Universal Brotherhood – March 1898

PANTHEISM CONTRASTED WITH IDEALISM — Jerome A. Anderson

Pantheism may be defined as a belief in a constructive, destructive, and reconstructive conscious, intelligent Power, resident within the material universe, and not outside of or apart from this. Carried to its logical completion, this definition implies that in every point in space and in every atom of matter this divine power indwells, and by it alone all conscious existence or manifestation of form becomes possible. Call this power God, if thought desirable; then God stands for space, and all that space contains, and it becomes imperative that we examine space and its contents if we would study the nature of God.

Without raising, for the present, the question as to what is real or unreal, but accepting the manifested universe as we perceive it, we are confronted by a triad of apparent realities, into one or other of which every phenomenon of whatever nature or degree ultimately resolves itself. These are: Consciousness, Force and Matter — terms used in their ordinary acceptation. From our finite view-point these appear to be eternally associated — to be, indeed, incapable of dissociation even in thought.

Physicists or metaphysicists may claim that pure force apart from any vehicle of matter in which to manifest itself, or pure consciousness distinct from anything to be conscious of, or from any force resulting from the act of consciousness itself, are possible concepts, but the Pantheist denies this. Recognizing that man as a finite being is necessarily unable to grasp infinite problems, the Pantheist sees in consciousness, force and matter but aspects or hypostases of THAT which, as its necessary basis, stands as the Causeless Cause of all manifestation. This Causeless Cause is conceived of as Unmanifested Unity from the logical necessity of there being but one infinite power possible. With these hypostases alone has man any concern. The finite cannot measure nor contain the Infinite; therefore it is useless to attempt to deal with, or to describe, infinite states such as pure consciousness or pure force must be, admitting their existence to be possible. Under manifested conditions, consciousness, force and matter are always associated. The apparently upward sweep of evolution consists solely in the changes in the relation between these aspects of the Causeless Cause; surface changes, it may be, of whose real meaning and effect upon the infinite side of Being these finite changes contain not even a hint. Still, as it is conceivable that infinite Unity can only manifest itself finitely through infinite diversity, so, while looking upon the infinite succession of phenomena thrown upon the screen of time as illusions concealing the reality, it is not impossible that in these unrealities may be caught glimpses of the eternal verities concealed beneath them, which is the justification of all philosophic speculation.

It is thus seen that Pantheism sharply distinguishes between that which is a proper subject for finite investigation, and that which is not; for from confounding the two much confusion of philosophic thought has arisen. The finite human mind, being an inhabitant of an infinite universe, is at all times confronted with infinite problems, which it would be absurd to suppose it capable of solving. Man may fancy, for example, that infinite states of consciousness, force, or matter, are the opposites of finite ones, but whether or not this is really the case, he can never hope to definitely determine. Therefore it is sheer and unwarranted speculation to identify any of these aspects of the Causeless Cause with the Causeless Cause itself, or to say that any of them is real or unreal. They exist, and it is with the existing (out-from) universe that the human mind must deal.

A non-recognition of these three basic aspects of the One Reality concealed behind them, is directly at the root of most Western philosophic disagreement. Differing minds have seized upon a differing aspect, and, while either ignoring entirely, or assigning a secondary importance to, the others, have erected systems of philosophy which have necessarily erred. Thus materialism, now happily almost extinct as a philosophy, makes of the material aspect of the Causeless Cause its fetich, while Idealism can perceive no reality but thought in the universe. No one will question that all form is the result of thought expressed in matter. By the power of thought a house is built of bricks; but the bricks are not actual thoughts, which is practically the Idealistic claim.

Again, nothing can exist in the manifested universe without its unmanifested base; or, to state it axiomatically, there can be no effect without its antecedent cause. Therefore, if we find in this universe that which when compared with consciousness appears material, we cannot ignore it out of existence; but must trace it to its ultimate cause, though this lead us to a substance which to ether is as the latter is to granite in its fineness and tenuity. And this involves no wild search after an indivisible atom, but simply a rational examination of something unquestionably within space, and which is the polar opposite of consciousness, or the "matter" of our every-day experience. Being thus traced, substance, or that which Hindu philosophers term "mulaprakriti," the "root of matter," is plainly recognizable as one of the triad of aspects which the Causeless Cause presents to our finite comprehension.

Western philosophy and metaphysics break down at the very point where Eastern philosopher really begins. No Western philosophy has reasoned out the relation of these aspects, consciousness, matter, and force, to the Absolute, nor the relation of the Absolute to the Causeless Cause or Unknowable. Spinoza has tried to picture the Causeless Cause, which he, in common with most Western philosophers confuses with the Absolute, as Infinite Substance; with Hegel it became Infinite Thought; while Schelling labels it Infinite Mind; and so on, down through a series of philosophers until the very apotheosis of spiritual blindness is reached in Buchner and his materialistic confreres. Each of these has looked at but one aspect of the many sided Causeless Cause, and has either ignored all others, or has classed them as "properties" of his particular idol. Fancy the madness of materialism in classing consciousness as a "property" of matter! Eastern philosophers have always recognized the unreality of both matter and spirit (consciousness) as viewed from a finite standpoint, yet it is also out of their attempts to transcend the limits of finite investigation that most of their sectarian differences have arisen. For India, in the endeavor to avoid the Scylla of materialism, has fallen, in these latter days, hopelessly into the Charybdis of metaphysical Idealism. Thus the nature of the Causeless Cause — a subject utterly transcending the power of finite analysis — is the field of conflict between the great Adwaiti and Visishtadwaiti schools of philosophy — not to speak of minor schools. The Visishtadwaiti school declares that the Causeless Cause, which in India is often confused with and termed the Absolute, can have no attributes, for attributes necessitate limitation, and limitation negatives Absoluteness. This school therefore argues that as these attributes unquestionably exist, they have existed from, and will exist throughout, eternity, apart from, although undoubtedly resting upon, the Causeless Cause. The Adwaiti school, on the other hand, teaches Absolute Unity, with which Pantheism quite agrees. Both the dualistic and non-dualistic schools recognize "matter" in an infinite number of states, and declare that the matter of this plane of the cosmos is unreal only in the sense that finite beings are unable to perceive the ultimate reality which lies at its base. Real or unreal, there is, as has been said, something in the universe evidently the opposite of consciousness, which limits although always associated with this, and it is only plain logic to reason that this opposite something will and does appear upon more interior planes as finer states of "matter" until it finally loses itself in the Causeless Cause, of which it is as truly an aspect as is consciousness itself.

Nor can we say that mind is more real than matter. It is superior to matter in that the latter is molded into form by it, and hence as man is a thinking being, and molds both his form and character by thought, the lesson is that man should learn the nature and correct use of this most powerful agent, thus placed at his disposal. Mind, being the conscious aspect of the Causeless Cause in a state of active manifestation, is of infinitely more importance to man than matter, in which consciousness is in such different states that it seems to his active, thinking mind to be absent. But a half truth is often more dangerous than its entire perversion, and it is exactly this half truth which Idealists in India and elsewhere utter when they declare that "mind alone is real." In the introduction to the Mundaka Upanishad (1) published by Mr. Tookaram Tatya, F. T. S., the introduction for which was written by Prof. Dvivedi, the question is asked, "Is mind then a final cause? Far from it; for mind is also finite, and shows its dependence upon something else by the fact that in deep sleep the mind is without manifestation, etc." It is plainly to be seen that while mind is unquestionably superior to matter, in no respect is it more real, and the Idealistic assertion that it alone is real is untenable. To be real a thing must be changeless, and a changeless mind is an absurdity. The mind changes from the cradle to the grave, with even more facility than matter; the real something — from our finite view-point only — is the consciousness which roots in an aspect of the Causeless Cause, (Visishtadwaiti Vedantins declare it is the Absolute, placing the Unknowable behind this still) and which is always associated in the manifested universe with a material form, and with that finite modification of Absolute motion (force) which is the cause of that form. That consciousness seems, and no doubt is, the superior of all aspects of the Causeless Cause, may be freely granted; but that it alone is real, no Pantheist will admit; and, further, he who confuses consciousness with its attribute, thought, or ideation, is but a shallow metaphysician.

In the manifested Universe, consciousness is everywhere, potent or latent (perceivable or unperceived); so also is matter everywhere. Mulaprakriti, the "Veil of Parabraham," of the Adwaiti School, is coexistent with Space itself. Theoretically, it is declared to precede spirit (consciousness) when the Absolute projects the manifested universe. Therefore, it metaphysically precedes consciousness and might be held superior to this, if one were to wander into the opposite absurdity of Idealism, or Materialism. Mind, then, must not be identified with consciousness, except to recognize the latter as its basic source. It is an active, manifesting phase of consciousness, and from the stand-point of the Causeless Cause is as unreal, in the sense of impermanency as is form which is but a passing phenomenon of its aspect, matter.

Again, who can define consciousness, force or matter? All elude analysis; the mind draws back confounded in its attempt to conceive the reality lying behind either of them, for it is in the presence of an infinite problem. Therefore the old idealistic argument that there can be no world without a mind to perceive it, is as childish as, and similar in character to, the old religious notion that the sun, moon, and stars were mere appendages to the earth, and created solely for its benefit. Worlds can and do exist in the pantheistic conception of the universe without being perceived by any thinking entity. Idealists apparently recognize but one mode of consciousness — that of externalizing objects. This position is necessitated when one confuses mind and consciousness as they do. Let the world cease to be externalized, in the manner in which man projects in space the things he interiorly perceives, and it must they argue, cease to be. What superficial reasoning! Let every perceiving mind now upon earth be destroyed, and it will continue to exist in the divine consciousness. Has the moon ceased to be a real object in the heavens since it became no longer habitable, and will it instantly disappear into nothingness when externalizing minds no longer perceive it? Absurd! These aspects of the Absolute which produce form, and a consciousness which recognizes that form, are entirely independent of the fact as to whether or not they are perceived by a class of externalizing entities. This world is until other laws than those of mere mental perception cause it to grow old and fade away, and it will continue to exist although millions of Idealists die, and so lose their external perception of it.

Besides, what warrant has any one for assuming that there are no material worlds other than this? Analogy, logic and philosophy point to opposite conclusions. And the teaching of Pantheism is that the universe is embodied consciousness, and that he who "dies" to the world in this state of matter simply transfers his consciousness to this world in another state of matter; for the world, as well as man, roots in and penetrates to the Causeless Cause itself. Whether man will externalize, or project, the matter in the next state depends upon whether or not he has acquired self-consciousness under those conditions — which opens up a field of investigation into which we will not now enter.

A reasonable object of evolution would seem to be to enable consciousness to become self-consciousness. Yet this apparently involves the absurdity of supposing the greater to desire to become the lesser — the Infinite become the Finite in order to become conscious of itself! But whether this be true or not, it is but childish folly for any finite mind to declare that it has solved the problem of life — has answered the riddle of the Sphinx. Only let us avoid the capital error of isolating man from Nature, whose creation and child he is, for this is to despoil him of his divine birthright — to achieve one day, out of his manhood, godhood.

FOOTNOTE:

1. Twelve Principal Upanishads, p. 645. (return to text)


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