South Pacific Centre for Human Inquiry
Written in August 1997: Chapter 6 of Sacred Science published 1998
A dipolar map of the spiritual and the subtle
I shall describe each area in the map as I experience it. If I use descriptive terms that others have used, this is because the meanings I ascribe to the terms best do justice to what I wish to recount. It does not indicate that I am quoting someone else, nor that I really know what other people meant by the terms. After my description, I will list terms and phrases from religious literature which possibly bear upon the same area, although, of course, I cannot be sure of this.
My lists of conjectural correspondences are of secondary significance and are only intended for interest and, perhaps, to aid general orientation. So the map is set, speculatively, in relation to at least some of the wider spiritual and subtle experience of humankind over the last two to three thousand years. But there is a fundamental caveat here. Who can be sure what all these people meant, experientially, by their various accounts, which have been in many cases translated from a language as it was used in another era and another culture? This is why it is not very fruitful either to spend a lot of time trying to set these correspondences up, or to give too much weight to them. Some of the allocations may be arbitrary and misplaced; but this, in my scheme of things, is both quite likely and not really very important.
Certainly, listing them here has nothing whatsoever to do with the idea of a perennial philosophy, which, as I explained in Chapter 3, I regard as a fallacy. One of my prepublication reviewers has said he doesn’t see the need for the list, which he thinks is a bit contradictory with my overall approach and my critique of naïve universalism in spiritual studies. However, I still feel an obligation to show that I have had regard, within my limits, for at least some of the reported spiritual experiences and views of others.
Transcendent 4 Experience of boundless ineffability I find this area to be beyond the possibility of description in words, yet I have a keen wish to edge up to it with some paradoxical metaphors. It is boundless beyond space. It is light beyond differentiated light. It is supreme awareness beyond all determinate name and form. It is splendour beyond the ineffable. It is illustrious beyond majesty. It is ecstatic beyond bliss. It is pure act beyond any choice.
More soberly it is participative experience of the divine as transcendent and more-than-manifest spirit, the infinitude beyond. It relates, perhaps, to Ain Soph Aur, Hebrew for ‘the limitless light’, in the Kabbalah; to sat-chit-ananda, Sanskrit for being-consciousness-bliss, and to the state of nirvikalpa samadhi, in Indian mysticism; to the beatific vision in western mysticism; to 'pure act' in the writings of St. John of the Cross; to mystical absorption in the One in the writings of Plotinus.
Does my experience of this area involve the total disappearance of my personhood? No, otherwise how could I recall it and recount it. To be beyond my manifest being is not to annihilate it. It is simply to be beyond it.
Transcendent 3 Opening to the transcendent Thou Here I am in awed communion with a suprapersonal awareness, a subjectivity outpouring with creative process. I am Thou, the opening declaration from the height of being, the original light of the first sound emanating my subjectivity and its encompassing worlds.
This is a participative experience of the divine as transcendent spirit first manifest, the supreme creative source of all there is, the central sounding sun whence issue all our days, the word, the one speech. It relates, perhaps, to the demiurge of Plato in the Timaeus; to nous, first emanation from the One in Plotinus; to the Logos of Philo of Alexandria; to the spiritual marriage of St. Teresa.
It is, I find, a Thou-I communion in which my personhood is utterly transfigured within the embrace of whence it issues.
Transcendent 2 Invocation of archetypal powers and presences In this area I encounter a mediation of powers by presences. Powers appear to be archetypal formative principles of creation. Presences are elevated, sublime superpersons, or so it would seem from the intensity of interfusion with them. What is striking here is the intimacy of communion in the absence of any superficial communication. Within this communion, the presences refract - in some numinous, luminous and sounding way - formative powers.
Here there is a participative experience of the divine manifest as the potencies and presences of subtle dimensions of being, that is, as refractions of the creative Thou. It relates, perhaps, to Plato's forms; to the powers of Philo; to the interpenetrating living intelligences of Plotinus's nous; to the mundus imaginalis, the alam al-mithal of the Sufis; to divine imaginals in the writings of Douglas Fawcett; to angel communion in the Christian tradition.
This, I note, is a very remarkable form of transcendental intersubjectivity. The communion of power-informed presences is in the mode of an intensely refined mightiness of love.
Transcendent 1 Turning about to universal consciousness This is the space where I turn about within the organizing self of ordinary consciousness and notice that this consciousness is continuous with what appears to be a vast backdrop of cosmic mind pervasive throughout creation - its oceanic upholding awareness. My everyday consciousness then seems like a local focus within this immense field. When I identify with the focus in a preoccupied manner, then I loose any sense of its locus within cosmic mind. When I turn about and let go of the identification, the cramp, then the limitless horizons of this greater awareness appear.
This I take to be participation in the divine as the sustaining mind of creation, as distinct from opening to the originating word of the creator, the logos (transcendent 3), and to its formative powers and presences (transcendent 2). It relates, perhaps, to alaya-vijnana in Tibetan Buddhism, cosmic store-consciousness; to the world-soul of Plato and Plotinus; to the over-soul of Emerson.
This space, I find, is the first most accessible doorway of transcendent cosmic intersubjectivity, where my subjectivity opens up to an immensely discreet field of awareness upholding what there is.
Fulcrum Immediate present experience Here, when I let go of any cramp within the focus of ordinary consciousness, rather than turning about and disattending from it, I attend to its intrinsic nature, its essential way of being-in-a-world, its heart. This is an immediate experience of being attuned within this situation now. I participate in a unitive field of being-in-a-world. I am in an immediate, local, relational, participatory subjective-objective reality, in which there is no gap between me as subject and what is around as object, between my perceiving and what I perceive, between my consciousness and the content and form with which it engages, between my resonant being and other present beings within the presence of Being . This local unitive field is full of these distinctions and motions without separateness. It is partial, capable of expansion and contraction, and is the explicit focus within a tacit field of infinite height, depth and extent. All transcendent and immanent states and processes are implicit in this multidimensional field.
This is participation in the divine as manifest in the immediate co-creation of my present reality. It is the here and now accessible being and body of the divine. It relates, perhaps and in different sorts of ways, to the following: I-Thou communion of persons with each other and with nature - reality being in relationship - in Martin Buber (1937); unitive ecstasy in the extralinguistic immediacy of perception in Jean Wahl (1953); pre-objective consciousness-nature union in Merleau-Ponty (1962); the mutuality of attunement and reciprocal engagement among humans, deities and nature in indigenous communities (Kremer, 1997); pre-conceptual spontaneous sensorial engagement with phenomena in David Abram (1996); ‘the abiding in relationship’ in Franklin Jones (Da Avabhasa, 1992); sahaja, the twinning of worldly existence and liberation, samsara and nirvana, in the Sahajayana school of Tantric Buddhsim; the unbroken and spontaneously so sahaj samadhi in Ramana Maharshi; tzu jan, self-so-ness, the naturalness and spontaneity of things, found with wu wei, non-cultivation of the mind, in Chuang Tzu and Taoism; p’o, the uncarved block, original simplicity, the world of free interfusion, in Taoism; jen, primordial human nature, no deliberate mind, in Neo-Confucianism.
I also find that this immediate present experience is dipolar. On the one hand there is the attuned state I have described: my unitive imaging of being-in-a-world and feeling everpresent mutual resonance with what there is here and now, with the immediate presence of Being. On the other hand there is a dynamic application. I manifest, in whatever modest degree, a charismatic, relational engagement with interpersonal, social and planetary change within everyday life. Oriental quietists, such as Chuang Tzu, suppress this dynamic component of immediate experience in favour of creative inaction, a restrictive nondual stasis of awareness. My own experience is that the living impulse to creative action continually rearranges, and challenges any fixity in, the participatory, unitive field, and is its dynamic consummation. Indeed, in action, persons-in-relation and world form a dynamic unity.
This active consummation I take to be full participation in the innovative process of divine becoming. This relates, perhaps, to Berdyaev’s affirmation of human personhood as the creative process of divine spirit, self-determining subjectivity engaged in the realization of value and achieved in true community (sobornost); to Whitehead’s process theology conceiving the divine as interacting with persons in the creative advance into novelty; to Hartshorne’s dipolar theology in which an aspect of the divine is relative, contingent, changing and supremely active; to the via creativa and the via transformativa, the affirmation of human creativity, art as prayer, and the co-creation of a global civilization, in the creation spirituality of Matthew Fox (1983).
The concept of action as the apotheosis of personhood, which I have developed elsewhere (Heron, 1992, 1996a), relates to the Dewey’s view that knowledge is an instrument for action rather than an object of disinterested contemplation (Dewey, 1929); and to Macmurray’s theory that a person can’t exist as a cognitive subject but only as an agent in whom all human capacities are employed - all cognition is for the action which consummates it (Macmurray, 1957). Macmurray also held that persons, who only exist as agents, can therefore only properly think of the world as a unity of action.
In my immediate present experience, when uncramped, my personhood is both grounded in participative modes of being and also consummated in significant action, in relation with other persons who are similarly engaged, or who are in the process of becoming similarly engaged. And immediate present experience, as here defined, is the starting point of transcendent and immanent explorations and the fulcrum of an extended dipolarity. It flows and expands into transcendent 1 and immanent 1, and beyond.
Immanent 1 Grounding in spatiotemporal presence Here I am being intentional about going deeper into my embodiment, about manifesting the indwelling life of spirit. I space and time myself, participating in space and time as matrices of embodiment, co-creating current matrices with the emergence of indwelling spiritual life. My activities here from time to time include some items from each of the following:
These activities relate, variously, to: intentional everyday living, including work, participatory science, artistic expression, and human relationships of all kinds; to charismatic, expressive, interactive spiritual practices; and to a range of personal development practices, too numerous to mention in detail here, which have proliferated in recent decades, and can be found in the programmes of innumerable growth centres.
I take all this to be participation in the divine as immanent spiritual life, emerging as time-space matrices. Participating in matrix time means intending a whole sequence including its past, present and future phases. It means an active mastery of rhythmic processes, periodicities, cycles. Participating in matrix space means intending the total movement and gesture of the body and its spatial surround felt all at once, from within. It is volume actively intended, from being inside it, in all three dimensions simultaneously. Time-space matrices are living forms of indwelling spiritual life, of the dance of shakti. We intend them and join in their fullness, as co-creators in charismatic, interactive, expressive and often healing ways of being.
These holistic spatiotemporal patterns include synchronicities, Tantric windows and doorways, in which the time-space frame of our now and here experience becomes revelatory with quite specific and pointed symbolic meaning.
In this area, immanent 1, I find that personhood is empowered from within, complementary to its transfiguration from beyond, which is what seems to go on in the transcendent areas.
Immanent 2 Evocation of subtle energies within nature Here I am calling forth, and participating in, subtle energies dormant within, or coiled up within the human system and natural phenomena. I am evoking the finer forces within the human system, the living energies of indwelling shakti, the creatrix, variously called kundalini, chi, prana, mana, odylitic force, bioenergy, psychic currents, psychic centres, chakras. The evocation is for a variety of empowering and transforming purposes. I have only a modest experience of the first three purposes given below, very little of the last, except for the first item included under it.
All this I take to be participating in the divine manifest as subtle process active or potential within the domain of human embodiment. It relates to the whole field of psychical research in its many different aspects, from the study of subtle energy systems and their relevance to medicine (Gerber, 1988), to seeing the deceased in a dimly lit mirror in a psychomantium (Moody, 1993). It is ripe for further development by the use of co-operative inquiry.
Where as in immanent 1 personhood is empowered by being intentional within time-space matrices, here in immanent 2 it is empowered by subtle energies explicitly evoked within those matrices.
Immanent 3 Opening to impulses of the immanent spirit In this area I open to the inner depths, to the ground, the foundation of my everyday experience, to the seedbed, well-spring and source within that ground. It means opening to the inner spiritual and subtle womb, in the belly of my being, where the generative potency of immanent spirit, divine life, dwells. This womb is the locus of my potential, the source and seedbed of options and possibilities. What emerges from it, when I open to it, are periodic impulses, prompts, innovations, proactions, responses and reminders, about my personal action and development within the great web of interbeing, itself compounded of a vast mesh of rhythms and periodicities of diverse frequencies. These periodic creative life impulses may be spontaneous and unbidden, or in response to my soliciting of them. In either case, I shape and frame them as much as they enact me.
This I take to be participating in the divine as first manifest emergent from the pregnant void. By this I mean indwelling spiritual entelechy, a sacred soil at the root of personhood, a formative potency within the psyche. It may prompt stages of personal growth, commitment to social change, transpersonal unfoldment. It may prompt the content and timing of specific actions. It may offer options for choice, or declarations for the unitive framing of experience. It may deliver a sense of the fitting and the situationally appropriate. It may unfold as a feel for aesthetic patterns in time and space, including the patterning of implicit speech in discriminating human judgements. It may guide inner regression and emotional healing. It is maculate, contingent, relative both to the limiting situations within which it occurs and to my shaping and selective co-creating of its offerings.
All this relates, perhaps, to Whitehead’s notion of the temporal divine as the great companion who works ‘slowly and quietly by love’; to shekinah, the indwelling, immanent presence of the divine in Jewish mysticism; to the notion of godseed and entelechy in Jean Houston (1987); to the practice of experiential focusing developed by Gendlin (1981); to bio-spirituality and experience of divine grace in the body (McMahon and Campbell, 1991); to the practice of E-Therapy (Kitselman, 1953); to the Subud latihan.
This, I find, is intersubjectivity at depth, grounded in the continuous living generative womb of embodiment.
Immanent 4 Experience of the pregnant void Here I enter primordial emptiness pregnant with all existence, the nonmanifest infinitude within, the centre of nonbeing which is anywhere and everywhere and nowhere from which all beings emerge, the intrinsic vacancy of all forms and processes.
Here I participate, if that is the word, in the divine as non-manifest, within-the-manifest, as empty ground. It relates, perhaps, to experience of the metacosmic void in Grof’s subjects (Grof, 1988); or, more dubiously, to sunyata, the universal void, in Mahayana Buddhism.
This, I find, is a profoundly interior liberation.