Excerpt from You Are Infinite, You Are Eternal, You Are God: And more importantly, You Are Me
When our distant ancestors looked to ‘the heavens’ on the clearest of pollution-free nights, or through the most awesome torrents of thunder and lightning; when they watched the golden ball of heat and light arise each morning from beyond the horizon; felt tears of rain dropping from above, or the gentle breath of a summer breeze; when they were tossed around in the waves of the ocean; sat silently in a life-saturated rainforest; or when they felt a new human being growing inside them, and then held it in their arms for the very first time; they looked for a word to describe the indescribable magnificence of the existence that surrounded them. Today, we call that existence the universe, or more recently, the cosmos. They called it God. The first use of the word ‘God’ did not describe an external being – a big old man with a long grey beard sitting in the clouds – a divine creature separated from the rest of creation. The earliest use of this word described the exact opposite – the Oneness, the Allness, the totality of creation – that which no human mind then or since has ever been able to comprehend.
What we have described in this book so far – the infinite and eternal, interconnected One Cosmos – is God. God is simply the All That Is – whatever that is. God is everything we can see and all that we cannot see, everything we know and all that we do not know, the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end, the within, between and beyond of all there is and all there could be. God is the physical matter – the photons, protons, and neutrons, the dark matter and dark energy, the ‘multiverse,’ the ‘multiple dimensions,’ the ‘parallel worlds,’ or whatever form this universe might take on. God is the sea of formless Consciousness, and the reality of whatever else might exist that we cannot even imagine. This notion of God was the original meaning of the word, and is today called Panentheism – God is the All (pan), and ‘The More’ (en) than the All – whatever that more might be.
The evolution of the miracle of language was both a blessing and a curse. Words have made us ‘superior’ in many ways to other species on earth. But it is words that have created the illusion of separation, and words that have made us the species most cut off from our natural being with Oneness. It was inevitable that we should attempt to create a label to describe All That Is. But the moment we did, All That Is was reduced to a single syllable and an idea in the head. With the first utterance of the word ‘God’ the Infinite and Eternal, One All That Is, was put into a box. Prior to the development of human language, there was no ‘God.’ There was just What Is. Living in and amongst the magnificence of the creation that surrounded them, our ancestors would have instinctually known they were one with it all. But over time, our attempts to describe the indescribable – to explain the unexplainable – reduced the infinite wonder of the cosmos to a finite mental image. And so the first utterance of the word God was in effect the birth of ‘God’ the idea.
Once God was put in a box, each new label given to it made the box smaller and smaller. And the smaller our image of God became, the more damage it would do. Despite the incredible good that has been done in the name of religion and the name of ‘God’ throughout the centuries, it is the idea of ‘my God’ and ‘your God’ that has become one of the greatest sources of violence and suffering in human history.
My God and Their God - The Blind Men and the Elephant
A traditional Indian fable tells the story of six blind men who were asked to describe an elephant, of which they had no prior knowledge. The first blind man, touching only the side of the elephant, proclaimed ‘the elephant is a wall.’ The second blind man touched only the tusk and cried ‘the elephant is a spear.’ The third touched only the leg, and said ‘the elephant is a tree.’ The fourth touched the tail, and called the elephant a rope, the fifth touched the ear and called it a fan, and finally, the sixth blind man touched only the trunk, saying ‘you are all wrong – the elephant is a snake.’ The men began to argue and fight over whose limited experience of the elephant was correct, and to cause all sorts of troubles for themselves and for others.
This story describes the history of humankind’s understandings of God. We are all blind men and women when it comes to ‘seeing’ the Ultimate Reality that is God. And while many of us continue to claim to know the ultimate truth, and many continue to fight about who is right and who is wrong, the fable concludes by telling us that each blind man is partly in the right, and partly in the wrong. Each and every one of us forms our own image of who or what God is. But the tragic error that we make is to mistake the image for the real thing. As the fable tells us, each of these images turn out to describe but the tiniest fraction of the elephant we choose to call God. Our limited theologies therefore, like our sciences, can only ever contain the smallest portion of ultimate truth.
The Five Blind Men
So the original notion of God was one of panentheism – God is the sum total of All That Is. This understanding of God endured in pockets of each emerging civilisation and faith system. But as language developed, the infinite became finite, and soon there were as many blind men and women as there were people on earth. But while every blind man and woman throughout history has formed their own unique image of God, there are five main categories that most would fit into – five main ways that most would use to describe the idea of God:
In the first instance, as language developed, we attempted to answer the big questions – the what, when, where, and why of the cosmos. And as soon as words were used to describe the mysteries of creation, mystery itself became separate from creation – the universe became separate from ‘The More.’ The natural and the ‘supernatural’ split and became two. This was the initial confinement of the divine into a separate compartment of reality. For the first time, God became separate from us. And for the first blind man, divinity was reduced to this supernatural realm. God was reduced to ‘The More’ – a mystical force that governed and interacted with the universe rather than being One with it.
For the first blind man then, rather than the divine being All That Is, it became a part of all that is. Animism, is the belief that divinity exists as a form of in-dwelling spirit or consciousness, which exists within humans, other sentient beings, or within features of the physical universe. This ‘spirit’ formed a significant part of physical reality, but maintained an elevated reality above or beyond the world of form.
- God in the Clouds
Within animism, the supernatural realm of divinity remained at least an integral part of the natural world. But as our explanations of this supernatural realm became more and more detailed, the idea of God became more and more separate from that of the natural world. For the second blind man then, God became a purely transcendent being (or beings). ‘God’ or ‘the gods’ now existed outside of the world they had created, as big old men with long grey beards (or as beautiful young women) sitting on thrones in the clouds. This being, or beings, entered the world only of their own volition – usually to reward or punish human beings – and became accessible to the masses only through specific sacred sites and properly anointed individuals or ceremonies. This God became one to fear, one that made you or your tribe righteous, a God to whom certain practices were expected lest ye be judged, and very soon, a God who many would kill and die for. This has been a tragically isolating and destructive image of God throughout modern civilisation. It is the image of God most commonly debated by believers and non-believers – the one most vehemently preached, and the one most commonly rejected.
When the universe and ‘The More’ became separate, the first two blind men stripped the natural world of its Oneness with God, confining divinity to the purely supernatural realm. But throughout human history, there has existed the belief in the complete opposite. In rejecting a God (or gods) who are separate from the universe, the third blind man instead maintained that God is the universe – God is One with the created world. This idea is similar to panentheism, but by robbing the divine of anything that is beyond what we can know and observe, this notion of God removed the ‘en’ (‘The More’) from panentheism, and became known as pantheism – God is simply all that is. In today’s post-modern world, the idea of pantheism has become one in which a great number of people can reconcile a belief in God with the findings of modern science, and without the discomfort of superstition and the supernatural.
In recent times a fourth blind man has joined the scene. This blind man is educated. He has studied science, and believes he can explain the workings of the cosmos. He hears the testimony of the other blind men and knows them to be false. Moreover, he is horrified by the violence and conflict that exists between the other blind men. He finds their individual stories and their behaviour to be absurd. And so, tragically he rejects the existence of the elephant altogether – not realising that it is the elephant he rides upon each and every day!
This fourth blind man is obviously the story of atheism. Today, an ever-growing number of people reject the story of the God in the clouds. To many, this is a good thing. It provides the potential for us to overcome past (and prevent future) horrors committed in the name of religion. But as horrific as have been the consequences of a notion of a God separate from creation, it is perhaps just as tragic that so many of us today have thrown the baby out with the bath water. With no popular alternative image of the divine, the rejection of the God-in-a-box has left a void in terms of spirituality, and has severed a link with the mystery and wonder of the cosmos. Just like the other blind men, the atheist believes he has seen all of ultimate reality – that there is nothing more. He believes in a sterile, lifeless void. Often without realising it then, the fourth blind man is lonely. His assuredness masks a lack of identity and belonging – of connectedness to the One Life that He Is. This void manifests as an array of individual unrest, which eventually creates unrest in relationships, and within society as a whole.
In panentheism God is the universe and ’The More’ – God is both transcendent and immanent. God is literally all that exists in the physical world and is the sum total of whatever else might exist beyond the world of form.
No image of God is complete, and thus panentheism can be considered just another blind man. But by its very nature, panentheism at least knows that it is blind. The panentheist knows the truth that lies within each description of the elephant, has touched various parts of it for himself, and knows there is far more to the elephant than he will ever experience. More fundamentally though, the panentheist realises somehow that She Is the elephant!
Of each of the images painted by the five blind men / women, the true notion of God is whichever you choose to be true. ‘God’ is a word – it is a mental construct for something that we will never come close to fully comprehending, and as a metal construct it becomes whatever meaning we want to give it. The case I am making for my own panentheistic image of God is based on panentheism’s inherent universality. By its fundamentally all-encompassing nature, panentheism in effect unites each of the other four broad understandings of God:
- Within panentheism, ‘The More’ could be anything – including nothing! Therefore, the pantheist and the panentheist could agree that God is simply All That Is. And even within the most sterile, mechanical view of creation, a materialist, an agnostic, or even an atheist could agree that ‘God’ is simply a word used to describe this reality
- Within panentheism, ‘The More’ can incorporate any of the supernatural or transcendent qualities of God that you might be fond of. As we have seen, science now tells us there is far more mystery, wonder, majesty and unknown in the cosmos than there is known. In particular, the science that suggests that all possibilities not only can exist, but do exist, suggests a reality which includes the ‘More’ of all spiritual traditions!
- Finally, within a panentheistic understanding of God, the idea that God does not exist becomes absurd, or at least redundant. Such an idea says in effect that nothing exists. Even if we wanted to get fancy and suggest (as some philosophies do) that nothing does exist, we could simply say that “O.K., - the nothing is God!” Under panentheism it is not “does God exist?” but “God is all that exists.” God is existence – is the only reality!
You Are God
So let’s bring it all together. Regardless of what piece of the elephant – of Ultimate Reality – you have personally touched, the elephant is the elephant. God is God. So now we get controversial – or perhaps reckless. Few topics throughout history have created greater emotion, or stronger reaction, than to challenge an individual’s image of the divine. So while many can accept the fact that God may well be All There Is, there are few prepared to take the next step to make the claim that You or I are God.
The very purpose of this book however, is to undo understandings of the divine that limit God to anything less than infinite and eternal possibility, and thus to make possible any belief system you might already have. It is my hope that in the description of the cosmos in the previous chapters, and in the pages to follow, I have left enough room for mystery to allow your own image of God to still fit in. What is clear to me in the image of the cosmos described so far, is that there is far more possibility than impossibility – far more open doors than closed ones. In addition to being All There Is, God may also be a man sitting in the clouds. In addition to working within the laws of physics, the All that we cannot comprehend may also ‘intervene’ in the physical world with powers we are yet to discover.
Whatever God is or is not. God is what God is! Science now confirms that all there is One. And as all that exists is One, then the One must be God. And as all that exists is One, then the One must be You. So as You are the One and the One is God, You Are God. It can be no other way. In scripture the divine describes itself simply as I Am, and so as I Am, so You Are!
The final case for a panentheistic understanding of God then, is the fact that it fundamentally lies at the heart of all religious traditions. The science that tells us that not only is anything possible, but that every possibility is, is the hallmark understanding of God within every spiritual tradition – the idea that “nothing is impossible with God.” After arising as the original notion of God, panentheism has endured in every culture throughout human history – most notably, as the foundation of indigenous spiritualties of the past and present. But panentheistic belief has also persisted within individuals and groups within every religious and spiritual tradition.
Despite the various theologies that have put God in a box, and the various testimonies of the various blind men and women, there have been rare individuals who have popped up throughout history with crystal clear vision. These enlightened masters have reminded us of the truth of our own Oneness with the divine. These are the masters around whom religions were formed in the first place. It is through the recovery of the original understanding of God, as told by these individuals, that we can fill the spiritual void being created in our world today. It is these masters who illuminate for us the truth, that far from being separate from the world of creation – God is creation. And God is You!
The above article is a excerp from the book You Are Infinite, You Are Eternal, You Are God: And more importantly, You Are Me by Mark Ellison
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