By Roberto Assagioli, from his meditation program “Meditation Group for the New Age“, third-year, set one. From Meditation Mount, Ojai, California.
See also my article: Psychosynthesis and Panentheism
Recognition of Reality is a far-reaching subject. There are different levels and degrees of Reality and also both external and inner realities. The first question which naturally comes up when we start to think about it is:
What is Reality? This is not easily answered, because it is something that has to be recognised by direct inner experience, rather than through technical definitions and the concepts of others.
It is one of those fundamental realisations, such as recognition of will, of consciousness, of the Self, even of colours, sounds, and so on, which can only be arrived at through individual personal experience. But we can at least get some help in formulating our thinking and arriving at an intellectual grasp of the subject from the descriptions of those who have achieved a measure of that recognition.
The first thing to be recognised is that there are two universal aspects of Reality:
1. Transcendent Reality
2. Immanent, manifested Reality
1. Transcendent Reality. This has two aspects:
a. Absolute Transcendence
b. Relative Transcendence
At our present stage of human evolution, we can know practically nothing directly of absolute, ultimate Transcendence. But we can postulate or intuit that behind time and space are Eternity and Universality, that behind manifestation and change there is pure, immutable Being. Those who have had glimpses of ultimate Reality have tried to express or rather hint at it in paradoxical terms: Fullness of Life—Be-ness—Suchness—Thatness—and, at the same time, as Void, as No-thing (which does not mean “ nothing” in the ordinary sense).
Of Relative Transcendence, there are many kinds and levels, because it is relative to each stage of human evolution and to each individual. It can be regarded as that aspect or “ portion ” of Reality which is just beyond the present conscious reach of the individual or group and which represents for them their next step of awareness or recognition.
2. Immanent Reality
Of this we can know more. It has been called Divinity in manifestation and can be and has been often recognised in different ways and degrees. It could hardly be expressed more sensitively than it has been by Francis Thompson in his poem, The Kingdom of God—“In no Strange Land“
O World invisible, we view thee,
O World intangible, we touch thee,
O World unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!
The drift of pinions, would we harken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places;
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
’Tis ye, ’tis your estrangéd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.”
This immanence is apparent in two great realms: the external universe and the inner world, or worlds, of consciousness.
In the outer world it manifests chiefly as order and beauty, which are closely interrelated. The wonderful order, based on mathematical laws, which regulates the cosmic process, from the movements of the stars and galaxies to those of the particles within the atom, compel us to recognise the existence and the activity of a Cosmic Mind, of a living Reality.
This is still more evident in the marvellous processes going on in myriads of living organisms. And these living organisms, these bodies, appear beautiful to us. It has been said that “Beauty is as much of divinity as can be expressed through any one form ”. But, as Plato has shown, there is an ascending ladder of beauty. External beauty veils and at the same time points to the beauty of the inner realities.
Then comes recognition of the divine immanence in the soul of man, of the mysterious identity between the essential nature of man and that of the Supreme Reality. This has been expressed in various ways, such as Fatherhood and Sonship, and in the bold biblical affirmation, “ I have said ye are Gods ”.
But Transcendent Reality and Immanent Reality are not intrinsically different and separate. When the one or the other has been emphasised or affirmed as the only Reality through limited theological or philosophical conceptions, two opposite illusions have been created. The conception of absolute transcendence, of an impassable gulf between the Creator and the creature, between God and man, has produced the pessimistic view of man as a miserable sinner, and the dismal theologies of an eternal damnation, only to be avoided by the intervention of the grace of God. In its extreme aspects, it has brought about the negation of any possibility of escaping from the human plight, and the formulation of the modern “ philosophies of despair ”.
On the other hand, the concept of immanence only has given birth to a global pantheism, to the blurring of all distinctions and to a disregard of the different levels, degrees and phases of Reality, and consequently of its diverse manifestations in man. In practice this leads to the negation of all ethical values. The balance and synthesis between transcendence and immanence, as two aspects of the One Reality, have been recognised and proclaimed by a number of great intuitives—Philosophers, mystics and poets— throughout the ages.
This conception—which, in contradistinction to pantheism, has been called a panentheism (that, is, “ all in God ”) —is the basic teaching of the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna’s well known words illustrate this:
“ Having pervaded this whole universe with a fragment of Myself, I remain.”
In the West it has been voiced in neo-platonic philosophy:
“ The One is eternally with His manifestation, which eternally proceeds from Him.”
“ God is not external to any one, but is present within all things, though they are ignorant that He is so.” (Plotinus)
In the early Christian tradition, we find the same inclusive view. In an extra-canonical saying attributed to Jesus (found in an Egyptian papyrus), we find the affirmation: “ Lift the stone and you will find Me, split the wood and I am there.” Paul uttered the same truth in clear terms: “ He is above all and through all and in you all.” (Ephesians, IV, 6), and in the simplest and most direct affirmation: “ In Whom we live, and move and have our being.” (Acts, XVII, 28)
Later on, and particularly in the Middle Ages, the dualistic theological conception became prevalent, and its greatest exponent, St. Thomas Aquinas, emphasised God’s omnipresence:
“ Since God is the universal cause of all Being, in whatever region Being can be found, there must be the Divine Presence.” (Summa contra Gentiles, I, III, cap. 68)
Many mystics, and with particular boldness Meister Eckhart, have expressed the same truth. In modern times the recognition of this reality has been voiced by several poets and writers, but perhaps the clearest expression of it has been given by Rabindranath Tagore:
“The Infinite, in order to express Himself, descends in the multiplicity of the Finite, and the Finite, in order to realise itself, must rise into the unity of the Infinite. Only then the cycle of truth is complete.” (Creative Unity)
After this general, “panoramic” view of universal Reality as it can be conceived and expressed in human terms, we can come with a better sense of proportion to the various individual recognitions and consider the ways in which we may attain a living recognition of the various “realities”, that is, the many aspects and levels of the One Reality. The highest and most important recognition for each of us is that of the divine nature of man, the “Principle of Essential Divinity.” This leads up to the joyous recognition of what has been called “the unconquerable nature of goodness and the inevitability of the ultimate triumph of good.”
There is then an ever-growing recognition of the evolutionary Plan as it unfolds at present. Its outlines emerge clearly before the discerning eye, in spite of the confusion, cross-currents and temporary partial set-backs of the present period of crisis and change. It is linked with the recognition of a higher directing Will and of “the Love which underlies the happenings of the time.” It also includes the new emerging ideas which give us a wider and more real picture of both the universe and the human being.
Thus we can recognise the next step or steps which humanity as a whole, every human group, and each of us individually can and should take in order to cooperate in the working out of the over-all Plan. In other words, the Plan helps us to recognise the meaning and purpose of what is going on in the outer and inner worlds. From this comes the recognition of the various tasks which each of us can perform, and the many opportunities for inner realisation and outer service which are offered to us by the present conditions.
The ways in which we can develop recognition of Reality are many and varied. Here we can only briefly mention some of them, but they will be dealt with more extensively later.
The most direct way of recognising Reality is through the use of the Technique of the Presence. All know in general terms what is meant by “the practice of the Presence”—the constant recollection and recognition of the immanence of God or Reality—and what we should strive to attain in some measure, and for increasing spans of time, is identification with that Presence. The inner faculties which enable us to contact and recognise reality are:
1. The intuition, or spiritual perception, which enables us to have a synthetic grasp of the Whole;
2. The illumined mind. The purpose and primary function of this is discrimination between the Real and the unreal. Its second function is the right interpretation and subsequent formulation of the realities perceived by means of the intuition and the light of the soul.
The condition, or requirement, for the conscious functioning of both is, first of all, an inner silence, achieved in and maintained by receptive meditation. As one teacher has said: “. . . the cultivation of a technique of silence is of incalculable value … In the silence power is generated, problems are solved and important recognitions are registered. In the silence sensitivity can be developed and the ability to respond to subjective impressions.” Then follows the activity of the mind in reflective meditation or brooding.
But there are many obstacles to such recognitions. Basically, there is the usual lack of control of the mind. Consequently, the steady practice of concentration and the various stages of meditation—reflective, receptive and creative—which are included in our group work is much needed. Through these the mind not only becomes controlled, but it is also developed and trained.
The illusions which distort the mental apprehension of truth form a main class of obstacles, and in another category are all the glamours which obscure our perceptive power— and they are legion! It is these glamours which primarily bar our way towards Reality and which we have first of all to grapple with. Therefore they will be dealt with at some length in this and the following chapters. But before tackling them one by one, we can begin by using a general and most effective technique, which will help to develop discrimination. It is the Technique of Dis-identification which was given in both the previous courses, and it is strongly recommended as a preliminary exercise.
Before mentioning the results of recognition of Reality, a warning has to be given. The recognition itself can be a source of various glamours. This may sound surprising and paradoxical, but careful consideration will reveal this to be true. The chief among such glamours are:
1. The glamour of the persistence of the recognitions. We may have had glimpses of realisation, glimpses so vivid that we believed them to be a permanent acquisition. But it is not so. The mists of glamour hide again the beauty or truth we have perceived; we “ forget ” it or it becomes so pale and blurred that it fails to “ take roots ” in our consciousness.
2. The illusion of a purely mental recognition. It may remain clear in our minds, but if we stop at that, it does not have the transforming effects on our personalities which it should produce. This may be called the illusion of mere intellectual perception Recognition must be followed by action: it must arouse the will and have creative effects within us and around us.
3. The glamour or illusion of “totality”. This can be described as the mistake of regarding a part as the whole, and believing that the recognition of a special aspect or kind of reality reveals the whole of it This is a widespread glamour and difficult to eliminate. One can easily become “ possessed ” by one partial truth and be so fanatical about it that it gets out of proportion to the wider, inclusive Reality We can see many instances of this around us and should be wary of succumbing to it ourselves!
To encourage us to proceed on the Way toward; Reality, it is good to realise what precious gifts this recognition bestows. In its progressive stages it has profound and far-reaching effects. The immediate one is an expansion of consciousness, an increased awareness, the perception of a new light (“enlightenment ”), a deeper understanding The consequence is ascent and growth. As it is said: “ We grow through the medium of our recognitions”.
All these things are accompanied by a sense of joy and wonder. There is a close connection between light and joy. When recognition is full, it produces a sense of union, merging; we feel ourselves to be a part of the Reality, we become identified with it. This has transforming effects or our personalities; they are changed and undergo a process of “ transfiguration ”.
The final effects become apparent in the influence which we increasingly have on others, both through our radiation and through our outer life of service. The Reality which we have recognised, and which has pervaded us, shines through us.”
You can also read my article Psychosynthesis and Panentheism, where I collect all the quotes from Assagioli, who support this notion.