente summarizing A. J. Hopkins’ book Alchemy, child of Greek philosophy (1934).

The vital spirit spoken of above is the Logos of John’s Gospel. Without this active intelligence (which itself is neither mind nor matter), rocks could not have grown brains and earth could not have become fire. Earth evolution is an alchemical process: the metamorphosis of chaos into order, the entrance of the light into the dark. The Word speaks to the heart of the world, and out of its bones, tears, breath and eyes is born a God of flesh and blood, whose love is not of this world, but for it.

* Though, indeed, the whole point of the alchemical tradition is that matter is nothing less than the creative womb of spirit.

 

Religion and the Modern World: Towards a Naturalistic Panentheism

Religion and the Modern World: Towards a Naturalistic Panentheism

“Dear people, let the flower in the meadow show you how to please God and be beautiful at the same time. —The rose does not ask why. It blooms because it blooms. It pays no attention to itself nor does it wonder if anyone sees it.” –Angelus Silesius (1624-1677), Cherubinic Wanderer, 1:288-289

Introduction

The last century has arguably brought more change to the Earth, measured either in terms of increased complexity (of culture and consciousness), or in terms of entropy release (as pollution), than any other 100-year period in the biosphere’s history. Human civilization, and the disenchanted technoscientific way of life which has come to dominate it, is largely responsible for this rapid transformation. Whether it be the population explosion and global poverty, the continuing threat of nuclear war, civil rights, feminist, and other social justice movements, peak oil, or the ecological crisis, ours’ is a world with much at stake for whom the fast approaching future may just as easily bring tragedy or triumph, or perhaps equal doses of each.

In such an unstable and uncertain context as this, how is humanity to orient itself cosmologically, and in the service of what ideals is it to direct its spiritual aspirations? These are not peripheral questions—they inevitably burn in the hearts of every individual faced with the aforementioned chaos. Answering them in an integral enough way so as to overcome political divisiveness while at the same time avoiding the subsumption of cultural difference is essential to assuring the future flourishing of our species and the planet. The possibility of a planetary civilization rests upon re-inventing our complex human identity, such that it is inclusive of our origins as embodied earthlings and our destiny as immortal spirits.

Whether our aim is scientific investigation of the cosmos, or religious worship of the divine, sooner or later we are going to have to articulate a conception of human nature. Are we creatures of God, or products of Nature? Or, is there an alternative conception of humanity (of God, of Nature) that overcomes this false dichotomy? The following essay is my attempt to provide such an alternative: an integral anthropology, or theory of the human, that is neither exclusively theological nor cosmological. After Raimon Pinnikar, my approach in what follows might be called “cosmotheandric,” in that I am attempting to tell a story about human origins and destiny that does justice to our traditional spiritual intuitions and is adequate to our modern scientific realizations. Contemporary debates, especially in popular media outlets, tend to collapse the complexity of the science/religion dialectic into easily digestible slogans derived from the most extreme ends of the spectrum of opinion. The cosmological options are typically dichotomously construed as atheistic scientific naturalism vs. literalistic creationism. These are not the only options. Before moving into a discussion of a third option emerging out of Alfred North Whitehead‘s naturalistic panentheism, I will provide an example the popular discourse that surrounds these issues.

Religion in the News

The power of religious and cultural ideology, according to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is the single most important issue facing human civilization in the 21st century. During a recent debate in Toronto with author, Christopher Hitchens, Blair cautioned against the wholesale desire to rid the world of religious belief:

“The 20th century was a century scarred by visions that had precisely that imagining at their heart, [giving] us Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot. In this vision, obedience to the will of God was for the weak, it was the will of man that should dominate.”

Hitchens, an outspoken atheist, argued that the divide between religion and philosophy is foundational. For him, reason and faith, scientific skepticism and scriptural sanctification, are unambiguously opposed ideals. Not the will of God, but basic respect for human dignity ought to be the basis of morality:

“We don’t require divine permission to know right from wrong. We don’t need tablets administered to us ten at a time on pain of death to be able to have a moral argument. No, we have the reasoning and the moral persuasion of Socrates and our own abilities, we don’t need dictatorship to give us right from wrong.”

The crux of the disagreement between Blair and Hitchens seems clear: For Hitchens, our values can and should emerge on the horizontal plane of history out of basic human sympathy and autonomous reason, while for Blair, the nature of Goodness is revealed by a divine authority, inserted into time along the vertical axis of eternity. Hitchens rejects all notions of “celestial dictatorship,” while Blair rejects the hubris that lack of faith in a higher power implies. But, despite their differing emphases, the two men may still be carrying the same cross. It cannot be overlooked that Hitchens, in mentioning Plato’s teacher, Socrates, implicates himself in an idealist tradition of verticality. And Blair, a life-long politician, cannot deny the power of common sympathy and the importance of rational discourse on the horizontal plane.

Both men, it seems, are bound by the interpenetrating axes of time and eternity, the conscience of each of them called to bleed for something larger than their own skin in order to make sense of life. Each is compelled, by reason or revelation, to reach beyond mortality in their measurement of life’s ends. Hitchens, a materialist, argues that modern science has provided an awe-inspiring vision of an immense and mysterious cosmos, but that this awe is more terrifying than edifying. Not divine providence, but suicide by over-expansion is, in Hitchen’s eyes, the true fate of our universe. He does not shy away from suggesting that, without God, our carnal existence is ultimately meaningless but for brief encounters with “the important matter” of what he is willing to call “numinous,” “transcendent,” and “ecstatic.” He desires to clearly distinguish between belief in a “supernatural dictator”—an idea he finds morally and intellectually bankrupt—and the sense of the transcendent and numinous.

On this final point, Hitchens and Whitehead would be in agreement. Traditional notions of an all-powerful extra-cosmic Creator deity capable of entering into and re-directing the causal course of natural events upon a whim do not align with our scientific knowledge, nor for that matter with our moral intuitions of how a benevolent God should behave. An all-powerful deity that does not prevent the evils that are a daily fact of creaturely life cannot also be all-good.

Whitehead, like Blair, is an example of one for whom philosophy and religion are not at odds. As Blair put it, belief in God is for him “clear, insistent, and rational.” The challenge for philosophy is not necessarily to oppose the religious impulse, but to adequately articulate how God and the world are related.

The moral and intellectual arguments that Hitchens marshals against religious belief are not relevant to Whitehead’s philosophy of naturalistic panentheism. Hitchens’ brand of atheism, though it is perhaps a reasonable response to those strands of Abrahamic monotheism that conceive of God in the image of an imperial ruler, nonetheless remains an inadequate cosmological and psychological basis for civilized life. In the next section, I attempt to demonstrate why.

A New View of Religion

“Philosophy attains its chief importance,” according to Whitehead, “by fusing the two, namely, religion and science, into one rational scheme of thought” (p. 15). The revelations of modern science concerning the regularities of nature have made belief in miracles seem antiquated and superstitious, but the religious impulse itself seems to run deeper than the need for magic tricks offering proof of the divine.[1] As Hitchens admits, humanity’s sense of the numinous and transcendent—of “something beyond the material, or not quite consistent with it”—is what distinguishes us from other primates. We are not only the wise, but also the uncanny species. To be human is to participate in both time and eternity, to be embedded in history with an intuition of infinity, our birthright an experience of what Thomas Berry called incendence.

The vast majority of human beings feel compelled to respond to this feeling of incendence religiously, either as evidence of a personal deity (as in the Abrahamic and some Vedic traditions) or as evidence of an impersonal creative plenum or ground of being (as in Buddhism, Taoism, and many indigenous traditions). Whitehead’s dual conception of the ultimate in terms of God and Creativity, respectively, helps us understand these cultural differences, as will be explicated below. A naturalistic panentheism both acknowledges the nearly universal human proclivity to religiosity, and indeed the reality of the divine, while at the same time providing a cosmological picture that satisfies Hitchens’ demands for non-supernatural scientific adequacy.

There are three distinct but related questions that must be considered in order to unpack Whitehead’s speculative scheme: (1) “is there a divine reality (to which experiences of the numinous, transcendent, and ecstatic refer)?”, (2) “do our inherited cultural expressions of this reality pass basic ethical and epistemological tests of adequacy (that is, do these traditions align with our moral and intellectual intuitions)?”, and (3) “is relating and giving voice to the numinous basic to human nature, and therefore to civilized life?”

These three questions correspond to (1) the metaphysical/ontological, (2) the practical/theoretical, and (3) the anthropological relevance of the divine. Each question will be explored in turn.

(1) For many atheists like Hitchens, modern science and philosophy are interpreted to have all but eliminated the need for and evidence of a divine reality. The physical universe is understood to be meaningless and non-teleological, the seemingly “finely-tuned” constants underlying its mathematical regularities deemed entirely accidental. Whitehead, on the other hand, takes the same empirical evidence and interprets it through a more adequate metaphysical lens. Rather than relying upon the notion of randomness to account for the excessive order and harmony of the universe (which, it should be said, is the exact opposite of an explanation), Whitehead’s naturalistic panentheism overcomes the misplaced concreteness[2] that allows abstract entities like “randomness” and dead mechanical “forces” to pass for satisfying causal explanations of natural phenomena. Stepping out of Hitchen’s mechanistic cosmology of explosions, colliding surfaces, and entropy and into Whitehead’s living universe of interpenetrating wholes requires a cognitive and somatic gestalt shift in perception. Whitehead is not just providing a new set of ideas to account for the order of the external world; his metaphysics is an attempt to make perceptible a way of thinking with the cosmos so as to achieve co-presence with and as the Wisdom of an eternal and ever-lasting God. This God is not extra-cosmic, but directly participates in the unfolding of the universe by luring its creative longing toward certain ideals.

“[God] does not create the world,” writes Whitehead,

“he saves it: or, more accurately, he is the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness” (PR, p. 346).

Unlike traditional theism, for which the trend toward order “[arises] from the imposed will of a transcendent God,” for Whitehead, these trends arise because “the existents in nature are sharing in the nature of [an] immanent God” (AI, p. 130). The existence of a divine reality is affirmed while avoiding attributing it with the supernatural power to create ex nihilo that has been criticized by many philosophers, including David Hume. Whitehead sought to “add another speaker to that masterpiece,” namely, Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (PR, p. 343). Divine causation, rather than being an imposition from outside the natural world based on power alone, instead works within this world based on moral persuasion. It could be argued in summation that, for Whitehead, ours in an ordered and beautiful universe because God desires that it be so, and because all creatures, as participants in God’s nature, tend to grow toward these divine ideals.

Skeptical atheists like Hitchens interpret modern scientific cosmology, specifically Georges Lemaître’s inflationary theory and Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, to have proven beyond much doubt that our species, an interesting but peripheral and accidental twig on the billion year old tree of life, has mysteriously awoken to consciousness in a hapless universe moving inevitably toward heat death.

As Hitchens put it so eloquently, if also partially, during his debate with Blair:

“I come before you as a materialist. If we give up religion, we discover what actually we know already, whether we’re religious or not, which is that we are somewhat imperfectly evolved primates, on a very small planet in a very unimportant suburb of a solar system that is itself a negligible part of a very rapidly expanding and blowing apart cosmic phenomenon.”

Hitchens here emphasizes the absurdity of our purely empirico-physical understanding of the larger cosmos. Based only on sensory observation of primary qualities like mass and motion, and mathematical analysis of them in terms of measurable quantities, the universe reveals no apparent purpose. It is only the poetic indulgence of the human imagination that fools us into believing otherwise.

Whitehead laments the consequences of such a disenchanted perspective on the cosmos:

“The poets are entirely mistaken. They should address their lyrics to themselves [turning] them into odes of self-congratulations on the excellency of the human mind. Nature is a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colorless; merely the hurrying of material endlessly, meaninglessly” (SMW, p. 54).

In responding to Hitchens rather disheartening philosophical interpretation of scientific data concerning the larger cosmos, it would be instructive to recall Whitehead’s statement in the opening pages of Process and Reality that “the chief error in philosophy is overstatement” (p. 7). The mechanistic materialism that was born during the Scientific Revolution has proven immensely useful for technological endeavors, but in attempting to give an account of the universe entirely in terms of meaningless matter in motion, it commits what Whitehead calls the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. This fallacy concerns the false attribution of concrete actuality to what remain abstract conceptual models.

The philosopher Jean Borella has located the cause of this false attribution in what he terms the “epistemic closure of the concept,” which Wolfgang Smith suggests “consists in the elimination from the concept of everything that proves recalcitrant to linguistic or formal expression” (SM, p. 50). Borella’s analysis is based upon the distinction he makes between language and thought, wherein thought is assigned primacy and language is defined by its supportive and communicative function. The “epistemic closure of the concept” is the very foundation of scientific materialism, because unlike the conceptual thought of the philosopher, for whom maintaining a certain “openness to being” is paramount, the scientist is after exact, formalizable definitions. While the philosopher’s aim is to use concepts in order to achieve a non-discursive contemplative vision of the truth, the scientific materialist “is constrained to reduce phenomena to ‘pure relations,’ that is to say, relations which are independent of the beings which enter into them” (ibid., p. 51). In other words, abstract mathematical formalisms describing the relations between actual occasions obscure the complex reality of those occasions, committing the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

Borella explains:

“There is thus [in scientific materialism an identification of] the concept and its object, since the latter is likewise a concept, whereas in philosophical knowing the concept is only a means by which the object is known: essentially transitive, it remains thus ontologically open. The Galilean universe is therefore a universe of object-concepts which move in a conceived space-time” (ibid.).

Although Whitehead’s cosmology challenges many of the same assumptions of Aristotelian physics that Galileo was lead to criticize, he nonetheless recognized that mechanistic accounts of natural phenomena couldn’t be the whole story. The Galilean approach, though it provides for a great deal of prediction and control of non-living matter, does so at the expense of a comprehensive, qualitative account of the cosmos as a whole (which includes the more-than-physical phenomena of life and intelligence).

While for a materialist like Hitchens, cosmic inflation suggests only a dead universe whose random and fleeting order is destined to evaporate into nothing, for a panentheist like Whitehead, “…the expansion of the universe…is the first meaning of ‘organism’” (PR, p. 215). Like Plato before him, Whitehead recognizes in the macrocosmic processes something analogous to the growth and development of a living thing.

Similarly, while for Hitchens the doctrine of evolution implies that organic life is a directionless wandering motivated only by the desire to survive the blind selection of an uncaring external world, for Whitehead “the whole point of the modern doctrine is the evolution of the complex organisms from antecedent states of less complex organisms,” wherein the more complex organisms represented stages of “emergent value” (SMW, p. 107). In other words, if Darwin’s evolutionary theory is non-teleological, then it is an incomplete theory, since the history of the universe, both beyond and upon our planet, clearly displays a tendency toward greater states of organizational complexity. Of course, Darwin was only trying to account for the process of speciation among plants and animals on Earth, not for that among the microscopic organisms studied by particle physics (electrons, protons, atoms, etc.). But even among earthly bodies, if mere survival were the only game in town, matter would have been quite content to remain in the mineral state. Why trouble itself with the challenges of eating and procreation if life as a rock would have sufficed?

Whitehead’s evolutionary cosmology, besides avoiding the bifurcation of nature into organic v. inorganic, attributes the experience of “enjoyment” to all enduring forms of order that arise amidst the cosmic process. Organisms do not just stoically endure their existence by responding passively to the harsh givens of their environment; they feel compelled to take the speculative risks necessary to deepen their experience and enjoyment of existence.  Evolution is the story of the great successes of speculation of countless generations of diverse organisms to come before us upon this planet and within this universe. Every moment of our human experience as organized beings—as cosmotheandric organisms—inherits a relevant past billions of years in the making. Our human bodies are the accumulated achievements of the decisions of ancient bacteria. Within the nucleus of bacteria are the accumulated achievements of primordial hydrogen atoms who suffered a transmutation into heavier elements within the core of a prior generation of stars. Life seeks not just survival, but an increase in the intensity of its enjoyment, which is to say a refinement of the contrasts available within experience for conceptual valuation. In short, the more capable an organism is of perceiving and expressing truth, goodness, and beauty, the more evolved it is. The desire to move toward the end of heightened experience is described by Whitehead as an adventure of ideas. This desire, or Eros (divine lure), is the reason for evolution from simplicity to complexity. Deeper beauty, purer truth, and greater goodness are the ends of Eros.

The metaphysical background of modern scientific cosmology, as brought to the surface and articulated by Hitchens, is an overstatement based on a narrow range of facts. His conclusions about human nature and the fate of the universe, though rightfully rid of supernaturalism, represent an inadequate appraisal of the full spectrum of evidence available to human experience. Purpose is not simply a human contrivance, but can be seen and felt at work throughout the universe. The excessive harmony and upward trend toward complexity evident in our universe testify to the presence of an immanent divine lure. The epistemic closure of scientific materialism occludes one’s view of the presence of these trends, such that the clear, formal definitions of an abstract system come to replace our immediate perception of a value-rich world.

(2) The notion of a persuasive God working from within the world to bring about the most beauty and goodness that is possible is not entirely without precedent in humanity’s cultural expressions of divinity, but for the vast majority of those practicing within the Abrahamic traditions, the idea probably sounds foreign. Hitchens major criticisms of religion center around the ethical and epistemological inadequacies of orthodox theology, wherein an all-powerful and all-knowing God designs and creates the world from nothing, a world that then somehow falls from grace into sin. In this scenario, according to Hitchens, it seems that God “makes us objects in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to be well.”

From Whitehead’s perspective, such a cruel picture is clearly an inadequate basis upon which to worship the divine, whose nature, even for orthodox believers, is also supposedly all-loving and all-good. That humanity has, for the most part, poorly depicted the nature of God in its popular cultural expressions is no argument against the reality of the divine. This shortfall demands of us not the abolition of religion, but a more philosophically coherent response to the sense of incendence that makes our species uniquely religious.

“Religion,” says Whitehead,

“is an ultimate craving to infuse into the insistent particularity of emotion that non-temporal generality which primarily belongs to conceptual thought alone” (PR, p. 16).

The role of philosophy, which finds the numinous and transcendent “among the data of experience,” is to weave the particular religious impulses that result from such experiences into some general scheme of thought. Philosophy, without developing a close relationship with religion, would become psychologically ineffectual; and religion, without calling upon philosophy, would sink into emotional tedium. Some “supreme fusion” between the situatedness of particular emotions and the universality of ideas must be effected.

As Whitehead put it,

“The two sides of the [human] organism require a reconciliation in which emotional experiences illustrate a conceptual justification, and conceptual experiences find an emotional illustration” (PR, p. 16).

Through an ideal interplay between the emotions of religion and the concepts of philosophy, Whitehead sought to widen humanity’s moral outlook, so that the interests of individuals might begin to align with the general good (PR, p. 15). Not a culturally exclusive set of doctrines and dogmas violently clung to, but a universal respect for the goodness of life: this is the essence and end of the religious impulse for Whitehead.

As was shown in answering question (1), Whitehead’s God is not all-powerful in the traditional sense, nor is God entirely transcendent. The evils of the world-process are suffered as much by God as by finite creatures, since God is in effect the soul of the universe. God is understood to be the original creature of Creativity, its “primordial, non-temporal accident” (PR, p. 7). Creativity is “the universal of universals characterizing ultimate matter of fact” (PR, p. 21), and also “that ultimate notion of the highest generality at the base of actuality” (PR, p. 31). The true omnipotence of God is expressed, not as the ability to alter events from an unaffected state beyond the universe, but as the ability to remember and incorporate for all eternity the character of each and every actual occasion as it arose from and receded into the flux of the creative process. God perpetually unifies the ongoing cosmic process by providing the initial aims and perceiving the final results of the concrescence of all finite creatures, including the universe itself. God is the assurance of permanence amidst the unstable dynamism at the root of reality.

Process is considered ultimate for Whitehead (PR, p. 7), seemingly making it more eminently real than at least God’s primordial nature. But God is complex, relating to the world through more than one face. The consequent nature of God must also be considered, wherein due to interpenetration with time and process, the divine transacts with the actual world to shape and be shaped by its enduring characteristics of order. “Both are in the grip of the ultimate metaphysical ground, the creative advance into novelty,” says Whitehead. “Either of them, God and the World, is the instrument of novelty for the other” (PR, p. 349).

Some non-Western traditions, like Buddhism and Taoism, express the ultimate nature of reality in terms of an impersonal creative principle. Whitehead points out that, by relativizing God’s power in respect to Creativity, his cosmology may seem to have more in common with Indic and Chinese conceptions of the ultimate (PR, p. 7). Creativity, however, can never exist by itself, but only as embodied or exemplified by some actual entity (following Whitehead’s categorical scheme, wherein only res verae are real); God and the World are those actual entities by which creativity is instantiated and made actual (PR, p. 29). Finite creatures never experience Creativity in the absence of its having been characterized by God and worldly actualities (RWS, p. 283). This is not to say that non-theistic religious traditions like Buddhism are incorrect in their assessment of ultimate reality, but that what makes experiences of Śūnyatā, or Emptiness, distinctively religious (because numinous and transcendent) is that “Creativity as prehensively experienced is always characterized by divine attributes” (RWS, p. 284). Even within many Buddhist traditions, Emptiness is characterized as wise and compassionate, which lends support to the notion of God’s participation in all our experience of reality.

If Blair is right, and the sociopolitical power of religion is the most important issue of the coming century, then inter-religious dialogue ought to be our civilization’s most pressing concern. No civilization, according to Whitehead, can continue its adventure in rationality absent a vigorous expression of the human sense of sacredness (MT, p. 120). Without some widespread cultural consensus regarding its nature, the sacred is bound to “retire into a recessive factor in experience” (ibid.). The consequences of such an apparent lack of universal orientation towards the sacred are evidenced by our global society’s increasing dependence upon the marketplace to determine its values. Money and property have overshadowed wisdom and compassion as the measures of individual and communal well-being. The inevitable result of failing to come to general cosmological consensus regarding our species’ spiritual aspirations will be the continued forfeiture of ultimate metaphysical authority to the shallow, entirely relative trends of the consumer economy. Widespread balkanization and the eventual triumph of barbarism seem like the most probable outcomes of this trajectory. Philosophical[3] dialogue across cultures concerning religion is not a mere academic curiosity, but will be the source of the vitality of any continuing civilization humanity may hope to bring forth.

(3) As with all attempts to philosophically assess the ultimate nature of reality, and to determine how civilization ought to orient itself around this reality, a naturalistic panentheism must finally articulate its theory of human nature, or anthropology. Are the transcendent, the numinous, and the ecstatic basic to human experience? Even Hitchens agrees that they are, but still disagrees with Whitehead about how this fundamental feature of human nature is to be interpreted and culturally expressed in religious forms.

For Whitehead, our experience of moral ideals—our conscience—“is the experience of the deity of the universe” (MT, p. 103). The very fact that we can disagree about ethical situations is evidence that some standard of judgment, some intuitive sense of what is just, exists to arbitrate our claims. Disagreements are opportunities to see the world from a wider and more complex perspective, to be more inclusive of differing expressions of the ultimately and incomprehensibly real.[4]

“When the Western world accepted Christianity,” writes Whitehead, “Caesar conquered; and the received text of Western theology was edited by his lawyers” (PR, p. 342). Whitehead goes on to criticize the “idolatry” of what became the Holy Roman Empire, namely its projection of the structure and function of Egyptian, Persian, and Roman imperial rule onto the court of heaven. All the Abrahamic forms of religion that have come to dominate Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East have been infused with tragedy, according to Whitehead, because their willingness to obey tyrannical rule produced histories full of divisiveness and bloodshed (ibid.). “The Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar” (ibid.).

Christianity’s Galilean origins also suggest another, humbler possibility, however. Historically realized in the person of Jesus Christ is the great potential hidden in every human heart: the ability “to slowly and in quietness operate by love,” finding enjoyment not in some future reward, but in “the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world” (PR, p. 343). Jesus presents us with a God whose nature is not that of the kings of Earth, ruthless and brusque, but that of a more heavenly patience, able to suffer even death and to wait millennia for the mass of humanity to awaken to his message.

Whether or not human nature is inherently Christ-like, or that of “imperfectly evolved primates,” as Hitchens claims, makes all the difference in the world. In the former case, we are capable of self-transcending love. In the latter, we are limited by our own selfish instinctual desire for pleasure, helping others only in cases where it does not harm ourselves. The contrast between the animal/cosmic and the angelic/spiritual aspect of our nature need not be drawn so starkly, however. As has been shown above, a continuity can be said to exist between God, humanity, and the universe.

“There is a kind of perichoresis, ‘dwelling within one another,’” writes Panikkar, “of these three dimensions of reality: the Divine, the Human, and the Cosmic—the I, the you, and the It” (MFH, p. 214).

Holding in mind Whitehead’s doctrine of divine participation in the becoming of the world, it could be said that within the human being, the cosmos is giving birth to a new God. God, like the cosmos and the human being, is “an incompletion in process of production” (PR, p. 215). The birth, death, and resurrection of Christ could be said to be taking place through the historical awakening of the human spirit to itself and to the divine milieu within which it is embedded. But two thousand years after the presence of the kingdom of heaven was announced as at hand, we are still struggling to develop the ears to hear and eyes to see it.

Poets are perhaps those most immediately aware of the incarnational process unfolding deep within the human soul. Their heightened intuition raises to consciousness the subtler, more obscure dimensions of experience, perhaps approaching the creative skill of divinity in their finest moments of imaginative reverie. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake beautifully expresses the false assumptions of orthodox theology and contrasts them with the true implications of the Word’s becoming flesh:

“All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors.

1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True.

1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight.”

Blake’s intuition concerning the experiential delight that energy takes in its activity contradicts both materialist interpretations of modern physics, for which energy is the blind ability to do work, and ascetic interpretations of orthodox monotheism, for which instinctual energies are sinful, leading us astray from God. Like Whitehead, his imaginative vision of the human soul’s relationship to the larger cosmos overcomes the bifurcation between the spiritual and the material that runs through so much of Greek philosophy and Middle Eastern theology alike.

The human being, from the panentheist perspective here expressed, is not a peripheral feature of cosmogenesis. Because of the complexity of our organization, we are perhaps unique among earthlings in our ability to attain full consciousness of eternity, and thus also of time. This makes each of our moment-by-moment decisions of special importance to God, for whom complete actuality “must also be understood as a multiplicity of actual components in process of creation” (PR, p. 350). God’s consequent nature is “God in his function of the kingdom of heaven” (ibid.), biding together all living things into a unified cosmos. The excess of creative freedom and degree of appetition achieved by the organization of the human organism means we have a deeper intuition of the primordial nature, and a larger impact upon the consequent nature of God than any other finite creatures (at least on Earth). Human consciousness can potentially come to know God’s ends, and it can rejoice in their continual accomplishment. Not only that, but when we express love and kindness, it allows God’s moral relation to and concrete reality within the world to become that much stronger, just as our expressions of fear and greediness pushes God that much further into irrelevance.

Whitehead’s understanding of human nature is such that both God and the cosmos are of the essence, as a thorough anthropological study inevitably leads to uncovering, challenging, and revising our theological and cosmological pre-suppositions. His is a prime example of a cosmotheandric metaphysics.

Panikkar’s cosmotheandric principle suggests that no account of reality can be complete unless it recognizes the interdependence of the universe, the divine, and the human. Christianity in particular has continued relevance in our age not as pure theology, but as anthropology. This is not because, as in Feuerbach’s philosophy, God is conceived merely as a human projection or ideal. Rather, Christianity is the natural culmination of anthropology, a lotus still sprouting from the murky soil of human civilization. And humanity is similarly the product of a cosmic longing for what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called personalization. To continue the Teilhardian terminology: Cosmogenesis is anthropogenesis, and anthropogenesis is Christogenesis.[5]

Conclusion

A naturalist panentheism does not build its case for the existence and importance of God upon logical or sensori-empirical proofs. Rather, the evidence for God, it can only be suggested, lies for the most part buried in the prediscursive silence of the human heart, which William James proclaimed is “our deepest organ of communication with the nature of things” (TWB, p. 62).

This non-sensuous perception of the divine’s presence in and influence upon the world is the reason for religion. Human beings cannot help but overflow with the desire to worship the Wisdom that has created and shaped the nature of all things. This worship, when ideally expressed, becomes the play of spirit with itself. A planetary awakening to the true, cross-cultural nature of the sacred would require nothing less than the widespread transfiguration of individual consciousness to a form historically experienced only by a few contemplatives and mystics. Given a clear vision of the divine-human-cosmic connection, our civilization may gain the reinvigorated spirit of adventure it so desperately needs.

“God is the fire within me,” writes Angelus Silesius,

“and I am the light in him. Do we not belong to each other intimately? I am as rich as God. There is no grain of dust that I do not have in common with him; dear people, believe me…God loves me above himself. If I love him above myself, I give him as much as he gives me…The bird is in the air, the stone lies on the land, the fish lives in the water, and my spirit is in God’s hand…If you are born of God, then God flowers in you, and his divinity is your sap and adornment” (CW, 1:11-80).

Materialistic anthropology reifies the non-discursive experiential origins of religion, back-grounding its true sources by drawing our attention away from the meaningful ambiguities constituting perceptual reality. It directs us instead to a simplistic definition: “a set of beliefs in the supernatural.” This definition of religion produces epistemic closure, a closure effecting how both contemporary religious and secular people think about their lives and the world. Theories and other verbalizable “beliefs” about reality overshadow and conceal the complex (but still common!) experience of incendence that comes along with being born and dying as a human being.

“Stop!,” continues Silesius,

“What are you chasing after? Heaven is within you. If you are looking for God anywhere else, you will always miss him” (ibid., 1:81-82).

The religious impulse is central to human life and provides the moral foundation for civilization. It is of our nature as human beings to be “spirits in God’s hand,” to be participants in the heavenly economy of love while alive on Earth. The old concept of religion, wherein God is a thing to be believed in, must be re-conceived in light of the cosmotheandric revelation of today: God is a Self to be experienced, and heaven an earthly paradise.

Works Cited

(1) Griffin, David Ray

Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism (2001)

(2) Panikkar, Raimon

Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics (1979)

(3) James, William

The Will to Believe (1956)

(4) Smith, Wolfgang

Science and Myth: What we are Never Told (2010)

(5) Silesius, Angelus

The Cherubinic Wanderer, Vol. 1

(6) Whitehead, Alfred North

Adventures of Ideas (1933)

Modes of Thought (1938)

Process and Reality (1929)

Science and the Modern World (1925)

(7) William James

The Will to Believe (1956)

(8)  Munk Debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair in Toronto, Canada on Nov. 26th, 2010 (transcript)


[1] Matthew 16:4 – “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of Jonah.” Matthew 12:40 – “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

[2] This fallacy is explored more thorough on p. 10

[3] “Philosophy is love of the divine Sophia, that is to say, the self-revelation of the Principle itself; it is the desire for the knowledge by which the Absolute knows itself” (Jean Borella, quoted in SM, p. 50).

[4] Reality is “incomprehensible” not because it is irrational, but because reality is ultimately process, forever outrunning its own completion in order to reach toward novelty.

[5] Paul writes in Galatians 6:14 that the world itself was crucified upon the cross, implying that Christ’s Resurrection is also the creation of a new cosmos.

 

Divine Imagination

I’ve been having a very stimulating discussion with a Christian theologian named Jason Michael McCann. He has held up a mirror to my ideas and allowed me to see them in a new light. His criticisms are fair and I hope we will each benefit from continued exposure to what may turn out to be radically different readings of the Christian tradition, as well as differing ways of expressing the Christ-impulse at our particular moment in history. I think it is already evident that JMM and I share similar perspectives, but for better or worse, my spiritual speculations and interpretations are unmoored from the venerable doctrines of any particular Creed or Council. I am not very systematic, either, and so to call any of what I do here on this blog “theology” is perhaps misleading. There may be some philosophy here, but I know for a fact there are many analytically-trained philosophers who would dismiss the expressions of my love of wisdom as poetic nonsense. I’m less interested in theo-logic, or any attempt to rationalize or justify a transcendent God, than I am in expressing what Raimon Panikkar has called the “cosmotheandric principle.”

In short, the cosmotheandric principle suggests that no account of reality can be complete unless it recognizes the interdependence of the universe, the divine, and the human. Christianity speaks to me not as a theology, but as an anthropology. This is not because, like Feuerbach, I think God is merely a human projection or ideal. Rather, Christianity is the natural culmination of anthropology, a lotus still sprouting from the murky soil of human civilization. And humanity is similarly the product of a cosmic longing for what Teilhard de Chardin called “personalization.” To continue the Teilhardian terminology: Cosmogenesis is anthropogenesis, and anthropogenesis is Christogenesis. (Incidently, Paul writes in Galatians 6:14 that the world itself was crucified upon the cross, implying that Christ’s Resurrection is also the creation of a new cosmos.)

Perhaps the primary difference thus far uncovered between JMM and I concerns the role of imagination, which is not, for me, unrelated to the nature of the divine-human relationship. I dwell on the spiritual significance of imagination in what follows.

“My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk,” writes John Keats in a letter to Shelly. Blake went so far as to call imagination “the Divine Body of lord Jesus, blessed for ever.” Blake saw clearly that the old quarrel between Plato and Homer was alive and well: the abstract philosophy of “Newton’s single vision” was in his day “warring in enmity against Imagination.”

Why is imagination so important? Because it constantly challenges the intellect’s attempts to systematize experience. A deadened imagination lead the Pharisees to place the letter of the law before the Spirit (Mark 2:3-28). Not even stone tablets can survive the fiery caldron of imagination that lights the hearts of the faithful. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6), which is not to say that scripture should not be read and respected. It is just a reminder that the Spirit’s revelations are ongoing, and that the doctrines codified by learned councils must be balanced by the poetic prayers and visions of mystics.

I believe the incarnation of the Word is an ongoing historical event that is re-making the world from the inside out. Human beings are participants in this divine-cosmic drama, and there is no higher form of worship than divine imitation (humble imitation!). Our task is to imaginatively body-forth an earth whose economy runs on love instead of envy and hate. Not closer adherence to law, but a transformation of the human heart-mind is required.

Celestial and Sexual: The Antipodes of Philosophy

First, do yourself a philosophical favor and watch the film “Agora” (2009).

Now that you’ve seen it, I’m not worried about playing spoiler. Ok, even if you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, it’s historical fiction, so just pretend I’m refreshing your memory concerning the social and spiritual upheaval in the 4th century CE that led to the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christendom. The film is set in Alexandria and portrays the life of Hypatia, a neo-Platonic philosopher most famous for her astronomical work–and for being perhaps the first witch murdered by Christian converts.

Rumor has it she was as beautiful as she was brilliant. This put her male students in a rather awkward position. One of them, Orestes (who would later become prefect of the city), pronounced his love for Hypatia publicly, climbing on stage during the intermission of a drama to play a song on his flutes, which he gifts her upon concluding. She accepts, but later on in class, she offers him a present in return: a wadded handkerchief stained with menstrual blood.

She says, in effect, “You’re not in love with me, but with the idea of beauty reflected in your soul.” She goes on to remind her students of the corruptibility of earthly life and the eternal perfection of the heavens.

This got me thinking about an often unacknowledged link within the very heart of philosophy itself between the celestial and the sexual. The infinite stillness and pure identity of spirit tend to draw the philosopher toward the sky; but the sensual seduction of sweaty merger responsible for giving him or her life in the first place keeps the philosopher on the ground, where bodily senses restrict the vision of space and mortality strains the tie to eternity.

Hypatia is forced to admit later in the film that Ptolemy’s model of the solar system may be incorrect. She realizes that the planets may actually orbit the sun, and that these orbits must be elliptical, rather than perfectly circular. Whether or not this realization on her part is fictional or historical, we will never know, because her works were destroyed after the Christians burnt the library at Alexandria. But it leads her to question whether the universe even has a center. The social and political turmoil raging around her at the time was an indication that all really was ruled by chaos and disorder. The gods of old were failing, being replaced by Christ, whose message of love and charity seemed mostly lost on the “soldiers of Christ” who brutally murdered Hypatia in 415 CE.

I suppose this is the crux of it for the lover of wisdom: if human life is ruled by passion alone, reason is lost. But if it is ruled by reason alone, there is no longer any life to live. Might there be some hidden harmony between spirit and flesh? I believe there is, but this Great Balance is the hardest thing in or beyond the world to find. You might call it the heart, but don’t mistake my meaning for the physical organ. I am speaking of the Love which beats the heart, which bleeds into earthly life from beyond because it cannot bear to let us live and die alone.

This is why philosophy cannot find its way without some reconciling agent who brings heaven down to earth. I’m not sure if any Platonist has ever truly felt at home on this wandering planet. I suspect not. And I’ve no idea who the Christians depicted in this film believed they were killing for. I suspect that Christianity swept across Europe for reasons that are just now becoming conscious to us. Initially, the human psyche was thrown into a violent battle against itself, old against new, mother against father, father against son, brother against brother. Perhaps the dust will settle soon and the trinity will become holy once more.

The Spirit of Philosophy

I am passionate about philosophy not because I desire answers to arbitrary questions or explanations of abstract problems. My passion arises because life, as given–as it at first appears to my everyday consciousness–is incomplete and unaccounted for. The reason for my existence has never been self-evident, and yet discovering this reason is the prerequisite of selfhood, of knowing who and what I am.

As far back as my conscious memory will reach, I’ve known with certainty that there is more to my earthly experience than I can as of yet perceive. My certainty is no more than a knowing that I do not know of what exactly this moreness consists, and it is in this “learned ignorance,” as Nicholas of Cusa put it, that my longing for wisdom finds its source. I do not desire an answer so much as the wisdom to ask the proper question.

Perhaps it is here that the hubris of our scientistic age has been lead furthest astray. The human spirit has gone into hiding not because of the supposed answers to long standing questions that materialistic science has brought, but because of the shallow form of questioning that it has forced upon us. It is relatively easy for any sufficiently rigorous thinker to dismiss reductionistic physiological explanations of consciousness, but once rejected, these same thinkers seem unable to devise a line of questioning that might free us from the aporia of the “hard problem.”

Einstein is often credited with the remark that “a problem cannot be solved by the same consciousness that created it.” How right he is. The sense-bound intellect, so successful at mastering the mechanisms of the inorganic material world, is powerless in the face of the higher order phenomena of biology, psychology, and spirituality. If our thinking is dead, it is no wonder that life and consciousness remain beyond our comprehension. The proper question is not “how does the brain produce consciousness”; it demonstrably does not (you will never find qualia–blueness, sweetness, sadness–in neural tissue). The question is rather “how are we to resurrect our thinking so as to become adequate to supersensible phenomena?”

It is this question that lead me to Rudolf Steiner‘s spiritual science. As an interpreter, Jonael Schickler, has described it, Steiner’s is a metaphysics as Christology. His prescription for our fallen age is radical, and no doubt will leave many materialistically oriented thinkers in disbelief, if it does not also evoke downright derision. Steiner demands that we widen our line of questioning to the extent that Christ becomes an ingredient of any adequate account of human and cosmic existence.

For Steiner, Christianity is not a religion, but the embodiment of a world-historical fact. He finds truth in all of the world’s spiritual traditions, and is well aware of the seeming exclusivity of his claims. It is for this reason that he often avoided the title “Christ” when articulating his vision, because it is merely a culturally constructed label which has been chosen to represent a principle that lives in all of humanity and is at work in cosmic evolution itself. A more apt label for this principle might be the “I am.” It is eternal: that which was in the beginning and will be in the end. It is also that which works in the time between through love in order to redeem the world. But it is less a “what” than a “who,” because this spirit lives within the soul of every human being, more you than the limited personality you at first appear to be. From Steiner’s perspective, the question is not “what is the truth?”, but “who is the truth?” The answer is “I am.”

If philosophy is to become relevant in our world once again, such a spiritual principle must be at its root. It cannot be a belief accepted as dogma, but the result of an experience of the unconditioned Absolute underlying all things, seen and unseen.

The natural world may remain a mystery to me, but in knowing that I do not know, I have already found myself.

Who am I?

I am.

All else will follow in time.

The short story of a sophianic moonlight friend.

There is one who kneels me, who pulls me to the Sky beneath the Earth. Around her, my heart is heavy with the gravity of love.

Love, like a wound that needs forever to bleed in order to heal; a union of suffering and bliss that asks for no more than a brief kiss.

In that short time, the whole world unwinds in anticipation of the rise of the divine. Lips hear each other without gasping for air, and Wisdom passes purely between souls.

Quickly, the Word returns to where it was told, and all was one, all was old. For evidence of God, look the I of another in the eyes. You’ll see reflected the ancient story of the Moon, with light down shining from the Sun.

Discover the face of she who wears the life of the Earth as skin. With time, she weaves the wonders of the world into space, making matter through imaginative impress.

Remember the meaning of the future, the destined death of earth. What lives is hiding here today, but will be gone tomorrow. Know thyself, and love thy neighbor.

Cocoons look at first like coffins. But beneath the scab is a living ouroboric embryo, recreating itself from within. The Human and the Earth have been swallowed by the Sky. Now we must learn to tell the tail from the story.

Wisdom is never worried, because time always tells her when it’s up.

My response to ‘Why Did God Create Atheists?’ @ AlterNet

Why Did God Create Atheists? | Belief | AlterNet.

…and my comment posted as a response:

I believe Jesus answers some of these questions when he says that “the kingdom of heaven is within you,” but that many do not yet have the ears to hear or the eyes to see what this means. Of course God is not falsifiable, but nor is God a scientific hypothesis. God is the eternal “I am”–that within each of us which grants us identity and self-consciousness, not to mention the ability to love one another unconditionally (because after all, in the depths of our souls behind all our personal idiosyncrasies, where the light of the “I am” shines forth, we are all already one in God). Let’s all please get beyond silly literalism and acknowledge that it is human nature to be spiritual, in whatever form that spirituality might take (one can be atheist and still deeply spiritual). Fundamentalism is a very recent invention, mostly an unfortunate but inevitable reaction against the moral depravity of the modern, industrial world. Our species’ religious traditions are themselves full of wisdom, if only we have ears to hear it. It is only those with political motivations that distort these teachings to suit their own desire for power. It is misguided to blame religion for the world’s problems. We could just as easily blame science and technology for building nukes and fueling the industrial makeover of our planet that is responsible for climate change and mass extinction. Instead, let’s take a look at ourselves and start taking responsibility for the only earth we’ll ever have. Science tells us how, religion tells us why. It’s up to us to live peacefully in light of this knowledge.

Our Planetary Moment: A Journey Through Cosmic Time

Setting the Stage

There were no eyes to see it happen, and even if there were, there was not yet any light for them to see, nor even any space in which to look. The universe was born out of an infinitely creative quantum womb poised somewhere (or is it nowhere?) between being and non-being. In an instant, since there was “not yet” any time for it to hesitate about its future, with a flash of warmth and light the cosmic embryo began to grow

 

Though there is undoubtedly an organic integrity to space-time, perhaps “grow” is here a bit of an understatement. The universe began with a BANG! From 10-33 cm3 —the smallest volume physicists can measure—the universe inflated to the size of a human being within 10-32 seconds. To put this in perspective, it has taken another 13 billion years for the universe to grow by the same order of magnitude that it did in this initial fraction of a fraction of a second.[1] Our cosmic seed seems to have been in quite a rush to get its evolutionary adventure underway, as if it already had some glorious end in mind.

 

That said, chance and accident have also undoubtedly left their mark on the history of our universe. It only takes a glance upward at the night sky to reveal the seemingly happenstance location of the formation of stars in space. To the untrained eye, we seem to be adrift in randomness. But we must look deeper: there is a certain “fine tuning” at work beneath the surface that continues to baffle the scientists who study it. The rate of the universe’s inflation had to be exactly right for stars to form, and under the pressure of gravity within these enormous sidereal masses, as Teilhard de Chardin describes it, unfolded a “harmonic series of simple bodies, spread over the notes of the atomic scale from hydrogen to uranium.”[2] The elemental music emanating from the core of these spheres made possible the formation of planets, and upon at least one, the emergence of life. The beauty and coherence of this process is evidence enough that our universe longs to express itself, and that some mysterious ordering principle is at work pulling it toward greater complexity and deeper feeling. As Brian Swimme puts it, quite simply, “The universe is about something.”[3]

 

Still, if there be any doubt about the meaning of the music of the spheres, we need only consider the ears for whom they now sing and the eyes whom, awestruck, now absorb and reflect upon their light. With the emergence of mind out of life and matter, the narrative arc of the universe becomes unmistakable. There is a story being told. It is no metaphor: the universe is struggling to be born again within human consciousness by learning all that it has done and loving all that remains yet to do.

 

Knowledge and love: these are the protagonists of our story. Each, the knowledge pursued by science and the love fostered by religion, have been essential in guiding the course of human history. It would be naïve and irresponsible, however, to fail to mention how often these same guides have been our fiercest adversaries. With every increase in knowledge comes an increase in power. Often, the latter overreaches the former, leading to the invention of technologies whose detrimental effects are only understood in retrospect. Similarly, the unifying impulse of love can be so strong that it blinds us to the evils committed in its name. It seems that what our species lacks is not knowledge or love, but knowledge of love. We don’t yet understand, and so have been unable to take responsibility for the full extent of our mission on earth.

 

In the essay to follow, I will delve into my own heart-mind in search of clues concerning the way forward. As Teilhard reminds us, it is upon increased personalization, “the internal deepening of consciousness on itself,” that the emergence of a planetary Weltanschauung “in which each of us cooperates and participates” depends.[4] To help me imagine the future, I will also need to recollect and unpack the Western tradition that informs my metaphysics and cosmology. But before reaching into the past or the future, let us come to grips with the present.

 

Facing the Challenge

For all of us alive today—the nearly 7 billion human beings currently populating the earth—the problems are obvious, but the way forward remains obscure. We are faced with an unprecedented evolutionary challenge. Never before has the universe been in a position to consciously choose the next chapter in its story. Nor have human beings ever been so anxious and uncertain about their collective future. Few remain who are not at least aware of the magnitude of the crisis. For most, it is a fact of daily life.

 

The WHO estimates that 2/3 of the world’s human population is malnourished or starving. In the time it takes to read this sentence, someone, probably on the Indian subcontinent, will have died of starvation.[5]

 

The world wars of the 20th century, estimated to have killed nearly 100 million people,[6] were apparently not enough to convert us to pacifism. Armed conflicts each killing more than a thousand people a year continue to embroil our species in India, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Mexico, and Sudan. Smaller conflicts over beliefs and resources wage in twenty-nine countries across the world.[7]

 

Issues of poverty and wealth distribution, racism, sexism, and religious intolerance don’t even begin to round out the human extent of our planetary crisis. Sea level rise due to climate change threatens to redraw continental shores, creating tens of millions of refugees in the coming century. As if this were not bad enough, production of the very fossil fuels responsible for climate change has peaked, bringing the industrial economy we remain so dependent upon to the brink of collapse.[8] But this crisis has more than a human face. Not a single ecosystem on earth has been unaffected by our human presence.

 

In total, 17,291 known species are currently threatened with extinction. This number includes 20% of mammals, 25% of reptiles, 40% of fish, and 70% of plants. Scientists estimate that the background rate of extinction is approximately one per million species per year. At present, this rate has increased by a factor somewhere between 100 and 1,000.[9] Renowned biologist E. O. Wilson claimed in an interview with the BBC in 2009 that the rate could soar to upwards of 10,000 times the average rate by 2030.[10]

 

I could go on listing the social and ecological issues that our planet is confronting, but the only way to understand this crisis, so far as I can tell, is to interpret each separate issue as the symptom of a deeper sickness of soul. Humanity is experiencing the pains associated with every birthing process; but unlike the universe in its embryonic form, which had no time to hesitate, self-reflective human beings can become stuck. We can refuse to participate in this crucial evolutionary moment, whether due to fear or pessimism or ignorance. It is as though our greatest gift, self-conscious freedom, is simultaneously our tragic flaw. It gives us the ability to step back from the immediacy of sensory and emotive experiences as if to understand them from outside—in short, it allows us to doubt; but in doubting our experience of the world, we become alienated from it. The true cause of our crisis is this alienated consciousness.

 

Despite scientifically awakening to the full spatio-temporal extent of the universe, we seem to have forgotten that we are that very same universe. We are not outside it, not other than it. Or, perhaps it is not despite this awakening to the immensity of space and time, but because of it that we feel so alienated from nature.

 

Concerning the relatively recent discovery of the true dimensions of the cosmos, Teilhard writes,

“Leaving some dark prison, we are blinded by light; emerging abruptly onto a high tower, we are overwhelmed by a flood of emotions. We experience the dizziness, the disorientation—the whole psychology of modern uneasiness related to its abrupt confrontation with space-time.”[11]

 

Teilhard acknowledges the difficulty of coming to terms with this spatio-temporal awakening, but suggests our initiation into the universe’s true dimensionality remains dangerously incomplete if we do not also acknowledge its evolutionary trajectory. Modern scientific knowledge has re-situated the human in relation to the rest of the universe, which is a far vaster and more difficult to imagine place than it was prior to Copernicus.[12] But evolution is the thread that ties it all together, placing the human being, if no longer at the center of a static cosmos, at least at the creative edge of cosmogenesis.

 

So what is required of us now that we have woken up to this grand evolutionary process? I believe we must come to recognize that individual self-consciousness and the arbitrary freedom of choice that it wields is not an end, but merely a brief developmental moment in the ongoing noogenic process that is already transforming us in order to bring forth a new human for a new earth. Each of us is being called to become something more, a new kind of person at home with and in love with others and with the rest of the community of life on earth. We are searching for a new collective identity, but to find our true humanity, we must overcome the narrow-minded individualism so characteristic of our Western civilization.[13]

 

Before attempting to investigate, and if I’m lucky instigate the movement of consciousness beyond the isolated ego, I will take a brief detour to explore the role the West has played in world history. I will also unpack the ideas of a few major thinkers, especially as they are relevant to the evolution of modern Western consciousness.

 

Remembering the Past

The West, for better or worse, has according to Teilhard, “lead all peoples, from one end of the world to the other…to put the hopes and problems of the modern earth in the very terms in which [it] has succeeded in formulating them.”[14] Similarly, Sean Kelly credits the West with having played a “catalytic role” in the emergence of our still developing planetary era.[15] The European colonial conquests during the course of the past 500 years, violent as they were, have resulted in the economic and biocultural co-evolution of every race on earth. All people are now inextricably netted together in a “complex human fabric [that is weaving] itself around the planet.”[16]

 

This is not the place to speculate about what could have been had the West not been so bent on world dominance. Post-colonial critiques continue to expose the latent Eurocentrism of our modern geopolitical scene, compelling us to overcome ongoing injustices, but it is hard to deny the impact the Greco-Judeo-Christian impulse has had on our now planetary civilization. If we take a Hegelian view of history, it may be easier to understand how the evils of war and conquest have worked to bring forth higher forms of goodness than would otherwise have been possible. The “cunning of reason,” as Hegel famously refers to it, assures that Spirit’s universal goals are met despite the seeming chaos and contingency of particular world-historical personalities and events.[17] Hegel’s philosophy of history allows us to see how conflict is necessary for more ideal possibilities to manifest themselves on earth. Evolution could not occur, after all, unless strife and opposition were met along the way.

 

“War,” according to Heraclitus, “is the father of all things.”[18] But as Alexander the Great exclaimed on his deathbed, perhaps prematurely at the time, but no longer so today, “There are no more worlds to conquer!” There is now only one world. The evils of war have exhausted their dialectical magic, binding humanity inextricably into a single biocultural and economic whole. More war can now lead only to collective ruin.

 

A year before his death in 323 BCE, in an oath given before thousands of his Macedonian and Persian subjects not far from modern day Baghdad, Alexander is alleged to have said the following:

“Now that the wars are coming to an end, I wish you to prosper in peace. May all mortals from now on live like one people in concord and for mutual advancement. Consider the world as your country, with laws common to all and where the best will govern irrespective of tribe…On my part I should consider all equals, white or black, and wish you all to be not only subjects of the Commonwealth, but participants and partners. As much as this depends on me, I should try to bring about what I promised. The oath we made over tonight’s libations hold onto as a Contract of Love”.[19]

 

It seems that love works in mysterious ways to bring about the unity it seeks. It is as if during the course of the historical period, this hidden spiritual force has been driving individual human beings to sacrifice themselves for a future they could only dimly imagine. Alexander’s call for peace and participatory planetary governance still awaits realization, but it becomes more apparent every day that history’s hidden goal is precisely such a “Contract of Love.” But I am getting ahead of myself…before imagining this still nascent future, we must understand the core religious, scientific, and philosophical ideas that have shaped the Greco-Judeo-Christian impulse mentioned above.

 

In discussing the Biblical stories to follow, I aim only to draw out their archetypal meaning, leaving the question of their physical reality aside. As Carl Jung reminds us, “‘Physical’ is not the only criterion of truth: there are also psychic truths which can neither be explained nor proved nor contested in any physical way.”[20]

 

Though the exact date remains unknown, sometime around the 13th century BCE a prophet by the name of Moses lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt, crossing the Red Sea and settling temporarily at Mount Sinai. It is here that Yahweh revealed the Ten Commandments, which to this day represent the essence of moral law for many in the West. But there is an earlier revelation I want to draw attention to, that which first inspired Moses to lead his people out of slavery and toward the Promised Land.

 

While Moses was still a shepherd tending his flock near Mount Sinai, according to biblical legend, he came upon the angel of the Lord in a burning bush that somehow was not consumed by the flames. The voice of the Lord called to him, “Moses, Moses. Here am I!” Covering his face, “as he was afraid to look upon God,” Moses then received his divine mission to lead the Jews out of Egypt. He asked the Lord his name, to which the response was: “I am that I am.”[21] This cryptic statement is significant because Moses, at one time a member of the Egyptian royal family, was an initiate into the Egyptian mystery schools, whose secrets can be summed up with the phrase “know thyself.” This call to attain self-knowledge would later inspire Socrates and Plato, and indeed every genuine lover of wisdom since. Moses’ encounter with the “I am” represents the beginnings of a mutation in human consciousness from tribal to individual identity, but as I will explore below, it seems this mutation will remain incomplete until the esoteric meaning of Christ’s incarnation is understood. Moses was still too afraid to look upon the face of the Lord, which with the benefit of 3,000 years of consciousness evolution, we can safely say was his own. Nonetheless, his powerful experience allowed the Hebrews to come, according to Rick Tarnas, “to experience themselves as the Chosen People.” The revelation of the “I am” lead this particular community “to believe that they existed in a unique and direct relationship to the one creator of the world and director of history.”[22] This was an extremely novel perspective in comparison to the polytheistic religions of other tribes at the time.

 

The Hebrew notion of human history being fulfilled in a future era of universal peace and justice brought about by the coming of a messianic figure is described by Tarnas as the “divination of history.”[23] It set the stage for Jesus, who many centuries later fulfilled the prophecy of Moses by announcing that he was Christ, the Son of God. Throughout the Gospel of John, Christ refers to himself as the “I am” revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. But this time, it was not a chosen few who would have this mystery revealed to them, but the entirety of humanity. Much of the Western world’s subsequent history can be understood as the playing out of the “great code” embedded in the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.[24] Birth represents the original Garden of Eden, where all was idyllic and humans and nature remained undifferentiated. Death (and the torture that proceded it) represents the Fall, wherein the knowledge of good and evil fractures humanity’s original participation in the earthly paradise, making us aware of our nakedness and giving rise to the sense of homelessness and alienation that the consciousness of our age has come to know so well. The Resurrection represents the promised redemption of the world through the restoration of all that was lost as a result of the Fall, though with the added benefit of a consciousness not present with the original innocence. Not only would humanity return to paradise, it would know it was in paradise.

 

The Western imagination, whether consciously or not, seems to be playing out this code upon the stage of world history. Hegel’s entire philosophy of history is modeled after the great Trinitarian code of Christianity. Indeed, it may not be too much of a stretch to suggest that the very concept of history, implying as it does the narrative structure of beginning, middle, and climactic end, is a Judeo-Christian invention. Prior to this innovation, most cultures conceived of time as cyclical. The West is unique in its conception of time as providential.

 

Between the time of Christ and the birth of the modern era around 1500 CE, much of great significance occurred, including the fall of Rome and the rise of the Catholic Church. But for lack of space, I will focus for the remainder of this section on three modern thinkers whose ideas continue in subtle ways to shape our worldview: Copernicus, Descartes, and Kant.

 

The timely motions of the planets were a sign to ancient peoples that the universe was a divinely ordered whole and a likeness of eternity, but by the time of Copernicus, the geocentric Ptolemaic model used to predict their orbits was growing more and more cumbersome. Epicycle upon epicycle was required to “save the appearance” of the motion of the planets and the sun around the earth. Copernicus was asked by the papacy to clean up the mathematical mess so that more accurate calendars could be made. While researching possible solutions, Copernicus came upon ancient Greek manuscripts discussing the undeveloped hypothesis of a heliocentric solar system.[25] Working out the mathematical details, he came to realize that “the appearance of the moving sun and stars [was] deceptively created by the earth’s own movements.”[26] The long reigning medieval cosmology, classically depicting the universe as a series of perfect heavenly spheres encompassing the stationary earth, began to fall apart.

 

“The Copernican shift of perspective,” writes Tarnas,

“can be seen as a fundamental metaphor for the entire modern world view: the profound deconstruction of the naïve understanding, the critical recognition that the apparent condition of the objective world was unconsciously determined by the condition of the subject, the consequent liberation from the ancient and medieval cosmic womb, the radical displacement of the human being to a relative and peripheral position in a vast and impersonal universe, the ensuing disenchantment of the natural world.”[27]

 

This radically disorienting cosmology prefigured and perhaps required the ontological and epistemological developments that Descartes and Kant would later articulate. Descartes recognized, as Plato had millennia earlier, that sensory appearances were often deceptive. He needed a new method of arriving at certain knowledge that would allow the burgeoning sciences to continue to unveil the secrets of nature. He began by going into his own mind, doubting the very existence of the external world, including the existence of other people. He was left with only his own thinking activity, and realized that in this, in the very the act of doubting itself, he had found something which could not be called into question. The entire world may be an illusion, but in thinking of this possibility, I undoubtedly am. Or, as Descartes famously formulated it, “I think, therefore I am.” The discovery of the cogito lead Descartes to develop an ontology of two substances: a thinking substance, or soul, which is autonomous and has access to clear and distinct ideas; and an extended substance, or matter, which is mechanically determined according to mathematical laws.[28] Human consciousness was thus alienated from the natural world, and even from the physical body housing it.

 

Kant remained a thoroughly Cartesian philosopher, but his motivations were a bit different. Inspired by the success of Newton’s mechanistic picture of nature, Kant was nonetheless uneasy about the steady march of scientific understanding. If all material motion could be understood to behave according to deterministic mathematical laws, what kept these laws from applying to embodied human beings, as well? Kant saw very clearly that the freedom of the human soul could no longer be taken for granted.

 

In his most famous work, the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant convincingly argued that the mechanisms science thought it was discovering in the natural world were in fact a necessary result of the inherent structure of the human mind itself. Our relation to space and time, for example, is not a result of our empirical encounter with them in a pre-existing world. A quick phenomenological look at our experience reveals that we do not see space, only colored surfaces; nor do we see time, only movement. The mind, Kant realized, does not passively receive an already ordered world. Rather, forms of intuition like space and time, and categories of understanding like causality and substance, must be presupposed as necessary conditions for any human experience of the world to be possible. We know reality, in other words, only as it appears to us after being filtered through the mind’s pre-existing categories.

 

Kant referred to his epistemological re-orientation as a second Copernican revolution, as objects were now understood to revolve, so to speak, around the subject, their appearance always already shaped by the latter’s cognitive lenses. By limiting science to knowledge of appearances, Kant was able to protect traditional religious ideals like freedom, God, and immortality from being dispelled; though these could not be known with any certainty, either. He famously wrote in the introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason that he found it “necessary to deny knowledge to make room for faith.”[29] But in so doing, he also further alienated human consciousness from nature, which became an unreachable “thing-in-itself.” As Tarnas describes it, Kant’s revolution was fundamentally ambiguous: “Man was again at the center of the universe, but this was now only his universe, not the universe.”[30]

 

Kant’s uneasy dualism between the phenomenal and noumenal worlds inspired a generation of philosophers in Germany, most notable among them Schelling and Hegel, to strive to find a way to re-unite the human mind with nature and the divine. As Kelly writes, “for the Idealists, instead of the machine [as in Newton’s science], the organism and life become the root metaphors for the cosmos as a whole.”[31] Kelly also points out that, in these thinkers, much emphasis was placed on the idea of development and evolution.[32] For them, “the overall drive of the cosmos is toward the production of increasing complexity of organization as the vehicle for the eventual emergence of self-reflexive consciousness.”[33] It is these more organic and evolutionary cosmological perspectives that may provide a way forward, as they reawaken us to our embeddedness in an ensouled and purposeful universe. Let us now turn our eyes to the future to see what that purpose might be.

 

Envisioning the Future

All this emphasis on purpose in general—in the universe and in history—cannot be separated from my personal consciousness. I must admit that I am unable to imagine a universe so absurd as to have no reason for being, just as I am unable to live my own life in the absence of spiritual ideals. I have tried to doubt the teleological picture of the universe, but there really are no viable alternatives that are coherent with and adequate to my actual experience.

 

  The universe is about something. The warmth and light with which it began its story manifest themselves as the love and wisdom at work through human history. The culmination of history, its end, can only be brought about when every human soul has come to know love. Then the world will be transformed from the inside out. Or perhaps it has already been transformed…perhaps, as Teilhard writes, “Omega already exists and is at work right here and now.”[34] In the face of all the earth’s current ills, I am unable to lose hope in the underlying logic of the historical process.

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

I must interrupt the linear flow of this essay to offer a stream of consciousness prose-poem written late one evening around Easter of 2010 as an attempt, not only to envision the future, but also to fully embrace the divinity of the present. There is a logic to the historical process, I do not doubt; but this logic is dressed in mythopoeic parable, seeming at first to be obscure. To understand the meaning of history, we must participate in the realization of its end. This requires a certain turning about of the mind—a metanoia. Poetic language is one way to instigate such a mental turning.

 

On this night, like any other, the gospel reveals its light, shouts the good news and becomes an open secret. It is simple in its complexity: We are Each and All the Many eyes of One God, and in dying, we live this Truth Eternally. The Gospel is now open, because Man, through history, has been brought to his utmost extremity, crucified and flayed bare beyond all conception.

 

History has ended.

 

The world and all of its hells are already over. Only heaven remains. This secret will be forever retold. The Gospel here and everywhere is the very mouth of God, the breathing presence of divinity that I know only through my communion with you.

 

Man’s inner most recesses have been exposed, his most ungodly horrors and humiliations have been spread before the witnesses of his trial, their eager eyes like entirely amoral eagles whose only wish was to feast on the delight of spirits adrift in the wind of their own wondrous and self-indulgent melodies.

 

How quickly the world gets lost without wisdom, how empty even the music of the spheres can seem to sound unless in each of the seven is discovered the common harmony, the most secret and the most well-known, the always and undying source of the ever renewing breath of eternity.

 

Only here, at the utmost edges of human life, does the infinite gain entrance and can the holy truly poor into the life of mortal souls.

 

What appears in me is merely the other end of you, the love who through evil became my own enemy. Evil is the inverse of love, the dismemberment of the One. But in being destroyed, the One can only be forever renewed.

 

The good news is now known by everyone. We can only love one another, because we are not other than one another.

 

Spirit is the undulating mystery that brews between our patient and modest human breaths, overflowing in the words we speak to share our souls.

 

What secrets can I keep from you, who know me as clearly as I see myself? There is nowhere to hide from the light of God. It reveals everything, it reveals all to everyone at once. And yet, there is something in the light that remains concealed. The true source of wisdom, the holiest of holies, is hidden within nature’s most laborious of labyrinths, to this day remaining a mystery even unto itself.

 

Know thyself, which means also, love thy enemy. In each of us is the All. The One is none other than you and I.

 

Knowledge truly is of good and evil, and unless in love we are able to remember the good expressed in our mortal nature, we die without having recognized the divinity of our every living, moving moment. There is no eternity but what is here and now… and in this unending surprise the world is created forever anew out of its own ashes. The good news is now an open secret.

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

It seems paradoxical to say that the “good news” that reveals the meaning of human history is an “open secret.” If it were open, why would it remain also a secret? Grasping this paradox, I believe, is crucial for humanity’s future on earth. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is reported to have offered a series of cryptic parables to a great multitude that crowded around him on the beach. At one point, his disciples asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”[35] Jesus answered that the multitude had not yet been granted knowledge of the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. “Therefore,” he said, “I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”[36]

 

More paradoxes: seeing that sees not, hearing that hears not. What could this possibly mean? To grasp the subtle meaning of what has been said above, it must be placed in the context of the evolution of consciousness.

 

“Has history any real significance,” asks Owen Barfield, “unless, in the course of it, the relation between creature and Creator is being changed?”[37] The evolution of consciousness, for Barfield, is a continuous movement from immediate, or original participation in the meaningful rhythms of the natural world towards an increasingly alienated “null point,” wherein “a contraction of human consciousness from periphery to center” reduces all the wisdom of the cosmos to an isolated ego housed somewhere within the sinews of the human brain.[38] The human brain is the organic labyrinth nature has labored for eons to produce, the tabernacle meant to house something so much more holy than the “null point” now lost within it. But this is not the end of the movement, according to Barfield. It is, however, where nature’s labors, at least in the human, are at their end. From this point forward, it becomes our own responsibility to evolve into what Barfield calls final participation. While for original participation, the heart was enlivened from a source outside itself, namely, the still spiritually imbued natural world, final participation requires that the heart burn from within, irradiated by the light and warmth of Christ, the “I am” incarnate within each and every human being.

 

In an apocryphal text written sometime in the 2nd century, Jesus is reported to have said: “The kingdom of heaven is within you. Only he who knows himself can find it.”[39] The paradox of an “open secret” may now be understood. The evolution of consciousness has transformed human beings from unconscious participants in the course of natural events into conscious creators of history. The divine is no longer to be found outside ourselves. Divinity is hidden in the only place our eyes could not see, nor our ears hear. Having thus realized our own divinity, we must ask ourselves “whether we ought to shrink from the notion that we are to share the responsibility of maintaining an earth which it has already, it seems, been given into our hands to destroy.”[40]

 

The future of the earth and humanity depends upon our gaining the inner strength and imagination required to re-invent ourselves. The new story of the universe as a living, self-organizing system has made Copernicus all but obsolete, and the “null point” reached in the philosophies of Descartes and Kant continues to be challenged by a flurry of embodied ontologies and participatory epistemologies emerging to meet the needs of our time. Whether we like it or not, as Coleridge writes, “in our life alone does Nature live.”[41] Our presence has already forever changed the face of the planet, but I have more faith than all the world can contain that we will be born again and come to live in peace on earth. What else could human history be than the toilsome work of preparation required for our cosmic seed to finally flower and bear its fruit?

 

 

Bibliography

 

  1. Barfield, Owen. Saving the Appearances.
  2. Gebser, Jean. The Ever-Present Origin.
  3. Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Human Phenomenon.
  4. Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason.
  5. Kelly, Sean. Coming Home.
  6. Primack and Abrams. The View from the Center of the Universe.
  7. Tarnas, Rick. Passion of the Western Mind.
  8. The Hegel Reader. Ed. by Stephen Houlgate.


[1] All measurements above taken from The View from the Center of the Universe by Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams.

[2] The Human Phenomenon by Teilhard de Chardin, p. 14

[3] ibid., p. xvi

[4] ibid., p. 184-185

[8] http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/apr/11/peak-oil-production-supply ; Even the US Military now admits to the severity of the problem, estimating that, by 2012, surplus oil production could entirely disappear.

[11] The Human Phenomenon, p. 158

[12] The Copernican revolution will be discussed in more detail below.

[13] Overcoming individualism doesn’t mean jettisoning values like universal human rights and equality. On the contrary, it means coming to experience our responsibility to other earthlings as strongly as we demand our own rights.

[14] The Human Phenomenon, p. 147

[15] Coming Home, p. xi

[16] ibid., vii

[17] The Hegel Reader, p. 413

[18] Jean Gebser suggests that this, like most of Heraclitus’ aphorisms, is an incomplete fragment whose polar correspondence has not survived the ages. He suggests Heraclitus must also have written that “Peace is the mother of all things.” (The Ever-Present Origin, p. 151)

[19] Recounted in fragments written by Ptolemy and Plutarch based on Alexander’s diary.

[20] Answer to Job, p. xi

[21] All quotes from chapter 3 of Exodus.

[22] The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 94

[23] Ibid.

[24] Coming Home, p. 35

[25] The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 249

[26] Ibid., p. 250

[27] Ibid., p. 416

[28] Descartes also wrote of God as the one true substance, but this is not the part of his ontology that has had great influence on the modern psyche.

[29] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 29

[30] The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 349

[31] Coming Home, p. 61

[32] This was almost 50 years before Darwin would later formulate his disenchanted mechanistic theory of evolution by natural selection, which, unfortunately, still commands the attention of the popular imagination.

[33] Coming Home, p. 63

[34] The Human Phenomenon, p. 209

[35] 13:10

[36] 13:13

[37] Saving the Appearances, p. 160

[38] ibid., p. 182

[39] Gospel of the Hebrews, ch. 38

[40] Saving the Appearances by Owen Barfield, p. 160

[41] Ode to Dejection

Gnostic Consciousness: Knowing with Spiritual Beings

Introduction

Despite my resolute sense of the sacred nature of earthly existence, religious belief has yet to strike me as a particularly appropriate form of response to the presence of the holy. Belief is to be distinguished from Faith, in that believing implies conceiving of the existence of spiritual beings without the perceptual experience to give such conceptions their content. Faith, in contrast, involves opening one’s innermost heart to the Wisdom of the divine and is the first step toward accessing supersensible experience.

Beliefs are empty wishes, which according to Rudolph Steiner, are “deeply bound up with personal egoism…rising out of the body like subjective smoke” (IMS, p. 233). I may believe a friend’s testimony concerning any number of worldly issues, but I cannot settle for a secondhand understanding of the true source of my deeply felt spiritual intuitions. I am forced, then, in this essay, to go beyond belief by way of Faith, that mode of loving perception whose content is Wisdom. In this way, I hope to contact the true source of my desire for the divine.

But leaving behind religious teachings and symbols entirely would be an arrogant mistake, stranding me in uncharted astral waters without any direction home. The human soul is a stormy sea between the lonely island I call “me” and the shores of a shared earthly destiny. Crossing these treacherous waters requires more than my ego can take. Psyche (my soul) is a spiritual being who cannot be an experience had by my ego, because my ego is always already adrift within Her, already swallowed whole. To calm the seas of my soul, I can only die willingly for Her in Faith that She redeems me. She is the Church, not of Rome, but of the earth entire. In Her, I find my destiny.

The maps toward Her hidden treasure have been written for us by countless spiritual seers, each urging us to brave the depths of Her psychic sea so that we may see with them what our earthly senses conceal. Her treasure is buddhi, the gift of intuitive knowing that bridges heaven and earth and turns death into eternal life.

The sacred scriptures pointing signs for us in the direction of the divine are many, but in this essay, I will discuss those mentioning three beings in particular: Krishna, Buddha, and Christ. In what follows, I will attempt, aided by Faith, Wisdom, and Love to know with these beings the purpose of their presence on earth, and to see with them how they are guiding the evolution of humanity toward a rebirth as the children of Gaia.

Krishna

The human, at present, is a being precariously caught between the ignorant instincts of its animal past and the angelic gnosis of its spiritual future. Said differently, the human is a heavenly being still in the process of becoming fully conscious of its mission on earth.

The human soul, wounded by the split of the ego from the unconscious, is torn between a desire to live and a fear of death. In such a wounded state, humanity has little choice but to make of life a war in defense from death. Out of this confusion (confusion, because war for life only assures that death prevails) grows the soul’s conscience, its sense of good and evil. These moral opposites arise because the ego knows of no other scheme with which to make sense of its precarious mortal existence.

Humanity’s inability to see the meaning of the playful war of these friendly enemies (good and evil, life and death, desire and fear) is responsible for shattering its collective Psyche into an untold number of ego identities, for whom collectivity has become unconscious. The current age of spiritual darkness due to egoic isolation is one of war for forgotten wisdom buried beneath the blood of ages, for as Krishna says, only he or she “who in all things is without affection though visited by this good or that evil and neither hates nor rejoices, [only] his [or her] intelligence sits firmly founded in wisdom,” (BG, 2:57).

Krishna is the being that helps open the human heart to the karma of the generations who have come before, in whose deaths the lives of the present steal their time. Krishna is consciousness of the past, and all its implications for humanity’s future path. In Krishna, one becomes conscious of the weight of the whole human mass, or what Teilhard de Chardin might call the “great Monad” (HM, p. 188).

In the opening scenes of the Bhagavad-Gita, after being urged by his as yet unrecognized charioteer to ride forth into battle against his own family, the warrior Arjuna is caught in an epic struggle with the great moral forces in his soul. The war of Kurukshetra is set to begin, but Arjuna throws down his bow and arrow because he cannot bear the thought of slaying his own people, of embracing the cosmic significance and ultimate sacrifice of the task before him.

Arjuna looks to his charioteer for help, saying:

It is poorness of spirit that has smitten away from me my true heroic nature, my whole consciousness is bewildered in its view of right and wrong. I ask thee which may be better [to fight, or not]—that tell me decisively. I take refuge as a disciple with thee; enlighten me, (BG, 2:7).

His charioteer responds:

Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body, is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible. Therefore fight, O Bharata. He who regards the soul as a slayer, and he who thinks it is slain, both of them fail to perceive the truth. It does not slay, nor is it slain, (BG, 2:18-19).

In the chapters that follow, the charioteer eventually reveals himself to be Krishna, the Lord of all existences. He shares with Arjuna many lessons concerning the inevitability of action in the constantly flowing realm of Prakriti (Nature). Among these lessons are the yogas leading the divinely inspired worker to act without attachment to the fruits of his or her labor while knowing Purusha (Soul) through devotion to the supreme Brahman. Bhakti brings one closer to the divine essence within, the atman, which when identified with heals the egoic rift in Psyche by reminding us of our eternal origin and destiny. The necessity of uniting the three yogas of action, knowledge, and love is a message running throughout the Gita, but the most important impartation occurs in chapter 11.

Arjuna, now free of self-pity and the delusion that his egoic indecision might forestall the inevitable cosmic unrolling of the Supreme Godhead’s secret labor on earth, asks Lord Krishna to reveal his divine form and body.

The Gita describes Krishna’s supreme form:

It is that of the infinite Godhead whose faces are everywhere…a world-wide divinity seeing with innumerable eyes, speaking from innumerable mouths, armed for battle with numberless divine uplifted weapons…the whole world multitudinously divided and yet unified is visible in the body of the God of Gods, (BG, 11:9-14).

Arjuna struggles to see such a tremendous vision, which he says is “hard to discern because Thou art a luminous mass of energy on all sides of me, an encompassing blaze, a sun-bright fire-bright Immeasureable,” (p. 176).

A warrior of another time, Teilhard de Chardin, seems to have encountered a similar many-eyed, many-mouthed divine being while embroiled in war against his own European family, calling it variously “an immense human Presence” (HM, p. 174), and “a Soul greater than my own” (HM, p. 175). He echoes the difficulty expressed by Arjuna, saying that the “gift or faculty of perceiving, without actually seeing…is still comparatively rare,” (HM, p. 31). Krishna relates the same when he says, “What thou hast to see, this thy human eye cannot grasp; but there is a divine eye (an inmost seeing), and that eye I now give to thee,” (BG, 11:8). This eye belongs to the atman, whose spiritual sight sees beneath the surfaces that separate to the face shared by All.

The intense human energy that is brought forth in war seems to have served as the provocation for the emergence of such a spiritual sight in both Arjuna and Teilhard. As Teilhard says, “The effect of the war was to break through the crust of the commonplace and conventional [so as to open a window] onto the hidden mechanisms and deep strata of what humanity is becoming,” (HM, p. 178). In this way, the confusion of good and evil are transcended through a vision of the future, as the full breadth of time and the path of world history are made present. Evil becomes, given such a view, the provocateur of further evolution—the light that violently wakes the Self (atman) from its slumber deep within the clouded human soul.

As Teilhard says, the outward chaos of the front lines, like a crashing wave, curls upon itself and develops within one:

“…an underlying stream of clarity, energy, and freedom that is to be found hardly anywhere else in ordinary life—and the new form that the soul then takes on is that of the individual living the quasi-collective life of all men, fulfilling a function far higher than that of the individual, and becoming fully conscious of this new state,” (HM, p. 168).

Krishna-consciousness calls upon one to go beyond the isolated egoic state and its culturally relative sense of good and evil by offering insight into the mission of humanity as a whole. Krishna is the first awakening of the human Self (atman) and its demand of personal sacrifice for love of All (Brahman). The ego must transform, like Arjuna and Teilhard, by remembering the momentum of karmic current carrying it out of the fragmentation of old, and seeing, with them, the future unification that redeems its present sacrifices. With the knowledge gained through such sight, one is called to fight not for hatred of one’s enemies or the spoils of war, but for love of an earthly destiny decreed by heaven.

In the closing pages of the Gita, Krishna offers his final teaching to Arjuna, saying:

Devoting all thyself to Me, giving up in the conscious mind [ego] all actions into Me, resorting to Yoga of the will and intelligence be always one in heart and consciousness with Me, (BG, 18:57).

To which Arjuna responds:

Destroyed is my delusion, I have regained memory through Thy grace, O Infallible One, I am firm, dispelled are my doubts. I will act according to Thy word, (BG, 18:73).

“We are,” as Teilhard says, “the countless centers of one and the same sphere” (HM, p. 192) rushing toward an inevitable return to psychic and spiritual wholeness. Only by yolking individual knowledge, action, and love for the sake of collective human destiny can one participate in bringing to fruition the divine mission on earth.

Buddha

Krishna grants the human being a glimpse of the glory of his or her dharma by reminding him or her of their terrifying karma and the sacrifices its purification requires. Fully acknowledging one’s dharmic duty involves purifying the soul of its desires and fears. The teachings of the Buddha provide an appropriate practice kindling in the soul the fires of such purification.

The Buddhist Pāramitās provide the ego with a vessel to carry it from the island of isolated suffering across turbulent seas to the shores of enlightened compassion. One such path toward moral perfection and wise understanding can be found in the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.

The first Truth concerns dukkha, or the fact that egoic life is suffering. Before Prince Gotama realized his inner Buddha-nature, his encounter with the three sorrows of age, sickness, and death nearly overwhelmed him. During the course of spiritual development, every individual is forced to confront these same sorrows in one way or another. Most initially ignore and repress them, turning their eyes elsewhere toward the many distractions afforded by countless bodily desires. But beneath the surface of such superficial pleasures, there begins to boil a sense of the emptiness of all egoic longings. The ego is possessed by a thirst that knows no satisfaction, and so eventually, dissatisfaction begins to overflow it, carrying the sorrows back into consciousness where they drown one in despair.

The Buddha invites one to sit with this psychic crisis rather than run, such that in its painful message is seen the source of the cure for all earthly sorrows. Recognizing that life lived egoically is a disease is the first step along the path toward calming the unsettled waters of the soul.

The second Noble Truth concerns samudaya, or the origin of suffering. Only once the impermanence of all manifest form is accepted and the sorrows of age, sickness, and death have been faced can the cause of such afflictions become apparent. It is craving for and attachment to the flux of phenomena that disquiets the soul and gives rise to its suffering. An ego still immersed in the uneven seas of desire is afflicted with a dis-ease occluding the clarity of its dharmic destination. Unless the ego-identified soul is cured of its suffering, one’s Buddha-nature remains but a seed awaiting the lush soil affording it an opportunity to grow.

The third Noble Truth, nirodha, concerns the cure allowing for the cessation of suffering. In this Truth is found the promise of the Buddhist path, that desire and its samsaric effects can be overcome and transformed into the bliss of nirvana. Nirvana is the extinction of desire through the realization of an emptiness (Suññatā) so luminously alluring that one cannot help but fill it with infinite compassion (Karuṇā). With this, the seed, or Tathāgatagarbha (GH, p. 105), of one’s inherent Buddha-nature absorbs the now purified water of the soul and begins to grow.

The fourth Noble Truth concerns mārga, or the Eightfold Path. It lays out a systematic way of engaging life as a spiritual practice in order to cultivate the seeds of wisdom (prajñā), morality (sīla), and concentration (samādhi) in oneself. Of course, an initial glimmer of insight was required before one could find the path at all. Without having the capacity to deeply recognize the inadequacy of egoic existence, one cannot even begin to take seriously the wisdom and moral precepts contained in the Eightfold Path.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, in each person hides “the pure nature, the potential…to overcome imperfections and attain liberation,” (GH, p. 105). A natural awareness of the ever-present seed of wisdom within allows one to begin the process of cultivation. Once one has mastered right speech, action, and livelihood, he or she can begin to cultivate right effort, mindfulness, and concentration. With continued practice, the path culminates in a full flowering of the divine wisdom of buddhi, the intuitive intelligence lying dormant in the heart of each of us.

Buddhi opens in us a gateway between the heavenly realm of eternity and the earthly passage of time, giving us insight into the essence of our existence. The purpose of Mahayanist Buddhist practice, however, is not merely the attainment of Nirvana for oneself, but the transformation of one’s whole being into a bodhisattva of compassion. A bodhisattva is compelled to remain on the earthly plane to “suffer with” all sentient beings, sympathetically sharing with them through skillful means the path toward liberation.

Buddha’s mission is to provide the human being with a method for realizing the wisdom and compassion of its inherent Tathāgatagarbha. Without a way of cultivating this seed within, one remains stranded on an island of ego lost amidst the sea of saṃsāra. Buddhist practice offers a light in the darkness, a means of contacting the buddhi hidden in the depths of our soul and making conscious its task of transfiguring the world.

Christ

While it has also been said of Buddha that he “walks on the water” (EPO, p. 90), Christ heralds the very Spirit of the water itself. Rudolf Steiner has said, “Buddha’s life ends with the transfiguration, whereas the most significant part of Jesus’ life begins after the Transfiguration,” (CMF, p. 97). By this, Steiner means that Christ not only became one with the light of the world (as Buddha did after his parinirvana), Christ is the being who radiates this light into the world of flesh and blood, into the very heart of the cosmos itself.

Just before his death, the historical Buddha, according to the Dalai Lama, “stated that the body of a fully enlightened being…is…impermanent and subject to [transience, impermanence, and non-endurance]” (GH, p. 120), just like every other phenomenal form. According to Steiner, Buddha’s transfiguration merged him with the “all-pervading blissful life of the spirit” (CMF, p. 97), thereby demonstrating humanity’s origin in the divine Word (Logos).

In contrast, as is written in the Gospel according to John, in Christ, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (1:14). In this way, the spiritual essence of the cosmos incarnated on earth, suffered crucifixion, and was resurrected. As a Sun being, Christ expresses the hidden meaning of light and warmth, radiating wisdom and love upon all humanity. Christ’s transfiguration makes transparent, according to Jean Gebser, “the genuine irruption of the other side into this side, the presence of the beyond in the here and now, of death in life, of the transcendent in the immanent, of the divine in the human” (EPO, p. 529).

While Buddha provides the method that purifies the soul, returning Psyche to a virgin state free of the conflicting desires and fears of a merely earthly existence, only Christ can provide the spiritual power that births in us the divine Wisdom capable of loving the world entire.

As is spoken by Christ to His Father:

…the glory which You gave Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are One: I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have Loved them, as You have Loved Me (John 17:22-23).

The Love made possible by Christ’s incarnation on earth is what unifies not only the entire human race, but the cosmos itself into a single Body whose life is eternal. This, the Body of Christ, is the true Church open to anyone with the Faith to heal the separation from the spiritual realm caused by original sin. This sin was the knowledge of good and evil that turned the soul into a battleground and made death its principle enemy. As is written by Paul in Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Faith was distinguished from belief at the outset of this essay in order to make it clear that the wishful desiring of the latter only clouds our ability to listen for divine inspiration. Although it is written, “…blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29), we may read the use of the term “believed” in this context as more akin to the openheartedness of Faith than the egoic desire for wish fulfillment. But the open ears afforded by Faith are not enough to fully and intuitively participate in the meaning of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

As Steiner has said,

Faith allows a person to participate unconsciously in the Mystery of Golgotha, [but] initiation leads to a fully conscious connection with the power that streams invisibly from events depicted in the New Testament (CMF, p. 100).

In other words, while Faith brings us to the water, it cannot make us drink of its immortalizing Wisdom. However, the Resurrection of Christ is significant precisely because it transforms what had been revealed only to a few in secret into an event upon the world stage of history. What had been a mythological image becomes, after Christ, an actual event (CMF, p. 98). Given Faith, though one may currently lack the spiritual sight to consciously commune with the Wisdom of Christ, realization is nonetheless assured and made inevitable by the deed that was done on the Cross for all humanity.

But as was made clear at the outset, I cannot settle for the hearsay of stories, but must myself die and rise by the Love of Christ. I must know, with Paul, “that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more,” (Romans 6:9), and “that our old man [was] crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed” (Romans 6:6). With this, the Christ in me becomes alive unto God, I am reborn, and my Psyche remembers her true name: Sophia, Bride of God.

My soul is but a reflection of Sophia, the divine Wisdom who’s Love was so great it overflowed the Pleroma and created the world. As Eve, She tempted me when I was Adam with the serpent’s secret fruit. I ate and gained knowledge that this world was not my origin and that death must not be my destiny. Christ was Her rescue mission, the Savior sent to Redeem Her creation from the sin of separation from God. Christ is “the Light of the world” (John 9:5) who shines upon the shattered mirror of many souls making each One with Him in Love.

Conclusion

Only when I begin to open my heart in Faith can I hear the whispers of spiritual beings softly singing me the Song of the Spheres. Faith brings me—through Krishna, Buddha, and Christ—to Wisdom, the source of the Light of the world.

With Krishna, I come to know and love my karma, to act without personal attachment to the fruits of my labor. For the labor of life on earth concerns a destiny shared by all, a mission mandated by the insatiable ramification of the human race and the closed shape of its planet’s surface. Our dharma is to unite as a single Omega, a Cosmic Person.

I come to know, with Buddha, the skills required to pacify my soul, to cure it of its sickness. So long as the ego remains unconscious of its shadow and Psyche forgets her name, my soul cannot express its one true desire: to love all beings that suffer in the world of earthly turning. Buddha provides the soil out of which the seed of compassion and Wisdom may grow.

In Christ, I come to know that His was also my ego’s crucifixion, the death of all my sin. Christ comes to replace the external Law of old by awakening the Word of God within my heart, “for the Law was given by Moses, but Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). His resurrection redeems the creation of the cosmos and opens the gates of heaven to all who dwell on earth, because as Teilhard says, “Heaven cannot dispense with Earth” (HM, p. 203).

Works Cited
ISM – Bamford, Christopher, ed. Isis Mary Sophia: Her Mission and Ours. Steiner Books, 2003.
BG – Bhagavad gita and its message with text, translation and Sri Aurobindo’s commentary. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Light Publications, 1995.
HM – Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de. The Heart of Matter. New York: Harvest Books, 2002.
EPO – Gebser, Jean. Ever-present origin. Athens, Ohio: Ohio UP, 1986.
GH – His Holiness The Dalai Lama. The Good Heart A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus. Minneapolis: Wisdom Publications, 1998.
CMF – Rudolf, Steiner,. Christianity as mystical fact. Hudson, N.Y: Anthroposophic P, 1997.