The Private Sea
13. OM or Omega?
There may often be good reasons for bad laws. The sexual act, for example, is condoned only if the partners involved are a male and a female who are married (to each other), and any deviation from that pattern is proscribed as sinful and evil. It is difficult to believe, however, that there is anything intrinsically wicked in the performance of a mechanical act engaged in by consenting partners. Young people especially are more and more inclined to ask, "Why not?" And the reasons offered are not very convincing.
But the reasons offered may not be the real reasons.
Human society is founded pragmatically on the family unit, and it has therefore been necessary to encourage matrimony and to challenge at once any conduct or philosophy which appears to threaten the stability of that institution. Thus the marriage relationship is represented as the only legitimate source of sexual gratification, and thus also the myth is promulgated that sex outside the marriage bed is a personal sin against your body and soula violation of heavenly law. But the law is man-made, not celestial, and the sin in fact may be real enoughbut it is social, not personal. It is a sin against the social structure and therefore a sin against the common good. Such an idea of course is hard to convey, and society (or life) has relied instead upon a necessary fiction. There are many today who recognize the fiction and who seek to destroy it; but they fail to recognize the reason for the fiction, or the purpose it has served, or the problems involved in replacing it. Their efforts therefore are met with a blind and instinctive resistance, which they assess as mere prudishness. But it is more than prudishness; it is life trying to protect itself, as best it can, in the only way it knows how.
In the same sense, perhaps, there would appear to be an instinctive reaction against the drug movement's monistic pronouncementsas also its quietistic emphasis upon the pure experience of the here-now present moment. Assuming that life (or society) has some dumb understanding of its own welfare, or its own destiny, we might inquire into the source of this reaction.
As for monism, an analogy could be made to the human body and the cells which compose it. The body is a monistic whole in which the cells all partake, although the cells can have no notion of that fact: each is assigned its specialized function, thus enabling the body to go about its business. What would happen, then, if these dutiful cells or selves should somehow gain awareness of the greater Self in which they participate? What would happen if they ceased their functioning to con template the body? Most likely, the body would not like that very much and would order the cells to stop it at once. For the greater Self has its greater business to attend to. If the hand indeed is divided into five fingers, the better to do its work, this clearly implies, does it not, that there is work to be done? And it cannot be done if the fingers are curled inward in a self-admiring fist.
A similar interpretation is possible in the case of "presentness." As we have seen, a here-now rejection of the intellect's perception is a rejection in essence of the past and the futureespecially the futureand this brings us again to another East-West dichotomy which seems at least to be basic in nature. It is said that the orthodox East looks backward to a primordial totality (and in this sense perhaps it acknowledges the past, but not in the sense of using the past to predict future action). The demythologized East does not look backward; but neither does it look forward: it is concerned alone with the here-now present moment. This is another way of saying that it accepts the status quo. The West on the other hand looks both backward and forwardbut especially forward. It looks to the future. And it does so with the implication that there is unfinished business to be conducted there; otherwise its constant peering into the future is a matter simply of perceptual deception, as charged.
Thus the myth of the Demiurge comes into conflict with the myth of Ulysses.
The Ulysses myth is a Western myth. It does not accept the status quo of the present moment but suggests instead that life is evolving. This process in turn points toward a future purpose, and acceptance of the present moment would defeat that purpose. Darwin of course showed that life is constantly transforming itselfchanging its forms, in the manner of Proteusbut he failed to show that it is truly evolving in the sense of having a definite direction, purpose, and goal. Others in the West, however, have said that life is evolving in precisely this sense. Hegel has said it, Nietzsche has said it, Bergson has said it, Altizer has said it, Maslow has said itand Teilhard de Chardin has said it.
Hegel depicted the universe as an absolute Mind which is seeking to fulfill itself and know itself. Nietzsche proclaimed the Overman and the will to power; man is but a bridge, he said, and life is that which must ever surpass itself. Bergson spoke of a vital force which advances, creatively, toward a distant future end which cannot be predicted because it is not predetermined. Altizer asserted that God himself is evolving, from transcendence to immanence, and he specifically rejected "the backward movement of Oriental mysticism." He rejected the orthodox Eastern view of a "lost paradise" we can only regain through "a reversal of the cosmos." "Above all," said Altizer, "a reborn and radical Christian faith must renounce every temptation to return to an original or primordial sacred, or to follow a backward path leading to an earlier and presumably purer form of the Word." In the same context, Maslow has distinguished between Being and Becoming; between a "high Nirvana" and "low Nirvana"; between the "the Heaven ahead" (of growth) and "the Heaven behind" (of regression). Nowhere in recent times, however, has the concept of a goal-directed cosmos been given richer expression than is found in the metaphysical system of the scientist-priest Teilhard, who developed a profoundly unorthodox theory of universal evolution.
Teilhard, a Jesuit, had been forbidden to publish that theory during his lifetime; but his views have attracted widespread attention since his death in 1955, and respect for his system has continued to grow both inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church. For many of the faithful, with the passage of time, Teilhard's ideas have appeared to be more and more profound and less and less unorthodoxwhich is hardly surprising, for they represent in fact an attempted reconciliation of scientific knowledge and religious tradition. It is difficult to say whether Teilhard was a mystical scientist or a scientific mystic, but he is worth listening to in either case. He speaks to the contemporary situation. And what is more, he addresses himself directly to the issues raised by psychedelic quietism.
Teilhard proposed, to start, that evolution is not just willy-nilly Darwinian transformism. It has a definite direction.
In the beginning, in the primordial chaos, the individual particles of unorganized matter contained certain elementary "liberties," but matter by and large was subject to the laws of chance and statistical determinism. After a time, however, the particles began to organizefirst in simple forms, then in complex forms. As eons passed, the forms became increasingly complex. And this complexity resulted at last in a new phenomenon: it resulted in consciousness. For consciousness is a product of complexity.
At first there was a primitive animal consciousness. Then, further complexification produced the human brainand rational consciousness. For the first time, evolution became aware of itself.
This, then, is evolution's direction: toward increasing complexity and (as a result) increasing consciousness. Thus, by tracing the pattern of psychical rather than physical development, Teilhard laid the basis for a neo-anthropocentricity which restores man to the center of things as the most complex and conscious creation. Man is not just a speck lost in a remote corner of infinite space. If the universe is a super-organism which is in the process now of realizing itself, then man is the "head" of that organism.
But evolution did not stop with the emergence of the human brain. From that point on, complexification continued in the form of social organization and human technology. Teilhard saw no reason to distinguish these from "natural" (biological) evolution; for there is nothing unnatural in nature, and the wireless is simply an extension of the evolving human mind. The computer and the space probe are similar extensions, Teilhard would have insisted, had he lived to see their era, for what do they represent if not an enlargement of our total awareness? By the same logic, government at all levels is an expansion of overall consciousness, through complexification, which allows us to deal with an ever wider area of concern, and the United Nations may be the harbinger of a global mind with global awareness.
As we saw in an earlier chapter, Teilhard held that this process is directed from within by an indwelling Christ who took charge of evolution by partially inserting himself into matter. Teilhard stated further that the process will lead eventually to a final state of super-organization and super-awareness he referred to as the Omega point. At this stage, in a hyper-centration of cosmic matter, mankind will reflect upon itself at a single pointand will leave the earth behind to become pure spirit. Mankind will abandon this world to rejoin the godheadnot by space ship, but spiritually and inwardly.
Ideally, this should happen. But, said Teilhard, there is no predestined guarantee that this will happen. The Omega point must be attained by conscious effort. And already there are ominous portents. Even now, "a whirlpool is beginning to appear ahead of us, in the stream that carries us along."
In a magnificent construction, Teilhard divided the human race into two camps, the pessimists and the optimists, and the latter camp he divided into buddhists, pluralists, and monists.
Man must choose his evolutionary path, said Teilhard. And each of these divisions represents a potential choice or possible path.
1. The first choice is pessimism or optimism. The question in this case is fundamental, and it is simply Hamlet's question asked on a grand scale. To Be or not to Be? That is the question the whole universe must ask itself. Does it make any sense to exist, or would it be better perhaps if there was no life at all? In the early stages of evolution, the universe instinctively chooses life over non-life and Being over non-Being; it instinctively chooses to Be. But what happens when life becomes conscious and therefore aware of itself? Is it not possible that Being will reject its own existence, seeing no point to it all, and that thinking men will go on strike against an evolutionary course which seems to have no real meaning and no final purpose? Even now the world has split into two opposing factions, and those in one faction say that life is not worthwhile. Why bother, then, to go any further? These are the pessimists; let us leave them behind.
2. That leaves the optimists, and they must choose between the optimism of withdrawal and the optimism of evolution. The optimists of withdrawal are the buddhists, who wish to quit the world at once; they acknowledge that Being as Being is good, but they deny that the awareness of true Being can be found in the forward-looking world of appearances. There is nowhere to go, they say. We are already there. The idea of a goal ahead is delusional, they say, and we need only to realize this; the solution, it follows, is to "break away from the evolutionary determinism, break the spell, withdraw." Let them cut the threads, then, and let them retire to their future-denying nirvana.
3. That leaves the optimists of evolution: "the believers in some ultimate value in the tangible evolution of things." They are faithful to the future, "faithful to Earth." But they too have a decision to make, and their choice is between pluralism and monism. The pluralists are concerned primarily with their personal freedom and individual uniqueness, "in opposition to others." For the monists, "nothing exists or finally matters except the Whole." Which shall it be? "This," said Teilhard, "is the ultimate choice, by way of which Mankind must finally be divided, knowing its own mind." And Teilhard, for his part, chose monism.
Only in union, said Teilhard, can man ever hope to achieve his final destiny, and a separatist individualism is ultimately self-destructive: "the element burns up all its future in a flying spark." Let us plunge forward into monism, "even though something in us perish." For it is written that he who loses his soul shall save itand in true associations, as opposed to collective heaps, the combination of separate elements does not eliminate their differences. It exalts them. As in the specialized cells of the body, "true union differentiates." This is true even in the case of the anthill or beehivethe palace of honeywhere specialization is based upon such biological functions as nutrition and reproduction. How much truer it must be, then, in the case of a spiritual association in which individual personalities will conspire together to create "a common consciousness." In such a union "each element achieves completeness, not directly in a separate consummation, but by incorporation in a higher pole of consciousness in which alone it can enter into contact with all others." Tillich was expressing the same thought when he denied that union with the Ground of Being means a loss of self in a larger whole. "If the self participates in the power of being-itself," said Tillich, "it receives itself back. For the power of being acts through the power of the individual selves. It does not swallow them as every limited whole, every collectivism, and every conformism does."
Teilhard died before psychedelic quietism became an issue, but his second set of alternativeswithdrawal or evolution goes nevertheless to the heart of that issue. And Teilhard has not left us to wonder which of the two alternatives he would recommend as the proper and logical choice. This is implicit, he said, in the fact that life up to now has followed "a precise line of direction." There has been an unmistakable progression toward an increase of consciousness and a greater awareness. What we must do, therefore, is select that path which points ahead in the same direction"the one which seems best able to develop and preserve in us the highest degree of consciousness."
It might be argued that the meta-experience represents an advanced level of consciousness, as opposed to a regression, and it is possible even to interpret Eastern doctrine as evolutionary. There is, for example, the concept of "the days and nights of Brahma," contained in the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad-Gita. This suggests the image mentioned earlier of a games-playing God who acts out the cosmic drama for his own amusement, pretending to be Many when actually he is One. The drama continues for a thousand agesuntil the Self-deception is at last revealed, and the One once more is aware of his Oneness. Whereupon the whole cycle is repeated, forever and ever. There is some support for this idea in the modern astrophysical theory of an "oscillating" universe, which holds that all of the galaxies comprising the universe were once contained in a primordial atom of incredible density. At some point in the past this atom exploded, sending all the raw material of the universe flying out into spacethe galaxies evolving with the passage of time. There is considerable evidence that this so-called expansion of the universe is still going onin fact there seems little doubt of itbut recent observations indicate that the outward flight of the galaxies will one day slow to a stop, and the universe will then contract again into a new primordial atom. Indeed, the process may have occurred countless times already since the dawn of creation. Or so we are told. The theory is based, I believe, on the estimated force of the original impetus and the estimated amount of stellar material.
No doubt science has weighed and measured the universe very accurately and thus can predict what it will do some billions of years from now. But it might be easier to accept the idea of oscillation as final if science were just a trifle more accurate in predicting tomorrow's weather in Omaha. Will it rain there or won't it? However that may be, we have already seen the danger of marrying physics to metaphysics (in connection with free will), and it is doubtful in any case that Eastern evolution is anything like Western evolution. The Eastern future is not a creative future, in the Western sense, but rather an eternal repetition of the past. This does not mean the East is wrong and the West is right, but it does mean there is an essential difference in their assertions on this point. The Western future is clearly denied both by Eastern metaphysics and by psychedelic quietism.
Shall we rest on our oars? Are we already there?
Addressing himself to the buddhists among us, Teilhard agreed that the concept of an ultimate withdrawal from the phenomenal rat race "fits in very well with the final demands of a world of evolutionary structure." But he made one proviso: "that the world in question shall have reached a stage of development so advanced that its 'soul' can be detached without losing any of its completeness, as something wholly formed." And to this he added:
But have we any reason to suppose that human consciousness today has achieved so high a degree of richness and perfection that it can derive nothing more from the sap of the earth? Again we may turn to history for an answer. Let us suppose, for example, that the strivings and the progress of civilization had come to an end at the time of Buddha, or in the first centuries of the Christian era. Can we believe that nothing essential, of vision and action and love, would have been lost to the Spirit of Earth? Clearly we cannot. And this simple observation alone suffices to guide our decision. So long as a fruit continues to grow and ripen we refrain from picking it. In the same way, so long as the world around us continues, even in suffering and disorder, to yield a harvest of problems, ideas and new forces, it is a sign that we must continue to press forward in the conquest of matter. Any immediate withdrawal . . . would certainly be premature.
He also said, elsewhere: "God creates and shapes us through the process of evolution.... God awaits us when the evolutionary process is complete; to rise above the world, therefore, does not mean to despise or reject it, but to pass through it and sublime it."
Teilhard may or may not have demonstrated that evolution has a goal or a purpose. It is possible, however, that he did show evolution to have at least a direction, and that alone would be no small gift in this age of uncertainty. Given a sense of direction, if nothing else, there are many perhaps who would be willing, in an act of faith, to accept the idea of an unguessed future purpose. And after all, at this stage in our development, who has the wisdom to deny that possibility? Is anyone so all-knowing, when all of us together would seem to know so little?
If we are estranged from one level of reality and locked in a world of action, it may be that we are estranged for a reasonand a reason, moreover, which we cannot yet foresee. If there is a Whole which is seeking to know itself, it may be that the Whole aspires to a more perfect knowledge of its parts as well as its Onenessthat the Whole demands of us that we first conquer the earth, moon, and stars before we turn inward. If there is a deeper level of reality, revealed by psychedelics, there could well be another level still deeper than that. Anything and everything is possible, and nothing as yet is impossible. This is not to say that the psychedelic insight is not true; we are merely suggesting that it may not be the whole truth. If a little learning is a dangerous thing, there is danger indeed in any total commitment to a partial understanding, and some of the drug cultists might at least be a little less cavalier in their decision to reverse the apparent direction of the universal tides. Perhaps some knowledge comes to us too soon, before we know how to use it or what to make of it, as was certainly true with the atom. But it is too late for regrets, in the case of the atom or the case now at hand. A decision of some sort must obviously be made, and it is essentially a very simple decisionthough by no means an easy one.
Backward to OM? Or forward to Omega?
Shall we accept the myth of the Demiurge, which suggests that our salvation lies in the simple acceptance of the here-now present momentconcealed by the intellect? Or shall we accept the myth of Ulysses, which suggests that life is a process of evolutionary growth toward some distant future goal we cannot as yet perceive? These are the central questions posed at this time by the mystical, peak, and LSD experiences.
Teilhard felt that mankind as a whole has reached its decision and has chosen its path. If that choice in fact has been made, as he supposed, then it is much easier to understand society's angry and dogmatic reaction to those uncompromising individuals who insist that the meta-experience points toward a total withdrawal and nowhere else.
When Ulysses found his men feeding upon the flowery food, in the land of the lotus eaters, he did not pause for thought. He asked them no questions, and he offered them no arguments. He laid hold of the men, and he led them, weeping and sore against their will, back to the swift ships.
He knew where he was going. He was going to Ithaca.
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