Our Spiritual Origin

Bill Dougherty

Where do we come from? The origin of humanity is one of the most profound questions faced in religious, philosophic, and scientific inquiry. Are we another expression of the impersonal laws of nature, acting blindly to produce a random result called mankind? Or did a supernatural being will us into existence perfectly formed and complete as we are now? These and many other theories have been advanced to explain our presence here on earth. To me it seems sensible that we have the same origin as everything else. The ultimate source of existence is non-existence. We see this idea in Genesis, where it is expressed as darkness covering the face of the deep. I take this to mean that before the universe manifested, there was non-manifestation. That which resulted in manifested existence cannot be described in any word or thought that we could possibly know or imagine. A common metaphor for this rootless root or unknowable causeless cause is infinite space — symbolically expressed as darkness, devoid of any condition or attribute. But the space referred to is not the three-dimensional space of our senses. It is infinite in the sense that it is not large or small, hot or cold, light or dark. The vacuum of modern atomic physics, which can spontaneously produce physical particles that appear apparently out of non-being only to vanish again instantly, is a suggestive simile. Yet any name or concept attached to this non-existing void can never describe it, for it is not an “it” of any kind that we could possibly imagine.

As manifestation begins, so begin the infinite gradations of form — time, matter, spirit, thought, action, becoming, even being itself. These countless conditions and aspects of manifested existence arise out of non-being, non-existence. Having a common origin, all forms of manifested existence are intimately related and causally intertwined. Every individual form has a unique center, an atmic point that is a vortex of infinity linking it, and hence its manifested form, to everything else and to the rootless root of nothingness. Throughout, the common ground of expression for everything is consciousness — not necessarily human consciousness, but limitless varieties of consciousness expressing itself in every imaginable form, and countless others as well. It can manifest as matter and spirit, as will and energy, as people and planets, atoms and galaxies, as time or gravity, or anything else in manifestation. All forms are expressions of consciousness.

So what is our spiritual heritage? It is the same as that of every other being in the universe. It is a common origin rooted in that which is within and beyond being and non-being. It links us with everyone and everything completely. We call it spiritual, but it is more than that. It is as infinite and eternal as ourselves.

(From Sunrise magazine, Winter 2007; copyright © 2006 Theosophical University Press)

As long as the sky exists
And as long as there are sentient beings,
May I remain to help
Relieve them of all their pain.
                                — Shantideva

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