Egology IV

This article is the fourth and the last post of the 4 part series Egology.

In Egology I and Egology II we expressed in detail the nature of ego as such and introduced the two types of ego operative, in a hierarchical order, in the constitution of the world and experience: The Transcendental Ego who constitutes/creates the world and its experience, and the Empirical Ego who lives these world experiences and identifies with various roles in it through the narratives it tells itself. While the empirical ego is human, manifold, and exposed to consciousness, the transcendental ego is non-human, the one in the many, and concealed from consciousness. In Egology III we introduced in detail the principal modalities of the empirical ego, the human subject: Empirical ego has two principal modes of vibration or behavior, the Proactive mode and the Reactive mode, which are associated with the types of narratives the empirical ego tells itself and with which it identifies. We also added that the empirical ego can vibrate in the proactive and the reactive modes simultaneously which is really a superposition of the two principal modes. This superposition state of the empirical ego has an important spiritual function to which we have devoted our present post.

In the previous post, Egology III, we stated that the empirical ego can also vibrate in the proactive and the reactive modes simultaneously which makes it somewhat neutral or indifferent to circumstances, for when the reactive mode and the proactive mode superimpose they tend to cancel one another into a relatively flat line which constitutes a kind of passivity or detachment from the ups and downs of a narrative. We call this mode of the empirical ego the superposition state, its detached mode, or the passive mode which is far from a passive personality truly belonging to the reactive mode.

The passive mode, thus, is not really another principal mode of vibration of the empirical ego but rather the result of the two principal modes, proactive and reactive, superimposing on one another. The empirical ego in its passive mode tends to be more objective in the sense that it identifies itself with circumstances with much less intensity than the ego in either of the two principal modes separately; its narrative is more like the life of a monk. Note that the passive mode of the ego does not necessarily imply a passive personality which is a modality of the reactive mode; ego in passive mode may even be a very active person but it doesn’t identify too much with these activities; it is more detached from and less identified with its narrative compared to the other two modes of the ego. A natural consequence of this detachment is that the ego in passive mode is not too much affected by favorable or unfavorable circumstances, by loss or gain. While the ego in proactive mode uses obstacles to its own advantage and in reactive mode laments over them, nonetheless they are both always entangled in the world and its ups and downs, and hence they are naturally always affected by world events and phenomena. The proactive mode tends toward worldly success while the reactive mode tends toward worldly failure, but the passive mode which is neutral and detached from the worldliness tends more toward liberation from the world as such.

Here is a summary of what we said: The empirical ego which is the constitution/creation of the transcendental ego and also the object of knowledge of the Witness has two principal modes of vibration/behavior which are associated with the nature of the narratives the empirical ego tells itself about itself and its surrounding world. The empirical ego can vibrate in the proactive mode in which it situates (narrates) itself in an epic story and welcoming environment. The empirical ego can also vibrate in the reactive mode in which it situates (narrates) itself in a tragic story and a hostile environment. The empirical ego throughout its world-life usually switches back and forth between the two principal modes; however, in each empirical ego one or another mode of vibration is more dominant.

The empirical ego can also vibrate in a mix of the two principal modes. This vibration of the empirical ego, the human person, is called the passive or detached mode, or the superposition state, of the ego whose narrative is more neutral than either of the two principal modes separately. While the detached ego may be a very active ego in the world, it does not identify itself with those actions and the fruits of those actions. The proactive mode tends toward worldly success; the reactive mode tends toward worldly failure; and the detached ego tends toward liberation from the world as such.

It is important to note that in all these cases, the success, the failure, and the liberation are only narratives and not concrete realities: They are only narratives created by the transcendental ego and told by the empirical ego which is itself a narrative constituted by the transcendental ego and experienced in light of the Witness Consciousness, or what in Hindu metaphysics is called Saksin and in Phenomenology The Disinterested Onlooker.

The true essence of everyone and everything is the Witness, and hence the empirical ego, itself illusory in its existence since it is nothing but a narrative, is a fundamentally free agent that can choose to vibrate in the proactive, reactive, or the mixed passive mode. Liberation or Deliverance consists in liberation from the empirical ego as such and hence from all narratives associated with it. Thus, one who is liberated no more perceives itself as an empirical ego in a world of phenomena, and hence it doesn’t vibrate in any of the modes of the empirical ego: As long as we are empirical egos, perceiving ourselves as human beings in a world, we can’t but vibrate in either of its modes or the mix state. Narrative is essential to the life of the empirical ego which is itself only a vibration; there is always a narrative attached to the empirical ego even in its passive and detached mode who tends toward liberation but not yet truly liberated; its narrative in this mode is the narrative of detachment and liberation from the world.

However, the truly liberated one is in fact liberated from the bonds of all narratives, and hence of worldliness and humanity; it is no more identified with an empirical ego and hence is free from all its vibrations each of which is really a narrative mode. The phenomenal world too, which is itself a mega-narrative against which all other narratives of the empirical ego play, vanishes for the liberated one. This is a very logical meaning of liberation or Deliverance: Since liberation is in fact liberation from all narratives, and since the phenomenal world itself is nothing but a narrative constituted by the transcendental ego, naturally the liberated one becomes free of the world-narrative also, and hence the world ceases to exist for the liberated one.

Change, decay, and, mortality which are the essential features of the world narrative and all its constituents do not apply to the liberated one who has already transcended the world. The liberated one achieves immortality, for it is now identified with nothing but the Witness which is its true nature and essence. We said earlier in Egology II that the Witness which lies entirely outside the world-narrative, space and time, and hence unaffected by it is not subject to any change or decay; It is immortal and immutable. Therefore, the liberated one who directly perceives and realizes its essential identity with the Witness, known as The Supreme Identity, becomes truly immortal and immutable.

We always start things from the human state, from the empirical ego. To ascend the hierarchy of states and stations, that is, egos and vibrations, moving up toward the Witness and Supreme Identity we must first move from the proactive or reactive mode to the passive mode of the empirical ego. This horizontal movement from the two extremes to the middle point takes place in the plane of human existence. Once in the passive or detached mode of the empirical ego we begin our vertical ascent toward the Principle, an ascent which requires leaving behind the human state and moving up through all conditioned states and finally merging in the The Unconditioned, The Witness, The Absolute and The Infinite Principle.

Egology III

In our two previous posts, Egology I and Egology II, we expressed in detail the nature of ego and introduced the two types of ego, Transcendental  Ego and Empirical Ego, which are constantly at play in our everyday experience of the world. The former is concealed while the latter, itself created by the former, is exposed to natural consciousness. In this post we introduce the modalities of the empirical ego.

The empirical ego has two fundamental modes and it can, and actually does, switch back and forth between these modes. We can view these modes as the two principal modes of vibration of the empirical ego. The same way that a string of specific length and tension can vibrate only in certain frequencies, the empirical ego too can vibrate only in either of the two principal modes or sometimes in a mix of the two. These principal modes of the empirical ego are its Proactive mode and Reactive mode. We refrain from using the terms proactive ego and reactive ego because proactivity and reactivity are not the nature of any ego but only the two possible modes of behavior, and hence only attributes, for the empirical ego. We remember that the main function of the empirical ego, and any ego for that matter, is constitution of a narrative, context-creation, or meaning-bestowal. Thus, the essential difference between the proactive mode and the reactive mode comes from the essential difference between the structure of the narratives associated with each. We can naturally associate the proactive mode and the reactive mode of the empirical ego with epic and tragic literary genres respectively.

The empirical ego in its proactive mode tells a narrative in which it is a proactive character in the story. In the proactive mode the ego perceives itself and the surrounding world, which is in fact the underlying narrative it tells itself, as a place of opportunities that can elevate him/her; it situates itself in a context in which it is the hero, dominating circumstances and using the obstacles to its own advantage. In other words, this mode of ego is optimistic and not fearful; it doesn’t find the world a hostile and tragic environment. Thus, ego in its proactive mode tells the narrative of goals and achievements rather than failures and negativity or others’ judgments about it. As a result, the ego in proactive mode is less inclined to feel insecure compared to its reactive mode and only because it doesn’t spend time focusing on them. Thus, the proactive mode is more generous; he/she tends toward nobility and courage; his/her life is an epic story.

The empirical ego in its reactive mode tells a narrative in which it is a reactive character in the story. In the reactive mode the ego is always engaged in self-defense, and hence naturally offensive at times because offense is only the outward mode of defense. The reason for this behavior of ego in its reactive mode is that it perceives itself and the world, which is in fact only a story it tells itself, as a hostile and tragic environment. Ego in the reactive mode cannot rise above situations and instead always perceives itself in a losing battle, and as a natural consequence it manifests itself as a defensive type of person. Ego in this mode is focused not on goals and achievements but on flaws and failures only, on the obstacles that keep him from achieving a goal rather than on strategies to overcome them, and on how others perceive and think of him/her.

The ego in its reactive mode tends to feel more insecure, not so much because it fundamentally lacks something but simply because it focuses only on the negative aspects of every phenomenon which are equally present also for the ego in its proactive mode though this ego chooses to respond differently. feeling more insecure, the ego in reactive mode becomes more timid and often offensive and dangerous in unfavorable circumstances. These are the typical characteristics of passive, cynical, or sarcastic personalities who are always either on defense or in the attack mode. An ego in the reactive mode doesn’t tend toward courage, nobility, and generosity which are the main characteristics of ego in its proactive mode. You can imagine how destructive the ego in reactive mode can become when it gains power over others, be it as a husband or wife, or as a leader of a nation. The life of an ego always in reactive mode is a tragic story of loss and failure, not so much because it fails but simply because the narrative it tells itself is focused only on losses and failures, and in general on the negative aspects of the narrative. From an objective point of view, the world is almost equally favorable/unfavorable to the empirical ego, the human person; it is the reaction of the empirical ego to these circumstances that constitutes its proactive or reactive mode. Which mode is adopted is always only a matter of perspective and not of a fixed and rigid reality as if out there.

We must note some important points: As mentioned above the proactive and reactive modes of the ego are only the modes of behavior or vibrations of the empirical ego and not its nature. Thus, any empirical ego usually switches back and forth between these modes and not always in one or another mode: An empirical ego, a particular human person, may adopt the proactive mode or attitude in one circumstance and the reactive attitude in another. However, sometimes and for some people one mode is more dominant than the other, the cause of this domination being the intensity of a person’s identification with the proactive or reactive roles in his/her narrative.

It is not that certain people are losers by nature and certain people are winners by nature; in their essence all are the same thing, an empirical ego, the rest being only the narratives it chooses to tell itself, whether of triumph or of failure. All empirical egos are constitutions/creations of the transcendental ego which is one in all; the empirical ego which tells our narrative is itself a narrative being told by the transcendental ego, our life being a narrative within a larger narrative. It is as a result of identification with this mode or the other mode of the empirical ego that our narratives appear to be either epic or tragic. It is always a fundamental choice of the empirical ego to move from the reactive mode to the proactive mode or vice versa. In fact, it is this fundamental independence from these modes, our primordial freedom, that makes change and radical transformations possible.

The empirical ego can also vibrate in the proactive and the reactive modes simultaneously which makes it somewhat neutral or indifferent to circumstances, for when the reactive mode and the proactive mode superimpose they tend to cancel one another into a relatively flat line which constitutes a kind of passivity or detachment from the ups and downs of a narrative. This mixed, or superimposed, mode of the empirical ego has a spiritual function which deserves attention in separation post. In Egology IV, the last of these series, I go into the details of this neutral mode of the empirical ego and its spiritual functions and aims.

Egology II

In a previous post, Egology I, we discussed the nature of the ego as such and the different types of egos at play in our natural, everyday experience of the world. I emphasize that by ego we didn’t mean selfishness or any of its negative connotations, which are only a few possibilities for the ego along with its other possibilities such as kindness and generosity, etc. By ego we mean in general “I” at the center of all our experiences, the center of the acts of consciousness, namely the subject of experience as such. We mentioned that the primary function of any ego is to create a situation around itself, to provide a narrative in which it is also the main character: Ego tells the story, and as in every story there is a set and setting in which the story unfolds. The largest setting in which the ego defines itself and narrates its story is the experienced world. World is the background of ego’s narrative, and hence it is also part of that narrative since every narrative is essentially tied to the setting in which it unfolds. World is the largest context, and ego is the story teller that gives meaning to this context and makes it dynamic. We note that by world here is meant the largest context, that is, the horizon of all actual and possible experiences. So, this world-horizon is not the physical universe of sciences; instead, science and its world-picture, along with religions and philosophies and their stories, are themselves narratives within this larger world-horizon which is always in the background of all experiences and which the ego can choose to accept to reject. Gods, angles and demons, creation and destruction, heaven and hell, etc. are all narratives played against this indefinite world-horizon. Thus, we use the sense of the world similar to its sense when we say “a baby was born into this world.”

We also saw that there are different types of egos at play against the world-background: The Empirical Ego and the Transcendental Ego. The empirical ego is the ego that we experience and are constantly aware of; it is our human self which for us has a character and a personality, an identity which is tied to a definite past and a possible future; it is the ego that lives our everyday life. The transcendental ego is the ego, or act-center, that constitutes (creates) and supports the empirical ego but is itself a concealed agent; it is the ego that provides the existence and experiences of the empirical ego. As empirical egos immersed in world-experience we are not aware of the transcendental ego which is constantly operative in the background and hence constituting us and the world of our experiences. The same way that the empirical ego constitutes a narrative for itself as a person-in-the-world attached to an identity, the transcendental ego constitutes the empirical ego and its world-experiences with which the empirical ego identifies itself.

While the empirical ego experiences itself as an object in the world, the transcendental ego is not a part of the world and instead stands outside it; the world is itself a narrative constituted, or created, by the transcendental ego. Here is an analogy: When you are telling a story, say to your child, your voice is that which keeps the story together and hence meaningful; it is the support of that narrative. Your voice itself is not part of the story, nor is it something entirely detached from the story: The story in its every moment depends on your voice; its existence is derived from the existence of your voice. The moment you stop reading the story it collapses into oblivion. In other words, your voice is something outside the story and yet tied to it, imparting existence and reality to the story. In a similar fashion, the transcendental ego is not part of the phenomenal world, and is not something human, and yet the existence of this world and the empirical ego depends on the continuous operation of the transcendental ego who is the agent constituting the phenomenon of world-horizon and the empirical ego itself as another phenomenon within it.

It is the transcendental ego that is constantly constituting the empirical ego and its experiences of the world, while the empirical ego takes this world for granted and situates itself in various roles and identities within this world-horizon, roles like a male or female, a lawyer or a beggar, successful or failed, etc. Transcendental ego constitutes all our experiences as phenomena within world-horizon while the empirical ego identifies itself with these phenomena and creates narratives that strengthen this identification. Thus, the world we experience is a mere phenomenon constituted by the transcendental ego and has no independent existence; like a narrative that borrows its existence and reality from the existence and reality of the narrator, our world too owns its existence and apparent reality to the transcendental ego which within the religious context is known as God or Ishvara.

There is a another level without which the constitutions of the transcendental ego, which are the experiences of the empirical ego, would not be known at all, without which there would not be an awareness of any experience whatsoever. This deeper level is called the Witness: it is associated with pure light; it is the light that shines on the constitutions of the transcendental ego, and hence makes the experiences of the empirical ego possible. It is in virtue of the light of the Witness that we know anything at all. Thus, the source of all knowledge is the Witness which itself is not involved in any constitution or creation at all; it is pure and perfect, and though it shines its light on the constitutions of the transcendental ego, it itself is unaffected by all things and also cannot become the object of experience, for it is itself that which makes all experience possible and thus must always lie behind all experiences which are by nature objectifications of the transcendental ego. To be more precise, the Witness cannot be objectified. Therefore, we can interpret the empirical ego and its world-experiences as the creation, and the transcendental ego as God the creator, and the Witness as the Godhead and the Ground of Being the first and the highest manifestation of which is the God the creator, that is, the transcendental ego.

If we happen to be religious and believers in God, the above descriptions must help us to understand the true nature of our relationship with God: God is not an agent that created the world at some point in time and then sat back entirely outside and detached from the world, watching and judging us as if we had our own wills and choices. In reality, God is at the center of our Being, and we are in our essence one with Him. Every moment of existence, and every state of the world, is actively held together by God. Thus, God is constantly sustaining the world, creating it each moment anew and afresh and according to the fundamental orientation of our empirical egos; He does so from within and not from without. Every moment of our being depends on Him and His light. In truth, there is no moment that God is not within us and not aware of everything inside and outside us; all our knowings are in fact His. It is His knowing that runs through all acts of consciousness, a knowing by which we know the contents of the world and of our minds, even the most private thoughts and feelings. Our true relation to God is that of a character in a narrated story to the voice of the story teller.

In another post, Egology III, I will continue this discussion with focus on the fundamental orientations, or fundamental vibrational modes, of the empirical ego.

The Symbolism of Solar System

In another post, “World As Divine Symbol“, we devoted ourselves to the symbolic nature of the phenomenal world, that this world is essentially a symbol pointing us to something beyond itself, to something that stands behind and supports appearances, something itself not an appearance, and hence itself not subject to impermanence.

If the world is a symbol, then all its phenomena in their particularity must have symbolic significance. These phenomena communicate to us by way of signs and symbols our essential relationship with that immutable principle of all things. The cosmic phenomena constituting the macrocosm communicate to us the possibilities inherent in microcosm, namely man, possibilities to be realized through work and contemplation. In this post we focus on the symbolism of our solar system and how it manifests the various modalities by which man is related to truth.

Sun is the source and the principle, the center of creation. It is that source from which all things arise and around which all things revolve. We know that all the planets that are now revolving the sun are constituted by the elements created at the heart of sun. Not only all planets came out of the sun, but the earth as the one special planet hosting life, bearing the sons of the Sun, constantly depends on sun for the subsistence of life on it.

Sun is made of light and the most basic elements, hydrogen and helium. Light is the source of all life. The cosmos as a whole is an ocean of energy, and light is the basic constituent of all energy. Something that may sound strange to commonsense but is true from a scientific standpoint is that light by which all things become visible is itself something invisible. Photons cannot be seen when they’re in flight, and the process of capturing them is a destructive interference which annihilates the photon and converts its energy into material manifestation, namely the production of mater and anti-matter, usually an electron and a positron in a process known as pair-production. The sun that we see in the sky, besides being mostly the reflection of light from hydrogen and helium in the sun, is the result of the annihilation of photons coming from the sun upon their impact with our retina which converts their energy into electric pulses traveling to our brain: We never see light itself; we see only the object, the material manifestation, that is made visible by light’s reflection. Thus, that which makes everything visible is itself invisible.

Sun is the source of light; it is light itself. All other objects in the solar system derive their brightness from the light of the sun; they reflect the light of the principle, and hence the principle itself and its constant presence.

All the objects of the solar system, planets and comets, which have come from the heart of the sun keep revolving around their source; this is similar to the circumambulation ritual central to all religions in which the devotees rotate around a symbol representing the principle.

Planet earth represents the plane of existence, of material manifestation of the principle and the principle itself as the consciousness on earth whose principal bearer is man: Man being the most conscious being reflects more the light of the principle compared to other less conscious beings, animals and plants. Thus, human being has a special place since animals and plants, and even the whole of solar system, are phenomena reflected in man’s consciousness: Planets to the sun are like what creation is to man’s consciousness. Therefore, from a symbolic point of view the totality of solar system is also reflected within man with his/her consciousness playing the role of the light by which all phenomena are known.

We said the the sun is the source of all things, like the principle that is behind all manifestations. This makes perfect sense since the material elements of earth which are made of heavier atoms, such as iron, are produced at the center of the sun; only the intense heat and pressure available at the center of the sun can fuse together lighter elements such as hydrogen and helium into heavier elements such as iron. This process is known as nuclear fusion, a process central to the existence of stars; this fusion converts parts of matter into photons which is the main source of sunlight. Thus, the whole of earth and everything on it, including both organic and inorganic matter, not only came from the source but depend on it, as life depends on light, in every moment of their existence.

From the point of view of earth the sun seems to rise and set; but in reality the sun, the principle, neither rises nor sets; it is always there shining its light upon all its children, the planets and comets, etc. All these manifestations are sustained in their course by the gravitational force that the sun exerts on them, this attractive force representing the love of the principle for its manifestations: While the principle is reflected in the manifestation, the manifestation is prefigured in the principle. In the absence of this attractive force everything would fly away into the cold oblivion of empty space.

Day and night represent the states of the human soul in its relation to the principle, day representing the direct presence of the principle, and night representing the absence, or indirect presence, of the principle:

What is night: Night is when the earth, representing the purely material aspect, is between us and the sun; we call night the period of time during which the material earth comes in between us and the source of light, when from the point of view of the sun we are hidden behind the earth, and hence deprived of sunlight due to being situated in the shadow of the purely material globe. Night represents our being forgetfulness of the principle due to our being wholly preoccupied with its material manifestation. Night is when the light of principle is obstructed by the overshadowing presence of manifestation; it is when the manifestation becomes primary and the principle becomes secondary.

What is day: Day is when we put behind ourselves the earth, the purely material aspect; it is when the earth is no more between us and the source but rather we are between the source and its manifestation; it is when the principle becomes primary and its manifestation becomes only secondary. From the point of view of the sun, day is when we are directly facing the sun while the earth is behind us playing only the role of a support.

It is important to note that in both day and night our feet is always touching the earth: We do not become separated from the earth which signifies our essential dependence on material manifestation insofar as we are living in the manifested order. As a result, the manifestation by itself does not keep us from facing and knowing the principle. Manifestation conceals the principle only when we give priority to it, only at night during which we put the material aspect, the earth, between ourselves and the shining sun.

Thus, the essential difference between day and night is not a difference between accepting or rejecting the material aspect, an aspect on which our existence depends. The essential difference is rather between our fundamental orientation relative to the source while still being tied to the manifestation, namely grounded on earth; it has to do with our focus, whether we’re focused on the principle or the manifestation, and whether we are wholly given to the manifestation or simply use it as a vehicle for reminding and transporting us toward the principle.

In the case of night, the material earth coming between us and the sun represents our forgetfulness of the principle under the shadow of the manifestation, that is when we give priority to the material effect rather than to the immaterial cause. Day, on the other hand, signifies the state in which while depending on the material effect we are conscious of the immaterial source; we are facing toward it, which means the immaterial source, the principle, has become our priority and the material earth reduced to only a means and a vehicle for realizing the priority and the superiority of the principle.

Night represents the darkness of the soul, its forgetfulness of its own nature as something essentially made of light. Day represents the soul’s consciousness of its source; the earth’s day represents the bright hours of the soul, its being immersed in the light of the principle and hence directly conscious of it.

Despite the fact that night is a state of facing away from the source, and more precisely when the material aspect obstructs the immaterial source, even at nights there comes the moon that reflects the light of the obstructed sun, and hence assisting us in the remembrance of the truth. Thus, the moon which reflects the sunlight and hence brings light, however pale, to our nights represents the prophet and the sage who by their mere purified presence reflect the light of truth, precisely in times of spiritual darkness, and help us remember our essential nature and true source. The full moon represents the prophet at the apex; its maximum brightening power signifies the intensity of a principal divine revelation which descends vertically and propagates horizontally in time and space, hence reverberating throughout history and attracting millions to itself. The other states of the moon, the half, quarter, etc. can be viewed as representing the presence of saints and sages whose divine inspirations, often emanating from their involved participation in an initiatic chain going back to the prophet and hence to a principal revelation, keep the light of principle available in the nights of the soul.

There always comes nights where the moon is fully dark, and hence we are deprived of the sunlight altogether; these nights represent the dark night of the soul. But this darkness is transitory and always passes and the moon, if not the sun, always reappears to lessen the weight of darkness. Though we cannot see the light of our sun when the moon is dark, we can still see shining stars which are far away; these dim lights represent our access to the truths of revelation-based traditions through the “letter.” The Spirit in the letter, as Logos and as the Word, shines through scriptures and the writings of the saints and sages that can console the dark nights of the soul.

Thus, we see that light is never fully absence; there’s no absolute darkness even in the depths of space. There is no point in deep space where you can stand and not see a single star. In other words, the empty space, and the whole of cosmos, is filled with light, whether visible light, meaning light of a certain range of frequencies detectable by human eye, or invisible light which consists in frequencies that our eye cannot detect and translate into colors. Totality, even in its darkest state, is filled with the ever-present light of the Principle.

The seasons, which are caused as a result of our distance and mainly the angle of earth’s axis relative to the sun, represent what religious traditions recognize as the cycles of life which govern both history as a whole and the stages of a human life in particular: It is birth, growth, fall or decay, and death, death only marking a new beginning and far from being the end of things. We know that each cycle, having its necessary function in relation to the whole, has a beauty of its own and neither of the cycles should be viewed as unnecessary or devoid of intrinsic value, for they all function toward their principal aim, namely spiritual development and realization, which is nothing other than the reintegration of the manifestation in the principle.

These cyclic transformations caused by the relative position of the earth to the sun, the manifestation to the principle, apply both to the life of a single human being, manifested in the four stages of childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age, and they also apply to the life of historical epochs, empires, traditions, etc. Everything undergoes this cyclic change, but in spite of this apparent change the sun which is the source of all things shines while being itself unaffected by these changes, as the principle is always unaffected by its manifestations.

From a wider perspective we can see the solar system itself as a phenomenon subject to the cycles, constituting a smaller, sub-phenomenal symbol within the larger symbolic phenomenon of the Milky Way Galaxy which is the grand revolution of stars and stones around a super massive black-hole at the center of the galaxy. A black-hole does not signify lack of light; on the contrary it is the locus of infinite amount of light. The black appearance of a black-hole is caused due to the tremendous force of gravity that keeps the light from escaping the center.

Black-hole which is the fate of almost any average-sized star is the last stage of a whole 4-fold cycle in which the source swallows all its material effects, and hence a black-hole can be viewed as the symbol representing the reintegration of the manifestation in the principle which itself marks the beginning of a new cosmic manifestation. When a sun doesn’t collapse into black-hole at the end of its life it explodes creating the most beautiful cosmic event called the supernova. From a supernova, which is the event of the death of a single star, a thousand suns are born.

Thus, we see that the end of an existing cycle marks the beginning of a new cycle for countless other manifestations which themselves produce sub-manifestations. The cosmic manifestation and its relation to the Principle reminds me of Russian Dolls: Creation is the event of one and the same Principle manifesting itself in multitude of forms, one inside the other, and as its own infinite possibilities: The principal form or the archetype constantly shows itself from the infinitely small to the infinitely large and everything in between, the macrocosm being reflected in the microcosm and vice versa.

Russian Dolls, each fitting inside the other
Russian Dolls, each fitting inside the other

Each natural phenomenon can be viewed as a symbol communicating to us the metaphysical truths in general and the spiritual possibilities inherent in man in particular, which states that the macrocosm is reflected in the microcosm, a message of which we are reminded in the verse “God created man in His own image.”

World as Divine Symbol

World as the totality of all existence, both in its form and content, is nothing but a symbol. It is a symbol because it always points to something other than itself, to an origin that is itself not in or part of the world, to an origin that is itself other-worldly. Even modern science has secretly come to this same conclusion though it does not explicitly admit it: They claim that the physical world came into being without the need for something outside itself. If we ask why and how, their answer is ” according to the laws of physics!”

However, if Big Bang occurs simply due to these laws, then these laws must preexist the Big Bang itself, if not temporally but surely logically, in order to make it begin; these laws must in one way or another transcend the universe or else our world could not come into existence. On the other hand, laws of physics are not themselves physical entities; they are not made of matter and neither are they tangible worldly phenomena; rather, they are Ideal, invisible forms that can be grasped only through intellectual intuition.

Thus, we see that science too cannot help but explain the universe by recourse to a set of ideal and other-worldly beings that must necessarily both precede and transcend the phenomenal world. If modern science only apparently succeeded in omitting God from the picture it was also simultaneously forced to replace God with universal laws enjoying an absolute and Godly status. Scientists only renamed that transcendent ground of the world from “God” to “scientific laws”. Apart from the name, the traditional God of religion and the modern laws of science both have the same role and authoritative voice in explaining the phenomenal universe: Without them our universe could not be, and now that it is its every moment and phenomenon is sustained only because the Godly laws keep being what they are without themselves being in need of anything else for their existence.

It is in virtue of its symbolic character that world is a questionable phenomenon, something always in need of explanation, and it will always remain so until we realize that world as symbol cannot be explained in terms of world-phenomena themselves but only in terms of a transcendent principle.

Adi Shankara
Adi Shankara

Adi Shankara, the great Hindu philosopher and theologian of the early 8th century CE, expressed the necessity of a transcendental understanding, and origin, of the world in the following sentence:

Trying to explain the phenomenal universe without reference to the Divine is like trying to explain day and night without reference to the sun.

The advent and development of world’s three greatest intellectual traditions all aimed at understanding the phenomenon of world, namely religion, philosophy, and science, is itself the most obvious indication of the always insufficient, and hence questionable, character of this phenomenon. If world was self-sufficient and had no ground outside itself, then we would never question its being and appearance in the first place; we would simply take appearances at face value and as they present themselves to us in immediate experience without even the idea of a cause or origin, and the need for explanation, coming to our minds.

But man was never satisfied with mere appearances; he believed, and even now secretly believes, even subconsciously knows, that there is something behind appearances, that appearances must stand on something other than themselves, something itself not an appearance, something transcendent to all appearances. This is the always present but often concealed presupposition that initiates and drives all inquiries. This intrinsic referencing of phenomena to something behind themselves, this pointing-beyond which is the root cause of the sense of wonder, this referencing-beyond is always there in all phenomena precisely because this world-phenomenon as a whole is nothing but a symbol. A symbol is a pointer, and world insofar as it points to some ground of existence is nothing but a symbol. The very fact that man can raise questions, that he/she can doubt, and in general the very phenomenon of questioning, is possible only because world-phenomena-in-themselves are by their nature insufficient and questionable, and that man knows from the depths of his heart that there is something above and beyond everything that appears, and thus by his struggle to know he is in fact yearning to return to that absolute ground in which no question and no desire can creep.

Man can raise grand questions and move toward their final resolution because as spiritual being he is equipped with a spiritual instinct, the instinct to scent the truth and return to it: For man the knowledge of truth is always a matter of return to that knowledge, for if man were not somehow intimately familiar with truth he/she could not even begin to form, let alone assimilate, the idea of truth in the first place, and hence he/she could not scent and find it. Thus, man’s questioning is a sniffing around of the divine perfume that is meant to intoxicate him out of the world and into transcendence, namely deliver him from world-bondage.

If man can question the world it is only because this world by itself does not have the character and quality of a final answer. In other words, a self-sufficient and self-contained world cannot develop an organism capable of questioning the existence and adequacy of that world; a world cannot by itself develop and house other-worldly ideas.

Man questions because this world is not the answer

More precisely, world is a transcendental clue. If we take it by itself and in itself, and then set our hopes and interests with reference to world itself, whether these interests are material or spiritual, then we have missed the point. World must be viewed as a means and not as an end in itself. It should be seen as a hanging thread from which we must ascend to the divine instead of descending further down into its inevitable emptiness. A symbol by itself is always empty and devoid of meaning if we overlook its symbolic character and fail to see that it is pointing to something other than itself. The primary cause of the meaninglessness of lives in modern era is that the end toward which this world points is omitted from the picture. We have taken the symbol as that for which it stands and that to which it must lead us. Hence, our lives point to nowhere; we are not anchored in anything transcendent and permanent. We are not anchored at all.

“In the beginning there was Word.” This Word refers to the world, world as the incarnation of meaning, world as word as symbol. But a word must by necessity point to a transcendent referent if it is to mean anything at all, a meaning that is produced when consciousness confronts the symbol, a meaning that is grasped only if consciousness transcends that the word, namely the world, and enters into the realm of pure meaning, naked truth, God Himself. As a symbol without referent is meaningless, our world too without reference to the divine is meaningless: God became flesh so that flesh becomes God. In the present condition in which we are totally forgetful of the Divine Principle we have nothing to become; we have nothing worthy of becoming except what lies beneath and below ourselves; instead we see ourselves as nothing but the becoming of a chimpanzee.

World is a sacred symbol descended from above; world as a mundane phenomenon ascending from inert matter makes no sense at all, and this is so besides the brute fact that the ascent of matter to consciousness is both logically and empirically impossible and by all means an irrational position. We could all see this if we used the aid of the infallible intelligence instead of letting ourselves being bullied into irrational opinions by what is intellectually fashionable nowadays.

Facing the truth regardless of public opinion and intellectual prejudice demands courage and refined intelligence. Only a coward accepts anything stupid and irrational simply because it comes out of the mouth of academia or because it is intellectually fashionable. Being intelligent and open-minded is no synonym for blind faith in evolution and the claptrap of the sort. Being intelligent and open-minded has nothing to do with believing and babbling incomprehensible gibberish under the guise of fancy and pseudo-intellectual names and forms and theories. Being intelligent and open-minded has to do with seeing things as they are and regardless of the pressure and the judgmental squint of the prevailing untruth.

Being intelligent and open-minded has to do with seeing pure and simple.