Monday 29 September 2014

The Universe and Man’s Place In It

Inevitably at some time in our lives we all wonder what sort of universe we live in. We may not give a great deal of thought to the question and, when it comes down to it, simply follow prevailing beliefs and opinions, whether religious, scientific/materialist or otherwise, but still there can be few people who have not, however briefly, considered the matter, and who will not, as a consequence, lead their lives in a certain way. For the particular worldview we subscribe to will largely determine how we approach life. Here I wish to give what I believe to be the truth behind this question. That is, as much of it as I can currently understand and express. Naturally the truth in its wholeness is vastly greater than anyone in this world can begin to comprehend, but we can draw an outline approximating to the reality.

I will not speak of the unmanifested state that exists prior to the formation of the universe (and, of course, time and space) since to do so cannot be other than speculative. The best we can manage is to say that everything comes from nothing with the proviso that nothing does not mean nothing but no thing. We cannot limit the absolute to nothingness for if it is void of form it is still the progenitor of form so cannot be mere emptiness which, anyway, implies emptiness of something. Furthermore if, as is often said, the absolute can only be expressed by means of negatives, i.e. it is not this and not that, then the negatives of these negatives must also be true. I mean by this that if, for instance, you say that the absolute is impersonal you must also say that it is not impersonal or you are qualifying it and thereby limiting it. If you say it is emptiness, you must equally say that it is not emptiness or you are restricting the infinite, an obvious absurdity.

So, to move on to something a little more comprehensible, I envisage the manifested universe, that is, the absolute once it starts its move into relativity, as a hierarchy of levels that descend from the formless spiritual plane down to the dense material form of this plane (plane meaning discrete state of being/becoming) which is the most 'external' condition of existence.  Each level is, as it were, a condensation of the one above it, but it is also contained within the prior state so although these levels appear as separate they are also parts of a whole which pervades and underlies them all. Thus everything emanates from divine oneness but as it gets further away from the source, and unity becomes multiplicity, so the purity and perfection of that oneness is reduced. Yet, at the same time and without contradiction, the divine oneness is ever present in every atom of the universe, physical and spiritual. God is the source of everything and everything is rooted in Him but as formlessness becomes form, and life becomes projected outwards into differentiation, so there is a sense of distance from God as well.

God expresses Himself abundantly in multiplicity which is given independent being (relatively speaking) in the duality of matter where it becomes self-conscious at which point it must work its way back to the source which it rejoins in full awareness of what it is and what that is. Thus the whole field of becoming is one of dynamic growth. All phenomenal reality exists as a theatre in time and space in which consciousness expresses itself and evolves, evolves meaning here something that unfolds and gains knowledge of its inner potential. The image of seed and tree is a good one. The tree is already contained in the seed and just needs to come out. Evolution, in the sense I am using the word, is the actualising of a potential which is always there. 

The hierarchical order of the universe is reflected in the human being who is a microcosm. Therefore the idea of levels of being all originating from and pervaded by spirit applies here too. The divine spark in man which is the centre of his being is also the point from which all other aspects of his nature derive. Thus although, in one sense, spirit transcends the subtle (formless), mental, psychic and physical levels, in another these are just forms and limitations spirit takes as it expresses itself in duality, duality, of course, being an essential condition for this expression to take place. Both these ways of looking at the picture are equally true, and it is equally necessary to take both into account for a complete understanding.

It is customary nowadays to dismiss the unique significance of the human being. I think that is doing ourselves an injustice. We represent that aspect of divine consciousness which takes up the central position in the cosmic hierarchy because we combine the highest and lowest within ourselves. We are, as the medieval philosophers used to say, part angel and part animal. Now, we cannot fulfill our role as a communication channel between pure spirit and gross matter, and thereby establish a proper harmony in the world, if we do not allow ourselves to be fully open to our spiritual source. It is the angel that must dominate the animal not the other way round. If we deny the angel and enclose ourselves in the lower levels of our being, the physical, emotional and mental levels, if we identify exclusively with any or all of these and give priority to modes of being that belong to those levels, then we are not only betraying our birthright and restricting our growth, we are also failing in our duty to our creator and our role as mediators between Heaven and Earth. This leaves Earth without guidance which means it will fall into a disharmonious state. It is plain that this is precisely what has happened.

So it is up to us to govern ourselves correctly for this is not just a personal matter but something on which the well-being of the whole world depends. We can do this through meditation and prayer on the one hand,  and rigorous self-purification on the other. This will enable our outer self to respond to the voice of the soul and by these means we will acquire a deepening awareness of our true spiritual nature and a growing understanding of God. Our mission on this Earth is to shine forth the inner light but this light will only come when we allow ourselves to love God, not a God of our own imagining or choosing but the one true God that dwells in the heart as our own truest self.

This is what we have to do for the healing of the world in our role as spiritual stewards, but the impact on ourselves will be no less transformational. As we grow in spiritual maturity so we become more and more like God but without ever fully becoming Him. This view contradicts the belief of some that the spiritual path ends in complete absorption in God to the extent that any distinction between God and the soul is lost but I think that is a misinterpretation of what union with God actually means. God is limitlessness and union with Him, oneness with life, is not some static condition of eternal rest nor does it mean total identity of the part with the whole. Even after we have attained this union by giving up our identification with the separate self we will continue to enter into an ever deeper and ever fuller union. We will reflect God to a greater and greater degree without ever exhausting the totality of what God is because there is no end to what He is. So our being may be God but we are not God. Those who think this shows someone still caught up in duality have failed to see that duality continues even after oneness is realised. It continues in a different way and without the sense of separation but it continues because both being and becoming are inexhaustible.

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