Monthly Archives: August 2019

Further Ruminations on Meaning in the Universe

Several years ago I wrote a poem titled “Rumination.” In some manner, I sense that I am returning to that earlier poem. Pretty clearly the underlying theme of that poem was a quandary about purpose and meaning in the universe and therefore in human life. The key question is, does the universe have a purpose? If so, then life has meaning to the extent that it contributes to that purpose. If not, how could life have meaning? One attempt to answer the last question is the proposal that our meaning derives from context. In other words, we create meaning from our social context, which narrowly includes family and friends. More broadly it includes work and engagement with social networks. In short, meaning is contextual and the context is the world created by culture — the web of the world. Contextual meaning is a distraction from the larger issue. A distraction that some can lose themselves in but others find unsatisfying.

For those who find contextual meaning unsatisfying there are two basic paths that can be followed in the quest for meaning. One path is that of contemporary science. While there are scientific mavericks loose in the world, mainstream science declares that the universe arose out of randomness and has no purpose. Further, that the life that evolved in this random universe also arose out of randomness and has no purpose beyond perpetuating itself. Life that is intelligent and self-reflective is devoid of underlying purpose and meaning and therefore pointless. Why should such a being care whether or not a life without purpose or meaning is perpetuated? Its only possible justification is contextual, and if that is sufficient to sustain it for a few decades, then its biological programs will do their best to drive it into reproducing. Regardless, it will shortly unwind as a living community of cells and slide back into the oblivion that it arose from.

Oblivion is a fate that most such beings fear, for they recognize it as a permanent loss of awareness. Once recognized, a common antidote is denial coupled with immersion in the distraction of context. Those for whom this proves not sufficient are often observed to suffer from existential angst. Symptoms of existential angst often manifest as despair and depression or rage and violence. The former may attempt to find solace in addictions and the latter may seek release through acting-out. So, if you follow the path offered by mainstream science, you can lose yourself in the temporary world of the mind, suffer despair or embrace rage.

The second path open to the quest for meaning is spiritual in nature. One branch along this path is exoteric religion. The exoteric form of religion is the public face of the religion and is directed at the masses, e.g., Islam or Judaism. Most, if not all, exoteric religions address the issue of purpose and meaning. Unfortunately, religions tend to become social institutions, and while they may provide some support for purpose and meaning, they usually end up simply becoming an option in the contextual search for meaning. All too often, they become a toxic option as evidenced by religious authoritarianism and religious terrorism. There are, however, other branches along the spiritual path. The esoteric form of religion is private, individual and typically pursued by a small minority, e.g., Sufism or Kabbalism. Often, this is a minority oppressed by the exoteric institution. In other cases, a private, individual path is pursued independently of any religion. It is primarily this latter case that holds some promise..

For those people who are on the independent, esoteric path, lineages of teachers often become more prominent than religious institutions, especially in the east, e.g., India. Transmission moves from teacher to student, where the student often becomes a teacher to other students and so on. These lineages have their roots in mystical experiences in which the experiencer comes to a direct knowing that is purely a private, personal experience. It is not something that can be given to another but it can be pointed at as a form of guidance. The delusion that anyone on this path must be careful to avoid is that of mistaking the pointing with the thing in itself.

What mystics frequently offer when willing to talk about their experiential knowing is that the universe arises from a creative, intelligent Source or Primordial Awareness in which everything arises. The fundamental characteristics of this Source are awareness and unconditional acceptance of all that arises within awareness. Some of these mystics suggest that we and the physical universe exist as specialized objects of consciousness in this Source or Universal Mind. The purpose for the universe is to support life and the purpose of life is to support individuated states of awareness. Individuated awareness exists to interact with other states of individuated awareness within the context of physicality. The purpose of these interactions is for Source to explore its potential and to evolve in understanding of that potential. Thus, the universe has a purpose and we have a role in that purpose and therein lies our grasp on true meaning.

Following the spiritual path in search of meaning requires that one open to direct knowing, so that one’s own awareness can know its connection to Source. This is a phenomenological knowing of the truth of the underlying reality that the above description is merely pointing at with words and concepts. Belief in the description and holding it to be true out of faith is falling into the delusion warned against. Such an act is how religions come to be and devolve into a mere source of contextual meaning.

Standing On the Side of Love

The title above is a phrase describing a position voiced by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). I find it somewhat puzzling. I am no theologian, but to my thinking there appears to be an implicit theology in their name. Unitarian obviously derives from unitary or one. Since this church began as a Christian church, I assume that, at least in its origins, it held a belief in God. Thus, Unitarian implies that God is One. I would also suggest that the One God would be all inclusive. If God is all inclusive, then everything that exists is a manifestation of God, which includes every living thing. All is in God. In other words, panentheism (not to be confused with pantheism) to use a religious term or to use more philosophic terms nondualism or monistic idealism. It is also possible that the position that God is One is simply a refutation of the Trinity commonly advocated in Christian theology.

I checked my interpretation with someone knowledgeable about UU theology, a professor of religion who is also a UU minister. I was assured that my nondual interpretation was correct. Further, my alternate hypothesis that one God was simply a refutation of the Trinity was also correct. I will now turn to the word Universalism. My take on this word’s contribution to the UUA’s historic theology is that it further reinforces the pervasive or all-encompassing nature of God. Everything is an expression of God and thus inclusive in the One. The concepts of Heaven and Hell, and God and Satan, clearly mark Christianity as dualistic and out of step with the One. It doesn’t matter if one is Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist or what have you. God is all inclusive and embraces all people everywhere. Thus, if Jesus was a God realized man through whom God was truly expressed, then it would be highly unlikely that Jesus would espouse any position contrary to the One. Clearly Christianity isn’t a nondual religion, which gives one pause.

So, back to the title. If all is One, how can there be sides in unity, or how can One be two? To be on the side of love implies that there is another side, which would appear to be hate or fear. This clearly suggests dualistic thinking. Its a position that we have seen enough of in religions. We’re the good guys on our way to Heaven and you’re the bad guys on your way to Hell. This divisive and dualistic approach serves only to stimulate contention. From a nondual perspective, supporting the duality of love and hate actually serves to strengthen it. I recall reading somewhere that “you cannot be in the light while holding another in darkness.” Isn’t this exactly what the UUA’s position is attempting to do? Might it better be served by taking a position grounded in non-dualistic thinking such as “Love reaching out to Love” or “All is Love” or “Love is the Source.” To quote the legendary philosophical group — the Beatles — love, love, love is all you need.