Chapter Summary: This chapter discusses the relation of the Ultimate Ground to the objects and events we experience, and explores various dualistic descriptions of the universe. The problems of evil, suffering and pain are also discussed.
Christianity recognizes three types of hindrances to salvation—the world, the flesh, and the devil. We’ll discuss salvation and similar concepts later. For now our concern is the three domains the hindrances imply: the external natural world, the internal natural world, and the supernatural world. Two ideas dominate Part I: ways of knowing and the Ultimate Ground of Existence. In Part II—in this and the next three chapters—we’ll investigate the relation of the Real with the external natural world, the internal natural world, and the supernatural world.
How is the Perfect related to the world we see around us? The Ultimate Substance is unchanging, eternal, and perfect. Yet the world we experience is changing, transitory, and often imperfect. If entities we experience really have their existence grounded in an eternal, perfect, and unconditioned Reality, how can they themselves be impermanent, imperfect, and conditioned? How is impermanence grounded in Permanence? How is imperfection grounded in Perfection? How is the conditioned grounded in the Unconditioned? And how does this world have its root and source in the Divine Ground? What relation exists between the temporal and the Eternal, the imperfect and the Perfect, the universe and the Ultimate Ground of Existence? This chapter addresses those questions.
Since there are people for whom the universe’s Self-Existent and Eternal Basis is not a doctrine but an observation, a self-evident fact, we’ll begin with their testimony.
As we’ve seen, some mystics transcend the triad of knower, knowing and known, to achieve unitive knowledge of the Real. For them, the vision of pure Isness is so absorbing they lose consciousness of the universe. Some never return from that vision; after a few days their body dies. For those that do return, the unitive vision begins to fade. Perception of thoughts, emotions, objects and events slowly returns. During this transition period—especially if the Eternal has been recognized as the universe’s Ground of Existence—the mystic sees the Real shining through the apparent, seeing
. . . the Perfect One self-revealed in the Many. ([U01],254).
Simultaneously beholding the Eternal and the perishable, the One and the many, the Unconditioned and the conditioned, the mystic sees the second as a manifestation, an emanation, of the First.
Not all mystics reach such heights, of course. Many remain conscious of the universe, but a universe transformed, suffused with God, the Uncreated Light. Each and every entity, from the worm to the cathedral, shines with a transcendental splendor. As Evelyn Underhill writes,
[I]lluminated vision in which “all things are made new” can afford to embrace the homeliest and well as the sublimest things; and, as a matter of experience, it does do this, seeing all objects . . . as “modes of light.” ([U01],262-3).
All things are seen to be identical in that they are all modes of the same Light, all bundles of a single Energy.
Probably because of such visions, many mystics declare that the universe’s entities are all grounded in a single Uncreated Light. Let’s examine a few of their statements.
The Hindu sage Ramana Maharshi declares
. . . the world is a phenomenon upon the substratum of the single Reality . . . ([T03],17).
And Ramakrishna expresses Vedanta philosophy, as well as his own direct insights, when he says:
He who is realized as God has also become the universe and its living beings. One who knows the Truth knows that it is He alone who has become father and mother, child and neighbour, man and animal, good and bad, holy and unholy, and so forth. ([G03],328).
Ramakrishna echoes the ancient sage who found
God alone . . . has become the universe and all its living beings. ([G03],648).
Turning to Buddhism we find that “Mind” signifies ([A15],13) “the Absolute as it is expressed in the temporal order” and that
. . . “the essential nature of the Mind” is unborn and is imperishable. . . . [T]herefore all things . . . are, in the final analysis, undifferentiated, free from alteration, and indestructible. ([A15],32-3).
In Islam, Shaikh Abd al-Razzaq Jhanjhana believes:
Everything is manifest because of the Light of God. It is not possible for this world to exist without the Presence of God. All is He. ([R04],305).
And other Sufis, says Nicholson,
. . . conceive the universe as a projected and reflected image of God. ([N11],96).
The unique Substance, viewed as absolute and void of all phenomena, all limitations and all multiplicity, is the Real . . . On the other hand, viewed in His aspect of multiplicity and plurality, under which He displays Himself when clothed with phenomena, He is the whole created universe. Therefore the universe is the outward visible expression of the Real, and the Real is the inner unseen reality of the universe. ([N11],81-2).
Jewish Hasidism also sees the universe as the clothing, veil, and external form of the Eternal. Alan Unterman, in the introduction of his The Wisdom of the Jewish Mystics, writes:
Reality is the clothing of the Godhead. Behind the solidity of the inorganic world and the living, breathing, organic world is the Godhead itself towards whom the mystic breaks through by penetrating the everyday thought forms and perceptions which only tell us about the clothing, not about that which is clothed. ([W08],24-5).
This identification of the world with God, albeit in the sense that it is a masking of the divine, developed a sense of the holiness of the profane amongst Hasidism and greatly disturbed some of their opponents. ([W08],25).
Perhaps because of this belief (that the world is a manifestation of God), the Jewish Hasidic mystic
. . . never doubted that his separation from God was illusory, nor that his role in life consisted of stripping away the illusion. ([E04],121).
In Christianity Meister Eckhart, in the words of Rufus Jones, declares that
. . . the temporal world is a show or reflection, but a reflection of an eternal reality. ([J03],229).
And “Dionysius” also believes the world is an appearance of the Real. He teaches, according to C. E. Rolt, that the Godhead
. . . in Its ultimate Nature . . . is beyond all differentiations and relationships, and dwells in a region where there is nothing outside of Itself, yet on another side of Its Nature (so to speak) touches and embraces a region of differentiations and relationships . . . ([D08],6).
The region of differentiations and relationships is, of course, the universe. Rolt continues that the Godhead
. . . is therefore Itself related to that region, and so in a sense belongs to it. Ultimately the Godhead is undifferentiated and unrelated, but in its eternal created activity It is manifested under the form of Differentiation and Relationship. It belongs concurrently to two worlds: that of Ultimate Reality and that of Manifested Appearance. ([D08],6-7).
He goes on to say that because our minds are part of this realm of “Manifested Appearance” there is
. . . the possibility not only of Creation but also Revelation . . . . . . . . . . . . Just as the Godhead creates all things by virtue of that Aspect of Its Nature which is (as it were) turned towards them, so It is revealed to us by virtue of the same Aspect turned towards our minds which form part of the creation. ([D08],7).
Therefore, knowledge of the Real is knowledge of our own inner Self. And vice versa. The next chapter explores our true and enduring self.
When vision of the One is absorbing, only the Real is perceived. When it’s less absorbing, but still very strong, other things (thoughts, feelings, people, objects) are seen but seem shadowy, unsubstantial, unreal, because their Isness is foreground while their particular qualities are background. When vision is less absorbing still, things seem solid and real but are still quite plainly manifestations of the Real.
To see things in this way, as manifestations of the Real, grounded in the Eternal, is to see things as they are in the Kingdom of Heaven, according to the English mystic William Law.
Everything in temporal nature is descended out of that which is eternal, and stands as a palpable visible outbirth of it . . . In Eternal Nature, or the Kingdom of Heaven, materiality stands in life and light; it is the light’s glorious Body, or that garment wherewith light is clothed . . . (quoted in [U01],263).
If Law is correct, then (as Jesus claims) the Kingdom of Heaven is indeed among us—if we have the eyes to see.
The Kingdom of Heaven—the world transfigured, where all things are made new and sparkle with the Uncreated Light—is also the world of Eden. From a Christian hymn:
Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play! ([H12],389).
It’s the world Adam saw before the fall, and anyone who sees the world in this way sees the world that Adam saw. For example, George Fox, Quakerism’s founder, had an experience where he entered the Kingdom of Heaven, the
. . . paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that I say I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell. (ch.2,[J05],27).
The vision of the Kingdom of Heaven, of Eden, of the Eternal shining through the transitory, is perhaps the most common mystic vision. It occurs, at least in its weaker forms, to many people at one time or another.
To “see God in nature,” to attain a radiant consciousness of the “otherness” of natural things, is the simplest and commonest form of illumination. Most people, under the spell of emotion or of beauty, have known flashes of rudimentary vision of this kind. ([U01],234).
Indeed, even supposedly non-mystical experiences of beauty, truth, or love may be dim, unrecognized visions of Eternal Light. As the mystic Plotinus claims:
Beauty is the translucence, through the material phenomenon, of the eternal splendor of the ‘one’. ([Q01],67).
Look deeply into beauty, truth, or love, and you may see the Absolute behind them; it may be literally true that beauty is God, truth is God, and love is God. Writes Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook:
Love in its most luminous aspect has its being beyond the world, in the divine realm, where there are no contradictions, limits and opposition; only bliss and good . . . ([K05],227).
We are tracing a path down, from absorbed vision of Isness to the universe we know. (It is the same path that consciousness must traverse—in the opposite direction, of course—to reach its final end, union with the Eternal.) When someone falls from absorbed perception of the Eternal, and falls from mixed vision of a universe suffused with Uncreated Light shining everywhere, they fall into perception of the universe we know.
Some religions describe this fall in the language of myth. For example, the biblical story of Eden may be interpreted as an allegory of such a fall. In Eden,
[i]n the middle of the garden stood the tree that gives life and the tree that gives knowledge of what is good and what is bad. (Gn2:9, [G02],2).
What is the “tree of life”? In our interpretation it’s the Kingdom of Heaven, a way of seeing the world where the Isness of things is their most obvious quality. And what is the “tree of knowledge of good and bad”? It’s seeing the world in the usual way, seeing things in terms of good and bad. Such a way of seeing is call “dualism”.
Good and bad, however, isn’t the only dualistic system. Others are mind and matter, form and substance, and yang and yin. But in any dualistic system, vision of the One has been mostly lost and dualistic perception—vision of the “two”, of “pairs of opposites”—has arisen.
Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and bad.
You may eat the fruit of any tree in the garden, except the tree that gives knowledge of what is good and what is bad. (Gn2:16, [G02],2).
That is, they were forbidden to see dualistically, to view the world in terms of good and bad. Why?
When we see things in a dualistic way, in terms of good and evil, for example, by that very fact, we lose perception of the One. Adam and Eve’s descent into dualistic vision was itself sufficient to rob them of vision of the One, of the Kingdom of Heaven, of Eden
By the way, religions don’t invariably use myth to describe the fall into dualism. For example, a Buddhist scripture is quite direct.
In due course of evolution sentiency appeared and sense-perception arose . . . And the world split in twain: there were pleasures and pains, self and notself, friends and foes, hatred and love. ([C04],255).
A Christian spiritual treatise also has a direct description of the fall into duality, which it calls the fall into “flesh.”
[I]n our downfall, we fell away from God . . . and fell into the flesh; thereby we went outside ourselves and began to seek for joys and comforts there. Our senses became our guides and intermediaries in this. Through them the soul goes outside and tastes the things experienced by each sense. ([U02],128).
But why call it a descent into “flesh”? Probably because the body, the “flesh,” is the instrument of sense perception. When consciousness is aware of the body, it’s usually aware of pairs of opposites—pleasant/unpleasant, hot/cold, etc.
Whether stated directly or in myth, it’s true that turning from seeing the One as the One, to seeing It as two—and therefore to seeing the created order as real—is the first and original separation from God. Therefore, it’s the first and “Original Sin.” Our very existence as separate, individual persons is based on separation from the Source and Root. We are separated from God by a “veil of createdness” ([S04],143). Of this, a modern follower of Vedanta writes:
The belief, then, in existence apart from God is the major sin; ultimately, it is the only sin, error or misconception. ([V01],351),
while a Sufi writes:
When I said: What have I sinned? she answered:
Your existence is a sin with which no sin can be compared. ([S04],142).
Most of the time, we perceive duality, the many, the pairs of opposites. Single, unitary awareness, mystical awareness, of pure Isness, of the Ultimate Ground of Existence, if it exists at all, lies deep in our mental background. We live in a universe of objects, people, feelings and thoughts—and fail to see their Ultimate Ground of Existence.
Not all dualisms are identical; there are various types. We’ve already seen one way dualistic systems can differ: one dualism is based on good and evil while another, on mind and matter. Dualistic systems can differ, however, even when they accept the same pair of opposites. In the next few sections, we’ll examine a few different dualistic systems, all based on good and evil. We’ll see that dualisms based on good and evil have differing “strengths” depending on how much reality is granted to evil.
In the weakest kind of dualism, illusory dualism, good and evil are both considered in some sense illusory and ultimately unreal. Vedanta expresses illusory dualism when it teaches good and evil are appearances, not Reality. Shankara, for example, writes:
The world appears as if real only so long as Brahman which is the non-dual substrate of all has not been known . . . ([S09],13).
So, from the viewpoint of vision of Brahman,
. . . there is neither good nor evil, neither pleasure nor pain. ([V01],110)
because they exist in the world, not beyond it. Similarly, the Sufi poet Attar writes:
So long as you are separate, good and evil will arise in you, but when you lose yourself in the sun of the divine essence they will be transcended by love. ([A12],116).
It might seem someone who believes good and evil are illusions would have no basis for morals and ethics, no way to judge right and wrong. Not true, as we’ll see later.
An idea that can follow from illusory dualism is that the world is, in some sense, a show. As we saw above, when the world is transfigured, suffused with the God which is not a Person that is its Ground, it may appear to be a “show world,” a world created, literally, as an image of Eternal Light. Illusory dualism says the images are ultimately unreal, a play of Light. It says only the Light really exists. “Maya” is a Hindu term which refers to the magical illusion, the show, the universe created by the dance of Energy. Ramana Maharshi said maya
. . . makes one take what is ever present and all pervasive, full to perfection and self-luminous and is indeed the Self and the core of one’s Being, for non-existent and unreal. ([T03],18).
Conversely, it makes one mistake
. . . for real and self-existent what is non-existent and unreal, namely the trilogy of world, ego and God. ([T03],18).
Of course, the universe, the show, and Maya all feel quite real. Therefore even though good and evil exist only within Maya, they feel real too.
So long . . . as we are experiencing pleasure and pain, so long do both good and evil exist as empirically real. . . . Vedanta thus recognizes both good and evil, and pleasure and pain, as . . . facts of . . . our empirical lives . . . ([V01],110-1).
Vedanta sees God (the God which is not a Person) as beyond good and evil, which exist only in the show world. Other religions identify God (usually a God who is a Person) as Goodness in its highest degree. For these religions good really exists since God really exists. They differ, however, in the amount of reality they grant evil.
Some religions teach apparent dualism, which says good really exists but evil only seems to exists. For example, Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, writes that
. . . evil is but an illusion, and it has no real basis. Evil is a false belief. . . . If sin, sickness, and death were understood as nothingness, they would disappear. ([E02],480).
According to Christian Science, then, evil is a mere appearance, an illusion having no reality—an idea similar to illusory dualism in that both agree evil is an illusion, but differing about whether good really exists. Christian Science teaches that the universe is actually good, and any evil we think we see doesn’t actually exist.
Augustine has a similar teaching; he says evil has no actual existence but is merely an absence of good, just as darkness has no actual existence itself but is merely an absence of light.
. . . [E]vil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name “evil.” ([A13],354).
Therefore it follows, as William Law observes,
[e]vil can no more be charged upon God than darkness can be charged upon the sun . . . ([P12],476).
This assumes, however, that God, like the sun, is not omnipresent, that there are places where God is not.
“Dionysius” holds good to be omnipresent, and explains evil as a deficiency of good rather than a total lack. By analogy, heat, which is known to be molecular activity, is always present in some measure or other. Cold is a deficiency of heat, rather than a complete absence. This answer grants God omnipresence but assumes God is sometimes present only weakly.
Vedanta and Christian Science see evil as ultimately an illusion. Augustine and others grant evil existence only as an absence or deficiency of good. Other systems grant evil full and real existence, differing on whether evil is less powerful than good or equally powerful.
The kind of dualism commonly accepted by religion is a dependent dualism of good and evil. In such a system, good is fully real and exists independently (because God is fully real and self-existent). Evil is real, too, but it’s weaker than good, and depends upon good for its existence. Typically, an all-good God who is a Person is also all-powerful, and therefore could destroy evil—but chooses not to.
Why? One explanation is destroying evil would violate the laws of the universe, or destroy our free will. Harold Kushner argues this in his popular book When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
. . . God has set Himself the limit that He will not intervene to take away our freedom, including our freedom to hurt ourselves and other around us. He has already let Man evolve morally free, and there is no turning back the evolutionary clock. ([K11],81).
Whatever the explanation, if God permits evil to exist, then evil depends upon God for its continued existence, because if God didn’t allow it to exist, it could not.
To many people, dependent dualism seems to suggest God really isn’t all-good. For can a God who permits evil—starvation, disease, rape, murder, incest, war, etc.—really be called “all-good”? Of course, it might be argued that God is all-good, but not all-knowing (and so doesn’t know evil exists) or not all-powerful (and therefore can’t stop it). Many religions, however, say God is all three, which brings us to the problem of evil.
Suppose that God is in fact all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good. Suppose, also, that evil exists. An all-knowing God is aware of any evil about to occur. An all-powerful God is capable of preventing that evil, destroying the evil-doer if necessary. An all-good God has no love of evil, no wish it should exist. So if evil does exist, then it would seem God is not all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-good. It seems God can’t be all three—a logical dilemma for any religion that teaches the contrary.
Such religions usually “solve” the dilemma by labeling it “the mystery of evil” or “the problem of evil.” To illustrate, a Catholic theologian first acknowledges Augustine’s solution to the problem of evil: he writes that evil
. . . is to be found in what God created. Yet, because it is essentially a lack of goodness, it cannot claim God for its direct author; for He made what is good, not the lack thereof. ([P15],77).
But he adds:
But evil remains a problem for us, even after we have given assent to this piece of Christian philosophy. God is almighty, and therefore we ask: since He has full control of the whole created universe, why doesn’t He eliminate evil? The question is easy to ask; it is complicated to try to answer. . . . We are left, then, with the mystery of evil. It is here in the world, and somehow God is willing that it be here. He is not its direct cause, but He does not exclude it from His world, even though He is almighty. ([P15],77).
The continued existence of evil is not the entire mystery and problem; its origin is also a difficulty. How could evil originate in the creation of an all-good God? A common explanation is creatures exercise their free will and make the wrong choices. From a Seventh-day Adventist publication:
Mystery of mysteries, the conflict between good and evil began in heaven. How could sin possibly originate in a perfect environment? . . . Although sin’s rise is inexplicable and unjustifiable, its roots can be traced to Lucifer’s pride . . . ([S10],99).
Christianity attributes evil to the misuse of free will. Lucifer was the first to misuse his free will by a prideful rebelling against God. Therefore, Christianity associates Lucifer’s rebellion and his successful tempting of Adam and Eve with the origin of evil. (A question: Is another rebellion possible in heaven even today? Presumably, the saints and angels still enjoy free will. Will some of them try another revolt? If free will still exists in heaven, doesn’t the possibility of evil still exist there, too?)
But explaining the existence of evil as the result of free will puts the cart before the horse. If only good existed, then free will would mean the freedom to choose between one good or another. Doesn’t evil, or at least the potential for evil, have to already exist before it can be chosen? There’s an anecdote about Henry Ford, whose early cars were always painted black. One day someone asked if he’d consider giving the buying public a choice of car color. Henry replied, “They can have any color they want as long as it’s black.” Obviously cars must come in at least two colors before real choice is possible.
Similarly, the nature of the universe must allow evil before evil can be chosen. Sadly, as daily newscasts constantly illustrate, our universe allows the possibility and actual existence of all sorts of evil. The choice to do evil is ours, but who first created evil so choice would be possible?
Oh Thou who didst with Pitfall and with Gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in . . .
Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And who with Eden didst devise the Snake . . . ([R05],123-4).
And why was the world furnished with so many opportunities? How could an all-good God, personal or not, create creatures such as ourselves, a world such as ours, and even an angel, Lucifer, all having such capacity for evil?
The axioms of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good God seems to prohibit the real and full existence of evil. Therefore, thinkers such as Mary Baker Eddy, Augustine, and Dionysius teach evil doesn’t really and fully exist. If they’re wrong and evil does exist, and if God really exists, then God isn’t all-good, or doesn’t know evil exists, or isn’t powerful enough to stop it. Independent dualism chooses the last alternative. Evil exists because God isn’t strong enough to eliminate it—at least, at present. Some independent dualisms teach the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
Independent dualism is the strongest kind of dualism. In it, evil really exists, independently of good. Independent dualist systems were influential in the past. In fact, good and evil, were originally part of the ancient vision of Zoroaster. Later Zoroastrianism, if not Zoroaster himself, taught good and evil exist independently of each other, though it did predict good would eventually vanquish evil. Other independent dualistic systems include Marcionism, which flourished in the second century C.E.; Manichaeism, which survived for over 1,000 years; and that of the Cathari, who arose in Western Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries C.E. and were probably influenced by Manichaeism. To better understand independent dualist systems, we’ll discuss one of these systems in more detail.
Mani, for whom Manichaeism is named, lived in the 3rd century C.E. Like Mohammed over two hundred years later, he accepted earlier prophets such as Zoroaster, Buddha and Jesus. But he believed written records of their teachings were distorted since they themselves hadn’t written them. In contrast, Mani himself recorded his teachings, thus assuring their integrity over time. Like Mohammed, he was regarded ([N04],v14,783) as the “seal of the prophets”. That is, since the pure and perfect teaching had finally been captured in writing, no other prophet would be needed.
In Manichaeism belief, the kingdom of Light and Spirit and the kingdom of Darkness and Matter had originally been separate and independent. But at the border, Darkness and Light mix, creating the world we live in. Overpowered by Matter, Light forgets its own nature. Consciousness becomes aware of matter and forgets Itself. For salvation—that is, to free the soul, a particle of Light, from the domination of Matter—a person must practice strict asceticism. Only then can the soul finally return to its original home, the kingdom of Light.
Manichaeism disappeared centuries ago. Yet, similar ideas exist even today. Kushner seems to embrace an independent dualism of God and
. . . chaos, in those corners of the universe where God’s creative light has not yet penetrated. And chaos is evil; not wrong, not malevolent, but evil nonetheless . . . ([K11],53).
. . . [T]he earthquake and the accident . . . are not the will of God, but represent that aspect of reality which stands independent of His will, and which angers and saddens God even as it angers and saddens us. ([K11],55),
God does not want you to be sick or crippled. He didn’t make you have this problem, and He doesn’t want you to go on having it, but He can’t make it go away. That is something which is too hard even for God. ([K11],129).
Though independent dualism still exists, it’s rarely accepted, especially by established religions. It’s easy to see why: in an independent dualistic system the following three statements are true. (1) The bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe centuries ago, was too hard for God to stop then, but could be stopped today with modern drugs. (2) God cannot prevent a man from abusing a woman or child, but a policeman with a gun can. (3) A man, a woman and their three children are asleep in their home. Somehow a small spark has ignited the curtains in the living room; the fire is beginning to spread. The family is all sound asleep and will die in the fire if not awakened soon. God cannot awaken them to their danger. But a pet dog, if they had one, could.
Even though they aren’t widely believed, independent dualistic systems do have one advantage over other systems: the continued existence of evil is explained (even though the origin of evil may remain unexplained). Evil exists simply because good is not powerful enough to destroy it. In theistic terms, good and evil exist simply because good and evil exist in God. Or if God is all-good, then good and evil exist because God is not always powerful enough to destroy or hinder Evil.
Perhaps only philosophers and theologians worry about the origin and continued existence of evil. After all, evil exists—either independently, dependently, apparently, or as an illusion. A practical person intent on avoiding evil doesn’t need to know how evil originated or why it continues to exist. They cannot, however, ignore a much more vital question: “How can evil be recognized as evil?”
The question is not easily answered because not everything pleasant is good, and not everything unpleasant is evil. A child might think a bad-tasting but life-saving medicine is evil, and a sweet-tasting poison, good. Evil is usually defined as something contrary to the will of God, but how are we to know the will of God? Innumerable wars have been fought where both sides’ religious leaders decided their country was doing the will of God, and the other wasn’t.
For example, in the Second World War, Italian Catholics killed and were killed by Italian-American Catholics. And German Lutherans killed and were killed by German-American Lutherans. Christianity allows participation in a war only if the war is “just.” But could the war have been just for both sides? Or did some churches misjudge evil as good? If religious leaders can’t always accurately identify evil, what chance has the common person? (These questions are, perhaps, naive. Over the past fifteen hundred years Christian churches have routinely given carte blanche to their nation’s leaders for war. I can remember reading of only one war that a major Christian church declared unjust. The Catholics forbidden to fight were attacking the Vatican.)
Islam has a tale that illustrates how difficult it can be telling good from evil. The Quran (Sura 18:66,83) tells a story of Moses and an angel. Moses wants to accompany the angel. The angel agrees if Moses promises not question his actions. First, the angel bores a hole in the bottom of an unattended ship. Then he slays a youth. And finally he rebuilds the crumbling wall of those who refused Moses and himself food. Troubled by the destruction of property, the murder, and the kindness to those who turned them away, Moses breaks his promise and questions the angel.
The angel explains. A king is commandeering all available boats; disabling the ship saved it for its owners. Killing the youth saved his parents, true believers, from his wickedness. A man had hid a fortune under the wall. His sons will dig it out when they’ve grown. Repairing the wall kept those who had refused food to Moses and the angel from discovering the fortune. What seemed evil to Moses was actually good. Distinguishing good and evil, it seems, is not always easy.
For over three thousands years, writers have used good and evil to explain religious observations, principles, and laws. There’s probably isn’t much that hasn’t already been thought, said, and written, a hundred times over. Yet, dualisms based on good and evil still haven’t explained how evil originated, how it continues to exist, and how to recognize evil as evil. Sometimes a question defies solution because it’s the wrong question, because it’s asked in the wrong way, or because the ideas it’s based on are faulty. That the “problem” and “mystery” of evil has remained unsolved for so long suggests another approach might work better. But a much more compelling motive is that good and evil don’t describe very much of the world we live in. Let’s consider an illustration.
Imagine Joe, driving down a street, late for work, feeling tired and tense. A cheerful song comes on the radio and Joe sings along, more relaxed now. Parking his car, Joe notices the day is cold. Shivering, he walks quickly to the building. The lobby is quite warm; the receptionist smiles pleasantly. Joe returns the smile, but then remembers someone he forgot to call yesterday and feels regret. Joe enters his office, takes off his coat, and sits behind the desk. Does he have any appointments today? He’s uncertain. He sighs. Another day has begun.
In our illustration, Joe experiences—not good and evil—but “pairs of opposites” such as relaxed/tense, cheerful/sad, warm/cold, happy/regretful, pleasant/unpleasant, energetic/tired, and certain/uncertain. We, too, continually experience the universe as pairs of opposites. Our minds are almost always filled with them. The light and dark, the positive and the negative, the desirable and undesirable, the yang and the yin—the two faces of drama in endless variation. From an introduction to the I Ching:
The list of contraries is inexhaustible. ([I02],22).
But while pairs of opposites may be inexhaustible they aren’t necessarily good and evil. Relaxed need not be morally good, and tense need not be morally evil. Warm isn’t good, and cold, evil. And cheerful isn’t good, and sad isn’t evil.
Or are they? Many people would say that cheerful is good and sad is, not evil, but bad. And they’re right, because they aren’t using “good” and “bad” in the moral sense but in another sense entirely. Most people use “good” for the agreeable, desirable side of a pair of opposites, rather than any moral good. When someone says a back rub feels good, they don’t mean it feels morally right. (In fact, some religions frown on sensual pleasure.) They mean the back rub is pleasurable. Similarly, if someone learns their favorite sports team won a game, they say “good” meaning “I’m happy to hear that” not “the win is a morally good event.” Similarly, when a person’s back hurts they say they’re feeling bad, not evil. When their team loses, they say “that’s too bad.” Any number of examples could be given.
It seems we stumbled on yet another dualistic system: the system of “good” and “bad”, a system used throughout the world, very different from any system based on moral good and evil. “Good” and “bad” is how most people, most of the time, view their universe. It’s a system we’ll investigate in detail.
Our aim in this and the next few sections is to explore the dualistic system of “good” and “bad.” Our first task is to find better labels, to avoid confusing “good and bad” with “good and evil.”
The terms I’m going to use—“yang” and “yin”—are drawn from the Taoist tradition. Ancient Chinese Taoist texts, such as Tao Te Ching and the I Ching, suggest “yang” and “yin” are equivalent to “good” and “bad.” It’s difficult to be certain, however, because translations vary. Nonetheless, I’ll use “yang” and “yin” in place of “good” and “bad,” offering my apologies if the usage differs from what a Taoist would consider correct.
So in this book, “yang” refers to what most people call “good”—the pleasant, the agreeable, the desirable. And “yin” is what most people call “bad”—the unpleasant, the disagreeable, the undesirable. If we imagine the two faces of drama, then “yang” is the smiling face and “yin” is the sad face.
Yang and yin differ from good and evil in fundamental ways. For one, good and evil are usually thought of as moral absolutes that inhere in the entity (kindness is good; killing is evil). But yang is anything agreeable—and agreeable must be agreeable to some person. Like beauty, yang and yin are in the eye of the beholder. In other words, yang and yin don’t exist independent of the observer. Rather, a particular person creates yang and yin qualities. How? We’ll discuss two answers.
The first answer is interactive projection, which says that an observer interacts with an entity, experiences a private (yang or yin) sensation, and projects that sensation onto the entity. Interactive projection says that ice cream’s taste exists only in the observer, not the ice cream. Therefore, “This ice cream tastes good.” isn’t accurate. It’s more accurate (but much more wordy) to say: “Interacting with this ice cream causes me to experience a pleasant taste. Of course, someone else might experience an unpleasant taste. Therefore, the pleasant taste must be my own private sensation, something I project onto the ice cream.”
After all, if the pleasant taste was entirely a property of the ice cream, then the ice cream would always taste the same. It doesn’t. The first spoonful tastes good, the thirtieth spoonful tastes neither good or bad, the hundredth spoonful may make you ill. Each spoonful of ice cream is identical, but its qualities change. This shows that the observer does more than observe; the “observer” and entity interact to bring a quality into existence.
The second answer is interactive invocation, which says that an entity possesses innumerable yang and yin qualities in a potential state. A particular quality is brought into actual existence when it’s “invoked” by the entity and an observer interacting. Interactive invocation says that the ice cream has the potential of tasting good, bad, rich, thin, flavorful, bland, healthy, sickening, etc., but only when a particular person and the ice cream interact are one or more potential qualities “invoked”, that is, brought into actual existence.
Projection and invocation are probably equally valid ways of thinking about yang and yin. In what follows, however, I’ll usually choose the invocation viewpoint. With either view, however, the quality is created when an observer and an entity interact. Quantum mechanics, by the way, has a similar idea.
The crucial feature of atomic physics is that the human observer is not only necessary to observe the properties of an object, but is necessary even to define these properties. In atomic physics, we cannot talk about the properties of an object as such. They are only meaningful in the context of the object’s interaction with the observer. ([C03],140).
Of course, an observer can interact with an entity and invoke no qualities at all. As an illustration (which we’ll return to), suppose two men compete for a job. The first man is chosen, the second rejected. That the first man was hired and the second rejected is a fact, a datum, an entity. From this single entity, an indifferent person (who, perhaps, doesn’t know either of the men) invokes no qualities. The first man, however, invokes yang qualities—satisfaction, a sense of success and achievement. The second man invokes yin qualities—disappointment, a sense of failure. All three people interact with the same entity but invoke different (or no) qualities.
There’s another way that yang and yin differ from good and evil. As moral absolutes, good and evil are the same for everyone but yang and yin aren’t, because they depend on the observer. Something that’s yang to one observer may be yin to another. Some kids say chocolate ice cream tastes good, others say it tastes rotten. The pleasant and unpleasant taste is invoked by the particular kid. Observers interact with the same entity but invoke different qualities. In fact, an identical quality can be yang for one observer and yin for another. That a particular car is expensive, is yang to someone who desires the prestige of such a car, and yin to someone who would like to purchase the car but can’t afford to.
Because yang and yin depend on the observer, basing moral values on them might seem difficult. It isn’t. In fact, much of Part III concerns goals, values and morals. We’ll see how good and evil seem to require a God who is a Person to define them, but how yang and yin are much more compatible with the idea of the God which is not a Person.
Once we understand what yang and yin are, we can look for a connection between them. Is there a connection between the yang and yin we experience?
The question, in one form or another, is ancient and has often been asked of good and evil: Why do good people suffer? Why do evil people prosper? Why did this good (or evil) thing happen to me? The Biblical axiom “As you sow, so shall you reap” is one answer. So is the Hindu law of Karma. Both say that the good we experience is connected to the good we’ve done; that the evil we experience is a result of the evil we’ve done.
Many people find such answers unsatisfying, however. They ask: What evil could a child have done to deserve some painful disease? They see a person suffer some crippling accident or contract some horrible illness, and ask the same question. The law of Karma answers that the evil was done in some past life. Many religions offer no answer, and advise faith in the justice of God’s inscrutable will.
Are yang and yin connected? The Tao The King says they are, in a statement reminiscent of Newton’s law that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It is because we single out something and treat it as distinct from other things that we get the idea of its opposite. Beauty, for example, once distinguished, suggests its opposite, ugliness. . . . [A]ll distinctions naturally appear as opposites. (II,[T01],12).
Let’s examine this idea. It says that by making a distinction, by invoking one side of a pair of opposites, we somehow invoke both—that yang and yin are two sides of a single coin we create. We’ll call this idea “inseparable interactive invocation”, or sometimes just “inseparable invocation” for short.
We can distinguish two senses of inseparable invocation. In the strict sense, it says that when we invoke a quality, say beauty, that we somehow also invoke its opposite, ugliness. In a weaker sense, it says that when we invoke a yang quality, we also invoke some yin quality that may not be the strict opposite. Inseparable invocation in the weaker sense is easier to understand.
For example, continuing our illustration, looking back years later, the first man sees some yang and yin aspects of the job he accepted. The salary was adequate, but had he rejected the job he might have started his own business and eventually enjoyed greater success. If the company had been bigger it would have offered more opportunity for advancement. Yet he would have felt lost in a large impersonal company. He enjoyed his company’s family atmosphere. But he didn’t enjoy working with the owner’s inept and abrasive son.
When he won the job, the man saw yang qualities. But looking back years later, he sees yin qualities, too. Notice how the qualities are inseparably invoked. The job gave financial security, which has a yang side (the man knew he could pay the mortgage and provide for his family) and a yin side (he was less likely to start his own company). The company was small and had a family-like atmosphere, which means the man enjoyed (yang) the personal, friendly environment, and had less opportunity (yin) for advancement.
The strict form of inseparable invocation is harder to see (and perhaps isn’t always true). By deciding that chocolate ice cream tastes good, how do we invoke the opposite? Perhaps because things that once tasted good become bland in comparison. The kid who once liked potatoes now thinks they taste rotten and would rather have chocolate ice cream.
In any event, inseparable invocation (in either sense) says that when we interact with an entity, we can remain indifferent, or we can split it into yang and yin qualities, but not solely yang or solely yin. This splitting is reminiscent of an idea we had earlier, that the decent from unitary vision involves a fall into duality, that the shift from unitary to dualistic vision invariably endows the one substantial thing with two sides. Alternately, it could be said that yang and yin are dual expressions of the Eternal. One treatise on Taoism says exactly that:
The dialectics of Yin and Yang are the double manifestation of the one and only eternal, undividable, and transcendent principle: Tao (“the Way”). ([N05],v15,1068).
Inseparable invocation, then, says yang and yin properties, when they arise, arise together. As the Tao The King claims:
Every positive factor involves its negative or opposing factor. . . (XI,[T01],18),
Inseparable interactive invocation is in some respects similar to other dualisms we’ve discussed. it’s similar to illusory and apparent dualism because the dual pairs don’t exist in and of themselves but depend upon the observer. It’s similar to dependent dualism because yang and yin, in a sense, depend on each other for existence because they don’t exist alone. They are brought into existence together.
Yet, inseparable interactive invocation is different from the other dualisms we’ve seen. It’s an “inseparable dualism” because yang and yin arise together, inseparably. In other dualisms, good is separate from evil, mind is separate from matter, etc. But yang is not separable from yin, nor yin from yang. We’ll use inseparable dualism, in the form of inseparable interactive invocation, as our theoretical model for understanding the universe.
There are a few more ways that yang and yin differ from good and evil.
First, because yang and yin are inseparable they are complimentary rather than opposed and antagonistic. Good and evil war with each other, but yang and yin co-exist, complimenting each other like the positive and negative terminals of an electric battery. A battery must have both terminals, and neither terminal is superior to the other. As a translation of the I Ching has:
Yang is not superior to yin, nor is yin superior to yang. ([I02],22).
Because yang and yin are equally important, inseparable dualism is similar to independent dualism, yet it differs, too, because good and evil are antagonistic while yang and yin are complimentary.
Second, something can be entirely good or entirely evil but it can’t be entirely yang or entirely yin. As Parrinder writes:
There is no Yang without Yin in it, and no Yin without Yang. ([P05],173).
Therefore, an entity is like a coin: seen non-dualistically it has no sides, but seen dualistically it has two.
Because yang and yin are inseparable, it follows that whenever we “grasp” an entity—that is, whenever we interact and split an entity into yang and yin—we grasp both sides. Like the moon, entities sometimes show their light yang side, sometimes their dark yin side, sometimes both. Interact with the entity indifferently and neither side is invoked, so neither side affects us. But grasp the entity and you take both sides, though only one side or the other may be apparent at the moment.
There’s an ancient symbol that expresses much of what we’ve discussed: the “yang-yin” symbol, a circle divided into two parts by an S-shaped line. To understand this symbol, we’ll begin with what an undivided circle symbolizes.
An undivided circle symbolizes an entity seen non-dualistically, either because the observer is above all liking and disliking, and sees the entity as it is in itself, as a “mode of Light” (a rare situation); or because the observer is indifferent (a much more common situation). Let’s pause to examine the second situation.
Suppose your car develops serious engine problems. This situation is an entity, a fact, a datum. Of itself, it’s neither yang or yin, and it certainly isn’t morally good or evil. Now, suppose you’re tired of the car and welcome an excuse to replace it. Then you see the situation as “good,” as yang. Suppose, on the other hand, you’re rather not spend the money, either to fix the engine or for another car. Then you see the situation as “bad”, that is, yin. Now, suppose it’s not your engine that has the problem but someone else’s. If you don’t know the person, you may feel neither yang or yin. You may feel nothing about this datum. You’re indifferent and therefore see neither yang or yin. You have, not unitary vision, but indifferent vision.
Indifferent vision, then, is similar to unitary vision in that the pairs of opposites are not in the forefront. It differs, of course, in that pure Isness isn’t perceived, although a lower form of isness is perceived. The entity just “is”, with no yang or yin qualities. (We return to the subject of indifference later.)
So, an entity, seen with unitary vision or seen indifferent vision, is symbolized by an undivided circle. But when it’s grasped—when it’s seen dualistically so that yang or yin qualities are invoked—the entity is symbolized by a circle divided by the “S” shaped line. In fact, the observer, by the act of invoking yang and yin qualities, draws the “S” shaped line on what was previously an undivided circle.
The circle/S-line symbol expresses that yang and yin are inseparable and complimentary because the S-shaped line invariably divides the circle into inseparable, complimentary parts. And it expresses that what’s yang to one observer is sometimes yin to another, because it’s the observer who draws the S-shaped line and different observers draw different lines. If you like the chocolate flavor of ice cream you draw the line so that the flavor is on the yang side of the line. If you don’t, then your line puts chocolate flavor on the yin side.
The symbolism reminds us of ideas we’ve already seen, but it also contain an idea we haven’t yet discussed. The S-shaped line divides the circle into two equal parts. That is, the symbol says yang and yin components are more than inseparable, they’re equal.
. . . [W]e profit equally by the positive and the negative ingredients in each situation. (XII,[T01],19).
This idea is hardly intuitive. In fact, it sharply contradicts common sense. The yang aspects of losing a dearly loved, only child, of being tortured, of losing a limb or sight, are, to put it mildly, not very obvious. The yin aspects of fame and success, wealth, beauty, and prestige are perhaps a bit more apparent in the lives of famous people who had them but were miserable. Yet, there’s no shortage of volunteers who would like to experience this particular brand of misery.
But if the yang and yin aspects of any entity do indeed ultimately balance, then in the final analysis our pleasures and pains balance. Even if life occurs at random, it nonetheless offers us entities which have equal yang and yin. When we interact with an entity, we absorb both its yang and yin. In the final analysis, we receive equal measure of yang and yin. This idea contradicts the common sense belief that life can grant us pleasant and unpleasant things in any amount.
It’s certainly not obvious that the yang and yin aspects of any entity are equal. Perhaps they aren’t. For now, let’s just tentatively accept the idea of yang and yin as theoretical constructs, as inferred entities. There’ll be no scientific proof for their existence. We’ll simply use them to build a theory for understanding things we see later. For theoretical constructs, the critical question is not if they’re true, but if they “work,” if they successfully explain various observations, principles, and laws.
While some people are interested in questions of good and evil, or questions of yang and yin, others find pain and suffering a more immediate concern. For even if we knew the answers to such questions, we would still experience life’s pain and suffering. Even if evil is actually an illusion, it’s not completely non-existent since illusions possess some reality. A mirage is real in that observers see it; although water doesn’t exist, the appearance of water does. And evil’s appearances in the form of pain, suffering, terror, and starvation—whether illusion or not—hurt. This hurt, by the way, has a yang aspect: it makes distinguishing pain and suffering from the pleasant quite easy. Even a baby—who certainly can’t distinguish good and evil—can recognize pleasure and pain.
But recognizing pain and suffering doesn’t eliminate them. The questions still remain: Why do we suffer? and Is there a way to avoid suffering? Buddha considered these to be life’s central questions. His answer is logical: understand the cause of suffering and eliminate it; as a consequence, suffering itself will be eliminated. Buddha identified desire as the root cause of suffering. Let’s see why.
Paul sees another child eating a chocolate ice cream cone and begs his mother for one. She thinks he’s already had enough sweets for one day, and refuses. Paul feels unloved, frustrated, and angry—feelings which cause him pain and suffering. He cries and has a tantrum.
Frustrated desire causes Paul’s suffering. Were he not ruled by his desire for ice cream, his mother’s refusal wouldn’t cause him to suffer. His desire is the root cause of his suffering. As Buddha observed.
And what, brethren, is the root of pain?
It is this craving . . . ([B08],31).
Similarly, St. John Climacus writes that
. . . he who has an attachment to anything visible is not yet delivered from grief. ([C09],12).
For even if achieved, the object of our desire is liable to change, turning perhaps into something we don’t like. Or it’s liable to be lost, stolen, or die. Therefore, the logical way to eliminate suffering, Buddha reasoned, is to eliminate desire.
But where does desire come from?
Before Paul acquired a liking for chocolate ice cream, being deprived of an ice cream cone wouldn’t have caused him pain. What changed him?
For Paul, chocolate ice cream has a yang aspect—its pleasant taste—and a yin aspect—his increased desire for it. As Buddha observed:
. . . whatever in the world seems lovely and pleasant, here when it arises doth craving arise . . . ([B07],77).
Each time Paul eats chocolate ice cream, he absorbs both aspects, even though only the yang aspect—the pleasing taste—is apparent at the moment. Eventually, Paul’s desire for chocolate ice cream is frustrated. The resultant pain and suffering are the flip side of the pleasure he’s already derived from eating chocolate ice cream.
Thus, our desires are simply the debt we’ve incurred for the pleasures we have enjoyed. And since desires lead to suffering, we may add that our sufferings result from the pleasures we’ve enjoyed.
Conversely, suffering often builds up a reserve of pleasure, not in any sadistic sense, but in the sense of the French proverb “Hunger is the best spice.” For example, a person standing in the cold for a short time may feel some relief when entering a warm house and sitting by a fire. As they stood in the cold they only saw the unpleasant side of the cold, its stinging coldness. At the same time, however, they were being primed to enjoy the warmth of the house. If they had stood in the cold until they were chilled “to the bone,” they’d probably enjoy a proportionally greater relief when they enter the warm house. On the other hand, someone coming into a warm house from a warm car might take little or no pleasure in the house’s warmth. In fact, they might not notice it at all.
Often, the longer we wait for something and the harder we work for it, the more enjoyment we derive when we finally have it. The potential for enjoyment is built up while we’re waiting and working. So, discipline and hard work, in a word suffering, are prerequisite for many pleasures. Conversely, those who don’t work and suffer for a thing often take little pleasure in having it. The cliche of jaded rich kids comes to mind.
This explains why we can’t listen repeatedly to a recorded song and derive the same satisfaction each time. Suppose you enjoy a song. Play it over and over. You eventually tire of it. The song itself certainly doesn’t change. You change. Your potential for pleasure runs out, and you’ll have to wait until it’s “recharged” before you enjoy the song again. Endure a boring day at work or a frustrating experience at the supermarket and perhaps you’ll enjoy listening to the song again. This, by the way, also shows pleasure, a yang quality, doesn’t inhere in the entity itself—the song—but is invoked by the interaction of entity and experiencer.
Buddha believed all entities contain an element of imperfection because they all contain the seeds of suffering. Within the framework of yang and yin, the imperfection and suffering inherent in entities are easy to understand—they are simply manifestations of the entity’s yin side. Thus, no entity offers pure pleasure. There is always a measure of pain.
Since our pains are the result of past pleasures we’ve enjoyed, there is, as Buddha observed, a straightforward way for a person to eliminate pain. If a person looks
. . . upon whatever in the world seems lovely and pleasing as impermanent, as suffering, as not good, as disease, as danger, they put off craving. They who put off craving . . . put off suffering. They who put off suffering are liberated from birth, old age, death, from grief, lamentings, sufferings, sorrows, despairs, yea, I declare they are liberated from ill. ([B07],78).
Buddha presents a logical cure for suffering, but it’s easy to feel the cure is worse than the disease. True, life contains much pain and suffering. But life offers many delights and enjoyable moments, as well. Must they really be given up before suffering is eliminated? Suppose we abandon taking pleasure in anything. Suppose, further, this eliminates pain and suffering. What remains? An unceasingly gray, joyless, featureless life? Is this what the Buddhist ideal life, Nirvana, is? Many people wouldn’t consider such a life worth living.
To fully answer this question we must first understand what it means to achieve the unitive life, a subject of a later chapter. To anticipate a bit, according to the mystics the ideal life is the life of unitive knowledge of God (either Person or not).
A mystic who enjoys the vision of, or even union with, the God which is not a Person no longer regards the universe’s light show, with its pleasure and pain, as fully real. Acquaintance with unitary vision reveals the illusory nature of dualistic vision. Enjoying the Real, the enjoyment of pleasant dualistic visions is readily, even eagerly, forsaken. Such a unitive life is quite the opposite of an unceasingly gray, joyless, featureless life.
We began this chapter with the aim of investigating the relationship between the Source and the universe.
We saw that some mystics see no relationship between the two because they are completely united with the Source; for them the universe does not exist. Other mystics, however, see each and every entity as a mode of Light, an expression of the Eternal. In the vision of such mystics, the One is foremost; the entity’s particular qualities are secondary. Theirs is a mystical vision of the universe, because the universe is seen as an expression of Ultimate Reality.
Other people, mystics or not, see the universe’s objects and people as expressions of not one, but two fundamental entities, like good and evil, mind and matter, yang and yin. We may call such insights a metaphysical vision of the universe.
Scientists see the universe as a group of entities related by scientific laws. They discuss, not modes of Light or yang and yin, but space, time, matter, energy, and other empirically-verifiable entities. The scientific world view is the most elaborate and detailed vision of the universe.
As we progress from mystical to metaphysical to scientific visions of the universe, we progress from simplicity to complexity, from the One to the Many. Yet, all three visions seek to reverse the progression by finding unity amid diversity; they seek to reduce the Many to some simpler system.
Ultimately, we progress to the lowest level where any relationship to the Source is forgotten, where the observer perceives a multitude of transitory objects, all apparently unrelated and unconnected. It’s the world of ignorance in that the One is ignored and the Many are taken to be Real. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, we find:
Ignorance consists in mistaking the transient for the permanent, the impure for the pure, evil for good, and the apparent self for the real self. ([Y01],83).
In the world of ignorance, there are pleasurable and unpleasurable things which apparently can be had in any quantity. In this world, some individuals ruthlessly pursue the things they desire. Others allow scruples to moderate their pursuit. Some scrupulous people are motivated by a natural fairness and regard for other people, others by a fear of retribution in the afterlife. Yet, all these individuals live in a world which contains much suffering, a world which is ultimately unsatisfying. Rufus Jones quotes Meister Eckhart’s view that our “lower” consciousness
. . . is able to deal only with the particular and finite—its sphere is the show world . . . The life in this lower stage is always restless and unsatisfied, for it is endeavouring to anchor upon fleeting, vanishing things. ([J03],229-230).
Only when a person acquires some measure of wisdom and discrimination in the religious, philosophical, or metaphysical sense, do they seriously begin to look beyond the vanishing things of this world and seek higher consciousness and the Eternal. Until then, they see the play of the Eternal Light, but do not see the Light Itself that underlies that show. They see the particular and finite, but do not see the Universal and the Infinite that underlies all particular and finite entities. They experience the change and restlessness which are inherent in the show, and never reach That which is changeless, stable, enduring. The entities which they experience always have a measure of imperfection, of suffering. And even if those entities bring satisfaction, they are liable to vanish, to be lost, stolen, or die.
Not only do we not see down to the Basis of this world, we do not see our own Basis. It is to the basis of our own personal identity to which we now turn.