Reflections on Ken Wilber's The Religion of Tomorrow
(2017) - Parts
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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Potential Emptiness is the very goal of the mystical practice. Only here is life to be experienced as completely full.
Both the world of Form and the world of Emptiness have no beginning. If we do want to speak of any beginning (of time, of Emptiness, of the world, of our own existence in its metaphysical aspect), then we are right away confronted with the paradox that such a beginning must have started outside the space-time dimensions we know of, which is an unsupportable absurdity to our reason. For it is absurd to speak of a beginning, when there is no time. Time was born with our knowledge of it –since it is one of the a priori conditions of the working of our consciousness- but before we became conscious of time, we must logically already have been there, and so was the world. Was there no time before we became conscious of it? The question is absurd, for there is no use speaking of time, when it has not yet been invented or discovered (when knowledge of time has not yet become a mental structure of our consciousness).
Just like space has no limits –it's infinite- and causality has no first cause, so 'objective time' (if there were such a thing) is without a beginning. The sentence of time did not start off with a capital and will not end with a full stop. It is an ongoing process, a perpetuum mobile, full of change and diversity, true, but without a beginning or an end. If there was a Bing Bang, then there must have been something before it, causing it to happen. And if there will be a Doomsday to hand out a final blow to our world, then it will not be the last day in our universe, for there is nothing to end all time. It is given by consciousness, which is eternal both beyond and within the time we know of.
This was already the insight of Parmenides, who was like all Eleatics both a logician and a mystic: only Being is. It does not make sense to speak of Non-Being but only in a figurative sense, as a negation. For Non-Being contradicts itself in asserting that it is not what it is. It will deny its own truth, if it denies its own Being. So when we speak of mystical Emptiness, we will not describe it as a negative concept (although it may be a negation in itself, viz. of the world of Forms), but as positive and potential Being.
This is not some clever, theoretical ontology we are presenting here, but its purport is essentially real and practical. This thought serves a purpose that will make itself clear as we proceed. Philosophy in mysticism is only used for practical purposes, because it may give us clarity in answering the most fundamental questions: what (or who) are we and how are we to become happy and blissful in this world? So we are not giving in to some vain urge of idle curiosity or speculation, satisfying our lust for being smart, but here we are looking into the essentials of our being.
In answering these questions we will follow a reverse order. We'll start off with describing the Source of mystical happiness, but this is in a way presenting the last things first. For when we observe our consciousness and the world we live in (in idealistic terms they are more or less inseparable) the Source is not the first reality given. In our natural waking state we seldom have an intuition of Emptiness. Only on rare occasions does such an inner experience present itself to our waking consciousness, if it does so spontaneously. The ability to look into the deepest layers of our consciousness only comes with mystical training and the steady discipline of contemplation. But let this not be a cause for our discouragement, if we are only recently taking up a mystical discipline. For in everyone of us Emptiness is the deepest layer of our life and consciousness, and though we may not be conscious of it everyday, we can not escape being it. So these words will sound familiar, though they may not be a daily experience to everyone.
The Source of our life is not God, some demiurg, a Nous or any other form of projected human intelligence outside of consciousness. It is beyond all such designations. It totally escapes the comprehension of our intelligence and is therefore empty as our thinking is concerned. That Emptiness is the best way to describe the Source is gathered from our experience of meditation, where the deepest layers of our consciousness present themselves as open and empty layers of stillness, where only an enormous potential of energy and blissfulness is felt. This feeling experience does not give knowledge to our brain. It is not a rational understanding. It is only an approximation of the roots of our consciousness, giving us a feeling that we are on familiar ground, like a sort of home coming. But like the traveler, coming home after a weary trip abroad, does not know what the feeling is he describes as homely, as his heimat, though he recognizes it right away when crossing his threshold, so the soul traveler of meditation instantaneously recognizes he touches the Source, when he transcends the grosser forms of his consciousness.
Emptiness is not outside of our consciousness (though it is also transcendent to it), but it is a deeply felt reality inside of us, being both the deepest layer of our consciousness, as well as the Gestalt field making our relative consciousness shine out, like the background of letters on paper. We -our body, our psyche, our mind- are both enveloped by this Source field, as well as shining out like the segment of it. We are both the part and the whole of consciousness. In the deepest part of us we are the whole. In the turbulence of the gross forms of our consciousness we seem to be the part. But in the highest vision of mystical Oneness the part and the whole are united. On that plane there is a continuance felt between them.
Some call Emptiness God and they say that Emptiness -their God- is love. To back up their case they point to the mystics who are day by day living in close contact with God. According to their account this continual absorption in Divinity transforms the mystic into the most lovable person on earth. For Love begets love, they say. And God, who is Love, pours love into the ones who are in love with Him. This would make their love unconditional, as His Love is unconditional. But to this we say: they are confusing love with Oneness and mistake total acceptance to be merely one part of the love-hate dyad. But Emptiness is both both of them as well as neither of them and as the transcendence of all dualisms it is something more than either one or both of them. Emptiness in this regard is empty of all dualism.
Emptiness is not always love, nor its opposite. A comparison with ethics will make this clear. Ethics are closely related to their ground of consciousness. They are one of its first emanations, coming to the fore on a very subtle plane of reality, already a part of the world of duality, but still having much in common with the Oneness they emanated from. Ethics are Platonic Ideas of harmonious behavior, aiming at the best possible, Source conditioned, conduct. But ethics suffer from two major flaws, which put them in a kind of self-contradiction: firstly they are -because of their being emanations from the Source and not the Source itself- caught up in dual oppositions, where the one possibility of conduct always evokes the other as a complement or as its alternative; and secondly, because of their manifestation into the world of forms, they are contingent on a whole network of other dualities, making their meaning and scope relative to the occasion in which they appear. This makes ethics relative and not absolute, both in meaning and in application.
Because of this relativity love is not always -though very often it may be- the prescribed course to follow in ethics. Justice, for instance, is not always love. In some cases justice may call for punishment or retaliation of immoral behavior, to preserve the balance and welfare of the common good. Now one might say that a higher love is hidden in such punishment, since ultimately the good of the criminal is also served by it, be it in a somewhat roundabout way. But this 'higher love' may totally escape us -let alone the criminal himself-, when he is to be locked up in jail for a greater part of his life, forevermore socially crippled by years spent in solitary confinement. In that case the punishment only serves to make things even with society. For this purpose the individual is to be sacrificed.
The ambivalence and relativity shown in the case of ethics is even greater in the Source itself, where the coming dualities are still stored up in space-time transcendent potentialities. Were ethics about a choice between love and hate -and so a mental evaluation of values-, the Source itself is to be seen as the pre-mental stage of such an evaluation, where all morals are still homogeneous in their dual oppositions. The Source itself is preliminary amoral before the split between morality and immorality occurs.
To us it may seem that the Source -and the mystic who is imbued in the Source- is love. And when we call acceptance love we might agree with such a definition. But seen from another angle this acceptance of all that is might also be called indifference or aloofness or whatever, depending on your mood or your definitions. For in Emptiness there is total acceptance -viz. quiet, undisturbed contemplation- of the world of form. Our mind at mental level divides the world into right and wrong, good and evil, acceptable and unacceptable. The Source from out of its transcendence simply 'looks at' the world without division, discrimination or judgment. Most people would not call this love but indifference. For it implies that the Source is also accepting evil, baseness and all other things we might disapprove.
One might furthermore object to the word Emptiness that the Source is supposedly blissful and blissfulness seems to be something positive, having a fullness of its own, and not empty in itself. Just like love, blissfulness is in this criticism opposed to a negative concept, viz. sadness, depression, unfulfillment. If it is granted that the Source makes us happy and blissful, then it can't be empty in itself and the mystic using the word Emptiness would contradict herself. To this we say: just as spiritual love, spiritual blissfulness is not a dual concept. It is a transcendent phenomenon, though appearing in the world of form. It is not the same as joy, which always oscillates with its dual opposite, sadness, disappointment or the like. The blissfulness of the mystic is a permanent state of total rest and tranquility, where the world of form has ceased to imprint its weals and woes on his/her emotions. Being blissful means in this regard to have transcended all duality, also the duality joy-sadness.
This blissfulness has no content. There is no reason for the mystic to be blissful. He does not see God, Love, Happiness or whatever. He only succeeds pragmatically in conserving his basic energies, by not spilling them out into the world of form. So he always feels at rest and energetic, like having had a good night sleep and awaking full of energy in the morning. This feels blissful. But seen from a mental perspective it has no reason, because it is not occasioned by anything.
One may retort with the objection that blissfulness nevertheless seems to be conditioned, because the mystic meditates and her meditations produce the obligatory physiological and spiritual transformations that ultimately lead to her state of blissfulness. Without her daily training she would not be blissful. So there is a cause for her being so. But to this we object, that we cannot say that blissfulness is caused by meditation, because not all meditators reach that state of blissful enlightenment and also not every meditation produces the same quality of blissfulness, as even very advanced adepts may testify. There is always an amount of -what the Christians call- grace involved in the bestowing of blissfulness. Even in the meditations of enlightened mystics the amount of blissfulness varies.
Also the ecstasy of the mystic is no proof for the Source being something unalloyedly positive, since mystical ecstasy is just like blissfulness unconditioned by external events. It is a phenomenon of energy conservation, occurring in the state of personality transcendence, like in the deepest stages of meditation. This mystical ecstasy is different from the sympathetically induced forms of ecstasy, like in the great excitement of sports, dancing, music making or even of fear. But here also, in these neurologically sympathetic (non-mystical, so to speak) forms of ecstasy, its transcendent non-dual origin shows itself. For here also ecstasy may transcend the positive-negative opposition, which shows from the fact that ecstasy also may occur in moments of great pain or evil, like in the horrors of war or catastrophe, or in personal depression. Ecstasy is sublime and in this it shows its non-dual Source (the sublime is always an experience of the transcendent).
The closer we get to the Source the more ecstatic we become. Here we have an experimental proof of the Source being empty. For the more empty we become, the more we contact our Source. So there must be a shared quality and resemblance between our empty relative consciousness and the Source. And that shared quality seems to be Emptiness. Our relative consciousness may free itself from the world of forms by becoming empty in meditation. That way we become more or less like the Source itself. That's what makes us ecstatic.
The Religious View
Most religions have difficulty in acknowledging the Emptiness of the Source. This is because the mind is not suited for explaining spiritual experiences and needs to descend to mental imaginary for some sort of a translation. Because man cannot live with the ignoro, mythologies have been invented to supply the images and answers. So some religions say that our Source is like a Father, who will always protect us and make things turn out the best for us. He has even sent mediators from out of heaven to set things right again. Other religions have invented numerous Buddha's and Bodhisattva's who will not desist before we have entered the Holy Land of our Nirvana. They have even given away their prerogative of entering there first. While we are at the office they are doing the meditation for us. We seldom come across such a benevolent person in our waking life, but in the dreamworld of religion they exist. For dreams can be get for free; also (or rather: especially) free of the charge of suffering.
Other, more primitive religions tell you to just hurl your spear at the Source and it will answer all your desires and quell all your fears. Or merely perform the ceremony of your fire in the prescribed ritual sequence and all your sins are expiated. For the Source is doing all the hard work for us. All it takes is to keep it warm with a nice, cosy fire and content with your gifts and prayers.
But the problem is that the Source doesn't do anything for us. It is not very interested in our individual life. It just accepts the way we want to live and looks on undisturbed. There is only one fundamental choice we are allowed to make for ourself: we may surrender to the Source or we may avoid doing so. From that fundamental choice onward all things are predestined. From that moment on we are caught up in an endless chain of causality and there is no escaping possible. Only surrender to the Source may free us from this endless law of karma. Only contact with the Source may liberate us from this world of Form where everything is linked up with everything else and one act always brings on another, according to the inexorable law of necessity. This is the deeper meaning of the otherwise rather naive theory of reincarnation (or metempsychosis): escape from the wheel of Samsara is possible only for those who surrender themselves totally, in a complete extinction of personality. They are the ones free from the obligation of birth.
The religions also deny the Emptiness of the Source by saying it is judgmental. Some individuals are rewarded for their virtuous life with heaven, while others are permitted a second chance by entering purgatory or, in the case of their sins being mortal, are punished for evermore with the excruciations of hell. There is even scheduled a Day on the cosmos agenda when all the living and dead will pass before their Judge to be sentenced to everlasting bliss or perpetual agony, according to their deeds. So we'd better behave. All our doings are scrutinized and recorded. The bill will eventually be presented to us sooner or later.
But the Source is only a creator and an onlooker. It beholds life with total equanimity, in perfect bliss. It does not bother about handing out punishments or rewards. For the world to become and to keep on going it has created duality. All change and becoming are ultimately dependent on this duality. For life has to go from zero to one, from minus to plus and from plus to minus again. That is its perpetual fate. But with the creation of duality, divergence, ambiguity and choice have become possible. And with choice some things might work out fine, while other may go totally wrong. This is in the scheme of things.
So when we decide to make a mess of our lives, indulging in wrong (unhealthy, immoral, stupid) behavior and making capital blunders, then only we ourselves are to blame. Punishment will surely follow. But it is the chain of causality which will land on our backs some severe blows, not the whip of some devil in hell. We can only amend by surrendering to the Source, the fountain of all duality, and wipe out the only original sin we have ever committed, which is being a personality separate from the Source.
The reason most religions have for finding fault with Emptiness is the supposedly fatalistic implication of the concept. Only a few can live up to its notion. Emptiness is the greatest taboo on earth. It is shunned by almost everyone. There is not much hope or consolation to be found in Emptiness. And since all religions have to make a living and depend for their existence on a steady revenue from its members, they do not inform us about the reality of the world. For the majority here on earth want a continuation of their hopes and desires. They do not want to hear of the fundamental Emptiness of the world. They want the Source to be the same as the joy and happiness they expect to find here on earth. They look for religion as an answer to all of their strivings and ambitions, but now as the ultimate answer and not the temporary one they somehow have missed here on earth. Religion is merely a projection or continuation of their mundane hopes and wishes. What they cannot get here on earth they expect to find in religion and their religiously sought for afterlife.
But the Source is the end of all hopes. It is the end of all desires and ambitions. Here Ixion may finally find relieve from his wearisome toil of being alive. This is the great glory of the Source, that finally all our projects cease: hope, expectation, planning and thinking (worrying) about tomorrow. In the Source we may finally find the rest we longed for. But seen from the perspective of our daily life, such a suspension of the future, such a plunge into the abyss of the Now is close to dying. And this is indeed how a spiritual path feels like: it's a kind of death process, not of the body but of the personality. And it is hard for religions (and also for self-improvement workshops) to sell death. For like Emptiness, death is also one of the great taboo's in the West.
A more profound criticism is the objection that to know the Source we have to look at the world. And here we see that the world is not empty, but displays complete and breathtaking beauty and fullness. This fullness, offering us at a daily basis sheer spiritual delight, leads the more sensitive and intelligent thinker to deduce a full Source as its fountain and not an empty one. How can the One who has created such a sublime variety of landscapes, such colorfully feathered birds, such massive shoals of fish in the sea, such countless species of animals, all extraordinary equipped for each minor little task they have to perform, and such an intelligent animal as man is,- how can such a One not be full? There is nothing more full in the world than this One, who holds everything real and conceivable in the palm of his hands. Is He not the one and only true Master of Fullness?
There is some truth in this, in that the Source is non-dual and can't be fully separated from its emanation, the world of Form. So in a sense the world is the Source itself, which e.g. shows in the fact that time is without beginning, space is infinite and matter is a substratum. The Source being non-dual also means that the world and 'God' are not-two (without us falling in the trap of pantheism or panentheism, as we will later on discuss in this essay). There is an overlap, a continuance, even some sort of an identity here. So in a way this criticism is sound. Judged from its immanence the Source may indeed be described as full, which would give us one of those notorious mystical paradoxes: the Source is both empty and full.
But still there is an objection here: at this point we are discussing the transcendent aspect of the Source, its ultimate real nature. We are not talking here about the natura naturans of Spinoza, the immanent quality of the Source. This immanent Source indeed has an aspect of fullness (though here also the Source is ultimately empty, as we will see). But when we sink deeply into the Source (in our own Self), we ultimately, after layer and layer of subtle thoughts, feelings and images, meet nothing but Emptiness, like an astronaut who travels to the limits of space only to find utter darkness and desolation. This deepest extremity of consciousness is so far removed from our body, mind and all we know of, that nothing familiar comes to mind in describing it. Here, in the deepest of our Being, all words and feelings fail. The only word coming close is a negative concept: Emptiness. Here the cup of the Source has not yet spilled over into creation.
Transcendent and Immanent Emptiness
Behind everything happening in our in- and outside world there is a reality making it happen. When we say that this reality is only causality in our relative world, we still haven't explained a thing. For where does this causality come from? What is making it work? We can always extend questions of this kind further and further, till we have to conclude that the turtle and the elephant stand on empty air (referring to the Indian myth about the origin of the world). It seems that the inner workings of our mind and perception -its categories of time, space and causality- are not sufficient conditions to explain the deeper realities of the world. There always remain last questions as these: 'where does it all come from?', 'what does it all mean?' and 'to what purpose?'
This is the great stumbling block for all materialists and naturalists: when we have explained the world -and perhaps one day we will have explained its physics, its cosmology and biology exhaustively- we thereby have not run out of questions. The one most fundamental question is not explained by the prevailing scientific theories, and that is: 'what is making it all work?' And to an even greater degree there is this more personal question haunting every scientist, every philosopher, every artist, every single person alive, though he may not always be aware of it: 'what is making me work?'
There are deep emotions involved in this last question, because with this question we have touched the very kernel of our own self. Questions like 'what is making the world work?' can be asked in a rather detached way and can be studied scientifically. But when we inquire into the root cause of our own existence, the question becomes urgent and full of personal significance. Then the question takes on a spiritual meaning. It inquires after the Source that is living within us.
We humans have the great advantage of being conscious and self-reflecting animals. We are the only ones being able to see the world from the inside out. We are standing at this wonderful cross-road between subjectivity and objectivity. One part of our self -our body-mind- is the world. The other part is the consciousness of the world looking at it. This gives us extraordinary opportunities. We have the ability to look at the the consciousness that creates the world. This makes it possible for us -to a certain degree- to understand and explain the world by looking at ourselves.
For we are it. And because the world is part of our own being -even the very core of it-, we have the means of understanding it better than something which is not (a part of) us. This is a kind of supra-mental, post-rational understanding, because it makes use of faculties of our psyche that extend beyond the limits of our thinking. Our thinking mind is just an instrument devised and employed by our organism for pragmatically understanding the world we live in and for procuring motives to our will. We need our mind for choosing what to do. It is basically a pragmatic instrument. It is only theoretical in as far as it can lead to pragmatic results. It is not very fit for absolute philosophy, spirituality or other pursuits searching for the meaning of things. Our mind was not meant for those types of questions.
But fortunately we have other faculties of knowing and feeling that may help us in finding answers to fundamental questions. These are the faculties not of our mind but of our heart: intuition and contemplation. With these faculties we can actually see -with the eye of our contemplation- the core, the source of our being. This is not the same eye as the eye of our mind, but it is an eye, a way of knowing, just the same. This is intersubjectively affirmed by the fact that so many people acknowledge the insights we may have, though mental interpretations of these insights may differ. Almost everyone has a feeling, an insight of his own, when we are talking about the Source. It is felt, intuited by almost everyone at heart. This may be philosophically flawed, because logical truth excludes different interpretations (there is for the mind only one truth), but for mysticism this does not entail the bankruptcy of these insights, because for mysticism truth is so vast, that it may account for different interpretations.
The Source is there. It can be felt, even studied in a way. Let's do so here, as an hypothesis by analogy, according to the famous Hermetic principle of 'so below, so above', which we shall take to mean: the micro-cosmos of our interior life is the same as the macro-cosmos of the world; inside is outside; relative consciousness may work the same way as absolute consciousness. Now, we can see in meditation, when closing our eyes and studying consciousness, that all images, feelings, thoughts etc. rise up in us from a vast and dark sea of infinity, which we have called Emptiness. This Emptiness is the origin of these images, feelings, thoughts and so on, a kind of Mother, Father, Womb or anything you'd prefer to call it. It generates, creates them. They 'pop up', so to speak, out of nothing and take on their definite shape, much like the quanta physicists have discovered to spontaneously 'jump out' of the quantum field of nature.
It seems that from every layer of reality, whether from the physiosphere, the biosphere, the noosphere or higher, there is this spontaneous birth of entities, seemingly out of nothing, partly new and meaningless, partly already meaningful and caught up in their causal chain. But, concomitant to this process of rising and falling away, we may see and feel that, while this busy life of new thoughts and images is having it birth, all the while the generator of these new life forms -our deepest consciousness- stays perfectly calm, aloof, undisturbed and empty, though it is processing this fullness of new entities in us. After years of contemplative study of this kind we may even apprehend this calmness and stillness of our deepest consciousness outside of our meditations, in the busy life of the world outside.
Existentially you may have experienced this stillness and imperturbability of the deepest layer of your self in moments of deep crisis and depression, when all seemed lost. Despite the great turmoil and upheaval of your nervous system and the constant overflow of thoughts (worries) in your mind, there may have been spare moments of lucidity, when you sensed that a part of you was not affected by your misery. Contrary to all logic and insight into your situation, you may have sensed that the 'real You' (as you may call it) was not damaged by the state you were in and continued to live on is a state of undisturbed calmness and blissfulness. This was a source of hope at the time. It afforded a reason to go on. It gave you the affirmation that this 'real You' was healthy and happy all along, despite the miserable turn your life had taken.
This 'real You', so calm, peaceful and happy deep down in the remotest abyss of your consciousness, is the Self. This is where it all starts, both you and the world. For though this consciousness is living inside of us, and is therefore relative and immanent, we are also living inside of that consciousness and it is therefore, in a way, outside of us. For in fact the world and I (the consciousness of the world and my consciousness of it) are non-dual, not-two. This is expressed in the well known doctrine of the Upanishads: Tatwamasi, 'That thou art'. My soul is the source of the world. Atman is Brahman.
So, though the Self in me is relative and immanent, it is also absolute and transcendent. This is my only hope for salvation, to become -as far as possible for me as a human being- this absolute, transcendent Self. This I can do by becoming perfectly still, totally identified with the transcendent life source inside of me, with no thought or desire about the world or my personality in it. The whole course of our life is aimed at realizing this total identification with our Self. There is somehow something missing, when we have not succeeded in doing so.
We have seen that this Self of ours, in its transcendence, is empty, referring to the moment when words, thoughts and images are still in a virtual state, before the world has originated (in idealistic terms this is the same thing: the world is not separate from my thoughts and images; it comes into being with the representations I make of it). Here the Self and the world are in a virginal state, so to speak.
But when the Source has spilled over into creation, when it has produced the world and everything in it, it might give the impression of being totally different from its original transcendent state. For there it was, completely empty and non-moving, and here it is now, completely full and forever in motion. With its splitting up into duality it seems to have lost its primal Oneness. But this is only seemingly so. For in fact its duality is part of its non-dual state. There is no separation, no difference between duality and non-duality. These states of being are also non-dually One.
So the immanent Source, despite the seeming nature of its fullness, is not unlike the transcendent Source. The World Soul is not different from its transcendent cause. Or in Eckhart's terms: God is not different from Godhead. This is one of the most important findings of mysticism. For it entails that the immanent Source, the World Soul, despite its fullness, abundance and variety, is intrinsically empty also, just like its transcendent counterpart. The greatest mistake we can make is to believe that the fullness of the world is something in itself, that it may yield something that is not already in its essential, transcendent nature.
This is the implication of Buddha's words 'all Form is empty', meaning that the world has not something extra to offer us, which is not already inherent in our Buddha Nature. It points to the fact that all our strivings, all our desires and plans in this world eventually all come to naught. They are either outrun by failure, decomposition or, in the end, by death. These words mean that the great abundance and fullness of the world, its sheer beauty and sublimity, also its evils and horror, which are also sublime in a way, are nothing in themselves, but only serve as waymarks to its higher principle, the Source.
Pantheism and Panentheism
These words of the Buddha serve as a counterpoise against modern interpretations of spirituality, saying that the only true God and the only lasting liberation ever to be found are in this world and not in some beyond and that we can truly accept our natural state in all of its aspects, because our body, our personality, its needs and all of its cravings are all godlike. For either the world, nature and the body are God (pantheism) or they are at least a part of God (panentheism).
Now, like we have seen, there is some truth in this, because there is not a clear cut division between the transcendent Source and its creation. The world is indeed a part of the Source. But -this is our point here- we must never forget, that the world, our body and its personality are mere empty forms pointing to a higher principle that transcends this world. Only in transcending this world is true liberation to be found. This is, I believe, an age old truth (also a Christian), but it is not very popular today, because it asks for sacrifices, for some form of askesis, for an amount of turning away from our body, our mind and this world, in order to transcend our natural state and reach the kind of supra-natural state we call enlightenment.
This is not succumbing to Schopenhauer's pessimistic view that spirituality is ultimately a kind of denial of our primary life force. It is rather a transcendence that comes with fully embracing life and all of its forms. Like in the case of the older person saying with relieve of his life: 'I've been there. I've seen it. What next?', there is in mystical transcendence no denial. The mystic embraces the world but ends up transcending it. Only from this final viewpoint the words of the Buddha make sense: 'I have seen the world, I have lived it, I had my hopes, my plans and desires, but I finally have to agree that all is empty'. So the only thing left is to sink back with surrender into this Emptiness. For it is all there is.
Pantheism places the Source of all there is in this world and does not want to speak of a beyond, of a transcendence. Pantheism believes that only this world is divine. This view has already been criticized, even ridiculed, by a great number of philosophers, the most well known in this regard being Voltaire with his Candide. The main character in this novel has an adventurous life, goes from war to war and meets disaster upon disaster, in order to make clear to the reader that this world is anything but divine and that God is the one and only true character we are always waiting for, but who is never showing up. On closing the book we can not escape feeling that a better theory to describe this world would be pansatanism.
But neither pantheism nor a pansatanism gives us a satisfactory explanation of this world. Pessimistic world views like the ones entertained by Schopenhauer, Voltaire, Lord Byron or, more recently, by the more grim forms of existential philosophy, also offer cause for irony. For the true Lord of this world is duality. After the war the fun of love making makes up for the losses. Earthquakes destroy vast cities, but they are rebuilt again. There is the pain of death, but there is also the joy of birth. All things under the sun come in pairs. One might with equal reason be optimistic or pessimistic about the world. It all depends on the mood you're in.
This world is not God, nor the Devil. It is, besides a lot of other things, both the Devil and God. In a mere spirituality of immanence we will never be able to get rid of the one who symbolizes all the misery and evil of this world. For in this world God is always accompanied by his servant and helper -even his twin brother- the Devil and opposing the one against the other will not bring us enlightenment. They are a duality in need of transcendence.
The same may be said of panentheism: God is in everything, but so is the Devil. A panentheism can never be fully separated from a panendiabolism. For there is deep fundamental ambiguity in the world. What can save us, may also ruin us. Strange as it may seem, the same spirituality having the potential to enlighten us, may also devastate our lives. So what is needed in this world is our full discernment and wits. We are blessed when we have a sound mind at our disposal, also in matters spiritual. What may seem good and beneficial may eventually be bad and detrimental. When we start with no-mind we may never find no-mind. Rationality must come before trans-rationality, because our mind is initially the only instrument we have in navigating the waters of duality.
What suffices here is to conclude that Emptiness is both immanent and transcendent and that a disregard of its transcendental nature is also a disregard of the most important aspects of our spirituality. Final enlightenment, in our view, is not only realizing 'God' as the Source of this world, but especially realizing its transcendental nature, which is Godhead, ie. Emptiness. This brings us to a discussion of the paradoxical nature of this transcendental Source.
The mystic is so blissful and joyous because s/he dares to live at the very edge of potentiality. This edge is the transcendent Now where all things are still virtual, where everything might be. To live there is extremely adventurous, like going on a trip to exotic continents and not knowing what to expect. The mystical Now is exuberant and brimming over with all kinds of new possibilities. This is the thrill of mysticism. It is staying there where all things are still possible and new. It is the joy of new life.
One might object that such a Now (such a 'New'), where all is still in its virtual and virginal state, is the same as Nothing, like when we have innumerable gifts to choose from, but cannot make up our minds which one to choose. The outcome of staying in such a passive situation, before the actual act of choosing, is to end up with no gifts at all. For when we do not make a choice eventually, the moment for obtaining it will pass by. So it is with staying close to the edge of possibility, the objection says. Such a place is indeed empty: it does not yield anything, unless we step out of the moment of mere virtuality and choose to live one of its possibilities.
But this objection describes Emptiness merely in its negative state, while the mystical Emptiness is non-dual: it is at the same time also a state of positive fullness. This means that for the mystic Emptiness is gratifying in itself. It is also the epitome of fullness. And this is precisely what mystical happiness and bliss is: the state of being completely full with the energy of new possibilities. Then one has, in a way, already the thing one might be inclined to desire later on.
This is the reason the mystics describe Emptiness, Godhead, the Dharmakaya etc. as the summum bonum, the highest bliss ever to be obtained. For in it all the future delights of the world are already (still) contained. It is indeed all these delights taken together, for in Emptiness the delights of the world are not yet divided, split up. Their power is not yet diminished by partiality, but is to be experienced in its complete fullness. This is why potential Emptiness is the very goal of the mystical practice. Only here is life to be experienced as completely full.
This is the greatest paradox of mysticism, as well as its greatest Truth.