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Original title: The Manifestation of the Divine in Nature and in the Soul.
Roberto Assagioli writes about his belief in Panentheism, where transcendence and immanence, far from being excluded, harmonize admirably in an integral conception of the universe.
Translated from the Italian: La Manifestazione Del Divino Nella Natura E Nell’Anima, by Gordon Symons, Archivio Assagioli, Florence
See also the article: Psychosynthesis and evolutionary panentheism.
In our agitated and tumultuous era, we can observe two opposite and contrasting facts. The majority of humanity seems to have lost or are losing all faith, every higher principle, every moral constraint; it quickly abandons positive religions and on a large scale, loses all the restraints imposed by family and social traditions and hopes hopelessly to conquer material goods; it wants to enjoy, to enjoy in every way without worrying about anything else. In short, the great majority of today’s humanity has a purely materialistic and selfish conception of the world and of life; but in every case, it is applied and lived practically and with a coherence or conviction which is truly worthy of a better cause.
I find it totally useless to cite examples of this. At every moment of our social life, we come into contact with, and very often in collision with, manifest and often unpleasant manifestations of this state of affairs. Indeed, many, impressed by all that they observe around them, go so far as to believe that all humanity is now irremediably caught and overwhelmed by this current, and therefore allow themselves to be taken over by discouragement, making the most pessimistic forecasts for the future, even the near future.
But these pessimists do not realize that, fortunately, the opposite is also taking place; and that is that there is a minority that proceeds by another and better path, and this minority is growing and is affirming itself in an increasingly clear and resolute way.
The first and strongest reaction occurred in the field of knowledge. The progress of scientific investigation in chemistry, physics and biology has, in various ways, consistently demonstrated the absolute inadequacy and unsustainability of the narrow materialistic conception of the universe; a conception that had enjoyed the upper hand in the field of culture for some time. With the coming of atomic theory, matter itself has been shown to be non-existent as a substantial and objective reality; in fact, as is known, modern physics has shown that what seems to us to be solid, tangible and real matter, consists instead of a myriad of minute charges of electricity, of a wonderful and rapid dance of ions and electrons. Alongside and together with this scientific break-through, another of a more clearly ethical-religious nature has occurred and is taking place. The harmful practical, individual and social consequences of materialism have troubled and then awakened many consciences; and the terrible sufferings, the internal crises and the moral shocks produced by war, have revived and aroused in many souls an outspoken and fervent religiousness.
The proofs of the existence and importance of this, if less apparent than those of the external prevalence of materialism, are however numerous and certain for those who have followed the recent manifestations in the field of culture with some attention. A broad examination of all these manifestations would be very interesting, but it is not possible to do so on this occasion.
However, although the idealistic renewal mentioned above is very extensive, lively and promising, it is not free – in my opinion – from uncertainties, confusions and even deviations. And these could be truly dangerous, to the point of compromising some of the beneficial effects of human elevation and regeneration, to which today’s spiritual rebirth aims and which is so much and so urgently needed.
It seems appropriate to me to attempt this work of clarification and caution, partially, because a long and complex discussion would be necessary, and to take into consideration a specific theme: that of the relationship between divinity, nature and the soul.
The relationships between God, nature and soul were conceived mainly in two extreme and opposite ways. The first (represented by traditional philosophical-religious spirituality) can be called that of absolute transcendence. It is based on a rigid dualism, on a clear and substantial separation between nature and spirit, between man and God. According to this conception, nature derives from one or more distinct acts of creation by divinity; after which any direct and continuous relationship between creature and creator ceases, which remain separated by a radical diversity of nature, by an insurmountable abyss. The same applies to the relationship between the Soul and God. It has been stated that with an infinite being there is neither, nor can there be adjustment. God is motionless in his Heaven, while here the life of nature takes place under strict laws, and man, dominated by evil is powerless to bring about his own salvation without the external help of grace, which is given to him or denied for reasons inscrutable to him. [See diagram and Theism]
This conception, although with various iterations and artifices, has dominated western nature for many centuries. However, it strongly repels modern consciousness, which has arisen resolutely, and often violently, against it.
In reality, it is not difficult to see the various philosophical objections it raises, and the great ethical-spiritual problems to which it gives rise.
On the theoretical side, the idea of separate creative acts, from nothing or from a poorly defined chaos, is in contrast with the conception which modern science has reached of the fundamental unity and coherence of the cosmos and the continuous evolutionary flow of life. Furthermore, the meaning and purposes of this isolated and separate creation from the Creator, nor the way of acting, and the justice of an undeserved grace are not understood. The result in man is often a sense of helplessness and self-distrust, a tendency to frantically and servilely beg for external help, instead of bravely facing life, carrying out one’s own and highest possibilities in the virile struggle.
A distant and inaccessible God, with whom there is no possibility of vital, intimate and direct relationship, inspires more fear than love, and tends to lose any uplifting effect in everyday life. The extreme consequences of this rigid transcendentalist conception are found in gloomy and inhuman Calvinism, with its desperate doctrine of absolute predestination.
It is therefore clear that the reaction that took place in the modern consciousness was both necessary and appropriate.
This reaction has contrasted, to absolute transcendence, through various phases and in different ways on which I cannot go into now, absolute immanence.
So, it opposed rigid dualism and affirmed the fundamental and inseparable unity of reality. According to it, one life animates the whole universe and pervades it totally. Various doctrines have variously named and conceived it as matter, power, vitality, substance, spirit or Divinity; but all have agreed and reaffirmed the great unity of the whole.
The immanent tendency, at first more or less rigid or temperate, has become more and more accentuated in modern times, above all by Hegelian philosophy, and has reached its most absolute and extreme position right here in Italy, with the neo-idealistic philosophy .
However, even immanentism does not recognize a spirit that is beyond its own manifestations; that is, according to it, there is no reality or any being above man and present nature. The only reality is becoming, and the highest consciousness that exists in the universe is the consciousness of man.
According to this philosophy, therefore, there would be a becoming with nothing that promotes it, a historical development that takes place according to certain laws, without any superior principle that has determined these laws and given the initial impulse. This philosophy therefore does not explain in any way the origin of reality. It does not explain how consciousness arose and how it developed. In it, “spirit”, completely and necessarily immersed in its own particular and concrete manifestations, loses its character of spirituality.
As you can see, this philosophy, while not satisfying our rational needs at all, constitutes the negation of any religion. In fact, in it there is no place for God, since it is certainly not possible to call God his so-called “spirit”, which would reach self-awareness only in man. Any truly religious life would be abolished; the love of the soul for God, his impulses of adoration and prayer, his aspirations towards a higher and conscious communion with him, all these would no longer have a reason for being. Man could only love and worship himself. Obviously, this is far from the spirit of Christianity.
From an ethical point of view, then, immanentism appears highly questionable and dangerous. A doctrine that places man at the top of the universe can only foment presumption and pride, abolishing every sense of one’s personal weakness, every healthy sense of humility, every reason for repentance and contrition.
So, how should we conceive the relationship between nature, the soul and God?
I will answer briefly: “In a way that takes into account the elements of truth that exist both in the transcendentalist and in the immanentist conception, avoiding the one-sidedness and exaggerations of both.
This is not an external eclecticism, or a deliberate and artificial conception, but a real completion and a true synthesis. Transcendence and immanence, far from being excluded, harmonize admirably in an integral conception of the universe.
Thus the existence of a supreme and transcendent Being, of an absolute, eternal and pre-existing Principle to any limited and concrete manifestation of beings and things, does not at all exclude the living presence and continuous action of His Spirit in the bosom of nature and the Soul of man. The origin of things and beings from God can be conceived in a more satisfactory way if a continuous influx of Divine life is admitted, which through multiple transformations gives rise to all things and all creatures that exist in the cosmos. Thus God is transcendent and immanent at the same time: he is transcendent because he pre-exists in manifestation and does not end in it; it is immanent, because nothing exists outside of Him and He is present in every movement of life, and in every glimmer of consciousness.
Thus the soul of man, while it must recognize that it is only a minimum and particular manifestation of the Infinite and the Eternal, and therefore feel deeply humble before It, can also know and feel that its essence is the essence of God and therefore wonderful possibilities of development and glorious conquests of wisdom, love and power are open to him.
Finally man, recognizing the presence of the Divine in every thing and in every creature, learns to respect every aspect of matter, even the most rude and gross, and every manifestation of it, even the most fearful and apparently hostile to nature, and to feel an intimate sense of brotherhood for all living beings.
This conception, which in opposition to the rigid theism of the dualists and to the Dantonism of the immanentists, has been called “panentheism”, that is, everything in God, is a spiritual conception capable of satisfying in the most complete and harmonious way the needs of reason and those of feeling.
Panentheism in different cultures
We are therefore not surprised to see how ancient and widespread it is, and how in various eras and civilizations men have come, by various ways and often unaware of each other, to that same conclusion. We find it in fact in the most ancient philosophical speculations of India, expressed in a simple and solemn way in the Isa Upanishad:
“Those who dwell only in the knowledge of the finite enter the region of darkness, and those who dwell in the knowledge of infinity enter a greater darkness. But he who knows how to bring together the knowledge of the finite and the knowledge of the infinite in one knowledge, passes beyond death by means of the knowledge of the Infinite.
They who pursue only the transitory enter the region of darkness, and those who pursue only the eternal enter into an even greater darkness. He who knows how to be the transient and the eternal, united in one Reality, passes beyond the threshold of death by means of the transient and conquers immortality by means of the Eternal “.
We find this conception in that admirable synthesis of the spiritual philosophy of India, which is the Bhagavad Gita, where it is widely revealed and then synthetically expressed in the lapidary formula of Krishna, representing the incarnation of the Supreme:
“Having pervaded this entire universe with a part of Me, I remain.”
But the great modern Indian philosopher and poet, Rabindranath Tagore, proclaimed this conception again in a profound and convincing way in the Essays contained in the two volumes “Sadhana and Personality”, and sang it in his magnificent poems, highlighting its beauty and spiritual value .
In the West we find the panentheistic conception first of all in the neo-Platonic philosophy: “The One is eternally with His manifestation which eternally proceeds from Him” and: “God is not alien to anyone, but is present in all things, although they know it not. “
And in Christianity, although dualism and transcendentalism prevailed, we find a strong current that admits the immanentistic aspect, a current that begins already from the origins of Christianity and continues to the present day.
If the authenticity of a saying attributed to Jesus and found, not very long ago, in a papyrus scroll in Egypt, was proven, that current would even go back to the founder of Christianity. In fact, the words attributed to Jesus are:
“LIFT UP THE STONE AND THERE YOU WILL FIND ME; SPLIT THE WOOD AND I AM THERE”.
These words, even if they were not uttered by Jesus, are still very significant with regard to the existence of the immanentist conception since the early days of Christianity.
In St. Paul the intimate union between man and God is repeatedly affirmed: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians, 11, 20) “Whoever unites himself to the Lord is one spirit with him ”. (Corinthians, I.17)
And elsewhere we find the most admirable expression of panentheism:
“IN HIM WE LIVE, WE MOVE AND WE HAVE OUR BEING.”
In various Church Fathers, but especially in many Christian mystics, we often and clearly find it said that God is at once transcendent and immanent in the world and in man.
Later, Meister Eckhart says, with his own boldness and efficacy:
“God is closer to me than I am to myself, and He is just as close to wood and stone, but they don’t know it. “.(Underhill, Mysticism, 121).
And Saint Teresa:
“I understood how our Lord is to everything as He is to the Soul, and the image of a sponge permeated with water was suggested to me.” (Underhill, op.cit., P. 120).
Even in the most illustrious representative of the dualistic conception, St. Thomas Aquinas, we find some immanentistic expression, for example:
“Since God is the universal cause of every being, wherever there is a being, there the presence of God must be found ”. (Underhill, 110)
And St. Francis, not with writings or doctrines, but with his sublime life and the effusions of the heart expressed in his songs, attested to the presence of the divine in nature and creatures and taught us to love them in a more intimate and profound way, to feel our brotherhood with the elements and with animals.
Numerous other testimonies of mystics could be adduced, and this consensus should not surprise us. In fact, the very raison d’être of mysticism lies in the possibility of finding God in the depths of the soul, of reaching a conscious communion, of a true union, between the purified soul and God. But we will return to this later.
In modern times, the immanentistic trend has also increased in the Christian field, and one of its best and most balanced advocates was the noble figure of Gratry.
I hope I have succeeded, even with these fleeting and incomplete indications, to demonstrate how the panentheistic conception is both the most satisfying philosophically and is at the same time truly spiritual and Christian. But it is not enough for the soul to understand and recognize a truth; it wants to feel and implement it, because spirituality is not speculation or intellectual belief, but above all, LIFE.
The realisation of the Divine in one’s soul
Let us see how we can truly feel and realize the presence of the Divine in nature and reach communion with the “living God” in the sanctuary of one’s soul.
In fact, we could see the Divine in every movement of life, in every particle of matter, but there are certain natural spectacles that more easily and more intensely than others give a sense of infinity, of the Eternal.
Among these, the most suggestive and the most powerful is contemplating the starry sky. It even moved the prosaic and arid philosopher of Königsberg, I. Kant, inspiring the famous exclamation:
“Two things gave me the sense of the sublime: the starry sky above me and the moral law within me”.
Yes, truly, the spectacle of those myriads of suns scattered in space, around which planets revolve, each carrying its own essence; the intuition that all those suns, those planets and that essence derive from the same Source of Life, that they move governed by the same laws, and are directed towards the same glorious and mysterious end, fills our hearts with admiration, with love and peace. We feel that the greatest and the smallest are one before God, indeed in the very bosom of God. We truly feel that we participate in universal life, and in those moments of contemplation we purify ourselves from all our vain fears, meanness and presumptions, and we abandon all our personal limitations.
So let us often go out, on clear nights, from our narrow dwellings, go outdoors where the voices of men do not reach; let us raise our eyes to heaven and listen; maybe we will hear things we haven’t heard before.