“I don’t believe in an outside agent that creates the world, then walks away. But I feel very strongly there is an intelligence at work in every flower, in every blade of grass, in every cell of my body. And it is that intelligence that, I wouldn’t say created the Universe. It is creating the Universe. It’s an ongoing process.” – Eckhart Tolle
We covered the physicalist, mechanist worldview in the last article. This article is now devoted to another seemingly opposite worldview. The other view ‒ sometimes referred to as the spiritual, mystic view ‒ borders on the understanding that the fundamental nature of the Universe is consciousness. We usually call it “alive,” and sometimes refer to it as an all-pervading intelligence. This is also the primary “experiencer” of everything in this Universe. This base consciousness or intelligence expresses itself in terms of energy and matter.
So, one could ask, why would God (this consciousness) create such a huge Universe only to have a few pockets of a small set of intelligent life at our level? Clearly, a question which only a self-centered part of the entire creation like us ‒ who feel the Universe should be created for us ‒ can ask!
The spiritual view holds that consciousness is the base of everything, and that which has first created all the energy and matter now evolves itself with time and wants to “experience” itself. Let’s us try to understand what the above statement is trying to convey. First it says that all creation has come out of consciousness, which is the subtlest and all-pervading element (if it can be called and element!) of the Universe. This creates energy which is denser that finally condenses into even more dense matter which is the visible part of the Universe. We are also an evolution of this mix of consciousness, energy and dense matter.
We visualize this Universe as such, due to the limitations of the senses, and all our knowledge of the Universe comes from the senses. While all matter is 99% empty space (as now confirmed by all physicists), we still see the same as solid because our senses are designed to experience things in a particular way. In other words, what we experience is a combination of the structure of the experiencing entity and that which is getting experienced!
A bat in a dark cave uses sound waves bouncing of the walls of the cave to form a picture in its head of what the world looks like out there. We, on the other hand, use our eyes and sense of touch to form another picture in our brain, to makes sense of the world. The picture in the head of the bat for the same situation may be very different from ours; it all depends on our sense structure.
Then, you may ask, is there nothing fixed or absolute out there? Maybe there is, but what we make of what is out there is very subjective to our specific sense structure; we cannot call it absolute in any sense. Everything is relative. Even if we say that there is something absolute out there, the next question comes – As per whose perceptual machinery are you perceiving this absolute reality? In other words, who is the absolute perceiver who has the ultimate say on what is out there?
The whole of matter is hence a manifestation of this conscious energy or base intelligence which is “universal,” so it’s in every part of the Universe and is simultaneously aware of the other parts at all times. Can you see that in a way this means “omniscient” ‒ and also, since all is created from it and by it ‒ “omnipotent”? It’s beginning to sound much like the description we give to God!
We, inclusive of all our thoughts, and at all times, are a part of this entire play created by this consciousness or universal intelligence. Decidedly not something separate from it, looking at it like independent observers, as we sometimes imagine. In other words, even what I write now, and what you are reading this very moment, is a part of “it” looking at “itself.” The only thing is that we start to see ourselves as a separate entity out of this creation, a point of view which is driven by our mind and its beliefs. But then again, this is also in a way a wish of this consciousness or base energy, as nothing happens without its direction and nothing exits or functions out of its domain. It is “one” at all times. Mystics see this as the only absolute and the rest of the world, and its experience is relative.
This “universal consciousness” demonstrates the ability, as seen in some individuals, to transcend the state of separation between matter and consciousness. It becomes one with and realizes itself – referred to as “enlightenment,” or “knowing the self,” or “being one with the Tao.” The spiritual worldview believes that “ignorance” of the true understanding that universal unconditioned consciousness (timeless and ageless, beyond the limited domain of space and time) is central to existence, and the rest is just an illusion. One which this infinite intelligence creates within the limited dimensions of space and time, i.e., the physical world we experience. In Hindu mythology, this is referred to as “Maya,” which leads to all misconceptions, and hence, problems.
It becomes essential to deeply understand our own personal worldview (materialist or spiritualist) as individuals, since that leads to our decisions and subsequent visible actions. All the terms that we use to define the two worldviews carry different connotations to different people. Still, I would urge you to read these two worldviews exactly in the way I have described them in the preceding paragraphs (at least for the purpose of this article). Terms like materialist and spiritual already come loaded with emotional and socially accepted meanings. That is the filter we use when just seeing these terms, and this can be a big risk in really understanding what is being said.
Whether we are consciously aware or not, we always have a predominant belief in either of the worldviews mentioned above. Our dominant worldview would be the basis of all our day-to-day decisions whether we want to recognize it or not. There can also be a stage where a person may be swinging between the two worldviews in different circumstances. While this is possible, there is still a predominant worldview which guides most of our actions and decisions.
For example, we may give some money to charity, which may look like the outcome of a spiritual worldview, but it could be the representation of a materialistic or mechanist worldview. Possibly we are doing it because we want to be seen in the right light by society. Maybe we want to do it to get a social license to accumulate and retain much more than our needs. We may even do this in expectation of material return – some people give because they believe they get back many times more if they give charity, as that is what the scriptures say. So, in a way we are giving to get back. It is a commercial transaction with slightly higher risk (simply because the mechanics of the return are not visible), but then the hope is an inordinately high return!
On the other hand, the spiritual person gives not from a level of ego or self, but as a part of the homogeneously all-pervading consciousness. The consciousness which moves things in an automatic flow ‒ from where they are not needed, to where they are most needed. The deeply spiritual person will never experience giving as an “I” thing. He or she would experience it more closely to a natural flow of resources governed by the higher intelligence, where one basically helps by not bringing in personal ego to hinder the natural flow of energy and matter. Now, how many of us bring that view to being charitable!
So, in the last two articles, I went over the two disparate worldviews. I am sure to many of you, it would sound like a debate between the primacy of science and religion. But let me assure you that this is just our historical conditioning which is leading us to see it in this fashion. In my future articles I will show how science is now converging on a very different view of reality versus the mechanist view defined above. Also, religion, which has over centuries become very ritualistic and has forgotten the true essence as discovered and shared by the great religious teachers who started them.
In our heart of hearts, our human consciousness desires to be in a purposeful and meaningful Universe, but the enormous success of science and its mechanist approach worries us. We struggle with these dichotomies, praying and meditating on one hand, but at the same time, too shy to share such views with our friends and associates who may think us to be archaic and superstitious. Is there a meeting point between these two disparate views, or does one trump the other? I will attempt to explore this in my next article . . .