A Theosophist Reading of Spinoza and Bohm. For Whom the Bell Tolls.

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To Spinoza mind and matter were parallel attributes of God or Substance, the great essence of the universe sometimes called in theosophical literature Svabhavat, primordial nature, mind-substance. Svabhavat (from the Sanskrit sva, “self” and bhu, “to become”) means self-becoming. Nothing can exist other than as an emanation from this primordial nature’s eternal action. Nothing, said Spinoza, can exist except this Substance and the unfolding of its attributes. This being so, “creation” had no beginning and will have no end; all things come forth from the Boundless and will therefore continue forever — theosophical ideas found also in Neoplatonism and Gnosticism.

With Spinoza we find emphasis on the essential unity and continuity of all existence, while Pythagoras, Plato, and Leibniz distinguish countless monads in it, centers of activity in every conceivable grade of self-expression. Combining the monad theory with Spinoza’s philosophy, a worldview emerges remarkably in accord with ideas from the Upanishads, Vedanta, Buddhism, and many a thinker from ancient Greece. We find corresponding ideas in the writings of theoretical physicist David Bohm, who also believed that the distinction between animate and inanimate nature is arbitrary, of use in some contexts but ultimately incorrect. He came to the conclusion that, far from being empty, space is an immense ocean of energy, and matter no more than a superficial ripple on that ocean. Everything lies concealed in an “implicate order” and comes forth from it. To illustrate this idea Bohm used the following experiment: the outer of two concentric cylinders is filled with a viscous fluid, such as glycerin, into which is placed a drop of insoluble ink. When the outer cylinder is rotated very slowly, the ink drop threads out, growing thinner and thinner, and eventually becomes invisible. The dye molecules become distributed among the molecules of the liquid as a grey shade. Rotating the cylinder in the opposite direction yields a surprising result: slender threads appear, growing thicker and thicker until, suddenly, the globule of ink is seen once more. This suggests that out of the “holomovement” of the ocean of energy comes forth the known universe with all that is in it.

From the “reality of the first order,” or implicate order, issues the explicate order, the world of forms and living things. In this “reality of the second order” these things have a relatively separate existence, as the Gulf Stream and other currents have a relatively separate existence within the Atlantic Ocean. From atoms to galaxies, all the phenomena of nature emerge from the ocean of the implicate order, make their appearance as “relatively autonomous subtotals,” and at the same time are linked with everything else.

Bohm regarded the universe as an undivided whole, a continuously ongoing process whose “ultimate ground of being is entirely unutterable, entirely implicit.” Space is not a nothingness but is in essence this ultimate ground of being. He employed the image of a crystal through which at absolute zero, according to quantum theory, electrons would pass as if it were empty space. The crystal would then be perfectly homogeneous and would seem nonexistent for the electrons, as space seems nonexistent for us. But when the temperature is raised, inhomogeneities appear, scattering the electrons. If one were to focus the electrons with an electron lens to make a picture of the crystal, it “would then appear that the inhomogeneities exist independently and that the main body of the crystal was sheer nothingness”. Like the school of Parmenides and Zeno in ancient Greece, Bohm regarded space as a plenum, utter fullness, the ground or substratum of all that exists. The matter that we sense is, like flaws in the crystal, inhomogeneities in space, which is the unity that includes both matter and consciousness.

Another physicist whose work endorsed the interconnectedness of things was John S. Bell. Two particles moving away from each other at the speed of light were thought to have lost contact forever, since no signal from one could overtake and influence the other. In 1964 Bell proposed his theory that particles like these do influence each other all the same and therefore, somehow, never lose contact. The theory was experimentally confirmed for the first time in 1972. Science seems to be overstepping its own boundaries, penetrating a realm where mystics have been long before. Not surprisingly modern thinkers are taking note of ancient ideas with amazement and admiration.

When H. P. Blavatsky published The Secret Doctrine in 1888, she stated that the ideas it contained were neither her own nor new. She sketched in bold strokes once again the existence of infinite Space, ground of countless universes, populated and ensouled by numberless monads: not as unconnected, separate things, but as differentiations within the whole. She spoke of “The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul,” and gave a vertiginous panorama of the evolutionary track, not of bodies, forms, but of centers of consciousness, monads, from their differentiation within the Oversoul to their grand consummatum est, the attainment of fully self-conscious realization of cosmic consciousness at the end of the world period. A work like The Secret Doctrine could not fail to cause a commotion in those days; recent developments have paved the way for us better to appreciate these thoughts and subscribe to the fundamental unity of man and universe.

The human mind is not extraneous to the mind of the universe. In fact, nothing is conceivable apart from the fundamental space-energy-mind to which the ancient Vedic poet would not give a name. Names indicate qualities, and so imply limitations because every quality excludes its opposite. So the Vedic sage spoke simply of tat, That. In the subtle logic of Buddhist thinking, the absolute fullness of space is called sunyata, emptiness: all that exists is as ripples in this boundless ocean which cannot be said to have this or that form, and which in that sense is “empty.” With their plenum or pleroma the Gnostics and other ancient Mediterranean thinkers emphasized its “fullness,” which comprises all worlds, our visible as well as numerous invisible ones. These worlds may be symbolized as rungs on the unending “ladder of being.” Whether the inhabitants of realms higher than ours are called aeons, angelic orders, or dhyani-buddhas makes no difference. The world is the interaction of a variety of monads, but not all monads necessarily express themselves on the physical level. Although in essence all monads are aspects of the ultimate ground of being, in their forms of manifestation they are infinitely varied. In their totality they constitute nature, the Jacob’s ladder of evolving beings, conjointly weaving the fabric of visible and invisible worlds, the multiplicity of “parallel universes” modern thinkers are beginning to surmise.

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