Wednesday, 29 October 2008

BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME: DAVID BOHM: PART THREE

"The field of the finite is all that we can see, hear, touch, remember and describe. This field is basically that which is manifest, or tangible. The essential quality of the infinite, by contrast, is its subtlety, its intangibility. This quality is conveyed in the word spirit, whose root meaning is 'wind, or breath'. This suggests an invisible but pervasive energy, to which the manifest world of the finite responds. This energy, or spirit, infuses all living beings, and without it any organism must fall apart into its constituent elements. That which is truly alive in the living being is this energy of spirit, and this is never born and never dies." - David Bohm

Bohm knew that what he was proposing as a new model for understanding the Universe was in essence Mystical or Metaphysical. When asked if there was any difference between it and what the great Seers of the past said he replied: "I don't know that there's necessarily any difference". In his vision of the Cosmos as being made up of an infinite amount of levels of Order, each unfolding and enfolding in and out of each other, he was trying to offer the human race a new way of looking at itself and understanding 'Reality' based upon the implications of Quantum Science. For him, focussing solely on the Explicate Order, ie the material world in which we thought we lived, set us onto a hiding to nothing as it was only the most superficial level of our existence and, understood only in terms of itself, lead nowhere. When one looks at the endless cycle of problems we have created for ourselves in our efforts to control and exploit nature one can see what he meant. By obsessing about the empirical payoffs of cause and effect rather than viewing things holistically, we have done nothing but mortgage the future by banking up endless after-effects. Nuclear power? Terrific - except for nuclear weapons and nuclear waste. The Industrial Revolution? Terrific - except for massive exploitation of the human race and the near-fatal destruction of the planet. Modern medicine? Terrific - except for the endless side-effects and new problems and illnesses it has brought in its wake. For every positive achievement of Western Science there has been a negative. What Bohm hoped was that the shift in perspective Quantum Theory offered might liberate the human mind to change its focus, rethink its values and solve problems in a different way. For instance, exploration of the potentials in the Zero Point Energy field might yield cheap, harmless and possibly limitless amounts of energy to power our world, while the philosophical and metaphysical implications of the idea of Orders might finally prize the human mind of materialism and encourage it to think in a more holistic and wide-viewed way.

What Bohm was doing was offering us the possibility of a 'Transcendent Reality' which was not dependent upon the idea of a personal God with its attendant problems of tribalism, exclusivity, hierarchies or 'divinely-inspired' moralities. Quite naturally, inside the Scientific Community, no-one was very interested. Such considerations, for them, were not to do with Science, and Bohm was largely dismissed as a 'mystical' crank whose ideas were 'not Scientific'. His more generous detractors viewed him as a tragic loss to Science, acknowledging the greatness of his mind and understanding of Physics, but regretting his wasteful involvement in speculative realms which were outside his field - philosophy, metaphysics, the nature of Consciousness. In this view, Bohm was regarded as a tragically misguided man who got lost chasing fairies when he might have made himself a Nobel-Prize Winner had he stuck to the pure, hard-headed business of Science...

None of this stopped, Bohm, however, even though his continued rejection by his colleagues stung and hurt him. Undeterred, he continued to explore his ideas, striving to promote what he believed was a new way of looking at the Universe which might lead us forward. He became very interested in ideas of Consciousness which sought to ask probing questions about the innate assumptions we made about ourselves and the world. Fascinated by the research of Piaget into the development of Consciousness in children, he asserted that each of us had an underlying 'world map' which we used to interpret and understand everything around us. What we did not realise, he argued, was that this 'world map' was not 'Reality' but a way of understanding Reality. The danger was that unless we questioned it and kept it flexible, we would become ensnared by it, believing it was 'the Truth' instead of 'a Truth', turning what was a way of looking at things into a 'Necessity' which then became a barrier for a flowing relationship with the world. Thus a Christian or a Muslim, convinced of the 'Truth' of his or her way of seeing things could rigid and fundamentalist as his or her view of Reality became 'Necessary' - ie non-negotiable. Where Bohm really challenged people, however, was in extending this to less obvious, more subtle forms of rigidity, such as Science. Scientists like to think of themselves as disinterested, flexible, evidence-based people. Bohm suggested that Scientists were as hidebound by 'Necessity' as anything else, the tacit assumptions drilled into them in Universities and Colleges continuing to hold them back from looking at what was really there. His prime example was the refusal of Scientists to make the imaginative leap needed to embrace the implications of Quantum Theory. Bohm asserted that while most Scientists claimed they understood the implications of Quantum Science, in fact they were tacitly hidebound by mechanistic, Newtonian notions of how the Universe worked. So instead of looking beyong the Explicate Order at what might lie beyond, they were still trying to pull the Implicate Order back into line with the Explicate, thus preventing crucial progress from taking place. Quite naturally, the Scientific Establishment didn't warm to this, but one only has to look at the way Richard Dawkins, for instance, writes about Quantum Science to see that Bohm has a point. QM blows all linear theories of existence out of the water, as we have seen. What does Evolution mean if there is no linear progression or Time (or even Space!) in the Cosmos? Indeed, if the manifest Cosmos is essentially only a fraction of what is out there?


Bohm extended these issues into the wider dilemmas facing the world. Just as Scientists were still shackled to a Materialistic, Mechanistic view of the Cosmos, so the human race was tearing itself apart by its insistence on investing only in the short term and continuing to see itself as divided along endless divisions of class, gender, race, nation, religion, politics, ideology etc etc. A classic analogy for the Explicate and Implicate Orders would be the whole human race. The Implicate/Superimplicate Order would be humanity as a whole. The Explicate Order or Orders would be the division of that Implicate Order into all the different categories mentioned above, all of which by definition lead ultimately to conflict. Thus instead of looking at the bigger picture, the Implicate Order that is humanity, we obsess about the multiply divided Explicate Orders which separate us. This, for Bohm, was the key problem faced by our species today. Until we changed our perspective, we would go on turning in circles in a maelstrom of unproductive, tribal, short-term conflicts. Alas, we are seeing the reality of this today, with everyone enthusiastically dividing themselves along battle lines of religion, nation and income - America vs Islamic Terror, Russia vs the West, Palestinian vs Israeli, Right Wing vs Left Wing, Religion vs Science, Muslim vs Christian etc etc - when in fact the planet-threatening problems the human race faces demand global, holistic solutions set about as a species and not as divided communities.


This fragmentation was the disease that Bohm diagnosed as being the main problem plaguing humanity today. In propagating his vision of Wholeness, he hoped to begin the transformation of that condition into something else. Like Jung in his field of Psychology, Wholeness was the centre of Bohm's vision of both the way the Universe worked and his aspiration for the human race. This visionary focus informed everything he did. It was also what caused him to suffer derision at the hands of the Scientific Community. But for Bohm a Science which was not interested in the wider social, philosophical and metaphysical implications of its discoveries was no Science at all. In this he was joined by his early mentor Einstein, who also occupied himself with the bigger questions surrounding Science. But both were in a minority...

Bohm tried to answer the problems of our society by moving beyond the realms of Quantum Physics into the study of Consciousness. As well as Piaget, he also became fascinated by the cognitive processes at play in our minds. His view was the reverse of the standard one in play today. Rather than Consciousness being a byproduct of material processes, an 'emission' from our brains, he saw it as something we shared with the Cosmos, an intimate unfolding of something latent in everything. Just as we were made up of dense Light Energy, we were also made up of concentrations of Consciousness. As he explored the processes of human thought, many of which we never question, he made bold conclusions, suggesting that the meaning we gave things became part of their essence. He called this 'Soma-significance', using as an example a piece of printed paper. As a material object it is one thing, but the significance we give it through the cognitive experience of reading gives it an extra, multidimensional meaning which becomes an integral part of our encounter with it. Thus for Bohm Matter and Consciousness were intricately interwoven, the significance of our world as we encounter it being as much as part of us as we are of it. These speculations on Light went even further, as Bohm explored the way in which all the information in the Universe was enfolded and encoded in Light. Thus everything - the Implicate Order, Consciousness, Light and experience - all became moulded into one holistic vision in which everything is dependent upon everything else, like some vast symphony of notes. To read Bohm's speculations is to allow one's mind to explode with ideas and see the Universe in an entirely new way - and all of it is grounded in Science, not Revelation...

Bohm's interest in Consciousness drew him into one of his most productive and controversial relationships, that with the Indian Theosophist and Mystic Jiddu Krishnamurti. Bohm became interested in Krishnamurti's ideas on 'Emptiness' and 'the End of Thought' in which the Mind was so at One with itself and the Universe that it was completely clear, able to respond purely with the flow of the Cosmos. The two became great friends and recorded a whole series of remarkable conversations for posterity in which the discussed ideas and grappled with the problems of life and society. Alas, Bohm's association with Krishanmurti simply further embarrassed his Scientist friends, who felt he was wasting his time with a quack guru, but for Bohm the relationship was a crucial one, although it soured in the end when he discovered the gap between Krishnamurti's ideas and his actual practice. Krishnamurti ended up dropping Bohm when he felt that his friend could not ever reach the heights of Consciousness he had reached. Once again this hurt Bohm, but it didn't stop him pursuing his own vision. This was what was so remarkable about the man. If one watches clips of him speaking, one encounters a highly intelligent, visionary and deeply humane person who also appears profoundly shy, nervous and vulnerable, and yet in spite of all the setbacks he encountered - exile from America for being a Communist, derision from his colleagues for challenging scientific orthodoxy and being interested in Mysticism and rejection from figures like Krishnamurti - he never gave up on what he felt was the Truth. This frail, gentle man had something in him which would not surrender his integrity in return for ease and success.

The last major way in which Bohm tried to offer a way forward for the human race was creating something called a Bohmian Dialogue. Realising that the chief problem with human communication was dogmatism and refusal to listen, he proposed a new way of trying to engage in dialogue, something he also tried to suggest to the Scientific Community. He wanted to create 'an unbroken flow of thought' in which, rather than impose boundaries on ideologies (eg 'I am a Christian, you are an Atheist, he is a Marxist etc') they are allowed to interact and flow together so as to pollenate and enlarge one another. Too often, he pointed out, the existence of one idea leads to the belief that all others have to be wrong and eliminated. His frustration with Science was a reflection of this. He found its refusal to acknowledge other disciplines impossible and cited the famous story of Einstein and Bohr, who used to be profound friends, at a party in which they and their students refused to speak to each other because they had fallen out over their two great theories: Relativity and Quantum. Bohm argued that had they spoken and listened, had they seen each other's view as part of a greater one, they may have progressed. Instead they remained in deadlock because one of them had to be 'right'. Apply this to almost any other situation in any other area of society and you can see what Bohm was getting at. Is it so different to the Arab-Israeli conlfict? Or that between the US and Iran? Conflict depends on drawing boundaries and relying upon the absolute rightness of one's view at the expense of all others.


Bohm sought to overcome this with his idea of Dialogue in which he sought to create an environment in which people with differing views could air their opinions in a non-confrontational way. In essence it was how Plato conducted his philosophy and owed a lot to Hegel's idea of Thesis and Antithesis leading to Synthesis, but Bohm wanted to try and formalise it, thus creating a template which might influence how everything was done. Ideas were to be allowed to flow and play, mixing into something greater than each individual one. He set up groups all over the world and laid down guidelines for mediators.

Did it work? Well, in a mass sense, not so far, although he found the processes he officiated on productive. Bohm would have argued that this was an indication of how we were stuck in old ways of thinking. An idealist, Bohm was relying upon his own belief in human nature as something which could be generous and rational. Alas, the human race has continued to demonstrate that it likes the defining energy of conflict, violence, entrenched view and short-term, tribal thinking. Does this make Bohm into a fool? I hardly think so. He always pointed out that the proof of his thesis about the problem with our present era's ways of thinking was demonstrated by the spiralling violence, conflict and self-destructive energy in the world. If our modern vision was so good and enlightened and so superior to those of the past, then why were we making such an acceleratedly bad job of everything? Perhaps it is we who are the fools rather than he.

Bohm died in the nineties of a stroke on the way home from work. His wife found him in a taxi unconscious. Not long after he was dead, in spite of being rushed to hospital. He was buried in Waltham Abbey in the UK, the country which he had made his home since his short time in Israel. Before he set out on that last journey home he was putting the finishing touches to a new book and had told Sarah that he felt he was really 'on to something big'. To my knowledge, the book was never published.

These three posts are in sense a tribute to a beautiful man, one of life's unlikely heroes whose hopes and dreams for the human race went beyond his own personal comfort and fame. Bohm offered the human race a possible way of looking at the world which might still help us to extricate ourselves from the potentially catastrophic situation we are in now. This Winged Horse found him deeply inspirational. He was a prophet of a kind and one deeply concerned that we should find a new Consciousness to lead us out of the mess we are in. His vision of Wholeness, so unfashionable these days, showed a mind so wide-ranging and prepared to entertain infinite possibilities it is sometimes hard to keep up with him in his writing. Its a vision I share. Its a vision we need. I hope someone is listening!

Friday, 17 October 2008

BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME: DAVID BOHM: PART TWO

"Our ordinary view holds that the field of the finite is all that there is. But if the finite has no independent existence, it cannot be all that is. We are in this way led to propose that the true ground of all being is infinite, the unlimited; and that the infinite includes and contains the finite. In this view, the finite, with its transient nature, can only be understood as held suspended, as it were, beyond time and space, within the infinite." - David Bohm

So what were the ideas that Quantum Science had come up with that had changed everything? Well, thanks to the pioneering studies of Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and others Science had discovered that, once the building blocks of existence were broken down into atoms, electrons, quantas and quarks, the normally accepted model of the Universe didn't work at all. Rather than a regular, Newtonian, 'Universe as Machine' made up of discrete, independent objects operating according to fixed laws, it was an unpredictable mass of apparently conflicting energies and events. Suddenly 2 + 2 did not equal 4, or at least not always. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't. Indeed nobody was quite sure what 2 +2 did equal any more. More disturbingly, there seemed to be a paradox between what we saw, felt and experienced as the world (the 'common sense' view so beloved of Richard Dawkins and his team) and how that world actually operated on a quantum level. Everything we associate with Quantum Science since the initial discoveries- Multiple Universes, String Theory, Bubble Universes etc - has been about trying to work out what it all meant and how these two models of the Universe fitted together.

Bohm identified a number of major breakthroughs in our understanding of Science which presented serious challenges to the old Mechanistic view of the Universe begun by Newton. Now, I'm going to be super-careful here as I have tangled with several students of QM and they HATE it when people get woolly and imprecise about their subject. So, after a deep breath, here goes...

First off, it was discovered that Light could operate both as a wave AND a particle, sometimes at the same time. Einstein had posited that particles emerged from waves, but subsequent explorations demonstrated that this was not the half of it. In fact they were one. What does this mean? Well, we imagine light as pure energy flowing like a wave through the Universe. Through the so-called 'Double Slit' experiment, it was discovered that this was not the case, at least not always. In fact Light could also operate as a particle (ie not as a wave but as something more akin to Matter). Now, given that we established in the first post that everything was a form of Light, that means that everything can, potentially, operate as a wave and a particle - and sometimes as something in between. Confused yet? You will be, as it is also thought that Light only becomes a wave or a particle (ie it choses its state, as it were) when it is observed. Thus, theoretically, unless light was measured in some way, it exists in an intermediary state between a wave and a particle. Bohr was the first to discover this. Heisenberg's 'uncertainty principle' only reinforced this view. Thus everything 'observable' was thrown up into the air. Whereas once we had thought things operated along fixed, predictable Newtonian lines, now we realised that they didn't. From now on, we could not say anything for certain, but only make predictions based upon probabilities. To put it more simply, where previously we had thought that 2 + 2 = 4, since Einstein, Bohr and Hiesenberg, we could only hope it did. We could say that, more than likely, it would always come out 4, but we could no longer rule out the possibility that it could come out 5, or 3, or 4589. More than that, we couldn't rule out the possibility that the thing which decided whether it would come out as 4 or 4589 was the person looking at it, ie the Observer. Until something was measured in some way it could only be said to be potentially one thing or another. Suddenly the Observer and the Observed had become inextricably interlinked. 'Reality', as we call it, depended entirely on being measured. Until something came into the Consciousness of something else it didn't 'exist' in the sense we mean it ie in a fixed state. As the UPANISHADS put it: 'How may the Knower be Known?'


Bohm thought this was hugely exciting, particularly in its suggestion of 'the unbroken wholeness of the Universe' with Consciousness (ie Observation) as the mediating principle. But he was dissatisfied with the 'unknowability' inherent within it - ie that there was no objective Reality independent of the Observer. He thus came up with his own interpretation of Bohr's findings known as the Causal or Ontological Theory which posited the idea of 'Hidden Variables. He suggested that in some sense the wave/particle 'decision' was made by energy through an exchange of information between differing states. Thus energy 'knew' whether it should be a wave or a particle by interacting with its environment. In a flash the fragmented, alienating view of the Cosmos as Machine outside us that Newton and Descartes had given birth to was gone and replaced by a new order of things in which the everything was indivisible from its surroundings, everything interacting with everything else through a constant flow of quantum 'information' of which the Observer was part. I say replaced, perhaps I should have said 'restored', as everyone reading this will probably recognise this idea from all the Mystical systems in the world. Its classic Zen Buddhism and exactly the same idea as that espoused by Bishop Berkeley in the 18th Century. Subsequent Quantum Scientists have not liked the idea so much and now speak of 'entanglement', a state in which everything keeps everything else in place by simultaneously interacting. But this points, once again, to 'the unbroken wholeness of the Universe', even though it appears to take Consciousness out of the equation. Bohm's Ontological Theory with its exchange of information, although largely rejected by the Scientific Community, still seems to pop up in other guises and may still prove to be more commensurate with the facts...

Next, it was discovered that the movement of energy from one state to another was not continuous. In other words, nothing on a Quantum level goes from A to B to C but from A to F to H to Z to C, doing so in a process of release of discrete packages of energy. I know. I don't quite understand it either, but basically it means that, once again, the Universe does not operate along fixed, predictable lines, but jumps around all over the place. In the process, all sorts of mysterious things happen. An electron in a tree, for example, can simultaneously be somewhere else. The tree remains the same, but somehow the electron is both within it, giving it its existence, and somewhere else. Not only that, but if two electrons are separated and placed at any distance apart, they will continue to interact as if they were together. This, known as 'Action At A Distance' (or 'Spooky Action At A Distance' as some Scientists like to call it!), is one of the most startling elements of Quantum Science. No-one quite knows how this can happen. One theory is that the Speed of Light might be being violated, which would explain why we can't perceive what the process in action might be. But Einstein had said that the Speed of Light couldn't be violated, so that wasn't a very satisfactory explanation (although some Scientists now believe this is no longer an impossibility and have named these particles moving faster than the Speed of Light Tachyons). Another is that, quite simply, everything genuinely is 'entangled', so utterly linked to everything else that the old adage 'all is One' is inescapably true. Both shatter the classical model of Physics of the Universe as Machine, made up of independently operating parts. And yet it seems that the latter is how things are. Indeed we have based the last 200 years of Science (and everything else) upon it. So what is going on?

I am sure you are confused by now. Don't worry, everyone is. A famous adage among Scientists is that if you think you understand Quantum Physics then you don't understand Quantum Physics. And so far I haven't even mentioned things like Dark Matter, the invisible material which makes up more than 80% of the Universe, the theory of Multiple Universes or the existence of extra dimensions suggested by String Theory. These latter, by the way, are the reason we have built the Hadron Collider at CERN. We are trying to find them...

As you can tell, Quantum Science is even more mindboggling than Kabbalah or the Vedas! Or possibly not, as many of the early Quantum Scientists studied these ancient texts for metaphors with which to understand what they were finding out about the Universe. Be warned! It is a foolhardy Mystic who tries to convince the average student of Quantum Science that there is any parallel between Mysticism and their studies. New Agers and movies like WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW haven't helped, with Scientists reacting violently against any such suggestion for fear of long-haired crystal-hangers taking over their discoveries. Nevertheless the fact remains that Heisenberg, Bohr, Schroedinger, Einstein and Bohm all thought that there were correspondences between the Upanishads, Zen Buddhism and the Kabbalah and the picture of Reality they were building up.

What made Bohm a pioneer was that, before anyone else, he leapt head-first into the implications of Quantum Science and sought to find a new way of looking at the Universe. While everyone else was trying to cling hold of the Classical Model of Newton and Descartes, he realised this was impossible and sought a new interpretation. The problem was how one squared the seemingly solid, three dimensional world full of discrete, independent objects we experienced with the seething, interacting, sea of Quantum Phenomena Scientists were increasingly discovering were out there. What made the establishment nervous was that if the implications of Quantum Science were to be properly understood, then everything was 'non-local'. In other words, even though it seemed like the Universe was made up with finite, predictable laws along the lines of Newton's ideas, in actual fact it wasn't. Everything was infinite - gravity, matter, energy. Nothing was fixed. The possibilities were terrifying. Basically, everything we had based our Scientific enquiry on for the last three hundred years, including our whole idea of Reality, was wrong. What to do?

Bohm posited something called the Holomovement which he broke up into Implicate and Explicate Orders. I say 'broke up', but in fact the whole meaning of the Holomovement was one of complete unity - 'the unbroken wholeness of the Universe'. All the mysteries of Quantum Science, he argued, pointed towards an infinite number of levels of existence, or Orders out of which other Orders emerged. Thus there was an Implicate Order, a Superimplicate Order and so on. A simple analogy would be taking off in an aeroplane. On the tarmac, we are only aware of our immediate surroundings and have a limited understanding of what is around us. As the plane takes off, we realise that those limited surroundings are part of a wider environment which includes the landing strip, the surrounding planes and the airport. As the plane rises higher, we see the airport is part of an even wider context, that of the city it is part of. As it rises higher and higher, this gives way to the environment of the city and the surrounding area, then the country and so on and so on. Each of these new perspectives is like another Implicate Order out of which the previous Order 'unfolds'.


So Bohm envisaged a Universe of infinite Implicate Orders, each getting more and more complex and unified as they ascended (or descended depending upon your point of view). Our physical Universe he described as the Explicate Order, or the manifest order, which was the most concrete Order we could experience but which was contained 'enfolded' in the higher Implicate and Superimplicate Orders. Anyone who knows their Kabbalah will recognise the complex ideas of the Sephiroth and Four Worlds here. If Malkuth is the Explicate Order 'unfolding' from the Tree of Life, the other nine Sephiroth are higher Implicate and Superimplicate Orders (amusingly ten, the number of Sephiroth in the Tree, is the same number of dimensions Quantum Scientists believe actually exist). Equally, people familiar with Platonic/neo-Platonic ideas of the Tetractys and the World of Ideas will see a similar theory emerging. On a more simple level, if one imagines the Implicate Orders of Bohm as a great sea of Quantum Phenomena, our physical Universe is like land masses emerging from it.... an image which, once again, not that unfamiliar to us...!

Bohm knew that he had no 'proof' that this was how things were, but he felt it squared with more of the equations people were coming up with to do with the mysteries of Quantum Physics and suggested that this was a model of the Universe which we might find productive to work with. At the moment we have no apparatus to test almost any of the conclusions of Quantum Science but through the idea of the Implicate Orders Bohm mooted a way of beginning to know where to look. What excited him was the non-material possibilities of the idea. Suddenly the Cosmos was not at all finite but relied on the infinite for its existence. Fundamental to this vision was the idea of the Holomovement in which everything was interconnected, fundamentally One, including ourselves and our Consciousness. He became very interested in the idea of the Hologram as a paradigm for the Universe and our place in it. Each of us, he posited, was a microcosm of the macrocosm which, once again, was a classic fundamental idea of all Mystical endeavour from Plato and the Upanishads to Kabbalah and Rosicrucianism. Its only for the last 200 or so years that we have believed it was otherwise. Equally important to him was the implication of this theory that, ultimately, scientific enquiry and thought would never come to a rest. Given an infinite number of Implicate Orders, we would go on penetrating further into Reality, making dogma and fixed ideas a thing of the past. And it didn't stop there, for it was Bohm's fervent desire that with the transformation of our view of the Cosmos would come a similar transformation in our view of ourselves as human beings within it. As Newton and Descartes had changed the way people thought and behaved, the implications of Quantum Science might bring about a similar revolution in human behaviour, one of wholeness and connection rather than one of division, conflict and alienation...

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME: DAVID BOHM: PART ONE


"In considering the relationship between the finite and the infinite, we are led to observe that the whole field of the finite is inherently limited, in that it has no independent existence. It has the appearance of independent existence, but that appearance is merely the result of an abstraction of our thought. We can see this dependent nature of the finite from the fact that every finite thing is transient." - David Bohm

Having ranted at length about the failings of Religion and Reason, perhaps it would be good to turn to something more constructive - like finding someone who might have tried to point the way to some kind of reconciliation of the two, thereby coming up with a potential vision of the future.

Well there is someone: Quantum Scientist David Bohm.

Before I start on the ideas of this remarkable man, I should clarify a few things about my last post. Although I have spoken negatively about the great historic movements of the past, I do so out of a desire not to dismiss them but to see where we have gone wrong and, therefore, where we might go right. All history is the story of the human effort to come to terms with life on this planet. We try these big ideas because, at least at first, they seem like good ones. One only has to look at the energy and excitement of early Christian or Muslim writers to see the inspiration the birth of their new religions gave them. Similarly the pioneers of the Enlightenment set out not to enslave the world or denigrate the inner life but to refashion it along more humane and just lines. All these processes were crucial parts of the long and painful evolution of our Consciousness on this planet. We are doing our best. If it keeps turning out wrong, well that is part of the cyclic process of development. Our natures are enormously complex, which is why I am suggesting that this time, before we embark on a new Grand Project, we turn inwards first and genuinely try to understand who were are...

Everyone would agree at the moment that in the present state of things, Religion and Science are at daggers drawn with each other. And not just Religion and Science, pretty much everything else! Everyone is very loud about the rightness of their own way, while seemingly utterly blind to where their own has gone wrong. Worse, on every side hostility to another point of view goes hand in hand with a shocking ignorance of another other. The Religion vs Science argument is a perfect example of this, with neither side taking the time to look beyond the most bone-headed expression of the other. Tragically, neither side can see the value and merit of the other, or the appeal. A value system based on an idea of the inner and another on the outer don't seem to see how much they need what the other has to offer. Thus we end up with religious people looking stupid by denying the palpably obvious and scientific people laughing at peoples' need for meaning and a sense of dignity. So we get nowhere.

This is why David Bohm is so fascinating, because he sought a means to rise above these divisions. Not only that, but he regarded them as deadly. The fragmentation of the world, its division into hostile camps miltarily, racially, politically, religiously and intellectually was, in his view, catastrophic as instead of working together to solve problems we were tearing each other apart, apparently unable to hold a position without utterly dismissing the validity of another. Even more interesting, Bohm was not only a great scientist, acknowledged by none other than Einstein as such, but also a great thinker, deeply committed to engaging with the problems of the world and interested in issues of Consciousness, Spirituality and Mysticism. A rigourous scientist, he counted as his friends and mentors not only Einstein, Oppenheimer and Feynman but also Jiddu Krishnamurti and the Dalai Lama. In amongst all this, Bohm felt that human Consciousness was the key to everything. Rather than being utterly separate from the physical world or the byproduct of chemical reactions, he believed it was the glue which held everything together.

Bohm was born in the 1920s in America. He showed immense early promise in maths and physics when a child and was fascinated by science and science fiction. He was part of the Manhattan Project, lead by Oppenheimer, which saw America drop the first nuclear bomb, believing at the time that it might be the means to bring an end to world conflicts. He since recognised that he was wrong. A lifelong Marxist who was interested in ideas which might bring us to coexist in a more humane and harmonious way, he fell foul of the MacCarthy trials of the 50s and was forced to leave the country, never to return (Oppenheimer himself is thought to have been instrumental in informing upon him). As his career as a scientist progressed, he became more and more fascinated by the findings of Quantum Science, seeing in it a radical challenge to the prevailing Mechanistic view of the Universe that had begun with Newton. For Bohm, that model for understanding the Cosmos and our place in it was gone. Relativity and Quantum Theory had demonstrated that the true nature of Reality was fundamentally different from that with which we had been operating with since Newton and Descartes. Not only did he see this as a major revolution in Science, but he hoped that it would lead to a similar revolution in human Consciousness and how we lived together. For Bohm, how we saw the Universe was simultaneous with how we saw each other. Just as Newton had changed everything with his discoveries, leading to the intellectual and spiritual transformations I have been ranting about, so, he believed, the new discoveries of Quantum Science might transform us again...


So what were these new discoveries that posed such a challenge to the Mechanistic Newtonian/Descartian view outlined in the last post? Since Einstein's famous equation E=MC2, it has been established that all Matter is Energy. Matter itself is just very densely packed energy. Thus the whole Cosmos is one infinite field of energy grouped into differing levels of dense and less dense Matter. Hence the equation Energy = Mass x the Speed of Light Squared. Moreover, the Speed of Light is the only constant in the Universe. Everything else exists relative to it. Thus Einstein's equation is saying that all the Energy in the Universe is equal to the Mass of all the Matter in it multiplied by the Speed of Light squared. Now that's a HELL of a lot of Energy and it explains why we can create a nuclear explosion by splitting a single atom. Have a think about that. It means that every atom in your body contains enough Energy to create a nuclear conflagration. That's quite something to ponder upon! What mechanism is it that keeps all that Energy locked safely inside Matter?

The Speed of Light issue is even more interesting. After he had come up with his Theory of Relativity, Einstein said that 'past, present and future are stubbornly persistent illusions'. What did he mean by this? Very simply, as the Speed of Light is the one Absolute in the Universe, everything that happens in the phenomenal world does so in relation to it. In other words, everything is relative to light. If we could move faster than we do, if we could catch up with Light, then we would experience Time and Space in a completely different way. If we matched the Speed of Light, we wouldn't experience them at all -hence the darkness of Black Holes, the density of which means they absorb even Light, thus obliterating Time and Space within them. If we could move SLOWER than we do, we would experience Time and Space differently again. It would become stretched. Our specific speed or vibration in relation to Light thus determines our whole experience of the Universe. We aren't experiencing Reality, only a Reality, one entirely governed by our relationship with Light.

Ergo Time and Space are relative. In an objective sense, they don't really exist. They only exist in a subjective sense, as 'stubbornly persistent illusions'. At the same time, extraordinarily, everything is dependent upon everything else. The phenomenal world is like it is because of its relationship with Light. Take Light away and it ceases to exist, or at least Time and Space would cease to exist which is the same thing... More than that, Einstein posited that the logical extension of this theory was that Time and Space were not separate entities. In fact they are the same, both aspects of each other emerging out of Light. We hear the term 'Time-Space Continuum' bandied about on Sci-Fi programmes all the time without thinking about what it means. Well, now we do. Suddenly "And God said 'Let there be Light'" doesn't sound like such a stupid proposition after all...

Pretty mind-blowing stuff... Gives you a funny feeling just thinking about it, doesn't it? We can barely imagine what things might look like if we moved closer to the Speed of Light or, indeed, if we moved much slower. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognise that this strikes at the very foundations of how we have seen the world over the last few centuries. The Scientific Method becomes largely redundant, as everything we are examining only exists in a relative sense. Any ideas of linear, mechanistic approaches to the Cosmos start to become a bit wobbly. So where does that leave us?

And if that wasn't enough, there was more. These ideas of Einstein's come under the title Relativity Theory. Quantum Science was about to discover even more bizarre things about the Universe and the way it works...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

A PAUSE FOR THOUGHT: WHY BOTHER?


"What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow-creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but disqualified for life." - Albert Einstein

In all the hoohah on these pages about Cathars and Kabbalists and the Soul and Yin and Yang and Babadoo Babading, one might be tempted to ask: "Why bother with any of this stuff? Why go back to these musty old tomes, these hoary 'truths', these dead ways of looking at things? What does any of it have to offer us today? Hasn't Science proven that all this stuff is just so much deluded hoodoo? We all know there is no God. And if there is one, he seems to either fucked it all up or given up on the whole sorry project. So why not knuckle under and get on with the world as it is?"

Good question.

And having posed it, its with a deep breath that I am going to try and answer. Because this is important stuff. Indeed one might say its the big question of our times. As a species, or at least in the West (we sometimes forget that our mindset is not the whole world!), we have done Religion and we are still doing Materialism, if not outright Atheism. But if there is a strange truth of our age, its that we have not quite given up on God or at least the idea that there might be something more than the physical in this world - in spite of the best efforts of well informed, intellectual giants and polymaths such as Richard Dawkins. But people interested in these things find themselves stuck between the Funny Hat Brigade who offer old truths, blurry New Agers who offer them up rechauffeed and the ice-cold comfort of the Materialists, who tell us we are little more than a bunch of chemical reactions which have successfully duped themselves into the illusion that they exist and somehow therefore matter...

The reality is that most of us have a nagging feeling that there IS more, a feeling that is no longer catered for either in the Churches and Mosques or the lecture theatres of Science Institutes. It is to do with dignity, a sense of Self and a sense of connection with something all around us. It is also, fundamentally, about the power and reality of the Inner Life. And THIS, it seems to me, is what is NOT provided for in our society today.

Since the Enlightenment, which happened in reaction to the appalling excesses of the Church, we in the West have lived in the belief that, in essence, we live in a Universe of Mechanism which can be understood, harnessed and perhaps controlled. After Newton, Descartes and Voltaire, the belief has been among most that rationalist, sceptical, empirical enquiry was the only basis upon which the human race could proceed. Never mind that Newton and Descartes both believed in God (Newton rather repellently so, a kind of anti-Dawkins!)! Reason was King, purified of all superstition, emotion and irrationality. If society could be run on Reason, our problems would disappear. And so it may yet prove to be.


As I say, this impulse, deeply humanistic in principle, was based on an idealistic view of human nature which, if it could be purged of its negative propensities, could create a Heaven on Earth of its own. After Inquisitions, religious wars, the hypocrisies of Priesthoods and Papacies, the suppression of dissent, the prevention of scientific enquiry and the celebration of blind, unthinking obedience to Men in Hats, who would not have signed up to the progressive vision of the Enlightenment? I myself would count myself deeply grateful for the division of Church and State and the development of human values the Enlightenment has brought us. I would much rather live in a secular state than a theocracy and only a fool would deny the advances in technology and medicine that have happened since then (although contrary to popular belief that didn't start with the Enlightenment!). Just as I don't dismiss what the Age of Religion did for us over the centuries, nor do I dismiss the Age of Reason. The problem is, as Billy Wilder pointed out in SOME LIKE IT HOT: 'Nobody's perfect'.

Where the oppression of the Church lead to untold primitivism and suffering, the Enlightenment has lead to another problem - the creeping devaluation of the interior life. For human kind is NOT a Rational creature. Or rather Reason is only a part of what makes us human. Reason is crucial in restraining ourselves from excessive, destructive behaviour but where it diverges from feeling, empathy, compassion and our deeper, more interior needs, it creates a new Hell every bit as destructive as the millenarian madness of fanatical religion.

Since the advent of the Enlightenment, we have seen a proliferation of great Social Ideas. These sprang directly from the new vision of the Universe set down by the scientific and intellectual giants of the period: Newton, Descartes, Hume. These three men, whose views on the Spirit were wildly different, nevertheless ushered in the ideas that would lead to the Scientific Method, Scepticism and distrust of human Consciousness as a yardstick for anything. Newton brought in the notion that the Universe was made up of mechanistic Laws which were purely physical, in which everything operated as discrete, independent bodies: the Universe as Machine. Descartes brought in the Deductive Method, whereby everything that could not be indisputably KNOWN was to be distrusted, the idea of Coordinates and the Mind/Body split. No matter that Descartes believed that God united Mind and Body, what has been passed down to us is a materialist interpretation of his ideas. For this reason I sometimes think of him as 'Poor Descartes'. A man who spent his life trying to prove the rational existence of God has, without knowing it, become one of the great icons of Rational Materialism.

Finally Hume brought forward Scepticism, saying that absolutely nothing that was not to be encountered by the Senses could be deemed 'real' in any way (and he wasn't even sure of that!). Of the three men mentioned here, he was the only materialist and offered up the first powerful intellectual argument against belief in God. As such he is regarded as a pioneer of Rational Atheism and a massive influence on figures such as Bertrand Russell (although even he was concerned by some of his conclusions!). Hume suspected all human Consciousness as being fundamentally flawed by its very subjectivity. Our minds, our emotions, could be misleading and were not to be trusted and so we needed to find other means to find the truth. We might THINK God exists, but that proves nothing, at least not in any objective sense. Thus, in the absence of verifiable proof we must operate as if God does not exist. We might even think WE exist, but that may be an illusion. In truth, Hume argued, the only thing that was absolutely certain was mathematics - pure, abstract thought with no emotional content or fug attached. Thus, once again, the logical end of Hume's reasoning was that in every way the Inner Life was a yardstick for nothing. It had no inherent value. Thus it could only be distrusted. Ultimately, he drew into question the whole idea of Self. Arguing that the Hume that was a boy was not the same as the Hume that was a man, he posited that the idea of the Self, of Identity, was, in essence, an illusion. And maybe he was right. A lot of modern biologists seem to think so.

Out of all these new intellectual currents arose the great Social Ideas I mentioned above. Some have been positive, some less so. All have been based on the mechanistic view that by changing the external realities of society the problems of the human race could be solved. In other words, just as Newton's model of the Universe saw it as a machine, so was everything else - society, the body, the mind, humanity in general. If the machine goes wrong, it can be fixed. If the machine can be designed properly, it will work well. Practically EVERY '-ism' we have lived by in the last two centuries has been based on this. Utilitarianism, Marxism, Communism, Nazism, Free Market Capitalism, Socialism, Neo-Conservatism, Eugenics, Social Engineering, Genetic Engineering etc etc. Our education has been based upon it, our medicine, even our culture. At its best it has brought about human rights, prosperity, stability and health. At its worst, human beings have been reduced to becoming units, cogs in a machine, economic counters, classes, masses to be herded, exploited, 'liberated', kept entertained etc etc etc. Where even utopian, idealistic approaches to social engineering have emerged, they have so often involved wholesale slaughter of thousands, if not millions who did not 'fit'. Think of Cambodia, Stalin's Russia, the French Revolution. If all these earlier -isms have bitten the dust, the last one we are dealing with is Free Market Capitalism in which everything, EVERYTHING justifies itself in terms of money and supposed economic prosperity. Art, culture, education, health, hygiene, town planning all become subject to market forces. If they cannot justify their existence financially, they risk going under. Everything is dispensible, even human life. We are told that we went to war in Iraq for oil. In other words, financial goals overrode human life on a grand scale. And that wasn't the first time! The Industrial Revolution itself ushered in an era of suffering and human exploitation in the name of material profit such as we had never seen before. And yet this was the supposed Age of Progress! As for how Darwinism was perverted and used to justify racist ideologies in America, Nazi Germany and South Africa, the least said about that the better...


In amongst all this the mental, emotional and spiritual life of the human race has become utterly devalued, often without us even noticing and sometimes with the best intentions! What has been the prevailing expression of our culture over the last two hundred years? What have our books, our poetry, our plays, our philosophy, our films, our songs been telling us about how we feel about ourselves? They tell us about alienation, despair, ugliness, violence, the degradation of sexuality to commodity and voyeurism, the loss of spirituality, the debasement of aspiration to drinking ourselves into oblivion and seeking some kind of sense of value in quick-fix 'celebrity'. And all this in an era where material prosperity, life expectancy and standards of health have been higher than ever! Those of us who want something more, who have a sense of what is inside us, not just the spiritual but also the emotional, are told not to worry, not to bother. We are called 'deluded', 'romantics', 'naive dreamers', 'sentimentalists'. We are told to just get on with it like everyone else, to face up to the 'real world'. Worse still, some of the more sensitive of us who find this existence difficult are slammed on drugs, as if the efforts of figures such as Jung and Freud to find a means to help us make sense of our inner lives was all for nothing. When a recent survey in the UK revealed that certain anti-depressants were placebos the howls of protest were intense. Journalists came out of the woodwork to reveal how they had been on anti-depressants for years (which was pretty galling considering so many of them were responsible for creating the cynical cultural atmosphere we live in in the first place). Statistics were revealed which showed the extent to which Depression was prevalent in our society - a staggering 10% of people were on some kind of medication. Something is seriously wrong with our country. Our culture is not nourishing us. And its hardly surprising given that our society is based on the tacit assumption that really nothing really matters other than money and that, given there IS no inner life anyway, what is the point of trying to nourish it?

And now the human race faces the consequences of this materialist culture. What has this recent economic collapse been about but the total giving over of our existence to the Great God Money? What is the consequence of the greed-driven industrialisation of our world started in the late 18th Century? Global warming and the threat of the extinction of the human race. And what is at the root of our resistance to doing anything about it? Our reluctance to have to give up our material wealth, power and lifestyle...

What is the solution? Going back to outdated models of spirituality and the Universe which have long since ceased to be vital and life-giving? Surely not. They were part of the problem in the first place! But at the same time the answers given by the post-Enlightenment crowd of Scientists, Social Reformers and Economists are not the way either. Both have had their day. Both have had their Golden Ages. Both have made their contributions and, doubtless, will continue to make them. But we need something else, something more. For sure, society needs to be organised, but not along lines which have contempt for the individual value of the people within it. We need a synthesis or something new altogether.

THIS is why we need to be bothered. The ideas I have thrown around on these pages represent some of the richest, most complex and most visionary ideas human culture has given us. But they are NOT dogma. They don't involve obedience, they involve exploration - of the Self, the Universe, of Consciousness. No-one was burnt at the stake for believing in the five levels of the Soul, they were burnt for questioning the authority of the Church, or denying the Council of Trent or the Transubstantiation. Further, Mystics are almost never enthusiasts for slaughter. Try as I might, I cannot think of any great Mystic of the human race who did not regard everyone as being part of the Universal Journey (oh wait, one: St Bernard of Clairvaux, who preached the Crusades and justified the Templars' ability to kill in the name of Christ). They may have regarded their particular way as superior, but all spoke of everyone being brought to God. Rumi spent time with Christians and Jews, Eckhardt read Maimonides and Avicenna, Isaac Luria urged the lifting of the prohibition against women and Gentiles studying Kabbalah. Mystics dream of the return of the whole human race to the One. And, ultimately, their vision is empowering. They make us think of ourselves in a different way. They make us look at each other in a different way. They make us turn inwards, not outwards and think about what that means. In an age in which so many of us feel increasingly disempowered what more valuable energy could there be?

Of course I simplify and no doubt overstate my case a tad. Not every Rabbi, Priest or Imam is corrupt. Nor is every Scientist or Social Engineer. Far from it. Similarly I realise that I have presented the last 2000 years of human endeavour as little more than a kind of extended disaster. This is not what I mean at all. But it is an almost universal principle that with true Mysticism comes a certain Humanism. As the Epistle of John puts it:

"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother who he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" - First Epistle of John

Even if this were not true, the reality is that the mystical ideas I have been talking about try to elevate the reality of our Inner Life to new heights. The very idea of the Soul in its mystical sense brings with it the inherent dignity of each human being. Further, it acknowledges the deepest yearnings and aspirations of the human race and the profound sense of connectedness we feel between ourselves and each other. Paradoxically, the sense of alienation and aloneness we feel is directly proportional to the sense that we ARE connected to the world outside us. Unless there was the possibility of food, we wouldn't feel hungry... What we no longer have in our society is a universal sense of what it is to be a human being beyond the purely material. Nor do we have access to the deep emotional satisfaction which these ancient traditions offered people. The lack is a serious one.

Even if none of these 'Gods' exist in any physical reality, they exist in an extremely potent PSYCHIC reality, which is perhaps even more important. If we might have learnt anything from Jung it should have been that. Spiritual traditions emerge from an evolving awareness of what we are and how we relate to ourselves and the Universe. If we could understand this, we would cease to bind ourselves to the Gods and instead use them as tools for our own self-revelation, which is what they were supposed to be in the first place. They act as metaphors and images for important inner processes we all must go through. And this is our moment to do it. We live in a time when, for all its materialism, we have unique access to every spiritual tradition the human race has known over the last few millennia. Once we could be Christians or Buddhists and not know about each other. Now we cannot avoid awareness of each other. Some find this terrifying. Others, like myself, find it utterly liberating. For the first time in history we can transcend the limitations of our culture and roam over the ideas of the vast epic of human endeavour that is thought and feeling and discover how one tradition can suddenly shed light on another. What an opportunity to enrich ourselves, to open our eyes and give ourselves a chance to liberate ourselves once more with a new understanding of what it means to be alive and, perhaps, experiencing the existence that all spiritualities have pointed towards in their own way.

Does one need to believe in God to believe in the Soul? Who knows? But at least we can enlarge what we mean by these terms now in a way in which we haven't been able to for centuries. This is not to say that the advances of Science and the achievements of the Enlightenment have gone for nothing. Far from it! Only that a balance needs to be struck. All new major spiritual steps forward emerged out of a crisis in what came before. Judaism grew out of spiritualities in Egypt and the Middle East, Christianity out of Judaism, Zoroastrianism and other spiritualities of the time, Islam out of Judaism and Christianity. If there is a reason to open these tomes again, to bother with this stuff, its to lead us to a new birth, a new relationship to things, which will not be the same as the old way in its outward forms but will grow out of the universal sense of the Spirit in every tradition. And maybe we won't have to subscribe to a one-size-fits-all spirituality, but one which sees every individual as part of an immense tapestry, each contributing a unique colour and texture to a new vision a thousand times more beautiful than before...

Amen to that! Now on with the work! See what we can do...!

“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed out candle.” -Albert Einstein

Monday, 13 October 2008

EASTWARD HO!: A BIT ON THE TAO


"The Tao that may be spoken of of is not the Eternal Tao.
The Name that can be named is not the Eternal Name." - Tao Te Ching, Verse 1

Taoism was where I came in on this journey many moons ago. As a young lad of 16 I found myself one New Year's Eve staying at the Brighton home of a cousin of mine, Gillian, who was a Professor of Philosophy and Sociology at Sussex University. Two things transformed me during that stay. Firstly the sudden awareness that there were people outside of my immediate family who valued me and the ideas I might have and secondly the discovery of the Tao. I had with me on that visit a copy of the TAO TE CHING and a book about it by a man called Raymond Smullyan entitled THE TAO IS SILENT. Both books went off like a soundless explosion in my head. Suddenly the world seemed opened to a whole new set of possibilities. Gone were the impossible dualities and paradoxes of everything I had understood to be religious. What replaced them was a sudden awareness of something Cosmic in everything and the possibility of delighting in what is in THIS world.

I will never forget that New Year and have always associated it with my cousin Gillian who consciously and/or unconsciously opened a special door for me at that young age. She was a wonderful woman and a great mind who made it her business to try and revive intellectual adventure and interest in other cultures in the stuffy and insular world of British philosophy. Thank you forever, Gillian.

So what was it about the Tao that so appealed to me? Hard to explain, particularly given the fact that several millenia of Chinese culture has been given over to trying to explain it and, more often than not failing... So here is my (perhaps very Western) two penn'orth...

Unsurprisingly given its name, Taoism centres around the mysterious energy known as the Tao. Brilliantly for us, this word has no equivalent in English or any other European language. The best we can usually manage is 'the Way'. Sometimes the Buddhist term 'Dharma' is used, which is not much better for us as that too has no clear equivalent in the West. Needless to say that according to the author of the TAO TE CHING, Lao Tzu, trying to understand the Tao is simultaneously almost impossible while also essential to the Seeker looking to be one with it. This typically Chinese paradox which at the same time encapsulates Taoism's fundamental non-Dualistic truth exemplifies what is at the heart of this profound yet simple spiritual philosophy.

The essence of Taoism is the idea of the constant flow of the Male and Female/Positive and Negative/Yin and Yang energies. If one can become sensitive to this hidden flux, one is not drawn into dualism. In other words, one is neither inactive nor overactive but knows how to interact and flow with the flux of things in the right way. Finding this flow and working effortlessly with it is known as 'WuWei'. Again, 'WuWei', like 'Tao' has no clear equivalent in English.

WuWei, usually translated as 'Nonaction' (the best we can do) is not 'Inaction'. What it means is not PUSHING or acting with the Little Ego, the Selfish 'I'. By cultivating an awareness of the Tao, one's Little Ego becomes One with the Greater Ego - the Eternal, whether you want to call it the Greater Consciousness as the Buddhists do, the Ain Sof as the Kabbalists do, Brahman as the Hindus do or the Deus Abscondus as the Christians. This process involves immense inner work and the discovery of the laws of the Tao within oneself. Once all one's activities are thus governed by its flow, then all is well and wrong action cannot arise.

If you look at all mystical traditions, the term 'non-' or 'no-' comes up again and again. In Kabbalah, the Ain Sof is often translated as the 'Boundless No-Thing'. Brahman is often translated as the same... 'the Supreme Limitless'... Nirvana is 'Non-Being'. The Christian Mystic known as the Pseudo-Dionysius describes God as being 'No-Thing', in other words, something which contains nothing material. Ultimately, this is the Tao.

The wisdom of the Tao, like all other esoteric mysticisms, is recognising that all human value systems - whether wealth, fame, power, prosperity, even morality and immorality, good or evil - are human constructs and have no innate reality. To persue any of these creates a dichotomy and a duality. The more one wants to be beautiful, the more one is aware of one's ugliness. The more one wants to be good, the more one becomes aware of one's evil. The problem of duality in Christianity is a classic example of this. The more obsessed a Saint comes with wanting to be like Christ, the more sinful and abhorrent he finds himself. Through Action we pursue these goals, but only find ourselves tilting the seesaw, or falling off the Wheel. If Christianity could focus on the unifying principle of the Holy Spirit (the closest we get to the Tao in the West) we might get somewhere. Christ did, after all, describe himself as 'the Way'. But who listened? As it is, Christianity in its organised form has remained stuck on Dualism, as, I suppose, have Judaism and Islam, except in their Mystical forms...

The key is understanding the balance, the equilibrium that is the Tao, figured at the emptiness in a jug which makes the jug useful, or the emptiness at the centre of a wheel which makes it revolve. Ultimately Good and Evil, Beauty and Ugliness, War and Peace all fold into One in th Dao. Look at the Yin and Yang symbol. If one fixates on the duality, the symbol continues to revolve as a wheel. If one looks carefully, one sees that the Yin lies in the centre of the Yang and the Yang lies in the centre of the Yin. If one goes deep enough into one or the other one finds the opposite principle waiting for you.

If the Tao is properly understood and realised in one's life, Yin and Yang dissolve into One, the Moon Disc, the marriage of the two hemispheres of the human brain. THEN anything one does is in accordance with the Tao and there is neither Action nor Inaction, there is only Nonaction. By letting the Tao flow through us, the appropriate thing is done. The best illustration I have found of the idea of working with the rythmn of the Tao in Western Scripture is in this extract from the OLD TESTAMENT:

"To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to break up;
A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war and a time of peace." - Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Understanding WuWei is not easy to do. It requires immense work and a willingness to give up one's Little Ego to the Greater Ego. It also means immense spiritual work most of the time, although like all great Truths, the Dao is simple. A child could understand it. Which is why it is so complicated.

A great Chinese proverb says 'If the Truth were simple everyone would have told his brother'. I've had a go. There's a great deal more to it... as simple and as complex as you like... Take a look, but don't expect it to be easy!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

I'M A SOUL MAN: SOME THOUGHTS ON THE BODY, SOUL & SPIRIT: PART TWO


"It is the Soul, the Spirit, the Self that must be seen and be heard and have our thoughts and meditation, O Maitreya! When the Soul is seen and heard, is thought upon and is known, then all that is becomes known." - Upanishads

The Greeks identified the heart as being the seat of the Psyche/Soul and the head as that of the Pneuma/Spirit (see image in last post). This idea of the Nous, or Mind being the connection each of us has with the universal Pneuma continued into Eastern Christianity ie Greek, Russian, Byzantine etc which believes that each of us carries within him or her a spark of the Divine Nous or Consciousness. Unlike Western Christianity which holds to doctrines of Original Sin and, even worse, Utter Depravity (thank you Augustine and Calvin for those), Orthodox Christians hold that the Divine Consciousness within each of us, like a mirror, not only reflects God's light but can only be obscured, never destroyed. Thus for the Greeks the inherent dignity of humanity and its indestructible connection with the Eternal survived Plato and Constantine into the present day...

In fact the Greeks were a major source of thought on the Soul. From early on Radiant Bodies, Astral Bodies and Spirit Bodies were identified as being part of its make-up, some able to detach themselves from their physical forms and travel between worlds. Pythagoras, Plato and the later neo-Platonists all also explored the nature of the Soul, its relationship to the One and its existence in many lives through transmigration and reincarnation. Pythagoras was said to be able to recognise places and objects that had played a role in previous incarnations. Plato wrote in great detail about what the Buddhists would call the Bardo state, or intermediary state between death and rebirth. But it was the great neo-Platonist Plotinus who devoted his entire life to a study of the Soul, his monumental ENNEADS providing inspiration for all mystical writing in the West from Origen to Ibn Arabi to Isaac Luria. It was Plato and his successors who developed the idea of the Soul emanating from the One, the Godhead, incarnating in this body and seeking a return to its origin, an idea familiar to all the great traditions mentioned above. Indeed in Sufism this notion of the Descent and Ascent of the Soul is central to the whole idea of the Way. Here, the Soul incarnates and descends from the Godhead and exists in the flesh until the moment when it suddenly becomes aware of itself. At this moment of awakening, its situation becomes intolerable and, aware of its celestial origins, it begins to seek the means to return. It is at this moment that the Soul becomes suitable for embarking upon the Sufi Way, at which time the quest begins to be reunited with the Divine. I am sure most people reading this can remember the moment which 'woke' them up and began them on their own journey. Perhaps the Burning Bush before Moses or Paul's experience on the road to Damascus are dramatic images of this moment of self-discovery. Paul's awakening to the possibilities of the Soul is interesting in this context as it was from him that we derive the term 'Out of Body Experience', a concept found in the Merkavah Mystics of ancient Israel and the Prophet's Night Journey in Jerusalem:

"I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell, whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man (whether in the body or out of the body I cannot tell; God knoweth) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful to utter." - 2 Corinthians 12: 2-4


It is this unity and origin with the One, the Over-Soul as the Theosophists put it, which makes the idea or existence of the Soul so important - the idea that there is a Cosmic Oneness of which all human Souls are part. In fact, once again, the idea is universal. In India, there is the Atman, or World Soul and in the West, the Anima Mundi, of which each of us possesses the Scintillans, or Divine Spark within us. In all instances, the World Soul is synonymous with the Cosmic Man, be it Purusha in India or Adam Kadmon and Christ in the West. And in all instances the World Soul and the Cosmic Man are united with whatever term the culture wants to call God - Brahma, the Father, the Ain Sof. In our inner selves, if not in our physical selves, everything is One.

By far the most comprehensive analysis of this connection in the West is found in Kabbalah. Here the three levels of the Soul already mentioned give way to two more, Chayyah and Yechidah. These are said to be operating on such a high level that they barely impact on our conscious lives. Nevertheless it is at this level that we connect to the Godhead in the most profound way. It is here that we find what I mean by our having 'never being severed from the Divine'.

We saw how in Kabbalah the threefold nature of the Soul consisted of the Nefesh, the Ruach and the Neshemah. Above this are the fourth and fifth levels, Chayyah and Yechidah. Chayyah is linked etymologucally to the word for 'Life' in Hebrew: Chaim (as in 'L'chaim'). Chayyah is, in sense, the Cosmic Life Force emanating from God, pouring down and suffusing everything. Even higher than this is Yechidah, which means 'the Only One' or 'the Singular One'. Yechidah is so intimately interwoven with God that it is almost indistinguishable. Isaac Luria explained this fivefold nature of the Soul by taking a Glassblower as an analogy. If Nefesh is the part of the Soul which, like the breath of the Glassblower, forms the shape of the glass object being created, Chayyah is the breath emerging from the lungs through the mouth while Yechidah is the idea of the breath in the mind. Thus on the most profound level (or the highest, depending on your perspective), we are at One with God. Needless to say, awareness of this can only usually be conceptual. Its almost impossible to actually directly experience this condition. And yet for the Kabbalist it is absolutely true. We are 100% one with God, even as we move in this world under the impression that we are an isolated part of Creation. Hence we are in a real sense 'never severed from the Divine'. This, presumably, is what Christ meant when he said 'I and the Father are One', suggesting that in this relationship lies the secret of what John says is our 'power to become all the Sons of God'.

And this is where the revolutionary aspect of the Soul comes in, for what is it that causes the most pain in this world we live? The sense of loneliness, of isolation, of meaninglessness, of being in a chaotic, fragmented universe in which at any moment someone or something could be out to get you? Fear, the belief that one is utterly alone, that the planet is a jungle where death and pain is just around the corner, where you cannot trust anyone - these are the causes of so much of our suffering and conflict. The Gnostics believed that this world of Matter was ruled over by a mad and blind God who sought to keep us from an awareness of the Soul. I have always thought that this was a perfect metaphor for life in which all access to the Spirit was snuffed out. A condition of fearful darkness in which even our material existence cannot be enjoyed. In the rediscovery of the Soul, that thing in us which connects us to everything - ourselves, each other, the Cosmos - is perhaps the means out of the situation we are in now.


So how do we begin to do this? Well to start with we have to believe in the existence of the Soul again. Easier said than done, as some people simply do not acknowledge such a thing, whether as a 'phsyical' reality or even a metaphorical one. This is a problem, as inherent in the idea of the Soul however one defines it is the dignity of the individual and his or her inner life. If this isn't acknowledged we don't have a chance. We will go on seeing each other as lumps of meat, economic units, expendable assets, things to be exploited and not sentient beings with an inherent value connected to each other. The only way of believing in the Soul's existence is to experience it.

Secondly, we have to rescue the Soul from religions and give it back to humanity. This is also tricky, as traditionally the world's religions have been how we have understood the Soul. All the wisdom I have cited here came from the very faith systems we are now so keen to reject. Outside them, discourse on the Soul is pretty hard to find, particularly in the market place where Matter is king. But if there is something to be learnt about the way the different religions speak about the Soul it is that the reality of the Soul is not only Universal, but NOT religion-dependent. The Soul came first, religious discussion of the Soul came second. Indeed all faiths came OUT of a new understanding of the Soul and its relationship with God or the One. If the problem with religion today can be defined it would be in terms of a reversal of this relationship. Instead of being a means to put people in touch with the Soul and set it free, religion has too often in our modern world been a way of binding it, obsessing more about what we do with our Bodies and with whom than how we might make contact with our own deeper selves. Intolerance, jihads, crusades, Inquisitions, suppression of women and destruction of cultures are not good ways of helping people discover their inner lives, although ironically the tyranny of religion is an inverse proof of the power of that inner life. If we didn't have one, it wouldn't be such a potent means of control.

The Soul, although an expression of the One, is not a herd animal. It needs to tread an individual path and it needs an environment to do so. When religion has facilitated the Soul, when it has served as a seed-bed for the Soul to flourish, when it has been Soul-inspired as it were, we have prospered. Historically, this has been the function of religion, to explore en masse what the Soul might mean. Every piece of information I have used in these posts has come from Christian, Muslim, Judaic or Hellenic sources - ie religious ones. The exoteric expressions of these religions enabled this esoteric discovery to happen. But religion, like everything else, is cyclic. What was once liberating is now largely lagging behind. The Soul needs to be freed. But as I mentioned earlier, how do we do so when all the terminology stemmed from those religions we need to move beyond? The answer is simple - we need to know where we came from. We owe a massive debt to these religions, they gave us a crucial framework for discussion of our spiritual natures. Like it or not, they are like our parents. However, if they are to survive, children need to leave their parents and become adults themselves which must inevitably involve rebellion and rejection. But perhaps once those parents cease to have power over us we can come to some terms with them, recognise what they have given us, pay hommage but move on into our own lives with that wisdom understood in a new way. Thus to reject the last 2000 years of spiritual development out of hand is foolish. This is why I refuse to take the fashionable 'all religion is crap' POV. We need to release the divinely-inspired beauty of what they have to offer from the man-made ugliness that has sought to subject us and find a way of speaking of the Soul without the connotations of guilt, punishment and misery that have made it such an undesirable thing to have for so long. The Soul needs rehabilitation! But if the environment is not given for it to thrive it will have to make its own. Thus religions - along with a few other things most likely! - will have to decide whether they will reembrace the Soul and nourish it or face going to the wall.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we have to understand the relationship between the Body and the Soul in a new way. If there is one thing all the different 'systems' of the Soul I have mentioned have in common it is that Body and Soul on all its levels are inescapably One. For too long we have allowed them to war with each other. The Soul gives us a gateway onto Eternity, but the ecstasy of that is entirely dependent upon us having a Body to experience it. The Finite defines the Infinite and vice versa. We need to stop seeing the Body as a prison for the Soul (a mistake even some of the greatest Mystics made) and instead see it as a tremendous OPPORTUNITY for its expression. We are here to experience life in the flesh in every way. There are things that the Soul cannot do without a Body. We are incarnate because the Soul wants it. Without it, it cannot experience Love, it cannot make love or properly understand its place in the Universe. What distinguishes us from the Angels is our combination of a physical body with a divine essence. That should be a joy rather than a curse. At the same time, the Body can become deeply impoverished without the Soul. Without it, the Body becomes utterly subject to the illusions of Time and Space and begins to fear for its own safety, becoming subject to the blind and mad God at which point the suffering of the Soul becomes so intense. Most importantly, sexuality must be restored to its rightful place at the heart of our experience of our Divine Nature. The greatest Mystics of all the ages knew this and couched their highest experiences in terms which were as much erotic as spiritual...

Greek Christianity speaks of the 'ensouled body' and the 'embodied soul', suggesting, perhaps, the real relationship between the two. Perhaps this is what we need to learn anew, setting the Soul free to fly again and allowing it kiss and be kissed by the Body once more. We have spent a long time going outwards with our behaviour. Its time to go inwards again and once we have discovered the treasure within, to inform everything we do without with that gold... It is a liberation and offers the possibility of a connection not only with the deepest things within us but the whole human race and, potentially, the Universe... Perhaps such a hope is naive. Perhaps the time is not available to us. But what more exciting horizon of opportunity could there be? A true understanding of the phrase 'the Kingdom of God is within you' each in our own individual way...

"Nothing under heaven can arrest the progress of the human soul on its long pilgrimage from darkness to light, from the unreal to the real, from death to immortality, and from ignorance to wisdom." Djwhal Khul, the Tibetan

Friday, 3 October 2008

I'M A SOUL MAN: SOME THOUGHTS ON THE BODY, SOUL & SPIRIT: PART ONE


"There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another" - 1st Corinthians 15:40

Pretty much a bottom line with any interest in spirituality/ mysticism/ esotericism is the belief in the Soul. Fascinatingly, every culture in the world has a word for the Soul but not every culture has a word for war or money. I find that interesting as it suggests that, since anyone can remember, human beings have felt the need to invent a word for something we can't touch, smell, taste, hear or see with our physical bodies, but not for two things (war and money) that we nowadays think of as integral to human existence. Of course, Dawkinsians would say the word 'unicorn' exists but that doesn't mean there were ever unicorns. That's very true, but unicorns are a concept pretty much localised in European culture and its offshoots. There are no African or Aboriginal unicorns, for instance, but the Soul seems to be everywhere. It is universal in nature.

Of course, this still doesn't mean that we have Souls, only that all cultures have or have had a sense that there is something within us which is more than physical and which operates in a different way to the mind or any other part of our organism. The Soul is somewhere where we feel and experience things differently. It is a place of intense feeling. It doesn't grow old and seems to exist outside Time and Space as well as within them. Often it feels like a repository of wisdom of a kind we don't always have access to. When we refer to someone speaking 'from the bottom of their Soul' we mean they are speaking from the very depths of their being, from somewhere very profound. Even if we don't believe in the literal existence of the Soul we all know what it means as a metaphor. It is the deepest part of who we are. When one is in touch with one's Soul, as most people who are interested in the kind of thing this Blog is all about are or have been in some way, the experience is deeply beautiful, very moving and utterly fulfilling. Any sensation of feeling deracinated, alienated, unsettled vanishes and one feels connected to who one really is. This, universally, is how Mystics describe oneness with the Soul. It is Gnosis, Satori, Moksha, the Yichud, Union, whatever one wants to call it. Its what T S Eliot said when he spoke of the point of intersection 'between Time and the Timeless'. Once you have experienced it, you want to know more, you want the connection to BE more until it informs one's whole being on this planet. Its what Djwhal Khul called 'the Soul-Infused Personality' and the Medieval Beguine Mystic Hadewijch, 'Fruition'. I am sure anyone reading this will know what I mean...


Of course, the idea of the Soul has gone out of fashion in our well-adjusted, non-materialistic, unneurotic West. Apart from the scientific view argued by people like Senor Dawkins that if you can't see it it ain't there and if it can't be 'proven' in the lab it doesn't exist, there is the obvious reason that until recently a Soul wasn't a very desirable thing to have. After all, haven't we been told for centuries by different (but not all) Churches that in all likelihood our Souls are going to go to Hell? Who would want one if such were its fate? And who would want one if to avoid that fate you had to pay obedience to a lot of hideous and anti-life rules and regulations made up by men in funny hats who didn't follow them themselves? The existence of the Soul should enable one to experience Eternity. It should be a source of joy, 'like a sun in splendour' as the UPANISHADS say. How can it be if for the majority that Eternity was probably going to be spent burning in firey damnation? No wonder we have rebelled and identified purely with our material forms... The Soul has a lot of catching up to do! If we are to get it back, we perhaps need to look at what it REALLY is, not what we have been told.

The Greek word for the Soul was 'Psyche'. Right away we have something interesting there, for we have borrowed that word for our modern concept of Mind or Consciousness. For the Greeks, the Psyche was part of the threefold nature of Man in his earthly state, the other two being 'Soma' (Body) and 'Pneuma' (Spirit). Interestingly, the Pneuma was the highest part of the three, connecting us with the Eternal while the Soma was the most material, being the vehicle with which we operated in this world. The Psyche was the mediating principle which united the two. Thus the three elements of the Self became one. Soma was suffused by Psyche and connected to Pneuma and vice versa. Without the Psyche, the Pneuma could never experience the world through the Soma etc etc.

In the design of their theatres the Greeks reflected this threefold idea of humanity by the layout of their stages. The Chorus, representing the Soma, was by far the largest part, fanning out into the audience in a semi-circle. The Psyche was just above this and was the area of the stage in which the Heroes (ie Oedipus, Heracles, Antigone etc) operated. Above this again was the area known as 'the Gods', representing the Pneuma. It was here that the Olympian Deities appeared (eg Dionysus, Athena, Apollo etc). Thus the Greek stage constituted not only a complete vision of their view of the Cosmos (or Kosmos) but also a complete vision of the human organism. The Mystical meaning of this, of course, was that the Soma was as much part of the Psyche and the Pneuma as anything else. There was no dualism here. Equally important, though, was that the Gods were manifest in the Pneuma of humanity or that the Pneuma of the individual was part of the overall Pneuma of the Universe. This is something it is easy to forget. Thus the Greek Drama, which was a form of religious worship in itself, recognised the holistic relationship between Gods and Men. It is not Apollo who screws up Oedipus but the Apollo IN Oedipus, or the Apollo that IS Oedipus - ie his Higher Self that simply wants to be known at all costs. At the end of Oedipus' story he is taken up to Olympus by the Gods. In other words he moves from 'Psychic' knowledge to 'Pneumatic' knowledge having emerged from 'Somatic' knowledge when he answered the Sphinx's riddle. Thus the Oedipus Plays are not cruel dramas of the blind injustice of the Gods but an Initiatic Ritual into Higher Knowledge as Oedipus moves up the scale to the highest Insight, even though he suffers horribly in the process (largely because he resists it, interestingly).

Kabbalah has a similar threefold vision of the Soul. For the Kabbalists, we operate on three primary levels, all of which are poured into the human form, the 'Tzelem'. The lowest part of the Soul, that which compares to the Soma, is known as the Nefesh. This is sometimes called 'the Animal Soul' or 'the Vegetable Soul'. This is the part of the Soul which is intimately interwoven with every cell of our physical form. It experiences the passions, the emotions, the desires of earthly life with most vividness. It feels pleasure and pain. Kabbalists say that, at death, the Nefesh takes the longest of the three parts of the Soul to return to the Godhead. Stories speak of cemetaries full of the Nefeshes of the dead standing over their graves, mourning the beauty and intensity of what they have lost (the most powerful and convincing explanation of what we call 'ghosts' I have heard). The next level of the Soul is called the 'Ruach' and corresponds to the Psyche. It performs a similar function of mediating between the Nefesh and the third level, the Neshemah which is the highest level and the equivalent of the Pneuma. Interestingly, both Ruach and Neshemah are words with similar meanings: 'Breath' or 'Wind'. Pneuma, by no coincidence, means the same. All refer to the idea of the Breath of God or Spirit. If we remember, the book of Genesis speaks of God breathing his essence into clay to make Adam. In Christianity the original Greek word for the Holy Spirit was the Haghia Pneuma or Holy Breath. 'Spirit' itself is based on the Latin word 'Spiritus' which also means breath, so the meaning is the same everywhere. Somehow, Greek, Hebrew and Latin all identify the Spiritual aspect of humanity with the Divine Breath which is everywhere and passes through everything. It is exactly the same idea as Prana in Hinduism and indeed in all cultures. The Spirit and Soul partake of the very Divinity that is everywhere. As Meister Eckhardt, the greatest of all the Rhineland Medieval Christian Mystics, said:

"Know that God loves the soul so powerfully that it staggers the mind. If one were to deprive God of this so that he did not love the soul, one would deprive him of his life and being, or one would kill God if we may say such a thing. For that same love by which God loves the soul is his life, and in this same love the Holy Spirit blossoms forth; and this same love IS the Holy Spirit. Since God loves the soul so powerfully, the soul must be something very great." - Sermon 69


I've spoken of the threefold nature of the Soul/Human Organism as espoused here in Kabbalah and Greek cultures. Again, keen Jungians will be reminded of the Threefold Form of Buddhism in which the Buddhist experiences his connectedness to the Greater Consciousness which is everywhere and of which he is part through his own Lesser Consciousness and Body. In Christianity the same threefold nature is present in Body, Soul and Spirit (doesn't sound as good in English, does it?), although you wouldn't know it when you hear most Christians talk about it. Nor are they brilliant at seeing them as a whole. If the Body is as much part of the Spirit as the Soul or at least partakes of it most Christians, in the West at least (less so in the East) tend to want to cut the Body out of the equation. As we can see, if the Body contains the Breath of God, this is a fatal error. People need to read their Scriptures more. Here, surprisingly, is Paul on the subject:

"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth within you?" - 1st Corinthians 3:17

"So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nouriseth it and cheriseth it, even as the Lord the church... This is a great Mystery." - Ephesians 5:28-29

In fact the threefold nature of the Soul/Human Organism is only part of the world's thinking on this. The Triune idea of Being actually only really deals with our existence in this world, which is suffused with Divinity enough in its Body/Soul/Spiritual dimensions. In reality, all the above mentioned cultures go much further, connecting us all to the Godhead/Cosmos/One in a much more profound way. When these other levels of the Soul are explored one realises that we have, in fact, never been severed from the Divine. In truth we are walking with it now. This is the most revolutionary aspect of the Soul I can think of and why, perhaps, we need to be thinking about it more...