Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Nature of the Divine

Perhaps I am too fanciful, but I always have believed that one should value the unseen world as much as the seen, and I do feel that there is in truth less of a distinction between the 'animate' and the 'inanimate' than is accepted in Western society.

Proponents of 'New Age' philosophy believe in the power of stones, but the idea that every object has a personality or soul is an ancient one. The ancient Goddess Cybele manifested herself in the form of a black stone (probably a meteorite). The idea that trees, stones and wells have potent and quite individual powers was fairly widespread in the ancient world. Why should dolls and toys be exempt?

A more important discussion might be centred upon the very existence of God. Monotheists tend to consider their religion to be superior to that of polytheists. 'Scientific spiritualists' tend to believe that they have found a path that is more enlightened than that of the monotheists. I for one believe that God cannot be defined in human terms as the nature of the Divine is infinite. One can attempt a definition, and indeed religion MUST be personal if it is to have any value to a human being, but why should one person's definition be considered superior to that of another?

The individual who worships at a sacred well, acknowledging the power of Nature and the connection between all living things simply has a different way of perceiving God than the person who avers that God cannot be found in any physical form. Interestingly enough, most polytheistic religions do believe that there is a Divine entity above and beyond all the lesser gods who act as examples, intermediaries and as entertainment for humankind. The entire discussion between Muslims and Christians as to whether Jesus Christ could or could not be the 'son of God' really is moot when both perceive him as an example of a prophet, saint or hero. The Nicean Creed states that Christ was 'born, not created' but surely all have their beginnings at the same fountain of life. God is in all of us, but cannot be limited to or by any of us.

Many of the 'monotheistic' religions make a terrible fuss about 'idols' or symbols that represent the Divine. This is absurd really, as anything that reminds one of the Divine should be perceived only as an aid to achieving 'nearness to God'.

If the power of the Divine is infinite, what is to prevent Him/Her/It from manifestation in a finite form? That finite form would not encompass the nature of the Infinite but would act simply as a temporary, partial conduit for it. Who has the right to dictate that the Divine could assume a human form but not the form of another living creature or even that of an 'inanimate object'? If any human being seeks to dictate the nature of the Divine to others, then he/she is guilty of usurping a right that belongs to the Divine alone, as only the Divine would be able to comprehend the Infinite.

Religions, myths, fables and fairy tales all derive from a common foundation. They are teaching aids as well as a repository of cultural identity, human aspiration and dreams.

In similar fashion, magic and science possess a common foundation. Both are disciplines that attempt to define and use the principles that rule our planet. As is often the case, close relations produce jealousy and enmity. Science proclaims itself 'logical' and denounces magic as 'ignorant'. Yet they are cousins who work towards the same aims.

In any case, perception always is subjective and individual. Any lawyer or reporter knows that a dozen witnesses to a single event will have different recollections and perceptions of that event. How much more diverse would be human perceptions of the Divine?

No human being can claim to KNOW God. Every human being has the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the Divine. The common threads that unite all religions and spiritual philosophies probably are the closest 'universal truths' with respect to the Divine.

I do believe that human nature is created with a natural instinct to aspire to something better. I do believe, however, that one should not view the human species as a superior group that is set apart from the rest of creation. We have the power to learn and therefore should be willing to open our hearts, minds and spirits to all of creation. We do not have all the answers. Perhaps it is natural for us to try to collect ALL the answers, but that is an impossible task for any human being. That, at the end of the day, is the real difference between humankind and the Divine.

I cannot comprehend why the insecurity of human beings drives them to dispute about the nature of the Divine. Why can we not recognise our limitations rather than seeking to veil them with false certainties?
True security would be achieved if only we were to acknowledge the fact that we exist as lesser luminaries in an infinite sky. I think that realisation lies at the heart of the concept of 'Nirvana' actually. It is only when we are willing to surrender any false aspirations towards universal control that we can realise true peace and become one with the Universe.


Fleming said...

This is an outstanding essay which applies intelligence to matters which have been the subjects of vast and ridiculous debates -- and wars, for that matter. I am with you all the way. You've covered many important points in a short space, and very eloquently.

I particularly admire your phrase about lesser luminaries in an infinite sky.

I hope that "The Nature of the Divine" will be read by many people.

Yves said...
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Yves said...

Forgive me, freyashawk, but I like to argue - it's a form of assimilation of ideas and I hope you don't find it too irritating.

I don't see how it is possible or desirable to value an unseen world. It is like teaching a child the word God. They may not have a clue what it means, so how can they value it?

But if we start valuing what we do see, which we did not notice before, that is the thing to make me "jump and shout" for joy.

"The individual who worships at a sacred well, acknowledging the power of Nature and the connection between all living things simply has a different way of perceiving God than the person who avers that God cannot be found in any physical form."

Perhaps, but when the doors of perception are cleansed and we see everything as it is---infinite, as Blake says, we aren't sure if our perceiving is out there in Nature or within our own consciousness. I don't think the two persons in your example have a different experience, only a different belief.

"If the power of the Divine is infinite . . . " I feel you are conducting an argument with theologians here whose influences obscure the view.

I like what you say about myths etc. and magic and science and their jealousy of one another . . .

the diversity of perceptions of the divine . . . yes, but even in writing about my day in my blog, there is a diversity of ways I can see it! Meaning is a construct. It does not inhere in things. We see the moon as a disk in the sky but it means much more to us. The raw material of my "glimpse of the Divine" is made up of sense-impressions and memories and imaginations and the feelings of my own body from the inside, all constructed into something which is no less real for that.

"I cannot comprehend why the insecurity of human beings drives them to dispute about the nature of the Divine." Your question contains its answer. Of course, we are insecure, that is reason enough! True security, which you speak of, comes as we continue our journey, not at once and not by any short cuts that can be taught, so far as I am aware.

Thank you for posting such a provocative and comprehensive meditation on vital topics!

Freyashawk said...

Yves, I am more surprised when some one actually agrees with me. I think that Fleming, you and I all enjoy discussion more than we would be pleased by any expression of admiration based more on courtesy than real conviction!

For me, the unseen co-exists with the seen, and a child often is more comfortable with a reality that effortlessly weaves the imagined with the 'visible' than we are as adults. 'To see through the eyes of a child' is to see an almost infinite landscape if that child is encouraged to embrace creativity rather than being shamed into rejecting the 'unseen' as 'fantasy'.

I argue that children must be taught or encouraged to 'make believe' but I do believe that their instinct is to accept until they are taught to reject!

If you speak to any young child about his/her dreams, you will find that those dreams are as 'real' as waking life to the child. What does this mean? Are dreams less real than waking life? Are there different kinds of dreams or are they equally valuable or valueless?

I actually was going to discuss the nature of dreams in my entry today, but I will save that for another day.

For now, I will say that I believe every object has two components: that which is visible to every one and another component that often is visible only to those who 'open their souls' to another reality.
What does it mean when some one claims that a stone can speak? What does it mean when a person is able to walk through flames? What is the nature of reality? Is it finite or does it have infinite manifestations?

Yves said...

I now see that I stupidly misunderstood what you meant by "the unseen world". I took it to mean "the unknown world", for example to value someone else's imaginary stuff that is taught to you by parents, schoolteachers or Sunday-school teachers.

Whereas what you mean is the world of the subject's own imagination.

I took out a wonderful book from the library today: Istanbul: memoirs of a city by Orhan Pamuk (translated from Turkish).

I mention this because (at least as far as I have reached) the author certainly values the unseen world as much as the seen---on every page! In fact this valuing is established from the first sentence of Chapter 1, which srtongly echoes the first sentence of your post:

"From a very young age, I suspected there was more to my world than I could see: somewhere in the streets of Istanbul, in a house resembling ours, there lived another Orhan so much like me that he could pass for my twin, even my double. I can't remember where I got this idea or how it came to me. It must have emerged from a web of rumours, misunderstandings, illusions and fears. . . . "

Yves said...
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Freyashawk said...

I am glad I revisited this page. Not having known of the option that allows emails to be sent each time some one posts a comment, I only saw the recommendation about Orhan Pamuk's book on Istanbul today. I shall look for a copy.