Human life should grow, not quantitatively through the conquest of nature, but qualitatively in cooperation with nature. - Rene Dubos, A God Within
The quality of the inherent nature of man is an important topic raised by a book by the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dr. Rene Dubos: A God Within (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1972). The author is not only a famous microbiologist, but also one of the leading supporters of the view that our ecosystem is in danger because of the devastating side effects of modern technology. He is not opposed to industrialization as such, only to its advance in total disregard of the effects of its indestructible waste products which cannot be absorbed into the despoiled environment. Irreducible plastic containers piling up in their millions provide mute testimony, contrasting with the debris of ancient civilizations which was taken back into the natural habitat. The most valuable contribution of the book is its stimulation of thoughts about the distinctive characteristics of man and, by implication, of the cosmic life patterns of which he is a part.
At the very outset, Dr. Dubos raises the interesting concept of entheos, a Greek term meaning 'god within,' from which our familiar word enthusiasm comes. He states it is this that drives man on into ever new ventures and greater creativity. Yet it would be better to say that it is not only enthusiasm in the ordinary sense, but also inspiration, for both are expressions of entheos, the god within. This suggests the kind of enthusiasm that Plato might have had in mind when he said the power of the poet to move the souls of men came through an ecstasy or 'divine mania' resulting from an overshadowing or 'possession' by the god Apollo, symbol of the Logos or universal mind.
This point of view opens up a larger vista of what is implied by the Greek term entheos, encompassing much more than the peculiarities of a personality that lasts only one lifetime. Dubos expounds it 'scientifically,' as the manifestation of what we inherit genetically and distill from our experience. He says that our ideals and what we commit ourselves to, flow from or are the expression of this entheos, thus accounting for the kinds of thoughts which emerge from us, and what we do. But does this really explain how and why we react to our surroundings and what happens to us in life? Does it describe the factors that combine to make us unique individuals? Happenstance and randomness cannot account for the various phenomena found in nature, such as the endless replication throughout a lifetime of each individual's distinctive DNA molecules, which are the vehicles of innate characteristics, not their creators.
The persistence of individuality cannot yet be explained in biological terms. Even though nerve cells do not multiply after birth, they keep growing at a rate matching the fastest proliferating cells of the adult body, and yet amidst all this flux, the mind retains a sense of identity throughout life. This stability implies the existence of a pattern of neural organization that is essentially independent of metabolic changes.
Does this not point to the presence within us of an entity of some kind that is the real center of the magnetic field we call a man, and of which we see but the outer ranges or integuments?
What everyone values most is his or her own individuality. Yet, by and large, sociologists and behaviorists try to explain human phenomena merely by generalizing from certain common traits observed in the 'hothouse' conditions of modem cities. They assert that the consciousness part of a human being consists only of biological and psychological factors arising from family inheritance and environment, and now incorporated into body and mind. Their findings are even being applied retrospectively to the study of historic peoples whose outlooks must have been quite different from those prevailing today. The real creators, the artists and thinkers, of long-gone civilizations, whose record we can only guess at from the broken shards, scattered references in old writings, and ruins, are veiled from our eyes.
The special "I-ness" that is the core of each one of us has experienced many things in a long succession of earthly vehicles. The various expressions of man's thinking and doing arise from the central individuality that continues as an identity through all the changes and vicissitudes of daily life. This is part of the process of a never-ending refinement of quality emanating from inside and tempered by the new circumstances that spring up from old causes sown like seeds in this or previous lifetimes.
Man's life "depends upon a hierarchical order," says Dr. Dubos, a suggestive concept that has its roots in antiquity. Not only was it then understood that the whole cosmos is comprised of families or hierarchies of entities, interlocking to embody the consciousness of the whole, but also that we ourselves compound a hierarchy of selves. These range from the most physical field, or body, to the most elevated or spiritual-divine. This thought can be expressed in another way, again quoting from the author:
Individuality is thus "becoming" rather than "being," a continuously evolving structure made up of inherited and acquired characteristics that are integrated at each step into an organic whole.
If we interpret the "inheritance" to mean what we have taken up from our own past lives, then the "becoming" and "evolving" more surely fit the development of faculty from the central essence within.
A flower illustrates this point very well. At first there is scarcely a speck, insignificant in size but already bearing within the "empty space in its heart" the design that will swell out into a small bud and reach its fullness as an open flower. Similarly, in the psychological heart of man's being there is a blueprint of which he has already embodied some of the parts. He is different from the rest of earth's children, he can make decisions, organize and reject; when spurred by inspiration he can make things of great beauty or ingenuity — all of which is done with the power of the soul. The whole of the pattern has not yet been unfolded; if we may believe the encouraging words of wise men who have preceded us, we are to keep growing until the qualities of the entheos manifest in relative fullness.
Can the parts be different from the whole? Can we have qualities that are not to be found in our parentage in the consciousness of Space? Deep run the roots of man's being, indeed of all beings, through the layers of substance into the immensities of the infinitude. Because we have a common source, are sustained by a common supply of life force, are blended of similar ingredients, we recognize that there are bonds linking together every spark in the vastness. Brotherhood is a fact in nature and not a mere sentiment.
It is encouraging that scientists like Rene Dubos and the late Erwin Schrodinger turn to philosophical concepts to flesh out the dry bones of the data they accumulate in their researches. When Origen exhorted man: "Thou art a second world in miniature, the sun and moon are within thee, and also the stars," he meant we are all compounded of the same stuff. But he was likewise a link in the chain of Neoplatonists at the great center in Alexandria. And their ancient teaching was that the personal part of man came from a previous manifestation of earth's being, that which is now the moon. The spiritual side of man was regarded as of solar origin and the divine spark it carried in its center was thought to have a starry parentage.
Our individuality has been inherent in us from the very beginning of existence on earth. When our self-consciousness was awakened, bringing with it awareness of space, time and continuity, and of consciousness per se, we were able to communicate with each other. We shared the common aspects of our experience, but we could not impart the shades of meaning felt in our deepest recesses and beyond the powers of the reasoning faculty to define.
The sudden illuminations, the spontaneous ideas and achievements of creative artists and scientists, of social reformers, even of our own daily selves, originate in the still, quiet nucleus of our inmost self.
Man's physical transformations of his habitat have beautified and also made ugly the handiwork of nature. They have frequently drawn into actuality what was hidden in the wilderness as potentiality, in the same way as Michelangelo evoked out of the marble the hidden beauty his eyes saw there. Just imagine what it would be like if man equally transmuted his selfish, material traits into their noblest potentials.
(From Sunrise magazine, December 1973; copyright © 1973 Theosophical University Press)